ITV's disc comes with a VC-1 encode that, initially at least, looks no better than their old SD transfer. The film's original 1.66:1 aspect was brought in at 1.78:1 for the previous edition and, for the life of me, I couldn't see much of a difference in the framing between that version and this, which is supposedly the proper aspect. Word of the Blu-ray image has not been good and in my review for the original Special Edition I remarked on my hopes and expectations for a hi-def transfer being something to cherish. Well, now that it has arrived, I have to say that I am slightly disappointed. But, then again, I am probably as guilty as anyone for wanting something that is plainly beyond the capabilities that a faithful, unmolested presentation can provide. The Company Of Wolves was never going to look pin-sharp, boast wonderfully saturated colours and gleam with higher resolution three-dimensionality. It simply isn't that kind of film.
Now, whilst you can be certain that no DNR has been applied to this transfer, there is still a fair amount of edge enhancement that, coupled with the innate softness of the image and some elements of wavering contrast in some scene-transitions and long-shots, makes it look like roughly the same picture as we've seen before. After all, this is the same master that has been utilised. You have to be a little more patient and look a little closer to reap the rewards of this transfer. Certainly the opening scenes in the real world look pretty awful - faded, washed-out and flat. It looks low-budget and rough round the edges, though, frankly, it always did ... and if the film suddenly appeared gleaming and radiant then something would actually be terribly wrong, wouldn't it?
The overall image is soft and retains its layer grain although, in 1080p, the grain is actually more noticeable. Damage to the print is still in evidence, with little pops and nicks here and there, though nothing to put you off. Noise can be seen to fluctuate in some of the lighter portions of the image, such as the sky, for instance. In fact, the opening transition from the modern, “real” world to Rosaleen's dream world features a bright, but cloudy sky in the right hand portion of the image, above the forest set and miniatures that is so brightness-ramped it blooms with bluish-green tint that looks quite horrible. There are other instances such as this, but it is worth noting that the SD suffered from exactly the same thing. Yet however soft and intentionally diffused the picture can be, there are indeed some close-ups that look ravishing. There are many sudden cuts to a face - particularly Rosaleen's, or Granny's - that are rendered with detail, great, albeit stylised colour, natural skin-tones and an enhanced clarity than that seen on the SD release. Indeed, the woodland set is where most of the improvements lie. We aren't talking the finite detail and three-dimensionality of The Brothers Grimm or The Brotherhood Of The Wolf, but shadow delineation, objects near and far, and a clear sense of depth and detail come across with an appreciable improvement. The primaries have a little bit more saturation and boldness to them - rosy red apples, Rosaleen's shawl, blood on the snow, the yellow of the huntsman's eyes, or the feral sparkle in Stephen Rea's just before he leaves the marital home - and the earthy tones that, otherwise, dominate the image are deeper and more stable. The silver swirls that accompany the opening titles have a slightly greater lustre to them. Midnight blues have more readily apparent atmosphere to them, partly because the better blacks set them off so well, but also the grainier depth seems to give them more variance, too. But look at the raw scarlets and thick, gleaming reds of the stripped flesh - comparison between the this and the SD reveals hi-def image to be the clear winner in terms of saturation, contrast and detail.
Detail, as I have implied, is clearly upped when it comes to eyes - those of Warner, Patterson, Bergese especially - and when we see the Huntsman's animalistic orbs in close-up as he rocks in anticipation of a nubile young snack, there is a marked improvement both in colour, yes, but in clarity as well. The trees, and surprisingly it can often be the miniature ones that we see outside of windows or in establishing shots of forest-bound cottages, have greater sharpness and detail. We see the wood-grain in the coffin-lid slid over Rosaleen's sister's corpse that was obscured before. Interior shadows have more depth, cleaner coverage and although smothering, don't appear to mask any detail within. The shadow-drenched chapter of the Wounded Wolf, is a tough sequence to evaluate as it has always looked very dark, but the BD does appear to provide a better gradation of the black levels and allow for a more visually appealing image. Contrast is good, but then it was also very decent on the SD, with little homely glows from cottage windows, fires and lanterns sparkling nicely against the subdued surrounding palette, and pale skin appearing finely picked-out amidst the gloom.
Well, it all probably boils down to how much you consider the slightly added detail and more cleanly defined image to be. The Company Of Wolves probably looks as close to its cinematic print as the format allows but, this said, it doesn't exactly trounce its former SD incarnation either. The same master is used, but to my eyes, this is the version that I prefer.
Considering that the previous Special Edition only had a DD 2-channel track, you may have thought that The Company Of Wolves would have come in for something with a bit more meat on its bones for a hi-def release. Alas, it just keeps the same old stereo track. So, there is little for me to do here other than to virtually repeat what I said about it last time around.
Perhaps it was too much to hope for a full surround mix to have been created for this film, though lossless audio, of whatever flavour, would have been nice. But, we have to remember that The Company Of Wolves wasn't made with multi-channel surround sound in mind. Although, part of me can't help but mourn the fact that, even if the rest of the track was frontally-based, something like the howling of the wolves or just the pounding of George Fenton's music could have reached around behind us with a bit more presence and precision than this mix allows. That said, there is still plenty to enjoy with this track.
The pipe-organ that strikes up as Alice runs through the nightmare forest and the thunderous percussion that Fenton uses to signify the wolf-pack are stand-out moments. The stereo spread across the front is very good, sounding wide and expressive. Separation is fine and allows for some discrete steerage of effects, although the film doesn't really attempt too much in this department. Dialogue is clear and crisp, voices in the forest, whether receding or approaching, can always be discerned, and the score is projected with warmth - lilting at times, frenzied at others, but always layered and supremely reproduced. Little things like the crackle of an open fire, the creaking of old wooden doors, birdsong and the pattering of earth on a coffin lid are well presented too. The occasional gunshot is hardly earth-shattering but the effect is still fairly meaty. The howling on the track is treated as ambience for the most part but is suitably eerie and well-placed within the mix, distant at times, more aggressive at others.
Apparently, there are French and German editions of the film that have 5.1 mixes incorporated, but I haven't heard a good word said about them, to be honest. So, unless a US Blu-ray version strays out from the woods with a newly mastered audio track, this is possibly the best we will hear the film. And it is pretty good, all things considered and certainly does enough to keep the film alive and the atmosphere suitably eerie and unnerving.
Sadly, an opportunity is missed with this BD edition. Not only has nothing new been added to what the Special Edition contained, but various items have actually been dropped from the package. Gone are the theatrical trailer and the terrific booklet of essays and critical acclaim entitled The Company Of Wolves: Behind The Scenes Dossier, and shorn, too, is the Stills Gallery. In fact, all we are left with is the Commentary Track from Neil Jordan, which, at least, is a great one.
The writer/director revisits the film properly for the first time in twenty years. I say properly because, as he states in the detailed and insightful track, that he actually managed to catch the movie on some channel or other just before recording the commentary and being very impressed with it. Now, however, with questions asked by Robert Ross, he is able to dissect the creative process and the motivations that led him and Angela Carter to turn the story into a movie. He addresses the subtexts and the metaphors and the symbolism at every opportunity, gamely supplying his take on the often perplexing imagery on show. Quite technical at times, with regards to the filming process and the editing, Jordan is also rather frank and honest about the lack of budget and the quality of some of the effects work (he really doesn't like that elongated tongue!). He is praiseworthy of his cast and expresses many platitudes on them and the crew for coming up with such impressive results on a shoestring and offers some fond anecdote and reminiscence. Nice line about the Francis Bacon/burn-victim style of wolfman mid-metamorphosis look for Stephen Rea, too.
And that's your lot, folks. The wolves appear to have gotten hungry on the way to BD and gobbled up the extras like Granny's gizzards.
I recall the movie debuting and receiving much trumpeting from critics lauding its artistic approach and celebrating the resurgence of British fantasy cinema. Something about the film is deliciously intoxicating and, although it was hardly the rampaging werewolf story I had expected to see, The Company Of Wolves still held me spellbound. On video it became a firm cult favourite and even if this BD incarnation has been a long time coming, it is still very well worth seeking out if you don't already have the Special Edition. If you do, however, own the previous release, then this may not seem as though it represents much of an upgrade. The video transfer is most certainly better, but not by much, and the sound doesn't carry any difference at all that I can discern. As it stands, the film has a respectable transfer that I can't now see ever looking any better, unless some unwanted processing takes place for a newer edition some time in the future. It is a shame that the extras have been chewed away and something that I cannot see any valid reason for. But at least we still retain the wonderful commentary from Neil Jordan that does go a long way into the background of the production and the themes explored.
The director leapt into the equally elegant and literate Interview With The Vampire (again based on a female writer's highly literate work, and the BD release is reviewed separately) with similar imaginative scope and a lushly baroque visual and emotional sensibility, but it is to his tale of werewolfry rather his sensual ode to vampirism to which I would rather return. The film is witty, menacing, magical and probing. It rakes its claws through established folklore and societal moral constraints, exposing the raw deceits and frightening disinformation that lie therein. The film, as always, comes very highly recommended ... but, unless you don't already have the Special Edition, or you are a massive fan (like me) who will be happy with the improvement in the image, I can't really urge you to upgrade, since the disc still seems quite expensive.
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