The Long Good Friday Blu-ray Review
Image present the US edition of The Long Good Friday via MPEG-4 and leave the 1.78:1 image thankfully clear of DNR, aliasing or artefacts – the packaging states 1.85:1 but this actually cropped down to 1.78:1, which is more accurate, I believe. Damage to the print is very prevalent throughout. Nothing major, or especially distracting – dots, pops, flecks and nicks – but they do serve to remind you constantly that this has not been lavished with much, or anything, of a restoration. The print also has a few wobbles here and there. The opening titles and fade-in to the farmhouse in Northern Ireland are jerking about quite overtly. Grain is intact, but I wasn't bothered by any undue noise in the image. Some slight edge enhancement seems to appear, although I'm not sure just how much of the, admittedly small, haloing is actually down to the original photography and the lighting – object and character delineation down by the dockside in the daylight, for example, exhibits some, but this could well be a result of the natural light making slight silhouettes. Either way, this should not be a problem.
Lots of colour fluctuations occur, most particularly noticeable during the little on-deck breakfast between Harold and Victoria near the start. This can't be ignored, but then neither is it damning. This was low budget and a small movie in everything but ambition – it is not surprising that elements such as this have remained. Flesh tones can vary too, from naturalistic one minute, to ruddy in the next. The palette, whilst flat and singularly without any of the pop that we can't help but associate with Blu-ray, can still offer some reasonable qualities. The green of hedgerows, the red of blood, especially during one splashy sequence, the white of Victoria's pearls and the silver of her earrings, the various gaudy shades inside some boozers, notably the Lion And Unicorn that gets its upper floor blown out, and the car rally – some bright primaries here and a nice flaming explosion, can offer some variety when necessary. But this is not a colourful film, with the shades and hues looking dry and stale for the most part. Again, this is merely how the film has always looked and there isn't much that the transfer can do about it without some unwanted boosting being incorporated.
Contrast is a touch hot with some bright faces and flaring whites, though once again a lot of this is down to the original source. Blacks are okay but they aren't the best, sometimes looking washed-out and grey but, this said, the shadowy atmosphere of much of the film is still readily apparent in visual terms.
Detail is certainly better than any SD version that I've ever seen, as well it should be. But it is not great either. The thing is, for the first third or so, the film looks soft and fairly texture-less, but then we get to the meeting with Erroll The Ponce (Paul Barber) and suddenly the image gets a little bit more definition - a nice nipple, sharp eyes, good hair separation (and that's just Errol - I'm kidding, folks!) - and basically, because we've got a bit of shadow and some close-ups going on, the film seems to gain resolution. The more the film moves on, in fact, the better you realise those close-ups are. We're not talking about pores and texture, but faces and material do come to reveal a fair bit more than I first gave the transfer credit for. Oh, and the blood spurting from that nasty neck wound? Yep, that looks even nastier in hi-def.
Right, now I had intended on doing a full comparison between this transfer and the one for the recent UK BD release, which I had obtained earlier, but for the life of me I cannot find the other disc anywhere. And sadly I hadn't even looked at it before it vanished. However, I believe that the UK disc is actually still the same 1.66:1 image as seen before from Anchor Bay, with all four sides slightly cropped. In this respect, the US may have the edge, but until I can look at them both, I am really just guessing.
Things don't fare so well with the audio. Whilst the DTS-HD MA 5.1 doesn't make any mistakes in bringing The Long Good Friday to life, it really doesn't need any other channels than a stereo front. There is nothing going in the rears that I noticed and the sub will be snoring from start to finish. But, hey, if these elements were incorporated, then something probably wouldn't sound right about them. This is a film that is powered along on the strength of its dialogue and the intensity of its score. And in respect of these two parameters, the audio track does well. Certainly, Francis Monkman's score sounds loud, clear and dynamic and a lot better than it does on that old Metrodome CD, which contains the background hiss that this lossless track is able to eliminate. The main recurring themes throb and the keyboard glistens. That saxophone rolls out Harold's fanfare with a terrific boozy swagger and the spread of the music is warm and energising.
Dialogue is soundly reproduced. There are moments when speech is muted or lost amidst background babble and hubbub, but this is how it is meant to sound. The various gunshots and the shattering of glass, the impacts of body blows and the series of explosions sound, I'm afraid, little better than those heard on a TV broadcast. The range is limited and the dynamics down-market. Gillian Tayleforth's scream ripping out over the frontal array doesn't do much either.
To be honest, there is little else to comment upon. Image's lossless audio shouldn't be criticised though. This is how the film's sound design is, pure and simple. It carries the original source well, no over-dubs here, and never drops the ball. But it didn't need to be mixed for a 5.1 set-up, though.
The UK disc carries the original LPCM stereo track, as well as the DTS-HD MA 5.1 option, by the way.
All Image supply here is the film's theatrical trailer. No John Mackenzie commentary and no Bloody Business documentary. A shame. H wouldn't have approved of being sold down the river like this, would he? Yanks, eh? No respect.
Propelled by Francis Monkman's throbbing synth-score, The Long Good Friday gets its claws into you and doesn't let go, dragging you along for a ride that becomes increasingly desperate, violent and inevitable. Made at a time when Handmade Films held a critically lauded position, and each new production was both a work of art and distinctly original shot-in-the-arm, John Mackenzie perfectly captured the mood of a decade that promised so much and delivered so little. As a gangster film it is without peer – in my opinion standing toe-to-toe with The Godfather. I'm with Harold on this - “The Mafia … I've sh*t 'em!” Mackenzie's film has a stark brutality and an out-and-out ruthlessness that is a world away from the decorum, the ethics and the rituals of the Corleone Family. And it is ours. You see, as bad as these boys are, we can't help but respect them. Of course we do. That's our Bob Hoskins up there, atop that pyramidal empire that's slowly coming apart beneath his feet. And that's our Helen Mirren. Even with events spiralling out of control and my hours numbered, I'd make sure that I spent most of that reamining time with her.
These memorable set-pieces and that spellbinding climax are presented in a more than reasonable hi-def transfer that carries all of the original wear and tear to add to the gritty veneer of the film. There is definitely an argument that this could have looked better again, with a full restoration, but that seems to be an unlikely proposition. The audio does all that is asked of it, although I am bemused that they went with a surround track at all. But the crushing blow is the lack of extras. For such a cult film, this is another poke in the eye for fans after the similarly bereft Escape From New York (BD reviewed separately).
It may boil down to is the film, itself, but with the US copy locked to region A and the UK disc region-free and carrying the nifty extras, it does seem that the UK release is, by far, the better option. Either way, The Long Good Friday is an essential title in anyone's collection … except maybe Mother Superior's.
Rest assured, folks, I'll get the lads to search my manor and find that missing UK disc … and then I'll be back with all the news.
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