Cujo arrives on Blu-ray with a new 1080p transfer in the OAR of 1.85:1. This is a low budget early eighties film, and normally I would not have been expecting great things. However, the decent transfer of Children of the Corn that I reviewed recently did rather raise expectations. Sadly, although there is much to be impressed with here, it is certainly not up to the standard of that transfer.
First it should be mentioned that a very good job has been done of cleaning up the print. Although I originally saw this movie on its first VHS release (God, this job sometimes make you feel old), I have never seen the DVD so am unable to make a direct comparison. However, apart from a few minor specks this print looks superbly clean and spruced up.
Some parts of the transfer look stunningly sharp. Just watch, for example, the early pastoral scene of Cujo chasing the rabbit through the field. Every blade of grass, every piece of fur on the rabbit is clear and precise. The opening certainly promises great things, and when Cujo pokes his nose down the dark hole and the bats start flying the shadow detail is a revelation for a film so old.
However, problems do start to become apparent the further into the film we go. The main problem seems to be the interiors, both inside the houses and the car. These scenes look incredibly soft and hazy - almost as if they are shot through some kind of filter. Detail levels in these scenes suffer, and colours are weaker. I can only assume this is a result of the way the film was shot, however, as the exterior scenes are always crystal clear and vibrant. This can become quite apparent during the extended dog attack, where exteriors are bright and detailed and the car interior can seem quite dull and lifeless in comparison.
That 3D pop we have come to expect from a Hi-def transfer is similarly varied. In external scenes in the yard the depth of field is very impressive and detail extends into the background. Again, with the interiors this is lacking with everything seeming somewhat compressed.
As a picture quality it is a real difficult one to quantify with a mark. Another perfect example for comparison is when the Trenton family first arrive at the Camber's yard. The clothes are retina-searing bright (look at Vic's shirt), facial detail is immense, and the scenery stretches out to the shack in the background. Then, a few scenes later when the Camber family is sitting round their table colours are muted, detail is pushed down, and the room has no depth to it. As mentioned previously, this HAS to be an effect of the way the film is shot but I am going to have to give the picture only a six because of it. If every scene had the quality of the exteriors, though, this would have been an eight or nine - and fans should be reassured that Cujo has never looked this good.
For its Blu-ray release, Cujo has had its original monaural soundtrack remixed into a full-on DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. If you are not a fan of remixed tracks like this then the original mono track is included.
The first thing to say is that this track is not the most immersive track you will ever hear, but this is probably to be expected with this type of remix. The surrounds are mainly used for the (frankly quite awful) Charles Bernstein score, which does fill the room at times. Other than this, though, the surrounds get very little workout apart from the stunning scene in the car where the camera pans rapidly and Tad's cries pan round the speakers in a realistic way. This is actually one of my favourite sound pans of the year, and is extremely well done. Mainly, though - this immersiveness is lacking.
The front stereo separation is excellent though, with various barks and snarls being well placed within the front sound field and giving you a good clue as to where the dog is likely to be coming from next. Dialogue is also clear and precise, standing out really well amongst all the mayhem. Tad's screams and cries in particular are well captured, cutting through your ears in a realistic (if not entirely pleasant) manner.
There are only two extras included on this disc but they are both superb. First up is an audio commentary featuring the director Lewis Teague. He does have quite a high opinion of his film but he manages to avoid seeming arrogant and brings some interesting insight to the table.
Even better is the three part documentary Dog Days : The Making of Cujo. This is a 42 minute documentary in three parts and each part can be watched individually if required. This is produced by Laurent Bouzereau and it is most definitely up to his usual high standards. The first part majors on the book and translating it to script form, the second features the filming and Jan De Bont's methods, and the final part covers the editing, sound effects etc. This documentary is consistently illuminating and comes HIGHLY recommended. All the major players take part, except for Stephen King himself.
Cujo is never mentioned these days, when critics talk about decent adaptations of Stephen King novels. Maybe it is because the film falls between two stalls of family drama and all out horror. But in doing so, it is being faithful to the source novel and for this, it must certainly be celebrated. I have got a lot of time for the film. It is the type of film that will never trouble award-givers, but it is well acted, well directed, and can be taken on the surface level as a horror movie but metaphor is also there if you want to take it in.
The picture is inconsistent which is likely to be due to the source - in places it is a revelation, in others it is poor. The sound is a remixed mono track and has the problems inherent with this type of mix. But the original soundtrack IS included for those who want it. The extras package also features a superb documentary and a decent commentary.
The bottom line is that Lionsgate have done a superb job, doing justice to an underrated horror movie. Fans of Stephen King or the movie should rush to pick this up. Others fans of the genre should definitely apply as well. The film may show its age in places but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable 95 minutes and comes recommended.
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