Nosferatu Blu-ray Review
Nosferatu: Not just a great horror film, but also a great film full stop
MovieWhen asked what landmark films define horror, most reply the ‘Universal Three’; Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), James Wales' Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). These three films mark the point at which the horror genre as we know and love today became widely exploited.However, while becoming worldwide institutions they are, themselves, following a distinct horror pattern patented some ten years before Dracula was even made. Their horror roots can be traced back to the earliest times of cinema, and to the German expressionist era of the 1920's - specifically W.F. Murnau's unauthorised version of that same film. The use of exaggerated camera angles, painted and angled sets and sharp lighting give expressionist films a mystery in an attempt to provoke fear. It is, perhaps, tonight’s feature, though, along with Albin Grau’s set and costume design and Murnau's sense of scale and camera movement, plus the fact that most of the film was shot on location, that raises the stakes and places it beyond expressionism. In using location juxtaposed with expressionism sets Murnau manages to alter the audience perception by giving the film a dream like quality but grounding it in actuality. Murnau's continued use of camera trickery all add to the wild visual flare, while most frames are given a fore, middle and background; a depth to the frame hither too unseen before. Its name, and the subject of tonight's feature, is: Nosferatu (1922).
PictureThe disc presents an OAR of 1.37:1, 1080p transfer at 24fps and right there is the first complication of this image. Although there is still some debate (argument) about which frame rate is correct (16, 18 or 20), one thing is patently obvious, 24 is definitely incorrect; this shows up by a slightly unnatural slowness to all movements; this is at odds with the 2007 DVD version which was timed to run at 18fps and as a consequence looked far more natural.This is not a deal breaker for me, but it has to be noted.
We are looking at an HD image of the 2007 F.W. Murnau-Stiftung restoration which replaced all of the surviving missing footage, included the original inter-title (German) cards and the original score; much the same as DVD.However, as DVD can be a little more forgiving to print damage, it being of far less resolution, the 1080 transfer is far less so.But let us not forget that this film is over ninety years old and was destined for destruction, it is remarkable that any prints survived at all. I have owned this film on four different discs now and this one is by far the hardest to categorise. The 2007 DVD is something else and very difficult to top; you’d think that Blu-ray would up the game, and whilst it has in a certain light, it has also brought with it certain problems, not least the timing issue outlined above.
But let us not forget that this film is over ninety years old and was destined for destruction, it is remarkable that any prints survived at all
The detail is outstanding with well-defined edges way into the frame. There is even some skin texture, the ‘rat’ hair on Orlock is hideously well defined and the location shoots show up some amazing amount of detail.The colour tints are strong and bold with the contrast and brightness levels set so that blacks are actually black. Yes there are instances when they take up the hue of the colour tints, but I'm pretty sure that would have happened on the original showing too.
The frame is wide, does not fade until right at the edge and is pretty much at constant brightness, though there are still some instances where it does fluctuate, purely an artefact of its age, mind. The damage which was so well ‘hidden’ on the DVD, now, with the greater resolution available, becomes more of an issue; tram lines, pops, holes, water marks and negative damage are all far more prevalent than ever before; so whilst the increase in resolution brings dividends to the image quality it also highlights the flaws in the print.A delicate balancing act between clean up and resolution and I’m unsure as to which is better.
Digitally there are no compression problems, bleed, banding or any other issues. On the whole, considering the age and treatment of the film over the years, this is a stunning print – but, and this is where it fails for me; the 2007 DVD was a stunning example of how to present the film – this Blu-ray whilst technically superior IS mistimed and highlights much of the existing print damage and may put some off it. Not me though!
SoundThere are two soundtracks for the original score, LPCM 2.0 stereo and the same remixed to dts-HD Master Audio 5.1. I actually preferred the 5.1, it gave some very nice separation and filled the room with its wonderful strings. There was good bass, everything sounding very natural. Both left-right and front-rear separation was discernible, giving the appearance of listening while being in the centre of the music stage. There was absolutely no background hiss and even when turned up to eleven.
ExtrasAudio commentary - With Brad Stevens and R. Dixon Smith; two scholars that sit back and muse on the film in a pretty scene by scene basis, and on the 2007 DVD release. They discuss their subject matter with that ease that only comes from knowing it inside out. If you know much about the film and Murnau then there are patches of their talk that will go over old ground, however, much of what they have to say is very interesting and informative. They discuss and complement each other’s styles, bouncing ideas and information around the room, I found it engaging and entertaining, but then I love the film. Objectively it might be a little stale for most peoples taste in one sitting.
Audio Commentary – With film historian David Kalat and newly recorded for this release.Very little more can be said about this film, but Kalat manages to re-interpret a lot of what has been said but still make it an interesting listen, it is far more engaging than the above commentary as his style of deliver demands attention; rapid fire trivia, historical fact and (corrected) myth are delivered quickly concisely and with authority – not much I didn’t already know, and a little overlap with the other features on this set, but nevertheless it’s still well worth a listen if you enjoy the film.
The Language of Shadows Documentary (52.38, SD) - A German produced documentary on Murnau's early life, influences and films with particular attention to Nosferatu. Takes us to the surviving locations where the film was shot, amazing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. It is narrated in German and has various interviews with English subtitles. I found it a fascinating program.
Abel Ferara (12.19, HD) – A short ‘introduction’ to the 2007 DVD that was too late to be included there, is here reproduced in its entirety; still comes across as an outtake and has the nervous tick riddled Ferara talk about what Nosteratu means to him, vampire lore and his own take on it in his film The Addiction.
Kevin Jackson (19.43, HD) – The BFI Film Classics author talks about the film from a ‘producers’ perspective and gives his take on the startling imagery and story elements that the film contains.
Finally there is a 56 page booklet accompanying this set, which contains essays, reviews and more from the likes of noted scholars Gilberto Perez, Albin Grau, Enno Patalas and Craig Keller, who either look at the film as a whole, or in separate elements, and beautifully expound on its majesty.
VerdictWithout Nosferatu it is safe to say the horror genre as we know today might not exist; its influence can be traced through time to every horror film after it. Thanks to the 2007 F.W. Murnau-Stiftung restoration modern audiences can now appreciate the full scope of this horror masterpiece. It is one of my favourite films of all time, not only for itself, but also what it stands for. A landmark film deserving of its place in the hall of the giants.
Without Nosferatu it is safe to say the horror genre as we know today might not exist
As a Blu-ray set Eureka have produced an exciting package, the full version of the film with original inter-titles and score are enough to make the worth the recommendation; with the only caveat being the 24 frame rate and highlighted print damage, otherwise the picture and sound quality are excellent.And with a decent selection of (extra) extras this set becomes a must have. Any self-respecting horror fan owes it to him or herself to seek out Nosferatu and see where it all began, horror at its most horrible.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.99
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