Saturday, January 4

Impressions of the Japanese Blu-ray of Dawn of the Dead (Theatrical Version) (1978)


Unlike my thoughts of Scream Factory's Day of the Dead (1985) Blu-ray, I'll cut to the chase. Although I will say that I'm a huge fan of Dawn of the Dead and own multiple releases across different formats from various countries. Being still in the stoneage, I lack a BD-ROM, so sorry, no direct screenshots. I viewed this BD on a calibrated Panasonic TC-P50VT25 plasma and Samsung HL-P5085W (720p) DLP using an non-modded Sony BD-P185 (the disc loaded up quickly with zero issue).

First, the specifications, as reported here, the encode is indeed MPEG-4 AVC on a 50GB disc. Bitrates tend to mean nothing, but megabytes per second never seems to dip below thirty-five and spike into the forties. The English 5.1 track is in lossless Dolby TrueHD with their recent 96kHz upsampling feature (confirmed 96kHz by my Onkyohovering around 2.0mbps). Both the English and Japanese Dub 2.0 are standard 640kHz Dolby. All three tracks sound fine but the 5.1 track has a distinct harshness at times due to the age of the film. Two sets of non-forced Japanese subtitles, not even on by default when selecting English audio.

The only extras are three original US trailers/teasers in full frame standard definition. There are twenty-five chapter stops and the total feature runtime is 2:07:02. Just to compare the Arrow Video UK runs 2:07:03 while the Anchor Bay US runs 2:07:06. There appears to be nothing different about the Japanese disc and other releases of the theatrical version. The Blu-ray case is a thicker style case with a small flyer advertising a few other horror discs from Stingray.

On to the good aspects of Happinet/Stingray's transfer. Overall, the image quality is noticeably improved over both the Anchor Bay and Arrow BDs. Both of those suffer from varying degrees of digital noise reduction, employed as part of a quick "remastering", only hampering fine detail. The Anchor Bay BD especially looks downright blurry. The lack of this on this Happinet BD with healthy grain structure leads to clothing and facial detail being much more lifelike and look less like watching video. On those grounds, this is certainly the best the film has ever looked on home video.

However; this new BD sadly has a few very obvious picture issues. The worst being blown out contrast levels. Contrast is elevated overall, but the real problem is that any direct light source, gleam from reflective surface, and sometimes even the sky in outdoor shots blooms and burns an intense solid white. It becomes distracting and actually hard to look at. Very reminiscent of Sony's recalled Robocop (1987) Blu-ray which also suffered similarly blazing hot white levels.

One of the more obvious examples is the fluorescent tube right outside the door where the group is holding up. It's so super fucking bright there's distortion to the shots it's featured in. The same light on the Anchor Bay and Arrow looks perfectly normal. As noted, this problem also appears in the sky at times, totally blanking out clouds. Especially apparent in the shot of the zombie climbing out of a junker while Roger's trying to hotwire one of the BP trucks. The sky behind the zombie is so bleached white that it almost obscures him. And again the sky in both the US and UK discs looks fine in this regard.

This generally bright contrast only exacerbates what print damage is present. I'm not one to throw a bitchfest over some lines and flecks (both the US and UK have such damage), but there's a really odd anomaly that appears repeatedly throughout. As pictured above, "rainbowing" aliasing pops up to the center right of the frame. It only lasts for a frame or two and takes on different "blob" or line shapes that sometimes move in a strobing fashion before disappearing. The most effected portion of the film is when the young SWAT member commits suicide up until Roger escapes to the basement for relief. Can anyone identify what could be causing this? I'm at a loss to whether it's on the print or haywire digital encoding. Both displays I viewed this BD on exhibited this and I've never seen anything quite like it. Regarding the other "normal" damage, it's interesting this presentation doesn't share any of same wear-and-tear seen on the Anchor Bay or Arrow.

Color is also a bit wonky, but I'm unsure if it's "creative" colorgrading done to this transfer or inherent to the print used. Some shots lean toward a greenish tint, while others reddish, yet others neutral. Sometimes shots within the same sequence have different hues.

An example being when the old priest surprises Peter and Roger in the tenement cellar. The shot of the priest looks normal while the very next shot of the two SWAT members aiming their rifles at him leans red. Or the climax before zombified Stephen reaches their hideout. The shots of Peter telling Fran about Stephen are very warmly hued, then suddenly after the door is wrenched open, the color turns cool. This isn't a massive issue, but the Anchor Bay and Arrow definitely have more consistent, but probably still not "accurate" color schemes.

So it's really a judgment call. The increase in detail is very clear and fantastic to finally see after all these years. Yet the problems described above are also quite apparent. With Anchor Bay's DVD/BD distribution license recently expiring, it's up to how long you're willing to wait for a better or worse Blu-ray re-release. Although if you're a fanatic you'll of course want this edition as it's not just a simple port of an existing transfer (like Happinet's Day of the Dead BD). You can certainly see the potential for a truly fantastic presentation of Dawn of the Dead in this release, but ultimately we're not quite there.

2 comments:

Frightmare Nate said...

This is just a theory on the "rainbowing" problem.
I used to work doing digital scans of color film transparencies for catalogs. On smaller frame sizes (35 mm, 2.25") we mounted the film between a clear acetate-like cover and an acrylic drum in a clear oil. This helped to brighten the image and bring out finer detail during the scanning process. I assume some sort of similar process is employed for motion pictures. Each individual frame of film would have to be scanned to convert to digital. What the "rainbowing" looks like to me is what happens sometimes when you dry-mount film. If the film is mounted too tightly against the acrylic (or glass or whatever they use for movies), it creates that sort of pattern (similar to what you see when you press your finger against a soft LCD screen.) Dry-mount is perfectly acceptable when using larger format films (4X5, 8X10, etc.) and you don't need to see a lot of detail (we used to do a lot of images of office equipment this way). But when the goal was to bring out detail (jewelry, for example), we used oil.

Now take these comments with a grain of salt because I've been out of that business for about 15 years and I only did still photos, not movies. But the basic process would still have to be the same: each film frame would either be scanned or shot with a digital camera to make the transfer, and what I'm seeing on that "rainbow" image looks exactly like what happens when the film is mounted incorrectly.

Jayson Kennedy said...

Thanks Nate! Yes, that weird artifact does resemble touching an LCD screen. Great theory, could very well be the cause. It's definitely strange though, never seen anything like it before on a DVD, Blu-ray, or elsewhere. At least noticeable to this extent. It does pull you out of the viewing experience.

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