This series of re-mastered films will not win awards for picture quality. The image is simply too clean and devoid of detail. All film grain, shutter strobing, creep, dust and scratches have been purged from the film to the extent that the picture looks as if you have turned all the picture enhancements to maximum setting and then turned the sharpness down to minimum on your TV. The result is a serious loss of definition and that sense of “Realness” you get from older films. Skin looks too smooth, backgrounds two dimensional and where we are used to seeing shadow detail, we see only solid blocks of black. The original 1.66:1 aspect ratio has been retained and the 24FPS AVC file looks as good as it can do, notwithstanding the overzealous clean up. The start-up issue that requires one to stop and restart the disc to get it to play and no resume function also leave a bad taste in the mouth. Proper testing would have avoided this and lifted the score by a point.
Back in 1977, stereo and surround sound was quite well established in the mainstream movie world, but the cost of recording, mixing and mastering in these formats was still prohibitive for films that had limited budgets or would mainly be shown in smaller picture houses with only mono reproduction equipment. Even Jaws has only just got a full surround mix in time for its anniversary release. For that reason, the original soundtracks have been preserved and transferred to a full DTS-HD MA stream for the best possible reproduction. I am sure the temptation to produce a 5.1 mix was there, but has been overcome. Therefore, what we get is a mono recording that will play back through your left and right speakers. This is preferable to just playing back through the centre speaker as at least you get a slightly wider sound field. There is nothing within the soundtrack that requires anything more. No deep bass or punchy musical score to wake the neighbours. It all feels a bit brittle at times, but this does fit the genre and age of the release.
As one might expect, extras are a little limited. These are essentially just four interviews with both female leads and a number of the senior production team. All are shot in Hi-Def, but are of course in French, with subtitles. As a whole they do give an interesting insight into the man and the filmmaking techniques he to a certain extent pioneered. The total length of the extras is a little over an hour long and have been made with care. As an aside, the difference in aging between the two female leads - Carole Bouquet & Ángela Molina is really quite striking. Obviously being engaged to Gérard Depardieu for 15 years is no picnic! All in all, quite reasonable for this level of release.
Ultimately this is not the surrealist masterpiece I was quite expecting. It is still engrossing and an interesting diversion from soulless Hollywood pap and classics of a similar genre, but the end result feels extremely dated and not as absorbing as some other outings from Bunel. If you want to get into surrealist French Cinema, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a much better starting point. The original telling of a simple story is clever, but the realisation is poor and feels lazy at times. Bunel was famous for becoming almost bored by the film making process and you get the feeling that at the age of 77 when he made this movie, he was tired and was glad just to get it finished.
The digital clean-up of the picture is simply too heavy handed. We are all used to sharp, clean images that take your breath away in terms of detail. This looks more like a poorly converted American sit-com from the 80s and this really detracts from enjoyment of the film. The extras are well produced and give a good retrospective but the poor sound will disappoint some.
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