Touch of Evil - Limited Edition Blu-ray Review
There are five different options to choose from on this disc, all presented in 1080p High Definition: three versions of the film, two of which are presented in two different aspect ratios. For the record, the 1998 Reconstructed Version is the preferred version to watch, and it’s probably more classically Wellesian in the ‘full-frame’ ratio of 1.37:1, although picking which aspect ratio for that version may just come down to taste. Each version has been detailed at length within this package:
Reconstructed Version (1998) – 1.37:1 & 1.85:1. This version was reconstructed by Walter Murch & Bob O’Neill, referring to notes from Orson Welles’ 1957 memo. This 2010 HD transfer utilised a 35mm Safety Composite Fine Grain (printed 6pts. Lite) – created at YCM Lab in 1998.
All three versions of the movie look extremely impressive in HD. The Reconstructed version boasts excellent detail, a few, acceptable, moments of softness, and general clarity on both the longer, more panoramic vistas, and the infrequent, but important close-ups. The black and white palette is superbly rendered, with strong, deep and rich black tones throughout; myriad shades of grey in-between, and pleasingly soft whites at the top end.
Whilst it does appear that the image is DNR processed, this has thankfully had a mostly beneficial result: aberrant noise has been reduced, but a decent layer of filmic grain has been retained for the most part. Understandably the 1.37:1 ratio print looks marginally superior to the 1.85:1 release, if for no other reason than the fact that the image appears smaller on your screen, making any possible defects even less noticeable. As is, signs of print damage seem to have almost entirely been removed.
Theatrical Version (1958) – 1.37:1 & 1.85:1. This 2010 HD transfer utilised a 35mm Safety Composite Fine Grain (#2)(w/extra R-7) – SET 192840 – created in 1958. Reel 11 only is from a 35mm Safety Composite Fine Grain (#1) – SET192839 – also from 1958.
Although largely identical in terms of quality to the Reconstructed Version, the Theatrical Version does have a few added (minor) issues – the source print appears to be different, and the digital defects are slightly more noticeable, although still really not an issue at all. Overall, you’re likely to find the Theatrical Version just as much of a pleasure to watch, at least visually.
Preview Version (1957/1958) – 1.83:1. Also formerly referred to as the “Long” or “Extended Version”, it derives from an old surviving 1957/1958 preview print which was an interim version of the film during the editing and re-editing process prior to release. A 35mm Silent Dupe Negative (printed in 1972 from a composite preview print, which dates back to1957/1958) – SET240723. It is a 2008 HD transfer.
Again, there really isn’t a great deal of difference between this and the previous versions (at least in visual terms), but this is still the weakest of the three versions on offer, with a marginally softer and more noise-impaired image. Still, as stated, there’s little in it – since you’re likely to be watching this version as the last choice on your list, you will probably not be in the slightest bit disappointed.
The audio provided is identical for all 3 different versions of the movie: remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
Reconstructed Version (1998) – The restored/reconstructed mono audio (SET188751) utilised as sources the “theatrical version” source DME (SET195468), the “preview version” print (SET107951), and an ADR line. The source for the opening scene music was taken from the body of the “theatrical version”.
Although mastered from different sources, I found it much harder to tell the difference between the audio accompaniments than between the video presentations. Overall the tracks sound excellent, with clear and coherent dialogue throughout that largely emanates from across the fronts and centre channels. There are no tinny moments, no screeching, scratching, pops or aberrant noise, the dialogue coming across as stable and refined. Effects are reasonably well-observed, with some scenes coming across as quite striking in this department (the early driving shot which was recorded in transit sounds surprisingly good), and the surround use allowing decent scope for the material. The score, by Pink Panther’s Mancini, is quite a penetrating offering, but never distorts or feels unbalanced.
Theatrical Version (1958) – Audio is sourced from a mono MAG – DME SET1955468.
Preview Version (1957/1958) – Audio has been restored from a studio print – SET107951 – as the source.
Really, there’s not much in it. Aside from the obvious impact that the changes to the material itself makes to these tracks, these aural alternatives are basically just as good. If pushed, I would say that they do not sound quite as well-refined or balanced, but there certainly aren’t any overt distracting elements or problematic audio moments.
This lavish 2-disc edition not only boasts 3 different versions of the movie itself (which should be surely counted as the most valuable of extras), but also a plethora of commentaries, some featurettes and a comprehensive accompanying booklet which further details the history, aftermath and impact of the production.
There are four commentaries on offer, each of which is worth your time and will impart a great deal of background information into the production: the 1.37:1 aspect ratio Reconstructed Version features a commentary from Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Rick Schmidlin (recorded in 1999), and the 1.85:1 aspect ratio Reconstructed Version has a solo commentary with Schmidlin; the Theatrical Version (whichever ratio) has a commentary by F.X. Feeney (recorded in 2008), and the Preview Version has a commentary by James Neremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum (recoreded in 2008). Which one you listen to is really down to personal preference, since they are all valuable offerings. I found Feeney to be a little too excited for my tastes, rattling out his often hyperbolic statements with far too much glee and energy, like the speed-taking character from Trainspotting; conversely the multiple-contributor commentaries feel a little bitty. Perhaps the best middleground is found with the solo Reconstructed Version commentary. Either way, it's a great selection of tracks.
Bringing Evil to Life – This 21 minute Featurette is far from the standard fluffy variety we have come to expect, a streamlined, information-packed offering with a whole hosts of contributors who offer up interview snippets on the movie and their memories of the production. Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Dennis Weaver, Valentin De Vargas, Peter Bogdanovich, cinematographer Allen Daviau and filmmaker Robert Wise all contribute.
Evil Lost and Found – An 18 minute retrospective look at the production history, Welles’ famous 58-page memo, the different versions of the movie that have been found/reconstructed over the years, and the work done to bring justice to this piece. With interview snippet contributions from some of the same contributors (including Janet Leigh) as well as film restorers Bob O’Neill and Rick Schmidlin.
Finally we get a Theatrical Trailer to round off the disc-based extras.
There is also a lavish illustrated 56-page booklet featuring a selection of essays/reviews which are all well worth reading: reviews by Francois Truffaut and Terry Comito; as well Orson Welles’ Ribbon of Dreams and Andre Bazin’s At Top Speed, from his book on Welles. There is also an interview with Welles, a timeline of the film’s history, and extensive notes on the different versions of the film, the different aspect ratios and the technical specifications of the same (as well as an opinion on which is the preferred version to watch: the 1998 Reconstructed Version in 1.37:1).
A dark and malevolent beast, whose production history is almost as colourful as the myriad characters it portrays, this is a stunning late classic-era film noir from acclaimed auteur Orson Welles. Packed with memorable dialogue, compelling characterisation, powerhouse performances, and a gripping story that promotes numerous (then-and-even-now) controversial themes of racism, sexism, interracial relationships, police corruption and drug use, Touch of Evil is a visionary work of art from Welles. Regrettably ripped from his clutches and re-shot/re-edited in post-production, the film was thankfully restored (decades after his death) to the closest approximately to his original vision as possible. Indeed it is a testament to the power and enduring strengths of the film that, irrespective of which version you watch, you will likely find it to be a truly great film noir.
On Region B-locked Limited Edition release from Eureka, we get a lavish 2-disc set that boasts all three versions of the movie, two of which are presented in dual aspect ratios. Although I would recommend watching the Reconstructed Version in 1.37:1, as it is probably the best and closest to what Welles would have wanted, the beauty of this package is that is offers so many different options to suit your tastes. To top it off we also get superior video and audio and an audio commentary for almost every single different version, as well as some other worthy extra features to boot. If only all film classics (hell, all films!) were given this kind of respectful and all-encompassing treatment. Highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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