The lesser of two evils

Sunday 20 September, 2009 17:04

Well, this is just frustrating. I’ve taken a look at yesterday’s acquisition, the North American release of Hannibal from 20th Century Fox/MGM (only available as part of the three-disc The Hannibal Lecter Collection), and while it does fix one of the significant problems with the already available UK and German releases, it creates another.

The US release of Hannibal was originally announced for release on April 3, 2007, and then mysteriously disappeared when Fox suddenly got cold feet about Blu-ray and didn’t release any titles on the format for nearly a year. It has now shown up more than two years later, and it’s pretty clear that the master merely lay on a shelf for the duration of that period with no additional work done to it. The trailers on the disc (its only bonus features) include launch title Bulletproof Monk, the encode is an old MPEG-2 jobbie on a single layer BD-25, and the files on the disc, when viewed in Windows Explorer, bear a creation date of December 18, 2006 and a “last modified” date of January 24, 2007. Well, it’s good to know Fox haven’t just been dicking around all this time (sarcasm alert).

As for image quality, how does it compare with the already deeply mediocre UK and German releases (both of which looked virtually identical)? Well, it’s different, I’ll give them that, but sadly it’s basically inferior across the board. The earlier releases were no great shakes in the detail department, but this one is worse, with fine details becoming smudged and indistinct. The letterboxing at the top and bottom of the frame is heavily blurred (it was crystal clear on the other two discs), suggesting that the entire image has been filtered. Look at the bird seed in the second of the three examples posted below for an indication of just how much detail is lost:

UFA (Region ABC, Germany)

Hannibal Hannibal Hannibal

20th Century Fox/MGM (Region ABC, USA)

Hannibal Hannibal Hannibal

On the other hand, the US release does rectify one major problem with the UK and German discs: the misframing. Both of these earlier releases lacked head room, meaning that a number of shots looked unnaturally cramped towards the top of the screen. (Again, look at the second example, posted above, for a clear demonstration of this.) The US release improves the situation significantly in this respect, and reveals that it wasn’t simply a case of the image being shifted too far up: the European releases are actually stretched vertically. While they are all framed more or less identically at the bottom of the screen, the US version has significantly more room at the top. The first example, showing the burned-in video time codes that are part of the title design, demonstrates admirably how misframed the European releases are and how the US release, while considerably better, is still not ideal. By contrast, take a look at this shot of the same frame, an actual projection of the film at its New York premiere (taken from the Breaking the Silence documentary included on the European BDs and the original 2-disc DVD release), where the framing appears to be spot-on:


(Ignore the discolouration: the shot was presumably taken with a camera in night-vision mode.)

And yet… I don’t know. It’s “pick your poison” time. The bare-bones nature of the US release is unlikely to make it an appealing option, but then again, The Hannibal Lecter Collection is currently the only way to get Michael Mann’s Manhunter, so I would imagine a number of people will be ending up with this disc anyway. Which would you prefer? A (more or less) properly framed bare-bones release with inferior image quality, or an incorrectly framed release with slightly better image quality and a cavalcade of extras? You choose.