Studio Canal have done a solid job within this UK Region B-locked 50th Anniversary Edition. It may not look quite as impressive as we’ve come to only expect from the format, but you have to take into consideration the limitations from a 50-year old movie, even one so richly preserved in all its black and white glory.
Presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 High Definition black and white video rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen, the film looks good – at times very good – but it’s not reference quality, and it’s far from perfect. On the plus side the contrast is excellent, with the black and white photography rendered in an at-times stunning fashion. Print damage is almost non-existent, with only the very occasional scratch to note, particularly surprising given the classic’s age. There is also a crisp, sharp look to much of the proceedings, often making the film look like a much more recently-shot production – the black and white, of course, here further helping to disguise the age.
On the flipside there appears to be a fair amount of DNR done to get to this ‘pristine’ looking stage, and, with it, we have not only lost most of the grain structure, but also some of the detail beneath it. Whilst this can make the film look clean, that is not necessarily a good thing if it comes at the expense of skin texture and fine object detail, which is sometimes the case here. Still, I suspect that only purists will really cry about this, as the classic certainly looks considerably better than it has done in 50 years; this release more than making up for its shoddy treatment on home formats over the decades.
On the aural front the accompanying remastered English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track also does a decent job with the material, providing a clear and clean track that seems to be completely devoid of the kinds of cracks and pops that you may have expected to be commensurate with a movie this age. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently – obviously Welles’s dubbing of the non-English-speaking cast is distractingly noticeable at times, but this is nothing to do with the quality of the audio accompaniment. Echoing effects coverage prevails, and the haunting score evokes a further sense of impinging claustrophobia whilst simultaneously playing towards the more surreal frivolity. Higher end elements can distort if you turn it up too loud – something which is unfortunately prevalent amidst pieces that are this kind of vintage – but aside from that this is a solid, accurate, frequently lively and mostly engaging track which shows the movie enough respect to please fans.
Well Studio Canal have certainly gone out of their way to provide a decent selection of welcome extras which are headlined by Interview-based Documentaries, almost all presented in SD, but still fairly decent quality.
Welles, Kafka and The Trial runs at half an hour in length and is a French documentary with English subtitles, taking an in-depth look at the trifecta, and discussing every aspect at length, including focus upon the largely European shoot.
Welles, Architect of Light is almost as long, clocking in at a little over 23 minutes, and whilst it purports to also be a Documentary, it is actually basically an Interview with Edmond Richard, the Director of Photography on The Trial. Given how stylish the film looks, and Richard’s obvious talent, this is a worthy accompaniment and well worth checking out.
Tempo Profile: Orson Welles is a further 30 minute Documentary looking specifically at the colourful and memorable life and career of the legendary writer/director/actor.
Interview with Steven Berkoff: adaptations of Kafka’s The Trial and Metamorphosis runs at a quarter of an hour and rounds out the background material. Berkoff may be more popularly known for his villainous film roles (Beverly Hills Cop, Octopussy, Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo) but he’s actually a fairly prolific writer and director of stage plays, and has adapted several of Kafka’s novels into plays and subsequently directed them. Here he discusses his interest in Kafka’s work as well as his adaptations.
Deleted Scene is nearly 7 minutes in length and presented in HD (1080i), and is the scene which Welles cut at the last minute just before the movie’s premiere, a sequence where the protagonist meets a computer scientist who uses her technology to predict his fate. It likely would have neither made the movie perfect, nor particularly detracted from it, but it’s understandable why Welles was unsure about leaving it in – especially since computers certainly weren’t in Kafka’s original 1914 book! A worthy inclusion and a real gem amidst the extras: well worth checking out.
Trailer is also in HD (1080i), rounding off the extras.
Booklet is another one of Studio Canal’s informative package extras, which includes an Essay on the film by Jonathan Rosenbaum, film critic and author of Discovering Orson Welles (2007), editor of This is Orson Welles (1998) and consultant on the 1998 re-edit of Touch of Evil.
Beneath the surface of author Franz Kafka’s clinically dense story, and behind the curtain of director Orson Welles’s fantastically evocative vision, there lies a true substance to The Trial which endures and perplexes with its open-ended questions and philosophical quandaries. Yet it is all too easy to get lost in Kafka’s labyrinthine plot and be bewildered by the way in which his surreal paranoid conspiracies come to life so wonderfully under the direction of Welles, forgetting that there is far more behind the scenes. Perhaps a flaw in this classic masterpiece? Perhaps an inherent problem resulting from the fact that Kafka’s famous work was an unfinished one? Either way, The Trial will find audiences split: those who appreciate the talent both behind the story and behind the camera, but can’t find their footing beneath the surface; and those whose quest to get to the truth will enrich their enjoyment of the feature despite never offering up any definitive answers. Perhaps this is the test of an enduring classic, or perhaps this is just another example of its flaws.
On Region B-locked UK Blu-ray Studio Canal have provided us with solid video and audio as well as a worthy host of interesting extras. Although the scoring for the technical aspects is not all that high, this is still easily the best that the 50-year movie has looked since it was first released, and fans will undoubtedly be lapping this up upon release. Don’t be put off by the vintage either – those not yet familiar with the world of Welles should consider this a fine entry amidst his best (which, for me, includes Touch of Evil), and those unfamiliar with Kafka could do worse than jump straight in the deep end, and immerse themselves in his rich but bleakly cynical world – as Kafka was something of a precursor to the weird world of David Lynch (think: Mulholland Drive), so too was the direction of Welles something of a precursor to the style of the likes of Scorsese and De Palma. Flawed predominantly by its somewhat wanton inaccessibility, this is still an undeniable masterwork.
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