PictureThis Is Spinal Tap comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to region B.
Given that the original was never a blockbuster, with an image to match, the Blu-ray was never likely to have that high definition pop that some consumers demand from their purchases. That isn't to say that it isn't a significant improvement over the various DVD incarnations of the film, just that it will always show its 16mm documentary roots. There is a certain softness to the picture that might put some off, as it was hidden to some extent on DVD and only now, when projected to a decent size, becomes truly apparent. Still, not all of this can be attributed to the film stock, as in various instances it is clear in fact that it is the ever moving fly-on-the-wall camera style that caused some lapses of precise focus. The delineation may not be up there with the best, but considering its origins, this is a fine effort to bring out a level of crispness to the picture that has previously been lacking. Steady shots of signs and close-ups in particular bring out this improvement over the standard definition offerings of the movie.
The colouring is true to the source material, with the overall palette being somewhat washed out, as all documentaries tend to look in comparison to the vivid nature of most fictional fare. Primaries stand out, with reds proving the richest of the colours, but most block shades are projected well and have a level of subtlety and detail to them that was not apparent on DVD, which instead made these instances often a touch gaudy. The skin tones still waver to an extent, as they always have, with light intensity shifting flesh from being pale (the band in bright light), to slightly ruddy (Marty DiBergi under artificial light). Essentially, this is about as good as I can imagine it will look, considering the use of 16mm film stock, coupled with the wildly varying lighting conditions and the freehand camerawork. The black may be soupy in places but there is still a good degree of shadow detail that is being brought to the fore in this presentation and the lack of significant print damage makes this positively commendable. It may not set your screen alight, but This Is Spinal Tap was never likely to do so, the best we could have hoped for was a solid representation of the original material, which is what I believe we have here.
SoundThe tunes of This Is Spinal Tap are serviced by way of an English Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, as well as English/French stereo LPCM track. For the purpose of this review I mainly focussed on the 5.1 offering.
Most comedies tend to place the emphasis squarely on the dialogue, understandably given that the stock and trade of such films is often to make viewers laugh because of what a character has said. This Is Spinal Tap has a somewhat trickier task, in that it not only has to deliver clear speech, but must also give listeners a track with a healthy dynamic range in order to bring the musical set pieces to life. Thankfully, this Blu-ray more than capably handles the pressure. The off the cuff remarks of St Hubbins and co are never lost, no matter what the situation. Speech is clear and distinct throughout, with both interior and exterior scenes easy to follow.
The rock side of the equation is similarly adept, bringing a vivacity forward that is rousing when held in comparison to the moments of quiet that have often preceded it. Bass is a little stingy, but perhaps I was expecting too much. As someone who likes to listen to rock music loud and with a crunching bassline, this can seem underwhelming. However, when held in context with the film as a whole, and given that they most likely were averse to producing levels that would shake viewers from their chairs or leave them deaf and considering that this is supposed to be a comedy experience, what we have is ample enough to hint at the desired effect of a rock band in full flow. High frequencies are easier to praise as the reverb of guitars and mandolins are tight and feel almost tangible. The level of dynamic range is quite impressive but the surround effects are sorely lacking. They were never likely to be prevalent but in truth it is only the musical numbers that feel like they utilise anything other than the frontal array of speakers. Like the image before it, the sound mix is to be commended for what it brings forward, rather than those elements that the material has always lacked, and thus were never likely to suddenly appear on this Blu-ray. The fact that I can now listen to Big Bottom in lossless audio is enough for me feel satisfied with this offering.
Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer stay in character for the duration of this commentary track and thus raise it above the average cast love-in to become a work of comedy in its own right. It was, and still is, one of my favourite features on a comedy disc of any format.
This Is Spinal Tap: Up To 11 - 576p - 43:03
An entirely new retrospective that looks back at the origins of the movie, what makes it funny and with profiles of the band members. A host of comedic talent turns up, including Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard, and Rob Brydon (to name but a few) as well as several people from the music industry to give their opinions on the authenticity of the characters. The presentation by music journalist Dom Lawson is a tad stilted but the rest of the talking heads more than make up for it, with the highlight being one particularly (I hope intentionally) funny comment by Sergio from Kasabian regarding extravagant riders.
Sprinkle Some ****in Fairy Dust On It - 576p - 4:21
A short interview with Reg Presley from The Troggs about the secret recording of his foulmouthed tirade that reportedly became the inspiration for some of the fictional band's arguments. Unfortunately, we don't get to hear the actual clip itself, which is a great pity.
2007 Live Earth Short Film and Performance - 576p - 6:56
A surprisingly good performance from the ageing trio, especially when considering that there were far worse acts on the day.
The Return of Spinal tap - 576p - 57:43
Previously released as a standalone title, to see this on the Blu-ray is a real treat. To catch up with the characters, coupled with the concert footage more than makes up for the 4:3 aspect ratio, and with 2 channel LPCM it sounds pretty good too. It may not be as polished as the film itself, but there is still enough decent off the cuff improvisation to make this definitely worth a watch for any Tap fans.
Stonehenge Interview with Nigel - 576p - 9:01
Made to advertise the National Geographic channel's documentary about Stonehenge, this proves amusing because of Guest's ability to confound his interviewer, who remains admirably straight faced throughout. The only downside is that it is minimised on the screen by borders on all four sides.
Outtakes - 576p - 1:07:52
Fourteen separate segments that can be viewed as a whole, these not only show how much footage ended up on the editing room floor, but also how well the material that made the final cut has been treated. There are so many moments that could have made it into the final piece, that it is nice to see the extra thought that went into filling out what ended up as minor characters, such as Billy Crystal's mime artist caterer.
Original Theatrical trailer - 576p - 4:56
Fairly self explanatory, here we have two trailers, one for the theatrical release and another for the VHS/DVD edition.
Music Videos - 576p - 12:24
A total of four of the band's music videos, including the full versions of Gimme Some Money and (Listen To The) Flower People as shown in part in the film. Big Bottom seems to have been cut from the stage performance (albeit with extra footage), whilst Hell Hole is a video not seen in the main feature in any way.
Creative Meeting and Bitch School Video - 576p - 4:33
A short meeting between the band and their producer to discuss the planning of the Bitch School music video, followed by the track itself. It may sound remarkably similar to Hell Hole but the tongue in cheek imagery keeps this fresh.
TV Spots - 576p - 1:36
Typical mini trailers from the US, complete with ridiculous voiceover.
Heavy Metal Memories - 576p - 1:37
A spoof television advert for a “best of” Spinal Tap album that is not available in the shops.
Cheese Roll Trailer - 576p - 1:50
Another spoof, featuring Marti DiBergi showing a trailer for the aforementioned fictional film because he hasn't got one for This Is Spinal Tap. Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing the film in its entirety.
Flower People Press Conference - 576p - 1:49
A charming mock press conference, showing the band in their younger days, perfectly parodying all the groups of the sixties that purported to be clean living free spirits only to later become debauched rock stars.
Featurettes - 576p - 20:52
Various talking head mini interviews with the band including Home Video and DVD Pod, The Controversy Pod, “Back From the Dead” pod, Influence Pod, Mick Fleetwood Pod and finally Music Pod.
Go To 11
I was a little perplexed when working out what this actually did, and after I discovered, I was even more dumbfounded as to why it was included. It simply makes the menu screen graphic of a Marshall amp dance about a bit with a few explosions and funny squiggles littering the visuals.
I honestly find it hard to fault this set of extras. Whether you see the myriad of in character interviews as filler or brilliant bonus material depends entirely on your view of the film as a whole. Personally, I will gladly take all the improvised musings of St Hubbins, Tufnel and Smalls. The inclusion of the new mammoth retrospective, coupled with the feature length Return of Spinal Tap makes this a perfect set of extras for any Tap-head.
VerdictThis Is Spinal Tap is a work of jocular genius. It won't necessarily be to everyone's tastes, but that is simply the nature of comedy. From Russell Brand to Billy Connolly, Ken Dodd to Frankie Boyle, what tickles one man's funny bone will often be seen by another as humourless, idiotic or even offensive. I've heard Rob Reiner's rockumentary described as all of the above and more besides, but the sheer amount of comedians and industry figures that hold it aloft as one of the pinnacles of filmic hilarity is surely testament to the accomplished nature of the finished article.
The Blu-ray delivers just about the best visual and audio presentation that we could have hoped for. Perhaps some were expecting miracles, but this stays true to the source material and gives us a clean image with extra detail and colour fidelity, whilst also piping a clear lossless 5.1 mix into our ears. The extras are often seen as little more than added incentive for a high definition purchase but in this case they will be the main draw. The star studded retrospective and the previously standalone title Return of Spinal Tap (both unavailable on the US Blu-ray) are the main features, but virtually all of the extras, including those already seen on special edition DVDs, will be lapped up by Tap fans.
In short, this is a title not only for those who have yet to delve into the delights of the world of spoof rockumentaries, but also to be considered strongly by those considering an upgrade to previous incarnations on home formats. The picture and sound may not be the best Blu-ray has to offer, but they are both significant improvements on the treatment this classic has so far received. If you're asking yourself how much better could they have realistically made this package, then the answer is none - none more better. Well, you didn't expect me to last the whole review without one attempted in-joke did you?
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