Chinatown comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray with a decent 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. There’s no question that this HD rendition is a marked upgrade over the previous SD-DVD releases, but it also looks distinctly like it has been struck from the same master as the 2007 Special Edition DVD, a 2006 master which, whilst very good, is neither up to the standards of the latest mint 4K prints, nor quite as great as this masterpiece of a film deserves.
Detail is generally good and, for the most part, it does not rely on some kind of artificial digital tinkering – like excessive DNR – to successfully differentiate the lines, close-up details and fine object rendering. Some stunning vistas are perfectly captured here, the broad and panoramic shots of cinematographer John A. Alonzo bringing late 30s Los Angeles to life like never before. Still, there is a hint of banding; the picture is not devoid of print damage; and softness is visible, particularly around the edges. It’s impressive – a clear upgrade – but not quite what you expect from a 2012 1080p HD rendition.
The colour scheme is brilliant, however, providing accurate and vibrant tones that afford the period setting a wonderfully broad palettle, bathed in beautiful tequila LA sunsets and sunrises, with decent facial tones (only minor pasty moments), lush green vegetation, beautiful blue skies and seas, and rich blacks which only briefly dip into crush. Grain is not as stable as you might have expected, perhaps a sign of the digital tinkering, but when it’s there is gives the image that suitably filmic edge.
Overall fans will be most pleased with the generally impressive upgrade, particularly those who didn’t pick up the 2007 DVD, but those expecting a video presentation commensurate with the lauded status of this classic will be disappointed that Paramount didn’t splash out for a brand new 4K transfer, because this is one movie that should have been given the reference quality treatment all the way.
On the aural front, Chinatown’s UK release scraps the restored original Dolby TrueHd Mono track which is present as an option on the US release, and instead just maintains the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 remix. To be honest, there’s likely not much difference between the two, as the 5.1 offering isn’t exactly overwhelmingly immersive, and only hardcore cinephiles should be disappointed in the lack of the original mono, as the remix really is a fairly faithful, subtle alternative, allowing for a marginally more atmospheric accompaniment to this classic movie. We get clear and coherent dialogue largely dominating the frontal array for the majority of the proceedings, with Goldsmith’s majestic score soulfully – and almost single-handedly – relating the period substance within the aural offering. Effects are mostly of the ambient variety, from car engines and traffic noises to revolver gunshots and the occasional echoing rifle shot; with the percussive thrum of galloping horses’ hooves and the thunder of crashing water being illegally discharged at the reservoir also adding a bit of potency to the array, but seldom break free of the frontal soundscape. There’s nothing overwhelming here; nothing that fully justifies the 5.1 remix’s existence, but there’s enough to enjoy the track, and thus the movie.
For those who were already disappointed with the lack of inclusion of the original mono track, things only get worse here. Much worse.
There are no extras. Nothing. Zip. Not even a Trailer. Oh but there’s a little pamphlet. Paramount have been really generous.
The US release, on the other hand, boasts numerous Featurettes and Interviews – several of which are retrospective – along with a Commentary track where Screenwriter Robert Towne teams up with none other than David Fincher. The only solace is for those who purchased the 2007 Special Edition DVD, which also houses all of these features. Anybody else will likely want to look to the US release over the UK release if they are interested in having anything more than a pamphlet.
One of the prime examples of a perfect confluence of elements, 1974’s neo-noir detective mystery Chinatown saw Robert Towne’s rightly lauded screenplay bring together director Roman Polanski, actor Jack Nicholson and a whole host of perfectly chosen supporting cast and crew members, to create a pure, undisputed masterpiece; a resounding classic which has gone down in film history as one of the greatest movies of all time. Blending a superior period setting with an intricately-fashioned murder mystery, played off against a broad political backdrop and injected with a dark undercurrent of rape and incest, every successive viewing of this film brings you something new to enjoy, and if you haven’t yet discovered it, then it should immediately go to the top of your wish-list.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray fans will be pretty confused over what to do. The video offers a clear upgrade over previous DVD incarnations, but is not the stunning remastering job that you would have hoped would be provided for this classic; the audio track is good but we don’t get the original mono track included on the US release; and this disc has been completely stripped of all the extras that pack out the US alternative. Unless you’re seriously restricted in terms of how much you spend on discs, or already have the 2007 Special Edition DVD (which came with all the same extras), there’s really no reason to choose the UK release over the superior US edition.
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