The Ipcress File comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray presented with a 1080p High Definition video rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.35:1. Now you’ve got to remember that this movie is the best part of half a Century old, so it’s obviously not going to stand up against the latest Hollywood blockbusters in terms of clinical, outstanding pictorial representation. Still, with this in mind, detail is generally very good indeed, with little softness, no noticeable edge enhancement and, better still, almost no apparent DNR, the image retaining a lovely level of grain that lends it the quality filmic representative of productions from that era. There is some noise, and not all of the digital defects have been removed – scratches and pops, whilst few and far between, can still be glimpsed on occasion. The colour scheme, however bleak and drab – almost monochrome – 60s Britain is depicted as, is well-represented, although that fake blood that they used back then will simply never look all that realistic. Black levels suffer a bit from the aforementioned noise, but are generally quite good, and Otto Helman’s exquisite cinematography has simply never been presented as well as here, particularly when you compare to some of the old releases on SD-DVD, which show its age much more dramatically.
The movie comes complete with two choices of aural accompaniment: Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Hard to differentiate, it’s probably worth picking the 6-channel offering as, whilst the rear use isn’t particularly expansive or noteworthy, it is better than zero surround use. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently, dominating the frontal array whenever necessary, effects are pretty minimalist – as you would only expect from this kind of movie – but we do get a few nice revving engines, bashed-in doors, gunshots and whistling trains to give the surrounds something to do. Directionality is all-but non-existent, but that’s not such a big deal – again you have to acknowledge the age of the material – and there is quite a nice ambience to the proceedings, assisted no end by the persistent, memorable and even catchy main theme tune that runs almost throughout the movie, in one form or another. Bass too just doesn’t get a look-in, but overall this is still a fairly decent aural presentation of the movie, and shows a marked improvement over the previous SD-DVD alternatives. This is no giant leap for Blu-ray, but it’s a nice step up for this particular movie.
Now this is, without a doubt, the only resoundingly disappointing aspect of the disc. Great movie, decent upgrade for video and audio, but almost no extras – just the original trailer and a fairly limited stills gallery. Worse still, the previous SD-DVD releases all boasted more extras, from a Director’s Commentary to a number of quality Featurettes and Interviews. There was even a special edition which came complete with the book, a soundtrack CD, a couple of replica posters and an introductory booklet. It really is a poor effort that the rights to none of these extras were bought up in order to provide them for this, the only HD release that is currently available.
The Ipcress File remains a landmark in British film history, a snapshot of changing times in the country. Reflecting the fact that labour had just gone into power, it effortlessly dissolves the class barriers, portraying a working class action hero, bespectacled no less, who is often both intellectually, morally and stylishly superior to his upper middle class bosses. Gone is the unquestioning loyalty to the higher classes, again mirroring a change in attitude within society at the time, and we finally get to follow a protagonist that we can not only root for (like Bond) but also relate to (unlike Bond). Of course, aside from these elements, which cement the movie’s place in British film history, what we have here is a damn good spy thriller. Adapted from Len Deighton’s bleak, somewhat cynical book, and brought to life with some very daring cinematography by Otto Helmer and a memorable score by Bond composer John Barry, the movie is the first outing for the now iconic character of Harry Palmer, perfectly embodied by a young Michael Caine. He’s the antithesis of Bond, and this is a much grittier, more realistic interpretation of the life of a spy – essentially little more than just a standard civil servant – in a world where paperwork and politics play a more important role than guns and gadgets, or henchmen and evil lairs for that matter. For my money, it’s far superior to most Bond films, and works perfectly at providing an alternative British Intelligence Espionage Operative to 007.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray we have decent enough video and audio, both noticeable upgrades over previous SD-DVD releases, but the title is let down by a distinct lack of extras – made worse by the knowledge that there are plenty of them out there. Fans will have to have this in HD, especially considering the reasonable pricing, but will likely have to hold on to their old DVDs to maintain the extras from them. Newcomers should still consider this a worthy purchase, mainly for a decent HD presentation of a must-have all-time great, a classic 60s Brit spy thriller, one of the best of its kind.
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