Okay, so we know that Optimum botched Snake Plissken's first Blu-ray Escape, but their 1080p VC-1 transfer of The Fog has a multitude of problems as well. Yes, this does look better than the SD equivalents, but it brings with it so many troublesome elements that you would really have to think twice about forking-out for it, even at the budget price that it now sells for. I'm not sure how good this film can look, but, when compared to the earlier Halloween (BD reviewed separately), and the fantastic way that it appears in its scrubbed-up hi-def transfer, you would forgiven for having expected great things.
Well, that is not what we get.
Although inconsistent in its abundance and structure, grain is intact throughout. Sometimes it is thicker and more overt than at other times - the scenes aboard the Sea Grass, for example, are heavy with it - and this is, at least, a confirmation that DNR has not been aggressively employed. A level of digital noise can also be seen humming about on occasion in some darker areas of the screen. Print damage is still on show, but it is only made up of small nicks and flecks. Scene transitions remain smooth and the film exhibits no troublesome wobbles.
Contrast isn't great, the image looking fudged and shallow. We have black crush that, in some scenes, almost completely swamps out huge swathes of the image. The film needs shadow, of course - and lots of it - but not to this level of impenetrable Stygian gloom. There are times when it becomes a struggle to make out what is happening. One such occasion that is hampered by this flat tract of unforgiving shadow is when a leprous ghoul rises up behind an unwitting Stevie Wayne on top of the lighthouse - we can barely see it hoving into view. Edge enhancement can be glaring at times, with some thick halos around heads, shoulders and vehicles.
Colours, especially the primaries, have been boosted and can look far too bright - Jamie Lee's red jacket, for example. Yet the laser-red eyes of the leprous Blake don't appear quite so vivid. Skin-tones are awful, really warm and almost melting, in fact. The glow of the fog, itself, is massively bright, but then it always was. However, here it is gleaming and well over-egged, to the point where it appears to fuzz up around the edges. The cool blues of the sky and, particularly, the midnight blues that crown Antonio Bay when viewed from Stevie's lighthouse during the night, aren't crisp or well delineated. When Buck Flower peers out of a porthole on the Sea Grass - “She's crazy ... there's no fog-bank out there. Hey, there's a fog-bank out there,” - the red reflection around the window bleeds out, unrealistically, into the approaching fog. The sterile hues in the hospital actually look quite sick, appropriately enough.
Detail is better - but not by much. Some shots have definitely improved clarity - gouged eye-sockets, Stevie's studio paraphernalia - but others can then soften-up and become as indistinct as the flimsy old SD. Distance shots, which, as far as all the versions of the film that I have seen over the years go, have never been accurate or clear, are still poor. Daylight scenes fare best, with a little more depth and clarity than on SD. But one terrific scene that should have looked spellbinding in high definition comes when Stevie drives along the cliff road, parks up and then walks down all those steps to the lighthouse - yet this looks blurred, washed-out and very flat. Not much of this sounds very good, does it?
But the film's gloriously wide image is a treat to see on a big screen, regardless. One thing to consider is that the film has not seen a BD release in the States yet and I can certainly imagine that it would be in the running for a full remastering. Whether it has its colour-timing altered, as Halloween did (and very successfully, as far as I am concerned), is another matter. But with other Carpenter classics like Assault On Precinct 13, Starman and Big Trouble In Little China coming to the format with very rewarding new transfers, chances remain good that The Fog will, at some point, be given the treatment that it deserves.
Overall, The Fog still looks like a low-budget late-70's drive-in flick. But, at the end of the day, it should look a whole lot better than this.
Carpenter's now-vintage movie comes in for a DTS-HD MA 5.1 makeover and you really don't need me to tell you that it doesn't do a great deal. With only the mono mix to work from, there is not much that could be convincingly done to create a wraparound environment and, at least, Optimum's disc doesn't try to steer bogus effects around the environment. Rather, it flings the film out at you from the front, although with a varying degree of success.
Dialogue has no life to it whatsoever - Stevie's voice as she screams for someone to go and rescue her son is tinny and shrill yet subdued by the mix at the same time. Positioning of voices does occur, but only stretched thinly across the front. Ambience isn't high on the agenda, either. We get the wind blowing and the mournful sound of the foghorn, but the hubbub from centennial shindig and from the bar are threadbare and virtually non-existent. Again, we really shouldn't be looking for too much in this department - the film simply wasn't designed with such things in mind.
Directionality, overall, is better than previously heard, with vehicles and effects having more of a dynamic relationship to the action on-screen. Not much more, I hasten to add, but the field is opened-up and this is certainly beneficial.
The stingers work, though, folks, By God, they do. Again, projected mainly from the front, with only the slightest embellishment from the rear speakers, these sudden lurching effects literally paralyse with their swift and aggressive vigour, Big John's electronic blasts crashing, jangling and positively clutching out at you with as much menacing savagery as those ghostly maritime arms smashing through the church windows. The chunk! and meaty ripping of all those wicked weapons scything into flesh is certainly discernible, too, but somehow I would have thought that a little bit more detail and clarity could have been afforded them. But there is one nice aural sweep from front to back when the spooky driftwood ignites itself, but this only lasts for half a second. The pounding on the lighthouse door, and its subsequent wrenching from its hinges is pretty powerfully presented, too. And the monstrous sound effect of Blake gripping the great golden crucifix has a nice deep bass rumble, but it really only serves to show just what energy could have been achieved with this remixed soundscape. Otherwise, the bass levels are quite poor.
Unmistakably, it is the score that wins with this mix. We may not have instrumental clarity due to Carpenter's synthesised tones and metronomic pulses, but his textured soundfield positively throbs with sinister weight and really advances across the room with some force.
Thus, Optimum's disc becomes a definite upgrade in the audio stakes, yet this element, alone, is not nearly enough.
Forget all those bonus features found on the Special Edition because they all appear to have become lost in the fog on the way over to Blu-ray. Optimum give us absolutely nothing in the way of extras other than a lousy audio/video configuration wizard.
Unforgivable, I'm afraid.
The Fog may not be a masterpiece of the genre, but it is a sleeper that continues to impress its original fans, and certainly gains new ones all the time. Not the most successful mix of ghosts and carnage, but a supremely atmospheric chiller, just the same. The ensemble cast aren't all up to scratch - I'm not even sure why Jamie Lee Curtis is actually in the film, other than to capitalise on the success of Halloween - but the visuals and the setting are tremendous. The Sea Grass sequence and poor Stevie battling Blake's cronies are standouts, though. I loved it as a kid. I love it now, although it sure does wear its lame bits like a badge.
Carpenter was, perhaps, struggling to find something that would retain his clout after Halloween's impact and was, quite possibly, bullied into making another horror film by fans, the money men and the weight of cinematic expectation. Escape From New York was just around the corner and then, confidence and experience having grown, more classic wonders up until the mid-80's, when his creative juice would begin to dry up. The Fog still represents a risk-taking and imaginative enthusiasm that should not be overlooked.
Optimum's release has pretty poor AV quality and a complete dearth of extras. This is simply not an acceptable transfer. It is serviceable and certainly better than its SD counterparts, but this can't be the best that Carpenter's film will look in high-definition. So whilst The Fog is well recommended for a spooky night-in around Halloween-time, delivering just the right atmosphere to chill the blood and make the hair on the back of your neck rise, it is not a rewarding upgrade for anyone other than a devout fan who cannot wait for a better release to come along.
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