Near Dark Blu-ray Review
Right up front, I have to tell you that I was deflated by the appearance of Near Dark on Blu-ray, although, and this is fast becoming something of sadly realistic opinion, it really couldn't look much good considering the desaturation, the surprisingly poor source print and the often lousy black levels and contrast that have always saddled the film.
Encoded via MPEG-4, the 1.85:1 image is, however, true to the movie and it is doubtful that there are too many complaints that can be levelled at the hi-def transfer, itself. The image has never looked particularly sharp or detailed and, authentically, though still disappointingly, it doesn't here in 1080p either.
Damage-wise, the print is pretty robust and doesn't show any untoward signs of wear and tear. Transfer-wise, though, there are a couple of issues that are a little unfortunate. For a start, we have some banding elements - the skies, predominantly during the first act, and patches of grey murk throughout are prone to it. There are also some instances of aliasing during early sequences - I noticed some distracting ghosting around some occasional fast sideways movement of Caleb, for instance. But DNR is not the demon that some may have expected. The image still retains much of its grain, although it can fluctuate from scene to scene. But it is also certainly very soft and washed-out with a palette that is deliberately dry and parched. Edge enhancement is not a problem, however, and the image does settle down after a while.
The colours can be striking at times despite this desaturated appearance. Neon signs, blood, and some of the clothing can stand out. Skin-tones, considering the overcast lighting and shadow that govern the aesthetic, are actually quite good. Pasdar goes through some alarmingly anaemic spells, with thick black circles under his eyes and a sickly sweaty sheen smothering his face, and this all comes across quite naturally. Wright is nothing but pale, with an occasional glint in her eyes. Goldstein is deeply tanned, yet scuffed and swarthy for most of the time. Paxton goes through some severe changes, with the blackened, pulped-in face-mash looking wonderfully barbecued and scorched-black. And, speaking of scorched, there are one or two close-ups of flash-fried faces and crisping flesh that look greatly textured during the climax, as well.
But contrast is pretty awful, although it does pick up when there is actually something vibrant on-screen at the time, such as flames, sunlight cutting through the bullet-holes in the walls, or actual daytime vistas. Scenes of the vampires smouldering in the sunshine or actually bursting into flames still look a touch subdued, but then they always have done - the image is, in the main, consistent with how Near Dark was filmed. Black levels are often very poor, and heavily infiltrated and softened with grey, lending much of the film a disconcertingly hazy look. This said, when comparing this transfer to the previous one from Anchor Bay, there is definitely more detail to be found within the shadows than before. The pivotal sequence in the bar, during the massacre, is the stand-out point. Whereas the shadows and the murky aspects of the image robbed much definition and information from the picture - some background details were horribly blanked - there is definitely an improved level of delineation to be seen with regards to objects, people, tables and seats in the rear of the tavern. When a young James Le Gross makes a break for it into the night, the contrast actually works quite well, as the shadows envelope him. However, lots of interiors - motel rooms, the back of a van etc - look gauzy and misted, though, with the contrast struggling to find some integrity or balance.
Personally speaking, I was disappointed with the image contained here, but comparison has proved that this is still better than anything we've had on home video before, with detail certainly more apparent and clearly improved upon.
Lionsgate provide a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that gives some more wavering plateaus to Tangerine Dream's score than you may have heard before, but this isn't a lossless experience that will bowl you over.
There is not a lot of surround activity and certainly not much that actually warrants isolating and discussing in detail, other some reasonably fine steerage during the bungalow shoot-out, which features some grungy shotgun blasts and nice meaty little thunks! as holes are torn in the thin walls protecting the outlaw-vampires. But it is ambience and score-bleed that are the main areas that the rear channels enhance. The explosions - of which there are several - aren't over the top bombastic examples of deep, sub-shaking bass, but they do add some sudden punchy activity, even if they do sound somewhat “contained” within the mix. Thus, the crashing of vehicles and the screeching of metal impacts are all held within the front of the set-up. This isn't a track that will test your system's ability to steer effects around with hyper-realism, that's for sure.
But there is also little to actually find fault with. Sure, it is subdued and front-heavy, but then the original mix, even with its enhanced Ultra Stereo capability, was nothing to write home about. A version of this plays on an alternate PCM 2.0 track, though there isn't a great deal to promote about that, either. Like the vampires, themselves, the audio just does what it has to ... and little more. Dialogue, be it drawled, screamed, yelped or snarled, is always clear enough, despite a couple of intentionally mumbled or downplayed exchanges, and directionality is fine for a track that opts to build up a quivering wall of synthesised tones as opposed to a more realistic aural environment. That said though, when “Fever” strikes up in the bar, there is a palpable atmosphere of tension that the DTS-HD MA track picks up on well, and the ensuing bedlam is respectfully handled with the swish of some throat-slicing detail, the crunch of broken glass underfoot and the fairly audible crack of a crushed neck.
Subdued it is, then, but surely this is as accurate as it can be without adding anything bogus to the mix.
Okay, so AV-wise, this isn't very wowing, but Lionsgate have, at least, carried over most of the extras that appeared on the previous SD double-discer and this means that this US region A disc is much better stocked than the lousy vanilla version offered by Optimum for their region B.
First of all, we get Kathryn Bigelow's decent, though patchy and monotone commentary track. Whilst not the most overly-enthusiastic of speakers, she still does a fine job of telling us about the production, although she can be a little scanty on the whole vampire retooling elements that made this entry in a very crowded genre so unique. Despite her somewhat uninvolved and detached approach, this is a good enough track for fans that has a few anecdotes to throw at us.
The 49-minute retrospective making-of documentary, Living In Darkness, is a blinder, folks. This is exactly what we need from releases like this - a full-on, ultra candid and highly comprehensive appreciation of the film, its background, its production and its impact by the people who made it. Featuring interviews with Bigelow, her producer Steven-Charles Jaffe, DOP Adam Greenberg, exec producer Edward S. Feldman and, best of all, stars Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein and Adrian Pasdar. Going in all directions and full of honest reminiscence and genuine enthusiasm, it is clear that this was a project that was as important and became as cherished to everyone involved. Henriksen even discusses his own-crafted backstory for Jesse and reveals the extraordinary lengths that he went to prepare for and, subsequently, inhabit the role. Even to the point of literally terrifying a cop who pulled him and Bill Paxton over for speeding, with both actors in full costume. This is a brilliant documentary that is fun, informative and loaded with fondness and, thankfully, bereft of saccharine back-slapping.
There is one deleted scene that reveals a dream sequence for Mae and Caleb that was shot in black-and-white but contains no audio. Bigelow provides a commentary over the brief scene.
Finally, we get two theatrical trailers for the film.
Bolstered by a tremendous documentary and a reasonable commentary track, Near Dark remains an essential release despite not looking or sounding all that grand on Blu-ray. For those with the earlier Anchor Bay two-discer, this still represents an upgrade, it is just that the improvements made aren't all that impressive.
Kathryn Bigelow's bold production is one of the quintessential horror films of the 80's. It doesn't do anything that is particularly new to the genre beyond a few tweaks here and there to remould and relocate the legend, but its magic lies in its forbidden allure, its love letter to the lawless frontier, and its wonderful evocation of a blighted way of life that is, at once, erotic, violent and vital. Hardly an fx-extravaganza, the movie is surprisingly light on gore but still grisly enough to promote a squirm or two. Adrian Pasdar acquits himself well as the boy who has fallen in with the wrong crowd, even if Jenny Wright, as the reason he falls so heavily, is woefully bland. But the film belongs to the dark trio of Paxton, Henriksen and Goldstein, who literally scoop it up like a road-kill, bag it and carry it off into the sunset with them.
This is an excellent thriller that strikes out in, what was then, a less-travelled direction. Nowadays, vampire-flicks are ten-a-penny, but Near Dark keeps its unnerving atmosphere and hard visual poetry with style to spare. Plus this US edition has much more bite than the poor UK release, despite that truly awful Twilight-cash-in cover art!
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