I can honestly say I had no idea this BD had been released until it was pointed out to me by Neil over at Dark Discussion… which is a bit unusual, because I’m normally one of the first off the mark when it comes to new Argento releases. Anyway, Wild Side Video is releasing a bunch of Argento classics on BD in France, with THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS, SUSPIRIA, INFERNO and PHENOMENA to follow (I believe that’s the line-up, but someone correct me if I’m wrong). I’m not holding out much hope for SUSPIRIA, which as far as I can gather is sourced from the same ugly contrast-boosted master already used for the Italian and French BDs, and it seems that BIRD, unlike its Blue Underground counterpart, has been cropped to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s “universal” aspect ratio of 2:1 (à la THE LAST EMPEROR and earlier releases of APOCALYPSE NOW), but I’m very much looking forward to CAT and PHENOMENA, particularly if this release of TENEBRAE is any indication of what we can expect… EDIT: Seems that only TENEBRAE, SUSPIRIA and INFERNO will be making it to BD for the time being…

The packaging

The cover art is fairly generic, but does look quite classy on the whole (no attempts to pass the film off as trash, as is so often the norm with these films - though it strikes me that the French have always had more respect for Argento’s output than many other nationalities), and it does come in a rather nifty black case (as opposed to the usual blue), which is a nice touch. There’s nothing inside the case except the disc itself - overall, it doesn’t exactly feel like Wild Side have pushed the boat out for this release.

The extras

Again, a fairly limited line-up. We get the French theatrical trailer in standard definition, a filmography for Argento, a stills gallery featuring some behind the scenes photographs I’d never seen before, and a new 26-minute documentary featuring interviews with Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (in French) and composer Claudio Simonetti (in Italian with French subtitles). They discuss the usual subjects: the misogyny charge and the film’s status as a response to it, the creation of an ultra-modern Rome, the ultra-bright cinematography, the Louma crane shot… There’s nothing in here that can really be classed as new information, and to be honest, I’m not convinced there’s much left to be said about TENEBRAE that hasn’t already been said. However, it’s all presented in a fairly slick and enjoyable fashion… provided you understand French.

A/V Presentation

Now we get into the good stuff… The disc is dual layer and features an AVC encode with a decent bit rate, as well as English, Italian and French audio, all in lossless mono. All three tracks sound decent, with the English track more or less on par with its counterpart on the Dutch A-Film release, and considerably less scratching and degraded than the mix on the Anchor Bay releases.

As for the image quality… it’s pretty bloody good. For someone like myself who has watched more DVD copies of TENEBRAE than I care to mention and has never seen an actual print of it, this is like looking at a new film. I mean that in an entirely good way, not in an “Oh my God, they’ve screwed around with it and now I can’t even recognise it” way. If we’re being honest, none of the DVD releases of TENEBRAE were up to par, and it wasn’t that the best releases (the Japanese, Dutch and French ones) were GOOD so much as simply the best option available by virtue of being better than the deeply unimpressive UK, US and Italian versions. With a brand new HD transfer, TENEBRAE is finally able to shine. Once the rather soft and DNR-laden opening title sequence is out of the way, detail is excellent and grain reduction, while apparent, is rarely intrusive. Barring some weirdness at 00:37:34 with a yellow envelope Anthony Franciosa opens (and a handful of other assorted but far more minor instances), this is what I’d consider to be the acceptable end of grain reduction. (For the unacceptable end, see PATTON, DARK CITY or the re-released PREDATOR…)

Apart from the aforementioned DNR weirdness, I did notice some other slight anomalies. In the second half of the film, the right hand side of the image appears slightly softer than the left and centre, there is a tiny bit of ringing around high contrast edges (optical, I suspect - you can see something similar on the BD releases of SUSPIRIA), and I noticed a number of instances in which the hightlights were slightly overblown. However, given Argento and Tovoli’s desire to make a film in which harsh light is omipresent, I’m not sure whether this is a genuine error or simply the way the film was meant to look. There’s no indication on the packaging as to whether Argento and/or Tovoli approved the new transfer, so it’s anyone’s guess. Either way, it’s nothing like as bad as the contrast issues on the SUSPIRIA BDs.

In terms of colour timing, this release is closest to the master used for the Dutch (A-Film) and French (TF1) DVD releases, although the night scenes are noticeably brighter, particularly the blood-soaked finale, which always looked much darker on those DVDs than on the Anchor Bay release. It’s in no way a radical re-imagining, but the film does look somewhat different from any previous DVD, so I suspect there’s going to be a bit of a debate as to whether or not it can be considered “correct”. Myself, I’m happy with it. I’m still not a fan of the over-lit TV cop show look Argento and Tovoli went for with the film (visually, it’s my least favourite out of all Argento’s 70s/80s films), but I can now appreciate what they were going for much better.

In terms of how it measures up against other BD releases of Argento’s films, it blows Arrow’s disappointing INFERNO BD clean out of the water. In terms of detail, it’s fairly close to the Nouveaux Pictures SUSPIRIA BD, but much better overall because it doesn’t suffer from anything approaching the level of contrast boosting that plagued that release. The overly soft opening credits, slight grain reduction, isolated DNR artefacts and a couple of instances of moiré (see the walls in the airport bathroom shot near the start of the film) prevent it from ranking as highly as Blue Underground’s highly impressive THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and TWO EVIL EYES, but it’s close. (You’ll notice I’ve deliberately left BU’s THE STENDHAL SYNDROME out, given the ongoing debate surrounding the “legitimacy” of its grain.) If we’re talking numbers, on my scale it ranks as a low 8/10.

Oh, and all the snippets that were missing from the Anchor Bay release and other editions derived from that master (such as the Medusa and Sazuma releases) appear to be intact: this is the “integral” version.

Overall

The bad news is that this release is locked to Region B only and has forced French subtitles if you select English or Italian audio. I’ve tried changing the audio and subtitles on the fly, but you can only select them from the menu… which is a bit of a bummer, as I’m sure you’ll agree. HTPC users with AnyDVD HD (or similar) will be able to get around this, but those with standard BD players are out of luck.

If you love the film, can play Region B titles and don’t mind (or can get around) the subtitles, run out and buy this disc now. I can’t stress enough how massive an upgrade over every previous release this constitutes. I don’t currently know of any other pending BD releases of this film - it’s not part of Blue Underground’s upcoming line-up, as the rights to it (and PHENOMENA, TRAUMA and THE CARD PLAYER) are held by Anchor Bay, who haven’t announced anything. For the time being, however, what we have is a decent presentation of a film considered by many to be a classic (not myself, though it does come close) accompanied by a fairly light sprinkling of extras, with a couple of technical hurdles (region coding, forced subtitles) to be overcome.

Screen captures follow…

Ténèbres
studio: Wild Side; country: France; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 31.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 44.34 Mbit/sec

Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres Ténèbres

Updated Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 09:25 PM: As has been pointed out to me (thanks, Kannisto), this disc is in fact coded for all regions, NOT just Region B. Sorry for the misinformation. Additionally, thanks to Jerome for pointing out that, currently, only TENEBRAE, SUSPIRIA and INFERNO are scheduled for a BD release. The other Wild Side titles mentioned in the review appear to be DVD only.


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