The Stendhal Syndrome Blu-ray Review
Transferred into High Definition using the AVC codec the film is framed in a 1.66:1 pillar box ratio. You will therefore unfortunately see slight vertical black borders either side on a widescreen display.
The film is actually only about 12 years old but it feels like it's at least 30 in this release. The image is saturated in a heavy grain. Whilst artistic and cinematic in its day the grain is incredibly over bearing in high definition format. On a smaller screen it sticks out like a digitised mosquito mesh all over the screen. It isn't the side effect of digital enhancement as the edges remain smooth and there's very little evidence of edge sharpening in the picture. Overall I was actually quite disappointed with what was on offer here. Some of you may appreciate grain but when it gets to levels bordering noise on the smaller screen it actually becomes quite annoying and ruins the whole experience.
Contrast levels are acceptable and the blacks do hold there own but it can vary scene to scene. In the darker and seedier scenes, shadow detail does get lost as well as evidence of blacks being crushed. The colour palette remains limited and off as well. Reds feel stylised and artificial with skin tones being subdued and not realistic enough. The image has detail but the limitations seem clearly to be from the original material. Unfortunately you cannot add to what you never had to begin with. This is all a bit disappointing as Dario Argento had a masterful eye and I was expecting this blu-ray disc to really excel in all departments. I'm sorry to say but the whole thing felt not much better than a SD experience.
The original film was shot with the actors speaking in English. However, it was re-dubbed post event with voiceovers added at a later stage. Invariably this adds to lip-sync issues and the whole spoken aural experience feels far too artificial as a result.
However, this release provides two lossless 7.1 English soundtracks, one being a DTS HD-MA and the other a Dolby TrueHD. I watched it in DTS mode and it was a surprising experience. I was rubbing my hands with glee. Voices and dialogue is well balanced, full bodied and front channel orientated. Bottom end is only there to add to the enrichment and not to rumble the proceedings. What is surprising is the supporting Ennio Morricone score. The 7 channels are not used to their best effect but there is enough activity to have sound being steered competently albeit in limited fashion around you. The masterful and rather haunting score provides for the ambience that is needed for an enveloping experience and it certainly keeps you involved in the movie the whole way through.
You are also offered the option of an English or Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The Italian audio is rather more subdued than the other three tracks but it does have an appeal of its own. Although the spoken lip movements remain in English, the voices of the Italian actors feel far better suited to the film overall.
Finally, I have to say that apart from the fact that the audio exceeds the video aspects it also exceeds what I was expecting from this movie. In fact it's too good considering that the whole voiceover process was dubbed and could never have felt genuine anyway. Pity really.
The extras are all in spoken Italian accompanied with English subtitles and are very much in the flavour of a singular interview and documentary type format.
Director: Dario Argento - (20mins 2secs) - A lengthy interview with Dario Argento who speaks from being sat behind a desk. He goes into detail about what he was working on at the time, Trauma in New York. How he came to hear about the Stendhal Syndrome in an Italian periodical and how he went about bringing the concept to life. It's a thorough and interesting look at it from his perspective.
Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini - (20mins 39secs) - A documentary style featurette about the real life Stendhal Syndrome. She talks about how it affects foreign visitors to the city of Florence. Surprisingly it affects mostly Northern Europeans and Americans and there have been many reported cases of it over the years. She goes onto talk about a number of individual cases and how it affected the people concerned. A good insight into the syndrome along with some beautiful shots of the various forms of art prevalent in the city and the churches based there.
Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti - (15mins 47secs) - Sergio talks about the effects used in the film and the process of going about creating them. Principally he talks about Anna's encounter with the fish, the gun shot through the face and the swallowing of the pills. Interesting enough the concept of the slow motion gun shot was what inspired the sequence used in The Matrix and it's something that Sergio was particularly proud of.
Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi - (21mins 51secs) - Very little spoken about the Stendhal Syndrome in this one. Instead Luigi talks about his long term relationship with Argento and especially all the works that they created together in the 70's. Nevertheless it shows the strength of partnership between the two that they were comfortable to work together for so long.
Production Designer: Massimo Antonello Gelang (22mins 40secs) - Another quite lengthy documentary here in which Massimo has worked with Argento on a number of occasions. He discusses at length how he went about designing the sets to recreate the best feel he could to add to the movie.
Trailer - (1mins 3secs) - An original cinematic trailer for the movie.
Dario Argento tries to weave an intense thriller here using much mind play, inventive artistic values and accompanied by a haunting score. It was adventurous stuff back in the 90's and it's not easy going even by today's standards. It won't be to everyone's taste but you can appreciate what he was trying to achieve and if you don't get it the first time around you may need to watch it a few times to get onto his level.
Casting his daughter, Asia Argento for the lead role was a bold move for no other reason than this is quite a disturbing film. Not all families are as understanding to risk testing such ties. However, for her part, Asia plays such a difficult role in excellent fashion. Ennio Morricone supplies the masterpiece of a score as only he is capable of and it supports the movie brilliantly. From the moment Anna faints in the Uffizi gallery right through to the impressive end it's the score that actually helps carry the film and keep the flow going.
The blu-ray disc on the other hand is distinctively a middling affair. I'm not sure I would be massively drawn to considering having this high definition version of the film in my collection. Keener fans of Argento's repertoire of work may disagree and be more willing to part with their cash. The film is only 12 years old but you would be forgiven to think it was far, far older than that. Those 12 years have not been kind to it. In this presentation the video quality is obscured by an over zealous representation of grain bordering a mass of noise which basically spoils the viewing experience. The audio on the other hand is impressive but lacks authenticity since it has been dubbed post event. The extras are very basic but solid enough to hold your interest.
When all is said and done I would suggest that if you have not seen this film before it maybe, dependant upon your tastes, worth a watch.
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