Very high contrast levels and a silver/chrome sheen are the visual hallmarks of The Midnight Meat Train, and Lionsgate's 1080p MPEG-4 encode does this startling and stylish aesthetic proud. Presented in 2.35:1, the film is expansive, detailed and positively gleaming. Grain has been retained and, in some very occasional shots, is actually quite excessive to the point where it appears to fizz about like unsightly noise. This is especially prevalent during Leo's first meeting with Shields' Susan Hoff and a couple of other moments, usually see against grey or tan backgrounds in the apartment or the cop shop. There is also some slight edge enhancement, which only seems to affect Mahogany's outline. Again, though, this is only on a handful of occasions and does not detract from what is, overall, a pretty fantastic transfer.
So, with those little negatives out of the way, let's look at the good stuff.
Colours, despite the metallic appearance of the image, are great. We are talking about incredible shades of red. I mean the blood on display is simply amazing. There are bright crimson sprays, jets and streams, darker, blackened pools of the stuff and livid, almost purple splashes and gouts depending upon the lighting - and the disc copes admirably with all varieties. The primaries - those aforementioned reds, obviously - and especially blues all stand out from the screen. Look at the blue helmets that the workers at the meat packing factory wear, for instance. The silver gleam on Mahogany's hammer and the white spider-webbing cracks on the train windows literally glow with clarity. Bradley Cooper's blue eyes also radiate from the screen. The frequent early morning or last light amber sheen through the windows of their apartment also suffuses the image with a beautiful incandescence. Yet, for all this, the film is still defiantly bleached-out and hyper modern.
Black levels are incredibly strong and boast glorious depth without masking any details within. Transitions from light to dark and shots that contain both extremes and the subtle gradations between the two are absolutely fine and extremely rewarding. Shadow-play can be intense, with lights winking-out, tunnels swallowing us, creepy searches around seemingly deserted apartments and night-time alleyways and subway stations coming to sinister life.
Facial detail - eyes, pores, hairs, warts etc - is terrific. Detail, for the most part, is pristine and sharp. Wounds are crystal clear, except for the moment when Mahogany is deftly, clinically removing a victim's eyeballs, when the image then seems to bathe some of the proceedings in vague shadow. Three-dimensionality is also very good. We have lots of POV shots thundering down the gun-barrel subway tunnels that authentically wrap around us, which you would expect to look great, but even the scenes in the diner, the art gallery, or on the platforms, in the apartment or on the carriages offer a more than decent degree of depth. Leon creeping around the slabs of hanging meat in the factory may not have that hi-def zap that Will Smith probing around ranks of silver “can-openers” does in I, Robot, but it still looks great. A typically smart shot sees Vinnie coming into street-level view whilst riding up the escalator and this, as well as the ensuing pursuit sequence, possesses terrific vividness.
A very reassuring transfer, folks, despite that inconsistent grain and edge enhancement.
Lionsgate does it again, folks. Another dazzling 7.1 channels of lossless audio courtesy of DTS-HD MA that totally engages and assails all the way through. The Midnight Meat Train, bless it, is chock-full of really deep, powerful, gut-rumbling .LFE - from the thundering train, itself, to the multitude of bone-slamming hammer-thuds and thumps. This bass level has tremendous presence that literally makes the air vibrate. I cranked my Onkyo right up as well, savouring the meaty resonance that boiled around the soundscape even more. There may not be any Speed-style derailments, but the action sequences pack a punch (literally!). Leo's climactic train-tussle with Mahogany is loaded with interpersonal impacts. Glass shatters, knives slice audibly through flesh, a torrent of guts loudly tumble to the floor, bullets whine off chain-mail aprons and the carriage rattles over the tracks like its late for a rendezvous at Hell's tube-station. Detail within this cacophony is typically excellent, with many smaller elements perfectly prioritised and realistically steered.
Dialogue is clear and warm, as is the score - which can be ambient, aggressive or rich depending on the scene - and the track also benefits from terrific seamless panning right around the environment. There is also a wonderful moment when Leon is hiding from Mahogany in the massive meat-freezer when a thudding heartbeat reverberates through the soundfield with ominous weight and clarity. The clinking and clanking of the tracks, and rumble of then train are also painstakingly recreated and fills the environment with vivid detail. Ambience on the streets and in the art gallery during the Opening and in the diner is also presented. The rear speakers have plenty to do, catching the whip-around stuff with showy aplomb and aiding score and ambience throughout. Meat Train actually utilises the full 7.1 set-up and those awesome front to back sweeps are given an extra boost of energy as a result.
Lionsgate may have cocked-up the film's theatrical release, but they haven't skimped on the audio, that's for sure. A 9 out of 10 from me.
With a better stocked disc than the UK release, Lionsgate's US BD kicks off with a splendid commentary track from Clive Barker and the film's director, Ryûhei Kitamura. Always a tremendous raconteur, Barker, with that incredibly husky rasp of his, expands on the mythology of Mahogany and his brethren and how the movie differs from the source story. Exceedingly frank and painfully honest, Barker is, by far, the most revealing of the two. He praises Kitamura but also prods him into confessing elements of the film-making process and of his own personality that the director may not, otherwise, have wanted to mention. The differences between this cut and the theatrical version are also heavily addressed with some obvious resentment from Barker about studio and MPAA interference. Though not scene-specific, the chat does tend to follow the movie as it unfolds and there is some great “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” stuff going on when they get to the rough sex bit in the diner. Fans should also take note that some of the more mysterious elements surrounding Mahogany - namely the tumours - are not properly explained. They obviously want us to make up our own minds, although Barker does supply one very credible explanation, as a kind of throwaway remark, that seems as good as any. This is a far-ranging and always interesting commentary, folks. On the one hand, we have a young director discussing his first American feature, and, thus, quite enthusiastic and also guarded in a lot of what he says. On the other, we have an old-hand at this game in Barker, who is jaded, cynical and no longer under any illusion about how Hollywood works. Both, however, have a great time and, therefore, so do we with a track that is erudite, sincere and often quite humorous.
Clive Barker: The Man Behind the Myth is a 15-minute look at the both the film and the paintings of the man Stephen King famously hailed as “the future of horror”. Alternating between a couple of separate interviews - Barker's voice alters radically between the two - the first, and shorter, part concentrates on The Midnight Meat Train, from its Books Of Blood debut and the years spent trying to get a movie adaptation off the ground, to this visual representation of it. The second, and most interesting, yet infuriating part deals with Barker's insane art, and is shot in his palatial LA home. This starts off very intriguing, as Barker describes his love and need for such creativity. We see his stuff down in the basement studio, vast canvases of the weird, the wonderful and the woah, hold on, mate and he talks us through the connection between writing and painting, or rather differences he has discovered between the two fields of communication. But as the piece goes on, Barker begins to ramble and lose steam. He holds up a picture of a spiral and likens it to his whole philosophy on fantastic creation and, yep, you could say that he ends up disappearing up his own version. Still, this is entertaining and somewhat unusual - just like Barker, himself. Sadly, he is getting a little too pretentious in his old age.
Mahogany's Tale is nothing more than a five-minute run-through of the character and his mythical status as observed by the director, the prop-master, the actors, including Vinnie Jones, and Clive Barker. Although nice to have on the disc, this isn't terribly illuminating.
Anatomy Of A Murder Scene lasts just shy of ten minutes and gives us a full-on glimpse of what went into designing, shooting and “bloody-ing” the first hammer kills that we see - those of Ted Raimi and co. Deliriously drenched with gore, we meet the director, the actors, the stunt people, the storyboard artist, the make-up fx bods, the guy who cleans all the mess up afterwards. Detailed about the mechanics of such a sequence, this is also very light-hearted and good, goofy fun, too. Vinnie suggests that he was uncomfortable working with so more blood but, as he maintains, “think of the end result.” Oh, and Clive Barker crops up at the very end to tell us that this film is definitely hardcore. And so is his voice and appearance, by the way - what's happened to him????
The disc also contains a selection of Lionsgate horror titles for preview, including the likes of My Bloody Valentine's remake, The Haunting In Connecticut, Saw V and The Descent.
A terrific and bravura experience that combines gruelling violence, ominous tension and suspense, Scooby-Doo-style clue-unravelling and a distinct Anime sensibility, The Midnight Meat Train is really just an excuse for glorious mayhem and ground-breaking gore-gags. The story doesn't hold up well when scrutinised and, arguably, it doesn't need to. What we have is a blistering set-up, plentiful shocks and a superficially satisfying nightmare conclusion that actually worked much better in the short story. But to pick it apart is neither here nor there, for the film works supremely well on a primal level of visual and emotional impact. The performances - especially from Bibb and, surprisingly enough, our Vinnie - are strong and the whole thing rattles along like one of those midnight trains.
The AV quality is very good indeed, once we get past that fluctuating grain-field and if we ignore the edge enhancement. But the audio side of things is amply rewarding and certainly delivers plenty of solid bass, wild steerage and delicious detail. The extras are good, too. The commentary is excellent and very candid, the featurettes are a mixed-bag of EPK fun and bizarre Barker insight but, overall, the package is a strong one that I can recommend to fans of the genre, wholeheartedly.
All aboard The Midnight Meat Train! Leaving platform 666 ... and it's a helluva ride!
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