Blu-ray Theatre

I’m always a suspicious Sid when it comes to new technologies, especially since I understand all too well the post-modern industrial concept of “planned obsolesence” (Apple’s silent motto), which is why cassette tapes I have from the 70’s play and sound fine but some of my compact discs from the 90’s are unplayable. That’s why I have a nice turntable and LP collection. I sometimes prefer the analog over the digital. I like to collect VHS tapes and laserdiscs still, particularly out of print movies and miscellania that will never make it to DVD (Roger Vadim’s PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW and GRAMPA’S SCI-FI MOVIES trailer collection comes to mind). So I was skeptical of the Blu-ray versus HD DVD war, content with my tapes and DVD’s. But I needed to see for myself and so the first Blu-ray film I ever watched was BARAKA and was duly blown away by the image depth and clarity. I’m still  unsure how much detail is too much, but with a visual landscape poem like BARAKA, nothing is too much.

That certainly sold me on the cinephillic pleasure of Blu-ray; I follow the arguments on DVD Beaver for this or against that remastering job; whether the grain should stay or go (let it be); or if Friedkin was right in altering the look of THE FRENCH CONNECTION. I hope that Blu-ray discs import all the previous DVD and laserdisc extra features, but sometimes they don’t to their detriment. There’s plenty of space for extras and at Blu-ray prices and storage space, they have little excuse not to cram them. I tend to dislike 90 percent of Blu-ray covers, usually cheap, unimaginative Photoshopped images thrown together. How about just using the original movie posters? And please get rid of the labyrinthic menus that often show key scenes from the film you’re about to watch. Otherwise, I’m anxious to see more classics and cult films transformed into a more representative version of their theatrical shadows. With that in mind, here’s a brief selection of Blu-ray releases that have appealed to my cine-soul:

AKIRA (1988) – Based on the popular manga, Katsuhiro Otomo’s groundbreaking anime ushered in the new age of Japanese cartoons and helped flower burgeoning American interest. I was already a devoted reader of the manga before I saw the film and my friends and I passed AKIRA around on a bootleg tape when it became available. I still remember how transfixed I was by the opening scene, a mesmerizing motorcycle ride and battle through a neon pop Tokyo 2019 by night. Although the story of Tetsuo and Kaneda is too detailed to go into here (I’m still figuring it out myself), suffice to say the Blu-ray transfer is awesome, as good as it ever looked. It has the charm of the last age of non-computer animation, especially when you see the subtle movements of the cells. But I love that like I love the bristling fur from an animator’s fingertips. This is still the single greatest achievement in sci-fi anime as far as I’m concerned.

GOLDFINGER (1964)/THUNDERBALL (1965) – Bond and Blu-ray are a match made in spy movie heaven. After years of varying remasters, some quite superior, the crispness and color on display here is stunning. This is a great double feature as they represent the height of the series, at least in terms of their cultural impact. GOLDFINGER looks fantastic, particularly in my favorite scene, the pre-credits action beat that for me is still the best of the series. I don’t think Sean Connery has ever looked cooler as 007 than in his black jumpsuit as he lays out plastique explosive. With Blu-ray, you note all sorts of things you might have missed before; the color of a lapel, the glint of steel or the down on naked skin. GOLDFINGER would be the film’s template for worse ultimately not better, but this is still the archetypal, culturally defining Bond epic. Need I mention John Barry’s iconic soundtrack?

THUNDERBALL was the first 007 to be shot in Panavision, the perfect widescreen format to encapsulate the global scope and phenomenon of the character. Terence Young came back for one final directorial swan song, and though this is the film that began to lose Bond amid the kitchen sink of gadgetry and spectacle, it also represents Sean Connery at his cool, witty, suave best, the ultimate 1960’s Playboy Killer. And the Blu-ray to my eyes is spectacular, from the sexy hues of Maurice Binder’s memorable title sequence to the lush panorama of the Bahamas. Ken Adams’ awesome sets reveal more heightened depth and detail; they’re almost as important as the characters. And this must be the most beautiful collection of Bond babes in the series. Luciana Paluzzi is terrific as Fiona Volpe, the unrepentant SPECTRE agent who finally tells 007 that his bedside manner has failed to convert her. Connery gets his most serious retort in the movie with a pithy, “My dear girl, don’t flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don’t think it gave me any pleasure, do you?” SLAP. Volpe’s suspenseful comeuppance at a dance club is my favorite scene in the film.

Hard to believe that THUNDERBALL is still the most successful Bond film, and in adjusted box-office has made almost one billion dollars. It’s overlong, true and the underwater scenes slow down the film, but I still like the frogmen battle at the end. The color and clarity of the Blu-ray makes you pay more attention to the scenes, so they  don’t seem as ponderous as before. Tho even as a kid, I hated the high-speed boat fight at the end. But I always thought it great when Domino spears Largo. Now I’m anxious to have an excuse to revisit the whole 007 series again. The Blu-ray versions are a long way from the days of box televisions with pan-and-scanned edited prints. But of course.

PLAYTIME (1967) – Although I’ve never been a huge observer of Jacques Tati and it took a Frenchman to show me his classic MISTER HULOT’S HOLIDAY, which came across as a more witty, subtle Jerry Lewis, I never delved into his gentle modernist mise en scene. I’d read much about his opus PLAYTIME, which took five years to produce in 70mm at a cost of 15 million dollars, a staggering number by 60’s cinema standards, especially in France. Tati wanted to make his ultimate statement on the depersonalization of the city, so he actually constructed his own mini-Paris with airport facade. Combined with his social optimism that even under technologically oppressive conditions, people will still find a way to connect with one another. The film was well-received by critics (although fan Richard Lester is surprisingly dismissive in his Steven Soderbergh interviews), but Tati wanted the film to be seen in its proper aspect ratio. Since most world screens lack 70mm projection, the release did poorly and led to Tati’s bankruptcy. Twenty minutes were also trimmed, believed lost forever. I could kick myself like a bad mime for missing the last two recent Los Angeles 70mm screenings, but thanks to the film monks at Criterion, PLAYTIME is available in a stunning new Blu-ray transfer and short of a giant theater, this is the best it will ever get for a home viewing. And what a view.

So I recently sat before a vast home screen and basked in the glory of Jacques Tati’s cine-metropolis. It’s always wonderful when you’re exposed to a fresh experience from an older work of art, and PLAYTIME certainly counts, a cross between 1968’s THE PARTY and 2001: A SPACE ODYESSY. Tati’s intricate compositions of people amid stark cityscapes from dusk to dawn are astounding, literally jaw-dropping. Like a MAD magazine panel, each frame is overloaded with information, to the point where multiple viewings are de rigeur. Mister Hulot is only a peripheral character, as everybody who appears seems to have a beat or narrative, and dialogue is kept to a bare minimum, used for comic rhythm in the background. There are no big gags, only a series of them, some instantaneous, some sustained throughout the film. PLAYTIME I would also say must be seen in 70mm in order to fully envelope and appreciate — barring that, this Criterion edition is the definitive home version. A genuine cinematic masterpiece.

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17 Responses to “Blu-ray Theatre”

  1. Do you own a Blu-Ray player? How did you see these and on what type of TV? Details, please. THE FUTURIST! is pondering on getting a larger TV and he then must upgrade his DVD player … ergo, Blu-Ray. But all the rebuying of favorites is mind boggling. And is Blu-Ray a bump in the road to another technology? Most of the films THE FUTURIST! watches via his Epson Movie Mate projector. It looks just like a real cinema presentation on a large screen and stereo (5.1) sound has been added.

    And THE FUTURIST! just bought all those Bonds (again!) in those new remastered sets … now you make the Blu-Ray sound impeccable. AUGH!

    • I saw many of these on a friend’s ginormous wall screen tv, and a few on the PlayStation 3, which is what I would recomend if you’re somewhat into video games too. But the prices are coming down and since they’re packaging Blu-rays with Netflix Streaming, there’s lots of options. And of course, the bigger the screen, the better. The Epson Projector is a great way to watch too. I don’t get too anal about these things, as I love watching an an aged print of a film, as much as a pristine version. But at home, it’s really neat and kinda re-inspiring to see some films as they were meant to be seen. I don’t want the technology to go crazy and start wiping out grain and effects etc. but there are a lot of films like SUSPIRIA that demand Blu-ray.

      I’m not rebuying everything but choice items. The rest you can rent.

  2. the apocalyptic restaurant scene in playtime is a blake edwards compendium of chaos, verging toward absurd modern art and social commentary. probably my favorite scene ever made.

    here are the first 20 mn (the scene goes for another 20 i guess)

    • Great scene and I love the glass door gag, probably the most racous bit in the whole film. And the waiter who keeps checking his hair is awesome. Does it play in France often ever in 70mm?

      • when the movie was restored in 70 mm, there was a theatrical release, i was lucky enough to see the movie on big screen at this time, it was an unforgettable experience. since then, nothing (except random festibal playing, and of course, the criterion dvd)

  3. I have yet to take the Blu-Ray plunge, mostly because of financial concerns but some day…

    THUNDERBALL is still my fave Bond film for all the reasons you stated. I actually don’t find it too long and the climactic underwater battle is fantastic and has never been equaled in any other Bond film, IMO. Plus, the Bond girl is something else. Wowzers. This film and GOLDFINGER are still the high points in the franchise and Bond/Connery at his very best.

    • christian Says:

      There’s a real interesting promo reel to sell the film which has a radically different edit of the underwater fight, in some ways better. You can imagine what a rush they were in. It’s too bad because I think more time would have eliminated some of the messy editing here.

  4. I still don’t have a blu-ray player. I’m trying to decide whether it’s worth it, or whether I should just wait for The Next Big Thing. I’m getting a little tired of re-buying my movies every few years!

    Thunderball is an excellent movie, as are most of the early (pre-Roger Moore) Bonds.

    I love the manga Akira but I’ve never been able get more than 30mins into the movie.. I kind of wish I’d seen the movie before I read the manga because it just seems like a pale imitation.

    • christian Says:

      I was skeptical too but it’s worth having.

      I thought the movie did a good job of compressing an epic tale of dystopic revolution, but by nature it culdn’t be as deep. I really loved the manga, and thought the American colorized version was terrific.

  5. now, you all got me started again on thunderball. i might sound heretical, but i did like the later remake, never say never again. i think largo was way better in this version….

    • christian Says:

      I like Connery and Brandauer was a great villain. As was Barbara Carrera. But the music was horrifying, an attempt to do the opposite of a John Barry sound. And the film was just kind of forgettable. Wish Eon could have snagged him for one more.

  6. Keep up the blog, you are doing an awesome job!

  7. I’ve been watching Blu-ray for over a year, when I bought the player with HDTV. Blu-ray is excellent and a manditory accessory for HDTV, as standard DVDs on HDTV sometimes lose some of their quality (especially Sony DVDs). Once all television broadcasts are in high def, HDTV will serve its purpose; presently, however, there’s still too much being broadcast in standard and it looks pretty ratty on HDTV.

    In Thunderball, I was under the impression Bond couldn’t get it up for Luciana Paluzzi: “Imagine: James Bond having a failure,” was her line, to which he replied, “Well, you can’t win them all.”

    I saw a commercial for Blu-ray in a movie theatre not long ago, and they were hawking the Bond films. For a few brief moments, digital clips from Thunderball filled the screen, and it looked fantastic — sharp, bright colors I hadn’t seen since it first came out… or perhaps superior to when it first came out.

    • christian Says:

      What you say about Blu-ray is correct.

      As fer THUNDERBAL, Fiona tells him that after bedding him, she was expected to change sides because he was the amazing James Bond, but I don’t think he let her down THAT way. She was just committed to her villain status.

      That would be interesting to see the Blu-ray on a movie screen for comparisons. It looks more incredible than I’ve ever seen it for sure.

  8. How strange to drop by and see your masthead pic and Playtime review just a few minutes after shutting off M. Hulot’s Holiday.

    I saw Playtime in 70mm at The Castro a couple of years ago. Not the first time I’d seen it, but it may as well have been. That’s the way to do it — but I’d imagine a Blu-Ray on a good-sized TV comes in a close second.

  9. Samsung HDTV 3D LED is the best TV for watching movie with Blue-Ray quality.

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