Being nigh on 74 years old, it's unsurprising that the 1.66:1 aspect transfer looks a little tired. That being said, the restoration process that the film underwent for this Blu-ray release was meticulous. The process involved cleaning of the original negative, and making a new preservation copy which was subsequently scanned in 2K, and completed using the 1938 print. Extensive effort was also gone to in order to maintain the movie's original “look” with grading done using the original version, though I suspect probably as reference. Needless to say, it feels authentic, and cared for.
The grain structure is typical of a movie from this era, showing a steady level throughout. I did notice that there may have been some discrepancies in the transitional shots from one scene to another (incidentally, in one of these we see a clear “Star Wars Wipe”, perhaps Lucas was a fan?) that look to have had some attention in the restorative process. This has led to some scenes looking very heavily DNR'd, but the effect is momentary at best. In some outdoor scenes the top portion of the screen is blurred, a common trait for movies of the period though, and I consider it to be perfectly fine, as to try and enhance sharpness, to me, would have likely caused more problems than it would have fixed.
Overall, the quality is variable throughout, with some scenes having suffered much more than others, for example the scene with the dog towards the beginning of the film, it looks extremely damaged and excessively dark and grainy. Perhaps some footage simply couldn't be rescued.
Direction is very much of the time, with most characters central on screen, but Carne shows skill with conversation scenes, maintaining eye level between all shots. Characters are presented with decent contrast and skin never seem burned out or over exposed. There isn't much by way of detail, but again, this is a product of it's time, and thankfully no one's tried to get too heavy handed in the restoration process.
Coming in at an ambitious DTS HD Master audio 2.0 Mono track, the audio is, as you would expect, pretty poor. Dynamic range is virtually non existent, but dialogue comes across balanced and clear. Every so often, the dialogue touches distortion territory, but it's never distracting. What hiss was on the audio track to begin with, and I can assure that there was plenty there in the previous version's I have seen, is completely gone. That is to say that there's an audible noise floor, but it's not anywhere near as oppressive as it has been. The music is relatively sparse, but when it's there, Maurice Jaubert managed to bring an additional sense of doom and gloom to the movie, with a broody and thick sounding score.
All together, nothing too great, but expectations were hardly through the roof with material from 1938.
On the Port of Shadows - A compelling 45 minute documentary discussion the impact that Le Quai des Brumes had on the film industry. With some learned scholars of film imparting their knowledge and ideas about the film's production and difficult start in life. A very interesting featurette.
Introduction to Le Quai des Brumes by Ginette Vincendeau - A 7 minute introduction from Ginette Vincendeau, a professor of Film Studies at King's College London. She is the author of several books on French cinema. Here she introduces the movie with some very interesting points of view, and an obvious insight into why Le Quai des Brumes is such an important piece of cinema history.
Restoring Le Quai des Brumes - A ten minute featurette about the painstaking process of restoring the original footage. Much of the footage had been badly damaged, but this didn't dissuade the crew from striving to reproduce the film in it's original form, prior to any censorship.
Le Quai des Brumes is an important piece of cinematic history for a number of reasons, but it's also often overlooked in favour of the more well known movies of the same period. Very much a part of the Poetic Realism movement that was so popular in pre-war French Cinema, it's widely agreed to be one of the main influences that led to the Film Noir genre that became so popular in the 1940's in Hollywood. A studio film, with one of the most prolific French actors of the time, Jean Garbin, it's the tale of a man very much on the outskirts of soceity, resigned to a life of running from the French Colonial Forces, from which he is a defector. Fate, in a last minute attempt to convince Jean that there is hope in the world, throws him into a situation where he has the chance of love and happiness one last time. Life, it seems, is not without a sense of humour, as we find Jean locked in a tragic destiny that involves the woman of his dreams, in a town of his nightmares.
A 74 year old movie is rarely likely to astound us visually, but the restoration process was so meticulous on Le Quai des Brumes that what he have here is a brilliant movie, lovingly represented in the directors original form, and looking better than it's ever looked before. With extras galore, and plenty for the film student/geek to get their teeth stuck into, this Blu-ray package from Studio Canal holds a masterpiece of cinema that will brighten up the shelf of any cinema lover. Even if you just want to look like you know a thing or two about film, this Blu-ray fits the bill perfectly.
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