Peeping Tom 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Nov 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    Peeping Tom 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £19.99


    Optimum present this 50th Anniversary Edition of Peeping Tom in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC, and it looks wonderful, folks.

    Damage is mostly eradicated, grain is there, but it is minimal and certainly unobtrusive or prone to fluctuation. There are of the expected contrast waverings that come with the vintage territory, and one or two frames are missed on occasion, leading to some very slight, but still noticeable jumping. Actually, the term “jumping” seems too strong, but you know what I mean.

    What we got with the previous DVD edition of the film from Optimum revealed the amazing improvements in colour presentation. As the comparison on that disc, and now this BD, clealry shows, the original print was horribly drab and dreary, and washed-out. The restored version radically shunted the palette into the type of garish shock-miasma that Powell would surely have intended all along. This 1080p incarnation takes this retina-scorching aesthetic to a whole new level. The film is literally awash with colour. We are not talking Pixar here, of course, but this is the throbbing intensity that you see from Mario Bava – Blood And Black Lace, primarily – and from the more extreme of Hammer's oeuvre – The Brides Of Dracula, say – and even the pregnant warmth of some of the earlier Disney's – such as Snow White. But whilst some scenes – most notably Mark's filmic seduction and slaying of Vivian – are extravagant in their lighting and colour and look simply astonishing here on BD, others are intentionally almost sickening with slimy hues and elevated greens and yellows and oranges, the cast turning more rancid than flamboyant. Look at how Vivian's mustard-coloured pants refuse to blend-in with the candy-coated backdrop, and how the reds literally burst from the screen. This transfer copes admirably with all of this and Peeping Tom becomes an absolutely lurid delight, reminiscent of old EC comic covers and the saucy jackets and posters for those now extremely-tame old naughty Soho pictures. Skin-tones aren't in the least bit realistic, of course. Given the style of photography and the lighting and the makeup fashions of the era, faces look theatrical, almost pantomimic – but this is the name of the game. Everything is heightened.

    Detail can be extraordinary, too. Some closeups, such as the famous distorted image in the lens and that shocking eyeball zoom, look simply incredible. Moira Shearer possibly makes for the most entrancing thing that we see on the screen. Detail, clarity and sharpness around her is utterly striking. Hair separation is indeed on display, as is written text and machine bits for cameras, cranes and whatnot in the studio. Material texture is catered-for and props and set dressings are finely rendered too. There is some genuine sharpness to that tripod-blade! Look at the majestic golden gleam as it captures the light, too. Background detail is impressive. The London streets around the newsagent's, the brickwork in the little side-alley, the people seen over the road, and the tailing policeman checking-up on Mark – all of this is well-detailed and vividly depicted by an image that is commendably strong and stable.

    Black levels aren't the best around, but then this isn't the type of film that wants to portray Stygian depths of shadow. Lighting and colour tend to infiltrate everything, even the most dramatic of scenes set up in Mark's attic. But the dark elements don't appear to have any faults, at the same time. They certainly serve the atmosphere of the film, and they do seem to be perfectly modulated to flow with the rest of the colours and the shades.

    There is no overt edge enhancement on display. A couple of times I found myself scrutinising the edges of window-panes and frames because it looked as though there was some ringing going on, but this was just the photography and the lighting within the image. This is also the type of picture that looks as if it has undergone some DNR, and maybe it has, but the smoothness of the imagery, the facial texture etc is part of the film's original look and down , in most part, I feel sure, to the film-stock that was used. There was no aliasing to distract, and only a very slight incidence of shimmering. However, I did spot some banding taking place on this review copy which quite surprised me, to be honest. It only occurred once that was enough for me to note down, but it did stick out like a sore thumb.

    I'm tempted to give this top marks just for the outstanding colour reproduction alone! Trust me, you don't need to peep at this image, folks. Open your eyes nice and wide and drink deep of the visual opulence that Michael Powell has created.

    Peeping Tom 50th Anniversary Edition Picture


    Optimum's UK release of Peeping Tom comes with just the one audio track - an LPCM 2.0 mix that sounds very faithful and unmolested by too much digital tomfoolery.

    This isn't a film that requires a massively dynamic soundtrack, but this disc does allows for a lot of colour even with the limitations of the film's age and audio scope. The score is the thing that comes across with the most vigour. Once again, this is not a case of musical bombast. Brian Easdale's simple, often stark and elegant score features reverberant piano thuds that are delivered with suitable weight and clarity. The strings, when we hear them, are clean and searing. The source music that Vivian plays and when the cops later investigate the crime-scene is warm and energetic, the sudden stingers nicely jolting and effective.

    Dialogue is always clean and crisp. Those clipped and eloquent English accents work well in serious contrast to Boehm's sickly sweet and smooth Germanic tones, but there is a restrictive quality to the voices due to the vintage of the film and the lack of width, positioning and energy. At times, characters can sound a touch shrill and boxed-in, but then this has to be expected – and at least Optimum didn't attempt to bolster the mix with any surround channels. However, the track, as a whole, boasts a surprising level of depth and the more dramatic scenes have all the requisite power to back them up. The effect for film running through a projector, when superimposed over the scene of Mark and Helen having fun over their meal, comes across very well. Likewise, the footsteps from upstairs and the sound of the studio-crane when activated. There is also a nice element of a heartbeat enhanced over the soundtrack that is finely integrated into the mix.

    All things considered, this is a great and respectful soundmix.

    Peeping Tom 50th Anniversary Edition Sound


    Optimum's 50th Anniversary BD release if Peeping Tom carries over all the extras that adorned their Special Edition DVD, as well as adding a new interview with acclaimed film-editor and Scorsese alumni, and Michael Powell's widow Thelma Schoonmaker. My review copy, sans packaging, does not contain the excellent little booklet that accompanied that earlier release, though. However, the finished retail version still might.

    There is a nice little Introduction from Mr. Eyebrows, himself, Martin Scorsese, who is clearly still besotted with the movie, and this lasts for around 3 minutes.

    Film-scholar Ian Christie provides a fairly obviously rehearsed commentary track that is, given his pedigree, rather dry, arch and formal. At times, the chat does sound like a lecture, which is a touch unfortunate as this approach, as studied, informative and opinionated as Christie is about his subject, tends to get rather tedious quite quickly. He certainly knows his stuff, and he likes to point out things happening in the frame as we see them, and to give them their overall relevance to both Powell's intentions and the story at large. He discusses the in-jokes, the subtleties and not so subtleties of Carl Boehm's performance. All in all, it is a worthwhile commentary, but I found it easier to dip into it, rather than to stay with it for any extended period.

    Eye Of The Beholder is a 19-minute look at the making of the film and its considerable impact, the virtual burying of it and the subsequent unearthing and rebirth of Powell's final legacy, courtesy of Scorsese. With the great director contributing, as well as Thelma Schoonmaker, Ian Christie, Powell's son Columba, Prof. Laura Mulvey and Karlheinz Boehm, this is a fine dissertation on how the film was treated back then and how it has been reappraised now.

    The Strange Gaze Of Mark Lewis is a 25-minute documentary in both French and English that allows Bertrand Tavernier and psychiatrist Dr. Olivier Bouvet to discuss the themes of voyeurism, film and murder (in French) and film historian Charles Drazin to expound on the cultural revelations of what Powell achieved (in English). A great little piece of intellectual analysis.

    We also get a new Interview with Thelma Schoonmaker that lasts for 11 minutes. With little fade-outs signifying each new topic, she talks about how she and Scorsese discovered the films of Powell and Pressburger, and how, especially, Peeping Tom made such an impact on them. We hear about the effect of the film's critical drubbing on Powell and how elated he was to help have it exhumed from its shallow grave and presented to a much more forgiving, sophisticated and, in fact, fawning audience of today. Once again, this is a fine enough piece, although you can't help but feel that we are really just going over the same ground again, after all that has come before.

    A 7-minute split-screen Restoration Comparison comes next, showing the distinct improvements made in the colour-timing and the detail with the digitally restored version that was used for Scorsese's cinematic print and the previous DVD edition. It is pretty much night and day.

    And finally we get to see the film's 3-minute Theatrical Trailer and a decent collection of production photographs of Powell and his cast members in an elegant Stills Gallery.

    Peeping Tom 50th Anniversary Edition Extras


    There's something great about seeing a film that was so despised on its initial release and is now hailed as a masterpiece. With hindsight we can sort of sit back in arrogance with a time-travelling “Told you so” tossed back to the idiots of 1960. But the real magic of Peeping Tom is not lost even on modern audiences, for whom the camera and the power it possesses to create and destroy celebrities and icons is now even more devastating.

    Powell directs with a knowing smirk on his face. He was well aware that he was pushing boundaries, but he genuinely believed that the world was ready for such a wake-up call. History proved him right of course, although he was “out” by three or more decades. The perfect place to see Peeping Tom is, naturally, in the cinema, so it is great that the film has actually gained a new theatrical run, albeit a limited one. But this Blu-ray release from Optimum is absolutely gorgeous and literally throbs with sick and gaudy dementia. Meticulously restored, this certainly has moments when it looks utterly spellbinding and the film definitely warrants the hi-def upgrade. The extras are good, although not great. But fans will get a lot of information and entertainment out them, regardless.

    Once hated … now a classic, Peeping Tom pipped Hitch's Psycho to the bloody post, but was indecently trounced by the black-and-white American proto-slasher and subsequently fell into ignominy. It is a shame that Powell was never able to come back with something else after his mistreatment and subsequent casting-out, yet this only makes the legacy and the cult status of his career-napalming achievement all the more special and poignant. Like his main character, he suffered for his ultimate masterpiece … but you can't help feeling that, wherever he is, he has had the last laugh.

    Peeping Tom – it's well worth a peep on this great 50th Anniversary Blu-ray from Optimum.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

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