Encoded via AVC MPEG-4, Big Trouble In Little China's 2.35:1 image looks extremely good to me. Whilst no-one would ever assume that the film had been made yesterday, it certainly scrubs up very nicely, thank you. With no damage, wobbles, judders, flecks or specks to mar the image, Jack Burton's adventure is highly film-like and unmistakably respectful of its source. Aye, folks, that means there's no DNR and the film's grain is intact.
Colours are way better than I've seen them previously. Reds, blues and greens stand proud. Plentiful neon signs and supernatural laser lights - from Egg-Shen's Shaolin hand-grenades to the ghastly ectoplasmic yawns of Lo Pan - really shine through. Earthy tones for the wooden-walled White Tiger whorehouse and the external shots of the streets of Little China look natural and fine. The garish colour scheme for the demon-lord's hidden citadel look equally resplendent. The film does not drip colour, by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly looks vibrant, clean and lively at all times. Skin-tones are spot-on, although you have got some enhanced green eyes for Miao Yin - I suspect - and the fabulously pink-and-white ceremonial make-up for both her and Kim Cattrall's Gracie, as well as Lo Pan, comes across well. There is no evidence of bleeding, or smearing, either. And, in the two troublesome scenes of grainy, obscured grey and green - when Jack first arrives in Chinatown, and for when he and Wang are forced to swim through a sunken chamber of imprisoned corpses - I saw no sign of banding or noise. Blood, on the rare occasion when we see it, is suitably thick and dark red.
Although the film looks sharp and detailed, if you compare it to something much more recent with a top transfer, it is going to come up way short. But this does represent a massive leap over any other home video version that you will have seen. Each scene offers up a lot more detail and the frame is now filled with more eye-catching finery in the wardrobe department, more finite texture in the sets and more facial and follicle information in the close-ups. Depth is natural and much better than ever before. Jack back-pedalling before a Lord of Death twirling nasty weaponry under his nose at the airport, the Pork Chop Express attempting to ease down those narrow streets, a glance down a precariously deep well-shaft, and the battle on the gangway between Wang, his maître d', Eddie Lee (Donald Li) and a couple of Lo Pan's female guards all have a pleasing degree of added dimensionality. Yet, unlike The Thing's transfer, I did not come from this feeling overly wowed by its depth and visual immersion.
A remarkable facet of this transfer is just how well the visual effects seem integrated into the film. Where once there would be sparkling matte lines and mismatched colour sequencing, Big Trouble's magical light show now looks incredibly smooth and balanced and, most rewarding of all, part and parcel of the film around it. The explosion of green fire above the whorehouse, the crackling lightning that one of the Storms hitches rides on, Lo-Pan's floating entity and, best of all, the daggers of shocking laser-light than he emits from his eyes and mouth, all look terrific and so much better than you may have feared such now-vintage fx would have done. Only the demonic Seeing-Eye pus-ball looks sort of obvious in the scheme of things, but this is still perfectly acceptable and still miles better than it looked in any version prior to this.
Digitally, the transfer is largely free from edge enhancement, noise or artefacts. I thought I could some very slight aliasing during Jack's rain-washed arrival at the market-place, but this is tiny and probably won't be noticed by anyone who isn't scrutinising the image. The black levels are strong - possibly too strong in a couple of scenes, but not to any worrying degree - and the contrast is well maintained. The shadows are deep and stretching, but where the older versions could veritably swallow up detail in their shadows - the Seeing-Eye spy was a usual victim of this - I didn't feel that I was missing anything and that the image, overall, was brighter and more revealing.
Big Trouble In Little China gets a very strong 8 out 10.
Fox provide Kurt's mystical odyssey with a new DTS HD MA 5.1 mix that certainly improves on any audio track that I've heard on the film before. For the record, Fox also provide a Dolby Surround track, as well.
Now, straight-away, this new lossless mix sounds much more vigorous and boisterous than before. The front soundstage is bursting with activity, separation is clean and wide and the detail is greatly enhanced. But, fairly soon, you are going to realise that the overwhelming majority of the audio experience is going to be coming at you from the front. But this is no upset at all, folks. Carpenter's movie never lets up, never comes up for air, and this translates well to a sound-design that is full of voices, activity, action, music and some classic synth-created “stingers” that assail you all the way through.
There are wraparound sonics on offer, but I was never particularly convinced by any of them - voices, impacts and some additional rear support for the score all make their presence felt, though little of it feels really natural or fully dynamic. Then again, the film was not renowned for its surround qualities in the first place, even the 4-channel Dolby Digital mix that graced the Special Edition wasn't overly blessed with surround detail. But there are still some nice touches throughout that see to it that the film comes alive with atmosphere, even if these are mostly hurled out at you from the front. The rainstorms don't allow their downpours to travel too far across the lounge, and the crackling lightning from, ahem, the powerful Storm called Lightning, may be energetically fizzing and super-charged, but its synapse-flashes won't strike very far behind you.
Gunshots have been augmented with some extra bass to provide them - particularly during the alley fight - with more weighty oomph, some machine-gunfire sounding both better and odder than previously. Impacts such as shattering wood, fist and foot salvos, breaking glass and explosions also sound heftier and more percussive. Swords, however, clang with possibly less aggression than I expected, sounding maybe a touch more subdued in comparison. Personally, I did not find any of this much of a problem, though, and was just thankful to have a more exciting soundtrack to enjoy over the blander incarnations from earlier releases. The score from Carpenter and Howarth is well catered-for by the new track. Those pounding synths tumble towards you, the oriental twangs issuing cleanly and briskly from a nicely widened environment. Big Trouble was always renowned for is musical and FX “stingers” - those wacky, heart-lurching jolts designed to send your popcorn to the roof - and this track certainly brings them to the fore with vigour and power. Amidst all this cacophony, dialogue is never left behind, swallowed-up or submerged. Even during the most hectic chase sequence, it feels properly prioritised and with fine separation across the speakers.
In all, this is a very fair presentation of what is quite a crowded soundtrack. The DTS-HD MA transfer does well to keep up and offer us such detail and strength which, really, is all you could ask for.
A strong 7 out of 10.
Fox retain the goodies from the Special Edition that came out a while back which, unlike Sony's BD release of Starman, is exactly what the fans want. Here is another of Big John's celebrated chat-tracks with his macho alter-ego of Kurt Russell. Once you get passed Kurt's speaker-rattling guffaws - which commence right from the get-go - there is a wealth of trivia, production background and all-round amicable banter from the pair. Obviously very dear friends, the pair manage to resist the temptation to just go off on tangents and totally forget about us with regular little prompts when one or the other will ask their buddy how they did something, why they did it like that, or what their views on so-and-so are. Naturally, they both already know all the answers and this is just for our sake, but the track is continuously amusing and anecdote-laden. They both have a great time reminiscing and, consequently, so do we listening to them.
The vintage featurette is promotional pap, of course - but, hey, even this is 7-minutes of fun. We meet all the main players - Carpenter, Russell, Cattrell, Dunn and Hong - who give amusing little introductions to their characters and the sheer enjoyment that they are having on-set and how this should translate to the audience, as well.
The Deleted Scenes and the Extended Ending are great to see, although they were possibly removed and altered for all the right reasons. The extended finale feels too contrived and cosy - Jack gets his playful revenge on the street-gang who got the whole adventure started - and the rest of the material can be viewed either as rough-cut footage or from a Betamax workprint.
A brief - 13 minute - chat with visual effects man, Richard Edlund comes next. This can be viewed either with a box-out in the corner of the screen showing us imagery that he and his team created for the film or, by toggling, with the imagery filling the screen and Edlund's carried over the top. Somewhat faltering, Edlund's delivery isn't great, but the feature is still a welcome one that shows us the extent of the lever, buttons, switches and operators that brought the Seeing-Eye and the sewer-monster to life.
Then, in a real boon for John Carpenter-music lovers, we get two special features devoted to the cult themes he created for the film. The first is the score playing on an isolated track in full DTS, no less. Now, the great thing about this is that Big Trouble has virtually wall-to-wall music, meaning that there aren't too many dead spots. But, having said that, the best way to listen to this memorable score is from the official CD release, which contains the complete score, as well as various bonus material.
The second item is something that sounds like it will turn the stomach and have you reaching for the stop button in a flash, but ends up being absolutely brilliant, is the specially crafted music video for the title song of Big Trouble In Little China, performed, of course, by Carpenter, Castle and Wallace in their mock-rock, guitar and keyboard frat-pack of The Coupe De Villes. Full of manic early MTV colours, zooms and visuals, this has the trio “shukking 'n' jivin'” in the film's editing suite, dressed like Arabian neon-gurus and giving it loads. Enormously good fun and immensely addictive.
The D-Box enabled disc is rounded off with Big Trouble's theatrical trailers and TV spots, as well as a 17-minute behind the scenes gallery.
Whilst a meaty retrospective making-of would obviously have been the icing on the oriental cake, this is still a fine selection of goodies.
Distilled from the test-tube labelled “Instant Cult Classic”, John Carpenter's dizzy giggle-fest, Big Trouble In Little China, sets out to “shake the pillars of Heaven” and comes away having done exactly that. With its tongue wedged firmly in its cheek, the film rockets along without a care, bombarding you with a series of ridiculously exciting set-pieces, fantastic smart-ass dialogue and such an infectious sense of fun that it is impossible not to love it. Visually entrancing, action-packed and full of mystery, part of its appeal is that you genuinely feel as though you are in on the joke, which, in the horribly self-conscious climate of movies these days, is endlessly refreshing. It is always great to see a hero who is actually painted as a very fallible under-achiever - it just has to give hope to the rest of us. But the sad thing, of course, is that this was the last time that John Carpenter would be able to fully accomplish a movie that was clever, entertaining and original and be proud to carry his name before the title.
We still await the great comeback, John.
Fox's disc is a great one. The transfer is far, far better than some may have dared to hope for. The audio is punchy, loud and enjoyable, but the picture is where the real treasure lies. Extras-wise, we aren't talking totally comprehensive, but what we get leaves nothing behind from the previous Special Edition and results in a satisfying package, overall. The commentary, as usual, is gold dust.
It is definitely time to get rid of your SD versions and upgrade to this excellently encoded BD. Very highly recommended.
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