Poltergeist Blu-ray Review
PictureAlthough some shots still show a little bit of age to them and fail to ignite with the 1080p/VC-1 process, a huge portion of the film now looks absolutely spectacular. Certain shots are amazingly striking, such as the sudden transition to the outside of the university building in which Steven meets Dr. Lesh and her team and some external views of the Freeling house. Grain structure is still intact and although there is some edge enhancement - fence posts, surrounding hills, roofs etc - it is not at all distracting as far as I am concerned. There is some degree of damage, but this minimal, just age-related pops and nicks, and even the odd hair on the lens can still be seen.
Added detail is often amply rewarding. For any Star Wars buffs out there, you can now really assess the collection of merchandise that Robbie has - from bedspread to figures, from C3PO wall light to Darth Vader carry-case. Detail on faces, furniture, demons and spirits is also consistently heightened and the roiling mud-pool of rotting cadavers has never looked so sickly fascinating. The little fly that is flitting about Robby's head has never been clear to see in any version of the film that I have seen before. You won't particularly want to see it here, either, or be overly impressed by it - but the fact that you can now see it quite plainly is testament to how clean and clear this print has been made. The pattern on the stair-carpet, the texture of cardigans and even those fantastic adds on the back page of Robbie's comic - all so much clearer and better delineated. If you are going to find anything to complain about - and, naturally, some of you will - it could be that the stop-motion figures and various other effects shots now look a tad more obvious with the added definition and clarity. But, hey, this just goes with the turf.
Colours are well maintained, with deep primaries that do not smear or offer any evidence of banding. Clothing, skin and furnishings have a realistic sheen that is only softened by the style of the filmmaking, itself. But, of course, the real deal, colour-wise, is served-up best by the phenomena, themselves. The flashing lights that mesmerise and the soothing glows that radiate from the other side; the ghastly tree - all inky blacks and suppurating browns - and the myriad evil machinations stampeding around the bedroom; the horrific fleshy tunnel, oozing pink and orange and red and the the green slime-tendrils snaking out from the door; the ethereal hand that emanates from the TV screen and the squadrons of Close Encounters-style balls of light spinning off into the ether - all far more vivid and textured than ever before.
Contrast has a few tiny fluctuations throughout, but blacks remain steady and deep. Shadows have that essential depth and there is no worry about any detail being lost within them. That marvellous an angular view up into the cemetery - a matte-shot that has always looked like a matte-shot but never suffered for it - now looks incredible. The added depth of the higher resolution pushing the farthest reaches of the image even farther back. The streets of Cuesa Verde look wonderful too, winding along into the corners of the screen, and the growing storm clouds - more visual effects matted-in - have more ominous weight and presence to them.
All in all, this is a very impressive transfer that makes a classic early 80's horror look scintillatingly fresh and vibrant.
SoundOverall, the sound design for Poltergeist is very impressive. There is nothing slapdash or over-elaborate that has been shoehorned-into the new TrueHD 5.1 mix and the inventive effects are quite smartly reproduced with both the subtlety and the vigour that is required as and when. Goldsmith's music enjoys great depth and clarity, his fierce percussion and brass flurries revelling in sharp high ends and blistering bass. The stereo spread across the front is especially smart at realising his compositions, too - listen to the depth and spatial quality of the piano and bass when the family and Tangina begin their campaign to take back Carol Anne. The frequent stingers - both musical and effects-derived - are excellently presented with nigh-on guaranteed shock value built in. The soothing elements of the score are also delightfully rendered with warmth and a cleanness that no other version I have heard has managed. Dialogue is always finely captured and served up with crisp and natural-sounding distinction and listen to the floating, echoey sound of Carol Anne's disembodied voice.
Wraparound stuff certainly exists. The effects of the storm are deliciously served up and placed around the speakers and there is a great sense of weight and ominous presence to the thunder and the lightning cracks. The sub-action is terrific and the film offers plenty of instances for gut-rumbling sonics to pump and pummel the environment. The scene of Robbie getting snatched by the tree - shattering glass, raucous scoring, piercing screams and a truly horrible guttural bellow from the misbehaving Ent, itself - is a terrific example of the lossless track firing on all cylinders. Steerage around the set-up is surprisingly effective and there are some great seamless panning of spirit-fuelled effects - the passage of the tennis balls through the portal, for example and the roaring appearance of the Beast. Many set-pieces are now utterly superb with such amplified audio and the icing on the cake is that all sounds genuine - which for a film that never had surround in the first place, is nothing short of a revelation.
The buzzing of the mosquitoes when Steven and Diane excitedly call upon on the neighbours is quite unsettlingly authentic and certainly had me flinching as if one of the buggers had just given me a fly-by. The whizzing balls of light and the sudden whooshing gusts of supernatural activity sound fantastic and the ambience of the film is consistently buoyed-up by the rears. The crazy antics of the final act - all popping coffins, churning earth and razzle-dazzle effects - fill the soundscape with ear-pleasing activity, capping off a track that is an absolute joy (a nervous, heart-lurching joy, that is) to experience.
Beyond any doubt, Poltergeist has never sounded so good. There is a DD 5.1 alternative, as well, but, trust me, the TrueHD is far better and much more detailed and aggressive. It may not be as detailed as much more recently crafted sound designs, but this remains very impressive indeed.
A very strong 8 out of 10.
ExtrasThe disc is contained in a nice book-style package that is backed-up by a nifty booklet that provides some trivia and production info on the making of the film, the cast and the creators, themselves, as well as utilising some very evocative stills. This booklet is actually attached to the package and is not a flimsy little insert.
However, as neat as this little concept is, there is precious little else to promote this edition. The unbelievable cop-out that disgraced the previous anniversary SD edition - the so-called Deluxe Edition - has made the leap to its hi-def variation as well, meaning that all we get besides the booklet is the two-part documentary, They Are Here: The Real World Of Poltergeists, that only lasts for half an hour and is really only an idiot's guide to such phenomena as chronicled by a platoon of psychics, mediums, ghost-hunters, writers and spiritualists. The movie, itself, is referenced quite liberally (and we even get to meet on-screen parapsychologist Ryan, aka Richard Lawson) but only for purpose of illustration. It is nice to see the likes of classic Brit author Colin Wilson on the scene as he brings a degree of eccentric ridicule to the whole thing. But this is just puff-pastry flaked over the top of what is a truly meaty topic. I have always had a love for all things paranormal, and long to believe ... but the opportunity to have shed much light on this murky and mysterious field has been squandered here by simple, broad-stroke overview.
VerdictSo, Poltergeist ends up being much more than a mere horror-sampler for teens to break into the genre with. It possesses a wonderful “spiritual” ambience, a daring flare for visual invention, a staggering level of visceral intensity and a true sense of the fantastique.
We take a “cinematically” typical American suburban family and take it on spin through Hell - Hollywood has been mining that particular nugget since the late sixties, but rarely with such sheer entertainment value. There is infant-jeopardy, neighbour-ignorance and animosity, deceitful bosses and religion rammed down our throats - but only someone as wide-eyed and childlike as Steven Spielberg could have such elements combining to create one of the most fascinating, though-provoking and downright enjoyable horror yarns around. There are flaws, of course, but Poltergeist is certainly a classic of the genre. When the 80's made commercialism and overkill part of the fabric of existence, the spooky haunted house concept just had to follow suite. Thus, the tone and mood of The Haunting, The Legend Of Hell House, The Twilight Zone and The Uninvited gets the big budget makeover and audiences were finally shown what writers and directors had once only been able to hint at. Both The Thing and Poltergeist were inspirational icons to the genre as it dragged itself out of the seventies, proving that mainstream chillers could still offer the things that hardcore fans demanded to see, and wrap them up with good storylines and characters that you cared about.
On Blu-ray, Poltergeist looks and sounds amazing. Word has been oddly quiet about the release, though, perhaps because it is still surprisingly shoddy when it comes to the bonus features. But the lack of documentaries, commentaries and what-not should not deter fans from upgrading to this fantastic hi-def edition.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.95
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