Wednesday 22 February, 2012 22:32
Note: a BIG thank you to two readers of this site, Brian and Matt, for bringing my attention to this, Brian back in October and Matt more recently when I must admit I’d more or less forgotten about Brian’s original email. Without their eagle eyes, I’d be none the wiser about this bizarre situation.
HANNIBAL is one of my favourite Ridley Scott films, and I make no apologies for saying this, or that I consider it an entirely worthy (if dramatically different) sequel to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. That it has never been particularly well represented on BD despite multiple releases by different labels is lamentable to say the least, particularly when we’ve seen how good the results can be when Scott lavishes his attention on the creation of a new HD master (see the final cut of BLADE RUNNER and the corrected re-release of GLADIATOR). I don’t know where HANNIBAL lies in Scott’s own estimation of his filmography, but I have a hard time believing someone with so exacting a visual eye would be satisfied with any of the available BD releases.
For the record, I’ve seen:
- The German UFA disc, released on 30th October 2008
- The UK Universal disc, released on 9th September 2009
- The US 20th Century Fox/MGM disc, released on 15th September 2009 as part of THE HANNIBAL LECTER COLLECTION
While the three releases differ in terms of available bonus content, sound options and image quality, all three of them are lacklustre. The US Fox/MGM release fares the worst, its aged MPEG-2 encode the least of its worries when you take into consideration the fact that the whole image is blurred vertically, resulting in a disagreeable softness. On the other hand, the Universal and UFA releases, which both look as close to identical as two separate encodes of the same master can look, both suffer from being vertically stretched, with a portion of the top of the image being cut off the screen. The UK DVD, incidentally, suffered from the exact same problem, having been taken from the same master. (That, of course, means that we’re talking about a master originally prepared in 2001, which goes some way towards explaining its lacklustre quality.)
All well and good. So, basically we have a choice between a properly framed but blurred US release and a misframed but better-looking (though still substandard) European release, right? Well, for a while that may have been the case, but then I was contacted independently by two different people, Brian and Matt, who both told me they’d compared their UK copies against my captures and weren’t seeing the misframing I’d illustrated. Matt and another viewer, Sky_Captain, even provided shots taken from pointing their cameras at their displays as proof.
Well, now my curiosity was well and truly piqued. I simply had to see this with my own eyes. Knowing it was going to be a complete lottery which version I ended up with (the old misframed version or this apparently new corrected version), I paid the £5.49 Amazon was asking and waited with bated breath.
The results? Well, they’re interesting to say the least:
Left: UFA/old Universal; middle: Fox/MGM; right: new Universal
(NB: I’m using the UFA release for captures rather than the old Universal disc because that’s the one I own. I only had a review copy of the old Universal disc and had to return it when I was finished with it. However, as the captures in this link show, I’ve already demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that both had the same wonky framing.)
For sheer what-the-fuckery, I think Universal deserves some sort of grand prize. Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is a silent fix.
It’s really quite fascinating. The new UK disc now has framing that almost perfectly mirrors that of the US disc, apart from the opening titles, which are framed differently again (and more accurately than even the US release, if you look at the positioning of “TCE 00:00:58:06” and “PLAY LOCK” in Example 1). Someone clearly caught the framing SNAFU and decided to correct it. The question is, why now (after all, it’s been there since 2001 when the original UK DVD was released), and why do so without telling anyone? It’s THE DESCENT debacle all over again, the only difference being that in this case Universal has fixed an old problem rather than created a new one.
There’s a bit more too it than that, though. Click through the various captures above, and you’ll see that the new UK disc has an increased harshness not seen in either the old UK/German transfer or the Fox/MGM release. Close-ups look sharper than they did before (check the one of Julianne Moore for some serious freckle action), but I’m not convinced what we’re seeing is genuine detail. Look at the chain around Bolton’s neck in Example 5 - its individual beads are only clearly defined on the old UK/German transfer - in the other two, they’re a lot less distinct. Colour levels have changed too, with the new UK disc looking slightly warmer.
So what’s going on? Is this a new transfer, or did Universal simply dig that old 2001 transfer out again, tweak the framing and colours and attempt to sharpen it up a bit? It looks so damn mediocre I really hope it’s the latter, because I’d be very worried if a transfer looking anything like this being created recently. On balance, it’s an improvement - for one thing, you no longer have to suffer through Giancarlo Giannini’s cranium being chopped in half in that iconic shot - but, as with the previous releases, the whole presentation is so compromised by virtue of its lack of detail that you do have to wonder why they felt it worth the money to press a new glass master and then not tell anyone about it. Come on, Universal and/or MGM - I know we HANNIBAL advocates are in the minority, but it’s a Ridley Scott film, for crying out loud. It should look amazing, not like yesterday’s reheated leftovers.
Oh, and just in case anyone thinks I’m full of it, here’s a snapshot of the new disc’s /BDMV/STREAM folder. Files dated February and March 2011 on a disc supposedly released in 2009? I think not.