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."


Ian said...

I'm with you on some of the "overly nerdy" criticism, but by all accounts the audio on "Rasputin'" is bloody awful and tinny. This might be acceptable if it weren't for the fact the audio on the YouTube clip is much boomier. Others have pointed out if you play a commentary track you can hear a less tinny audio track in the background. That just smacks of outright amateurism.

christopher said...

Glad you pointed this out. I introduced 'The Devil Rides Out' print onstage in Manchester recently and everyone seemed very appreciative of the new FX. Unless you're very familiar with the original, the tidying up is cleverly unnoticeable on the big screen. The main thing is that they don't jar, as they did in the original, and make for a smoother view.

Skip said...

I think there's a clear distinction between something that sounds more like a mastering error and picking holes in the restoration.

The splendid Avengers DVD reissues were dogged by a lot of similar faults. I wonder if the money spent on having to recall and correct them is what scuppered the planned blu-ray releases?

Luckily, I have nothing to do with these lovely Hammer reissues. But, if I were working on them and had to put up with the tide of negativity, I'm petty enough to cancel the range. Serves 'em right.

Ian said...

I guess now wouldn't be a time to mention the Hitchcock "Masterpiece" Collection then ;-)

Ian said...

I think this blog post presents a FAIR list of why Hammer are taking such a ... umm. hammering over the quality of their Blu-ray releases.