The Long Good Friday Blu-ray Review
This UK release from Anchor Bay/Starz really only differs from the US edition in terms of the aspect ratio. Whereas the transfer from Image came in at 1.78:1, this one is presented at 1.66:1, with the image cropped further ever so slightly. This, apparently, is the original theatrical aspect. However, the difference in visual appearance is absolutely minimal, with little to no effect upon the composition. This transfer is obtained via the same AVC MPEG-4 encode and contains exactly the same pros and cons as its US counterpart.
The image is thankfully clear of DNR, aliasing or artefacts, although, this time around, I did notice some judder and lag on the big sideways panning shot across the docks as we are introduced to Victoria and Harold's yacht near the start – something that is not as apparent on the US version. Plus, this version may well have slightly bolder colours which could indicate some sort of boosting. However, I liked the look of this, personally, so I'm not going to complain. 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 flushed pink or even downright 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. As I said earlier, the spectrum seems to me to be a touch deeper and brighter here. The green of hedgerows, the red of blood, especially during one notoriously 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 an overtly 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 the possibility of some boosting being incorporated.
Contrast is still 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 Erroll - 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 finite 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.
Having now been able to study both transfers, I find that there is really very little between them. The tiny bit of extra image space on the US version is neither here nor there, and the juddering sideways pan on the UK disc is easily overlooked and forgotten about. If the 1.66:1 and the bolder colours are the more accurate, then that settles it, doesn't it? The Anchor Bay disc has the edge.
Anchor Bay still supply the nice but unnecessary full surround mix of a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track for this release that was found over on the US edition, but they also provide an uncompressed stereo alternative too. 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 original LPCM stereo track naturally sounds more subdued in comparison to the DTS, but the dialogue and the action is still well presented with clarity and possibly something of a more natural quality overall. But what I find is that I prefer the punchier treatment that is awarded the score in the 5.1 makeover, which just seems to come across with more vigour and solidity, and more of a scintillating edge to the keyboard. And, since there is virtually nothing swept around the rear speakers, what you are left with is a slightly more vigorous treatment of the stereo mix, anyway – meaning it is just down to your personal preference as to how you want the elements of that original source track to sound.
Folks, the UK disc gets an extra mark for carrying the stereo option, earning Anchor Bay's edition a 7 out of 10.
All Image could come up with was the film's theatrical trailer. Pah!
Anchor Bay's release gives Harold some proper respect and boasts the John Mackenzie commentary and the great making-of documentary called Bloody Business, as well as UK and US theatrical trailers, that amusing little Cockney Slang Glossary to help those struggling with the film's jargon, and a gallery of Poster art and film stills. Plus we get a terrific menu screen that barrels some Harold's most memorable quotes at us and hammers them in arty-but-emphatically cool text across the screen.
The commentary from Mackenzie reveals him to be clearly revelling in the opportunity to discuss his film and how it altered from initial drafts to final cut, and how his cast took the bull by the horns and really ran with it. He goes over the themes of honour and corruption, friend and foe, giggling over how Harold runs the police and the local authorities. He recalls how people are often dismayed that he could actually blow up a Rolls Royce just to make a movie, and how he would sneak out of previews and festival showings to go to the pub – after having sat and watched it hundreds of times in the editing room this is, of course, very understandable. The cue-line for a tension-relieving comic laugh is apparently vastly different in the States than it is over here … but then, as Mackenzie reminds us, the Americans don't understand irony. He makes a good argument for building sets and having studio logistics over finding actual suitable locations so that certain shots and effects can be properly created and controlled – the blowing-up of the Lion and Unicorn pub, for instance. He winces through the throat-gouging scene and he lavishes detail on that iconic final shot of Harold in the back of the Jag, giving the full story behind why he wanted such a climax and how they achieved it. This is a great chat-track that mingles nostalgia, trivia, hard fact and production info with lots of personal insight and frank opinion and a fine overview of the film's politics and violence, as well as its phenomenal cast and screenplay. Excellent.
Bloody Business lasts for 54 minutes and is an excellent retrospective with the cast and the crew (including two-penn'th worth from Brosnan - that goes in-depth on the making of the film, its troubled initial reception – ITV was intending to show it in a severely cut down form when it seemed unlikely to receive a full theatrical release – and its lasting impact and cult status. We learn how the film arose out of a script idea from Barrie Keefe called The Paddy Factor and how Bob Hoskins was recovering in hospital from a 40-foot tape-worm (the result of his being made a honorary Zulu chief after the filming of Zulu Dawn and eating a celebratory piece of “special” beef!) when he was approached to play the part. He admits that the character of Harold Shand is himself (apart from the gangster bit) so that not much work had to be done. Helen Mirren tells us how she addressed the problems of a poorly written Victoria – initially conceived as merely an air-headed moll – by improvising and developing the character actually during the shooting. We hear about the photography, the locations, the action and the yacht, itself, and get a real feel, via excellently organised interviews and footage of what went into creating this modern masterpiece. Anchor Bay, who produced this familiar documentary deserve a lot of credit for putting it all together. Thoroughly entertaining, fascinating and amusing, this is what the fans want.
Sadly, we have lost the great Q & A session with Hoskins and Mackenzie at the NFT and nor do we get the booklet of notes that has been supplied with some of the prior releases, but this edition contains the meat 'n' potatoes all right, so fans should be happy enough on that score.
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 most of that remaining time was spent 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 of a critical lack of extras that affected the vanilla US release is not a concern for the UK edition. A great commentary and a very fine and comprehensive making of fit the bill for such a cult film.
What it really boils down to is the film, itself, and with the US copy locked to region A and the UK disc region-free, it does seem like a no-brainer that the UK release is the better option and a clear winner. Either way, The Long Good Friday is an essential title in anyone's collection … except maybe Mother Superior's.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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