Universal’s region free UK release of Cape Fear is encoded via VC-1.
The detractors of the label will probably find little here to alter their viewpoint on how it deals with transfers of catalogue titles … although, I have to admit that I still quite like how the film looks on Blu-ray, if only from a purely personal point of view. Though, technically speaking, this comes up short.
Presented here with Scorsese's first 2.35:1 aspect, the film is opened-up with a clean and sumptuously colourful expanse. The film looks vibrant and alive. You can't argue with that. The garish aesthetic and lurid comic-book sensibilities have room to breathe and the image can be frequently bright and vivid. Which, as far as I'm concerned, looks great.
This is a deeply saturated film. The colour scheme is painterly and a bit extreme, the primaries slapped on with extra relish. Reds are massively bold – Cady's car, blood, some loud shirts – and greens are lush. Blues are smooth and clean, the midnight shades satisfyingly moody. Skin tones are warm and ruddy, positively swarthy in Cady's case. The blue-black of the tattoos looks good, though it does seem somewhat fake-looking to me when we have some full-on glimpses of the madman's body art. This is down to the vegetable dye, though, and not the transfer. The finale, all flashing lightning and silver-gleaming rain and splashing river-water looks softer than all that has gone before, although I think this is down to the visual effects and the evocative lighting that suffuses the sequence. The brown of the mud and the flash of the flare, and the blood on Sam's hands, all look appreciably striking, however.
Most importantly, I suppose, is the evidence that DNR certainly seems to have been applied. Although there is grain in the image, it is very light and very unobtrusive, and the picture, for much of the time, looks overly clean and artificial. There may be no banding or compression artefacts and only a couple of traces of aliasing that I spotted, but there is still some edge enhancement hampering things. Not to any distressing level, but it would have nice if they'd been able to eradicate this altogether. The final stretch, as I've said, already looks a touch softer than the rest of the movie, but this is exacerbated by the DNR which dulls the fast action even more. Thus, the processed appearance of the film is apt to cause some concern for some people. Sure, this looks bright and colourful and vivid, but it doesn't look like film. The grain grows in some shots – when Max has Sam brought before Balsam's judge after his arranged beating in the parking lot, for example – but even here it doesn't look right. It is fuzzy and ill-resolved, even masking the pattern on Cady's jacket with its artificial glimmer.
It would be hard to knock the level of detail revealed in those plentiful close-ups, however. Tight objectivity is splendid – the tooth-strafed hole left in a victim's bitten cheek, the inner-workings of the piano, the finite stretch of a mono filament wire – and clothing reveals lots of detail that were previously hidden. Although the film-like texture we expect can often seem horribly absent, the facial texture is excellent in close-up irony. There are lots of interesting faces thrust at the screen here. Nolte and De Niro are the prime examples, but everyone gets up close and personal at some point. So many crags, lines, ravines and craters are revealed in the blokes' countenances that you could be forgiven to assuming someone had splashed a topographical map of the Nevada desert over the camera-lens. But there is still something odd about the smoothed-over cleanliness of faces when seen once they have pulled away from the camera and moved back into the middle-ground. They do have a boosted and processed appearance, and Juliette Lewis even succumbs to some smearing.
But there are more things to praise, too. Contrast is good and reliable. It copes well with the white-negative transitions, the sun-drenched vistas and well-lit interiors. And the shadow-play is excellent. The blacks are satisfyingly deep and robust. I don't think there was any crushing going on. I peered into the gloomy quarters and detail seemed to be preserved within them. Going along with this, we have an enhanced sense of depth which, even alone, is a terrific improvement over what has gone before.
So, folks, Universal's region-free UK disc has its share of problems, no doubt the result of using an outdated master … and yet it remains a vivid and exciting image, just the same. The upgrade is certainly worth it, as far as I am concerned. The better blacks, the greater resolution in those close-ups and the improved sense of visual depth are vital plus-points. But, by the same token, what we have here is nowhere near as good as it should have been, and I know that some people will be sorely disappointed.
Officially, this can have a 7 out of 10 … but between you and me, it is probably more of a 6.5.
Cape Fear has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Sadly, though, it lacks much in the way of surround usage and all-round immersion. It may be a little more authentic to the original sound-design, but who wouldn't have relished some rear-speaker creep-outs and bombast?
Bernstein's rendering of the Herrmann score dominates the frontal field of the sound-design. It is deep and insidious, gut-spiking in its sudden main theme barrages and spine-tingling with its frequent string-based suspense-filled moments. It comes across with great clarity and presence. Instrumentation is clean and sharp, the music, itself, warm and brilliantly fluid, with a keen adherence to range. Without a doubt, the score is the best-served element of the sound mix.
Dialogue has a testing time, what with the pebble-chewing, raspy-dog delivery of Nolte and the muttering from both De Niro and Lewis. But this sounds just about as good as it could get. When Max is going for it with Biblical gusto, we can easily savour every vitriolic syllable bursting forth in that White Trash twang of his, and his crazed, waterlogged soliloquy at the end sounds just as comically demented and disturbing as ever, although this mix really does reveal the ADR looping that has taken place – there is no way that voice sounds like it is coming from De Niro's mouth.
Action-wise, the film has plenty. But the beatings, the screams and the impacts lack the sort of bite that I had anticipated. The hollow sounds of the baseball bats smacking into Cady's body have a nice little bit of detail, though. During the frantic finale, we have breaking wood, shattering glass, flames, gunshots and stone/head interactions. Plus we have the tempest swirling all around. But the mix is surprisingly reserved in terms of aggression. The kickings, the Star Trek-style tumbling bodies and the shearing of the houseboat are brutal, yes, but they could have done with more emphasis in the mix. The gunshots are detailed, but don't deliver too much of the expected sub-loving clout. The bass comes in when the boat meets the unyielding rock, but once again, this violence is a touch too “safe” to be really enjoyed on a bombastic, room-filling level. What should have been a thoroughly exhilarating sequence for the audio track is merely okay.
The surrounds do carry some more subtle elements. Water dripping or sloshing against the side of the boat, for instance. Some car noises and hubbub, and the squash-ball getting whacked all over the show. Separation across the front is fine and wide. No problems there at all. The track sounds faithful – and this is what we should be applauding. In fact, it is ironic that I feel deprived because of something not being there that wasn't there in the first place. I don't know … I just wanted a bit more oomph. But this is solid, dynamic and superbly atmospheric – and Herrmann's score sound terrific.
After the lacklustre, bare-bones release of the original Cape Fear, Universal do fans proud by retaining all the extras that adorned the SD DVD version of Scorsese’s remake.
We get a montage of 12 excised moments from the film in the Deleted Scenes, which really just provide more time with the Bowdens and some additional elements that were wisely dropped. There is a look at the filming of the Fourth of July Street Parade sequence, lasting for a couple of minutes. Likewise, there is a little snippet of behind-the-scenes footage On The Set Of The Houseboat, as we watch how the crash was filmed. We get a Photograph Montage of stills of the cast, all set to the movie's momentous score, and we are also permitted decorative looks at Saul Bass' Opening Credits, as well as his terrific, surrealistic contributions to Spartacus, Vertigo, Psycho and Casino. The Matte Paintings are gathered together for a brief before and after segment.
By far the greatest feature is the excellent Making Of Cape Fear documentary, produced by the always-reliable Laurent Bouzerau. This runs for a luxurious 80 minutes and charts the film from its conception, looking back at the literary roots and Thompson's original take, and then examining how the remake shifted from a Spielberg movie to a Scorsese movie, and the inherent evolution that the project then undertook. We hear from the filmmaker about why this was to be his first anamorphic 2.35:1 lensed film, and we learn about the alterations that would make this version more overblown, flamboyant and excessive than what had been seen previously. Naturally we meet the cast and hear about their concerns and feelings regarding the story and their characters, as well as gaining some technical insight from the likes of editor Thelma Schoonmaker. And we get a fair chunk detailing the elaborate visual FX that make the movie so striking. The great Elmer Bernstein elaborates upon his involvement with the production and his pride at being able to wrestle with Bernard Herrmann's awesome classic score for a spectacular rearrangement.
This is one of Bouzerau's typically brilliant chronicles, and a perfect accompaniment to the main feature.
Although I think his version is flawed and a massively overblown carnival when compared to J. Lee Thompson’s original, the maverick Martin Scorsese stepped outside of his comfort zone and delivered a terrific tour de force of paranoia and psychotic obsession. Without a doubt, Robert De Niro owns the film, stamping his unique persona on the shark-faced countenance of Max Cady and stealing every scene that he is in with a lunatic charisma that no other actor of his generation could ever hope to muster. Wildly over the top, deliriously unhinged and excessively violent, De Niro is the film. But this does not mean that the other performances are lacking in any way. Juliette Lewis teeters on the brink of the emotional abyss, by turns annoying and stirring. Nolte is a grizzled, troubled and imperilled protagonist, and Lange swelters in a miasma of conflicted angst. What Scorsese does, though, is make life difficult for us too. We don't have anyone to really latch onto, or to believe in. And if we are denied heroes, we can't help but side a little more with the villains.
As remakes go, this is a very welcome one. It tackles the same story, the same issues and the same conflict, but with fresh eyes and a darkly Mephistophelean sensibility. The updating works, and the graphic nature of Cady's deeds is now much more profound. I still prefer the original – its moral conundrum is actually more shocking - but this is bravura entertainment that packs a wallop.
Universal put out a reasonable transfer, and one that I'm sure will please many people. The film’s bright, gaudy and often sickly oppressive visual palette is vividly brought to life. There is certainly much room for improvement, though, and although the image seems slick and polished it is the product of DNR. The audio has some elements of heft and vigour to it, though not as much as I, for one, thought it should have had, and nothing to openly brag about by anyone's standards. The extras from the previous SD edition have been ported-over, with the excellent feature-length “making of” from doc-supremo Laurent Bouzerau being the star attraction, of course.
I've already recommended the original version on Blu, and now I can't help but promote this evolution of Max Cady as well. It is not Scorsese at his best – in fact, despite the savagery on offer, this is possibly Scorsese at his most studio controlled – but it represents him at his most stylishly exuberant.
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