Thursday, November 22, 2012

The quick wilderness

One of the advantages of my boyfriend living in Manchester is that it's just possible for us to nip to Scotland for the weekend.

One the trip we learned the difference between the two types of Too Good To Be True when it comes to hotels.

Hotel #1: £40 for a hotel room in Glasgow is cheap, but not insanely so. The booking website said it was nothing special, but would be fine. It was actually horrible. Horrible in a "reception full of building waste and a man behind the counter asking if we minded having no bathroom" way. The room was tiny and filthy and we checked out in about 5 minutes.

Hotel #2: £35 for a hotel room on the shores of a loch? Now that is ridiculous. But, actually, I can recommend the Arrochar Hotel. I can imagine it's hideous in summer when it's a coach trap for American tourists, but out-of-season it's The Shining with a great view. A really great view. A view so great that when I went to the breakfast bar I just stood and gawped at the view before even trying to locate the grapefruit segments. The bar was a laugh - it was lit like an airport lounge, and a man stood in the corner crooning hits from the 50s. But we didn't care - we spent the evening in our room, watching Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter and drinking scotch.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Hammer Time

Fans are mental. It's almost part of the definition. However, if you drew a Venn Diagram that showed "Loving something too much", "The Internet" and "HD Video Standards" the overlap would be the Hammer blu-ray releases:

As far as I can work out, the story goes like this - after years of firms slapping out "will this do?" DVD releases, Studio Canal come along and decide to lavishly restore them for blu-ray. You'd assume the result would be rejoicing in the streets. Instead it's more like this:

I find the whole thing baffling. There's a special blog in which Hammer painstakingly (to the point of eye-watering tedium) explain every single restoration choice in a language which is practically machine code (Sample sentence: "1.66:1 – a predominantly UK and European widescreen aspect ratio designed to be centre matted from a 4-perf 35mm frame..."). And underneath is a torrent of comments, bandying about acronyms and aspect ratios like quadratic equations (1.66:1 COF = 1.33:1 DNVR DPOD).

Like staring into the Matrix, it's mesmerising without making much sense. On one release the restorers offered a print that was deemed "too sharp without enough of the original grain visible". When they eased the effect back for the next release it is screamed at for being "too soft and too grainy". Clearly, they cannot win.

One of the latest furores involves The Devil Rides Out. On original release there simply wasn't the time/budget to finish the effects. The restorers have dared to sympathetically finish them - they've not added lens flare laser guns, CGI kangaroos, and Greedo does not shoot first - they've simply pasted in the odd background, tidied up some nasty matt-lines, and risked painting in a missing fetlock on the Angel of Death's horse. That kind of thing. You'd assume they'd be thanked for bothering.


The outpouring of qaudratic anger is unstemmable. ( Some of it is understandable - a few years ago, Optimum restored The Avengers, and nearly every release had to be recalled, reissued or apologised for, leading to a lot of fan cynicism about "restored releases". But in this case it seems to be some nice people caring very hard about some films for the first time in 50 years. I'm on their side (a deciding factor is that, on the special features, they all appear to be hot). Also on their side is a commenter who pops up, like a voice in the wilderness, to say:

"Chris Walker: It must be soul- destroying to restore a film after months of painstaking work, and then have to face a ton of abuse and criticism from so called “experts” who all know better...  It is a 55 year old film made for peanuts by a small company. It is never going to look like “Gone with the Wind”, so people please deal with it."