Naked - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Naked is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Supervised and approved by director Mike Leigh, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flickers were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Indeed, there’s no question about it – Naked does look splendidly remastered in 1080p High Definition. The trouble is, it is a British film, shot on a shoestring budget, nearly two decades ago; and no amount of digital tinkering and polishing will ever make it look stunning. Indeed, the standard of visual presentation on offer here isn’t one which you would tolerate on any conventional, even medium-budget mainstream Hollywood product – reviewers and viewers alike would be crying out about the edge enhancement, DNR, and variable levels of rampant grain which pervade the piece; often leaving it little better than an upscaled SD-DVD would look. So, yes, Naked does look better than it has ever looked before and, yes, Criterion have worked hard with the Director to achieve that; but the end result is still as flawed as the very material it seeks to present, a bleak voyage through the streets of London that can never be cleaned up to look brand spanking new, any more than the very streets it depicts.
Detail is generally fairly good, although there are some lapses, where distracting softness comes into play; and the longer shots – particularly around the time when Archie and Maggie leave the lead character alone on the streets – do showcase a fair amount of edge enhancement and haloing, obviously as a result of attempting to provide a clearer overall image. It’s seldom intrusive, but it will likely not go unnoticed. The film is obviously very gritty, so grain should indeed be commonplace, but a couple of the lower-lit sequences allow this previously filmic grain to get out of hand. The colour scheme is Mike Leigh through-and-through: bleak, dank, drab, dismal – everything faded and lacklustre; with scant few vibrant, vivid tones on show. But that’s par for the course. And, as recorded in the Criterion spiel about this restoration, there are indeed precious few digital defects to speak of – the image remaining clear and free of scratches, marks or pops, etc. As stated, it is indeed a better presentation that this film has ever known (and, likely, ever will know) but it’s pretty damn far from demo quality nonetheless.
The Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the Lt/Rt magnetic print master. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation. Please be sure to enable Dolby Pro Logic decoding on your receiver to properly play the Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack.
This Criterion release of Naked also comes adorned with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which, whilst not as engulfing as a full 5.1 mix, perfectly suits the dialogue-driven material nonetheless. The fast-spoken commentary comes at you clearly and coherently, largely emanating from the frontal array, and dominating it almost throughout. Effects are limited, but what else would you expect? There’s nothing notably prominent in the atmospheric array, some nice ambient street sounds creeping into an otherwise mainly indoor offering. The only thing that I can see this new track truly benefiting is the minimalistic score, which, depending whether or not you actually like it, can be something of a good or a bad thing. Personally, I found the central theme, which pervades the two-hour-plus runtime, fairly repetitive – intentionally so, no doubt, but, given its new prominence here, that’s no great thing. Still, it’s a solid aural accompaniment for the movie. Again, far from demo quality, it nevertheless presents the material as best as one could imagine.
As you would only expect from Criterion, we get a whole plethora of largely excellent extras to accompany the main feature; most of them culled from the original Criterion SD-DVD release of the film.
Recorded exclusively for the Criterion Collection in 1994, this commentary features director Mike Leigh and actors David Thewlis and Katrin Cartlidge.
A Leigh-dominated track (although it is wonderful to hear the real accent and tone of the late Katrin Cartlidge, who died at a shockingly young age), he takes us through this very personal work, explaining how it includes some of his favourite scenes out of all of his movies; how he prepared his actors; the deadpan humour he was aiming for; addressing the issue of homelessness on the streets of London; talking about the difficulty distributing the film; noting the intentionally relentless music; and offering up scant few moments of insight into what the film is actually about. Thewlis interjects as often as he can, and Cartlidge actually has quite a few interesting opinions, but this is obviously Leigh’s baby and he is clearly holding the reins throughout.
Neil LaBute On Naked
The following interview with filmmaker Neil LaBute was recorded exclusively for the Criterion Collection in Vancouver in 2005.
This 13 minute interview is with director and playwright Neil LaBute (who, himself, has also been accused by critics of being a misogynist), and we hear his take on the movie, the filmmakers’ intentions and the social references.
The Art Zone: “The Conversation”
Novelist Will Self sat down in a London pub with director Mike Leigh in March 2000 for this episode of the BBC program The Art Zone, to talk about Leigh’s unique method of filmmaking.
One of the highlights of the extra features, this extended conversation – over half an hour long – between these two artists is very interesting indeed. They chat about Leigh’s choice of cast, and approach to improvisation-built performances; the characters brought to life in Naked – and the personal relevance of the production. They even touching on the wider issues highlighted within the film; it’s political references to the post-Thatcher decline and its themes on spirituality. Worth checking out.
The Short and Curlies
David Thewlis and Alison Steadman star in this 1987 short comedy by Mike Leigh about a chatty hairdresser whose client falls for a young man who communicates only through one-liners. The film features optional commentary by Leigh.
This 17 minute short movie has a very young David Thewlis playing a character who, in many ways, comes across like a younger, less mature variation of the one he plays in Naked. The story also ambles in the same direction – Thewlis plays a young man who keeps turning up at a chemist’s in order to chat up the assistant there. We skip from character to character as Leigh observes mundane human life like only he can, and basically nothing happens. But the acting, and the characterisation – even some 25 years ago, is pretty damn good.
Original Theatrical Trailer
The disc is rounded off by a fullscreen copy of the original, and fairly dated trailer.
I’m normally very impressed by the Criterion booklets and their included essays, but the two offered up here – “Desperate Days” by Derek Malcolm and “The Monster We Know” by Amy Taubin – just didn’t work as well for me. Constantly defending the main feature, they often come across more like Leigh apologists than superior film critics who are explaining their love for a piece of art. Still, as background reading, these make for a nice accompaniment.
Mike Leigh unflinching portrayal of the nauseous Nineties is still as stark and brutal as ever, but, thanks mostly to an amazing central performance from David Thewlis, the drama remains remarkably compelling and, at times, quite poignant and contemplative. There may be an abundance of pretentious, quintessentially art-house moments, but there is still a fair amount to admire about this intriguing, odyssey-like voyage through the back-streets of London.
Courtesy of Criterion, we once again get a superior Blu-ray release – unfortunately for some, it’s Region A locked – complete with solid video and audio (the best this film has ever seen), and a superb set of worthy extras. Basically everything you’d expect from a Criterion release. Fans should consider this a worthwhile purchase, for sure.
Eminently quotable, strangely alluring and captivating in spite of its brutal, bleak subject-matter; Naked is an occasionally extremely impressive drama which boasts strokes of genius across its otherwise often frustrating but nonetheless compelling narrative. And in this respectful Criterion package it comes recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.77
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