Optimum released Angel Heart on UK BD a short while ago, but since that was locked to region “B” I could not view it, so I have no way of gauging whether or not this region-free US counterpart from Lionsgate improves upon it, although I have heard that Optimum's disc uses the same encode and that its transfer is probably identical to this one.
Parker's film appears here in its original 1.78:1 ratio and has been encoded via AVC MPEG-4. Grain is intact, yet there does seem to be some clumpiness to it at times. Nothing that I found distracting, but a possible compression issue for some. There are occasions when the grain seems to intensify, but I did not find this to be a problem at all, either. Parker's film has a densely textured and cinematic appearance all the way through. The grain does not obscure any detail and I found no time when judicious DNR had been applied.
Angel Heart is not a colourful film. In fact, it is a slightly sick-looking one - intentionally of course - that hones-in on the yellower, more sweaty and cloying veneer of a slightly desaturated image. This is aided by pale, pallid and sometimes earthy costumes and a generally dry aesthetic that the disc brings out with authenticity. Once we get to New Orleans, however, and leave the northern drabness behind, it can often seem like a different film. The greens of the trees and the fields are lush and bright, skin-tones become far more radiant and, in the case of Mickey Rourke during Harry's first meeting with Epiphany, quite ruddy. But this does necessarily make the film more vibrant, Parker's aesthetic for making a monochromatic movie in colour still stands. Yellows are promoted throughout, as are browns and greys, providing a pungent sheen to the picture that definitely suits the theme. However, the colour timing may be slightly off, as hues do seem alter within the shot on some odd occasions. I haven't, as yet, been able to compare this to the previous DVD, though I would suspect that this is evident on the print, itself and only seems more apparent on the hi-def image. Mind you, there are still some pretty bold colours on show, such as the neon signs in the diner and reflected in the puddle outside. So, we do get some fine greens, reds and some great gumbo-gubbins. Check out the purple-scalded face, for example.
Whilst you can't say that this image is sharp - it most certainly isn't - the detail that comes through is great. You can see much more of the objects, props and paraphernalia that decorate Margaret Krusemark's apartment. Facial texture is more acute, though still not quite distinguished and close-ups don't really shine. But, then again, the material on the clothes, the curtains and even upon black veil that covers the mysterious nun who keeps cropping up is all the more noticeable. The street parade flashback yields up more faces, depth and visual information, as does the vision of the orgy during the big sex scene. Oh, and you'll notice more detail in the taboo Rourke/Bonet bonking session, too. Scenes in subdued light also reveal a great deal more than I've seen before and this is down to the extremely good black levels as much as the extra definition. Stable, rock solid - save for one or two instances of very slight contrast wavering - and deep, the shadows are one of the strongest visual elements of the film and, thankfully, the transfer does them proud with only a handful of times when they come over a little watered-down and diluted with grey.
There is a level of three-dimensionality that I found quite surprising. Somehow, after years of SD versions, I had anticipated quite a flat viewing experience once more, but this is not the case. Harry driving into the bayous and certain views down the streets of New Orleans become quite striking, especially given the 1.78:1 image which, during some of these deeper moments, becomes a wonderful heightened picture showcase. The horses racing towards us as Harry and Ethan Krusemark talk beside the track, and several views of Harry perched on the stairs, or the recurring image of the fan swirling around in the window of the tenement block as seen from high up across the road.
Sadly, edge enhancement is still in evidence around objects and people seen in silhouette - the Q & A session on the beach in the first act, say - and I think I spotted a couple of incidents of slight aliasing taking place. But, despite this and the fact that the film now looks grainier than it may have appeared before, there is a lot more definition, detail and depth on offer. In short, I was very happy with this transfer and I think that Lionsgate have done a fine job with Angel Heart.
Angel Heart actually had a full 6-track surround audio mix to begin with, and this is something that was acutely designed to extend, clarify and accentuate the haunting score from Trevor Jones and, perhaps more insidiously, the jazz numbers that lilt, sizzle and croon their way across the soundtrack. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix does a fine job of bringing this musical presence out into the listening environment and brings what is, primarily, a very talky film to life.
For the most part the track is remarkably subtle, though one or two scenes rip their way across the soundfield. Specifically, this aggression occurs during the voodoo ritual that Harry spies upon, when the tribal drums and the chanting, wailing and screaming of the participants gains vigour and the rear channels get to boost this, but there is also the violent love-making that Harry and Epiphany indulge in that brings out some volatile elements of the score to encircle and bombard you. Thus, Angel Heart is a curious beast, audio-wise. It seems constructed from two extremes - the brash and raucous horror elements and the quiet, possibly very subdued dialogue stretches. The sub isn't exactly taxed, but the track does have a fine bass presence that can be pretty jolting at times. We're not talking “boom-boom, shake the room” stuff here, but there is an appreciable depth that helps to reinforce some of the film's more emphatic moments.
Dialogue doesn't exhibit any problems for the transfer, though there are times when the naturalistic exchanges can seem low and, in the case of both Rourke and De Niro, actually quite hushed and mumbled, but this is part and parcel of their performances and the evocative realism that Parker is aiming for. There is even some directional flow to the verbals. Music can be all over the show ... but in a good way. There are certainly times when the score is wild and aggressively presented, though this attack is fundamentally launched from the frontal array. But there are numerous occasions when subtlety is called for and we can little snippets of the piano refrain, or crooning off in the background. The sound of the small kid's feet tap-dancing ripples with smart clarity and the dripping of water from Harry's leaking ceiling and the odd torrential downpour sound well mixed in the soundtrack.
In short, this is not the most dynamic lossless track that you will have heard, but it is the most dynamic that Angel Heart has ever sounded on home video.
The new Lionsgate disc brings over some of the special features found on the R1 Special Edition, but manages to neglect the excellent little segments on voodoo, as well as the great booklet of Parker's notes that accompanied the R2 edition.
After a very brief introduction from the filmmaker (lasting only a minute or so), we then get a little more from him in an 8-minute Interview with Alan Parker that just extends his chat from the intro. Really, this should have been a more streamlined combination of the two features. Separating it like this, considering that they are both taken from the same session, just misleads you into thinking you are getting two distinctly different extras.
Following on from this, we get Parker's audio commentary, which some people have cited as being a rather dull affair, but then again, what should we really be expecting from a man who is hardly the most garrulous, amusing or spontaneous? But, despite this, his sporadic verbal chronicle is still highly informative and Parker does indulge us with a quite few anecdotes regarding the shoot and how he got on with and handled his cast - De Niro's meticulous nature that, despite his only meagre screen-time still made for a few consternations, the weighing, sparring and constant ad-libbing from the two leads, Rourke's intensity when it came to the more violent elements of his character, and how Bonet proved to be exceedingly game and confident, and possibly more mature than the lot of them, Parker included. Naturally he references the difficulties that the film had in the States regarding the notorious sex scene, but he also provides some titbits about his use of the symbolism that he injected into the film and the many alterations that he made from Hjorstberg's novel. Despite the slightly dreary tone to his discourse, this is still a worthwhile track that fills in a lot of gaps and presents the movie in a good, workmanlike and drily affectionate manner.
Rourke's scene specific commentary, however, is not exactly much of a rewarding experience, to be honest. In fact, it is just the same interview section as we see elsewhere on the disc, only, guess what, they've inter-cut his spiel with footage from the film. Erm ... this only covers 14-minutes and, to be honest, it isn't even scene-specific. Rourke is asked questions and he, very successfully attempts to answer them in as few words as he can. If the purpose of this feature was to make him look like a mumbling, forgetful and uninterested actor just wanting to be arrogant and aloof, then it almost works. The thing is, Mickey Rourke is just too damn likeable not to warm to, despite coming across as a woeful interviewee. Therefore, although something that you just have to watch, if only to roll your eyes and stare open-mouthed at the ineptitude of the whole deal, this is nothing more than a trick, folks, that just serves to pad out the extras-roster yet again.
The Interview with Mickey Rourke, that the so-called commentary is culled from, is a strange little affair. Rourke is actually on fine enough form, although the questions he is asked (the ones that we can hear, at any rate) seem a little ramshackle and just designed to allow him plenty of leeway to ramble. Sitting in a small projection theatre, wearing shades and stroking, Bond-villain style, his small dog, the featurette seems partially engineered to be a “bit odd” but, in actual fact, Rourke is very forthcoming and amiable and gives some - though not a great deal of - insight into his experiences with directors and actors from his film-school days on upwards through the majority of his films. Weird, but kind of fun.
Then, besides a theatrical trailer, we get the Interview with Alan Parker, which is shorter than that held with Rourke, but certainly more productive in terms of an association to the film in question. However, there is nothing new that we learn here that haven't already heard in the commentary track. Still, Parker is a likeable chap, down to earth and agreeably British, so this is still a pleasure to watch.
So, folks, this is actually a frustrating little assortment of extra features. Those who have the SD Special Edition, and the book, as well as this, have the lot. But, somehow, I think that a full-on, feature-length and comprehensive making-of documentary, rounding-up as many participants as possible, is still required. Plus, I want to hear about that decapitation scene that was, at least, attempted.
Whilst far from being a masterpiece Angel Heart occupies a curious platform that enables many to cherish its narrative loop-the-loop and considerably affecting atmosphere, whilst many others see the deficiencies all too readily and regard it merely as a protracted exercise in rather blatantly signposted misdirection. What is inarguable is the quality of the performances from Rourke and Bonet, who invest both a heartfelt seediness and a raw and alluring vulnerability to their roles, and the massively moody ambience that permeates every frame and literally drips depravity from the screen. De Niro does, though, appear to be hamming-it up, although each of his scenes is still electrifying. And the supporting cast are, to a one, excellent. Charlotte Rampling is coldly attractive whilst McGhee is earthy and belligerent. Stocker Fontelieu is wildly unpleasant and oafish, yet his ogreish zeal at delivering gruesome detail is delightful. The local actors that Parker employs provide that all-essential authenticity, making the film feel alive and just a window looking out on to a much wider and more unpredictable stage.
This Blu-ray edition sports a much improved image and a solid, reliable lossless audio track. The extras are not, however, profound, which remains something of shame considering the film's powerful theme and the intensity with which it has been put together. But they certainly add some value to the release and are worth your time. Fans can be relieved that the film, as it appears intact here (complete with sex scene and the cock-fight which is, apparently, still missing from the UK BD), looks and sounds the best that home video has ever offered and, as far as I am concerned, Parker's satanic thriller is an excellent walk on the darker streets of obsession. In part Hitchcock, in parts Chandler, and heavily Faustian, Angel Heart cuts a controversial swathe through the moral quagmire of guilt.
Excellent and utterly beguiling.
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