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The digital restoration bandits claim another victim

DVD

If you’ve read even a few posts on this site relating to the image quality of DVD and HD materials, you’ll know that to call me a bit of a perfectionist would be understating the case somewhat. Simply put, I believe that, if you’re going to do a job, you should make sure it’s a good one, and that there is no excuse for the vast majority of substandard transfers being put out at full price.

Now, poor presentations are bad enough when they are simply the result of a bad encoding job. Edge enhancement, filtering, over-zealous compression - all these things, when added at the stage when the DVD itself is being encoded, are disappointing to say the least, but they are not the end of the world. Someone else can always come along and try again later - see What Have You Done to Solange? for an example of a poor quality older edition being superseded by a new edition which went back to the original source materials and rectified the mistakes that had previously been made. It becomes so much worse, however, when a company spends a large amount of money to restore a film and, in the process buggers it up. Such a situation is always problematic because, often, the new master that is created becomes the de facto standard for any number of future iterations. Create a high definition master of an ageing film and, for some time to come, this master is going to be used by every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to release the film on DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray or any format of their choice, rather than going through the costly (and, in their eyes, pointless) process of returning to the original source materials and creating a new master.

Now, along comes Suspiria, one of my favourite films of all time, and one which has a very distinctive look that is absolutely paramount to its enjoyment. Basically, mess up Suspiria’s transfer, and you mess up the whole experience. Now, recently, a brand new restoration of Suspiria was commissioned, going back to the original negative (which, apparently, was in a state of some disrepair) and minting a fresh high definition master. This master, it seems safe to assume, will be with us for some time to come, and is likely to be the first port of call for any company wanting to release the film.

I have but a single question for Technicolor, who handled this restoration:

What the fuck have you done to one of my favourite films?

Here is a screen capture from the 2001 Anchor Bay release of the film. It shows a flash of lighting illuminating the screen as Mater Suspiriorum’s lair self-destructs.

Suspiria

Now, take a look at the same frame as seen in CDE’s so-called “Definitive Edition”, recently released on DVD in Italy in a special commemorative metal tin.

Suspiria

It gets worse. Suzy rushes down the corridor as it rips itself apart before her very eyes. Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Ayeee! Crayola attack! Goodbye, shadow detail! Hello, blown-out highlights!

Want more? Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Suzy is as horrified as I am when someone shines a yellow floodlight at her!

There’s just no stopping these restoration “artists” and their state of the art technology. Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Think you’ve seen it all? Think again. Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

They’re having a laugh, surely? Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

I hope you chumps kept the damn receipt when you commissioned this! Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Suzy and I are kindred spirits. After the horrors we had both encountered, the only way we could come to terms with the ordeal was to laugh it off.

Right, joking over, Technicolor has some serious explaining to do. Unless this is a simple case of a technical glitch that somehow made its way past every single stage of quality control (and I don’t see how it could be), then someone is guilty of tampering with, nay, wilfully vandalising a work of art in the worst possible way. Let’s see if I can do the same. Don’t you think Whistler’s Mother looks better with the contrasts jacked? Not even Mr. Bean could do as admirable a restoration job.

Whistler's Mother

And hey, how about the Mona Lisa? That could do with some light digital tweaking for the twenty-first century, couldn’t it?

Whistler's Mother

I mean seriously, guys, Jesus! Did no-one stop to think that maybe, just maybe, what you were doing was a bit shitty? This is not how you treat a classic that has built up a justly deserved reputation for being one of the most visually spellbinding films ever created. Seriously, this makes what Anchor Bay did to the film’s audio mix on their DVD seem virtually irrelevant. “Definitive Edition” my left teste.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 6:59 PM | Comments: 25
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology

 
Comments

1.

What an unquestionable screw-up. Thanks for making us aware of this tragic ruination of a classic.

Posted by: Avanze, October 25, 2007 12:01 AM

2.

Any caps from the swimming pool scene? I thought the blue tint in the French restoration trailer on YouTube looked questionable.

Posted by: Eric Cotenas, October 25, 2007 1:30 AM

3.

YELLOW!!!!!!!!

Posted by: ARCVILE, October 25, 2007 1:47 AM

4.

One of the old UK VHS releases (was it the Polygram? My memory fails me) had that burst of yellow that accompanied the lightning and the vivid crimson as Suzy bursts out of the Tanz Academie and the screen is again lit by lightning: the colours within the Anchor Bay DVD seemed positively muted by comparison. Those colours seem slightly more vivid on the new DVD (and the contrast is clearly a bit 'off'), but that's not necessarily an indication that it's one hundred percent 'wrong': Luciano Tovoli supposedly supervised the new HD master from which this bad boy is sourced. I would be wary of taking Anchor Bay's release as a benchmark of how this movie should be presented visually: it may be the most widely-seen home video presentation of the movie; but, all debates about the audio mix aside, that doesn't mean that it's definitive in terms of the the visual presentation of the film.

I'm not sure that you could call the film a 'classic' too: it's still a niche movie. Its fans would like to convince us that it's a classic of sorts, but there are still those who would suggest it's a triumph of style over substance. It's a very good film, but several steps away from being great - yet it's often those slightly imperfect movies, like Suspiria, that become our favourites.

Posted by: , October 25, 2007 2:39 AM

5.

Yowza! that is seriously disheartening - I was ready to import this. loss of shadow detail and blooming whites - this one is all over the place. I remember you saying that AB's transfer was also fiddled with; in what way?

Posted by: aw, October 25, 2007 5:11 AM

6.

anon - in comparison to the AB and the other R2 release compared on this site, that is probably the worst case of contrast boosting I've ever seen; I'm clueless as to what the colors are "supposed" to look like - but there is no way in which I would want to see a film which made all the shadows black and all the detail around whites dissapear

Posted by: aw, October 25, 2007 5:17 AM

7.

Thanks Mike for taking the plunge and buying this thing so that now we can avoid it like the plague that it obviously is. Ugh. I'm really hoping you got a bad copy or there was a bad run because there is absolutely zero excuse for something like that to happen to any release. Independent or Studio. Unless the DP went color blind over the years, this is not how this film should look.

Posted by: tw, October 25, 2007 6:21 AM

8.

Eric:

Here are some captures from the swimming pool scene:

Anchor Bay
Definitive

Anchor Bay
Definitive

Anchor Bay
Definitive

Anchor Bay
Definitive

I don’t know about you, but to me this new look robs the scene of its aura of mystery. It now appears as if someone is shining a floodlight on the pool.


Anonymous:

The Anchor Bay colours are a tad more muted than on the previous Italian DVD, but even so, I have never seen another release that looks anything like this new Definitive Edition. You would have to work very hard to convince me that the amount of detail that is being lost throughout the film thanks to the overly boosted contrasts is an accurate representation of how the film is intended to look. I’m aware that Tovoli is supposed to have supervised the new HD master, but he also supervised the Anchor Bay transfer, and they can’t both be right. The red tinting in the final scene (the last three shots) looks decidedly digital, and I haven’t even posted any shots of the exterior of the Tanzakademie in daylight yet - it’s bright pink! This new transfer actually makes the film painful to watch because it is so bright, blown-out and oversaturated that it genuinely hurts my eyes, and I find it hard to believe that this was Argento’s intention.

Posted by: Whiggles, October 25, 2007 10:19 AM

9.

"The Anchor Bay colours are a tad more muted than on the previous Italian DVD, but even so, I have never seen another release that looks anything like this new Definitive Edition. [....] I'm aware that Tovoli is supposed to have supervised the new HD master, but he also supervised the Anchor Bay transfer, and they can't both be right".


Well, in these situations debates about what is 'right' and 'wrong' are purely academic, unless we can get hold of Tovoli or Argento to ask them, and even then Tovoli could conceivable respond with an argument that he's rethought how the film should look - those 'blown-out' and 'oversaturated' colours may have a justification that, unless we can talk to Tovoli, we are not aware of. However what I was saying was that the new HD sourced disk is probably not one hundred per cent 'wrong', just as the Anchor Bay disk was not one hundred percent 'right'. The older Italian DVD is probably closer to how I remember the film looking, but then that doesn't mean that the Italian DVD - which in terms of its colour timing marks an intermediate point between the Anchor Bay disk and this new release - is 'right' either.

Posted by: , October 25, 2007 11:29 AM

10.

TW, when it comes to optical disc replication, the only kind of "bad copy" you can get is one that just doesn't play at all (or plays with obvious problems, like huge blocks flickering all over the screen).

Posted by: Lyris, October 25, 2007 11:59 AM

11.

Anonymous:

You may be right about the previous Italian DVD representing something of a half-way point between the two. I’ve taken a look at it, and some of the yellowness is definitely there in the scenes corresponding to my first, third and fourth shots, but without the blown out contrasts and missing shadow detail. On the other hand, the red tinting in the final shots is nowhere to be found on the old Italian DVD, and the whole image has a much more pleasant, neutral tone to it. I think it could also be fair to argue that the Anchor Bay transfer is a little too dark on occasions - the scene in which Sara attempts to wake up the drugged Suzy has always struck me as a bit murky on that disc.

One thing that I think we can agree on is that the new Definitive transfer is over-cooked in terms of brightness and contrast. Whether or not it was Tovoli who decided to do this is anyone’s guess. And I get exactly what you’re saying about it not being a case of one being 100% “right” and the other being 100% “wrong” - I know it’s not as simple as that. I certainly can’t fathom how the new Definitive transfer ended up the way it did, though, and I really find it very hard to believe that the new transfer can be taken as a closer match than any of the previous DVD releases that I’ve seen.

Out of curiosity, have you seen the new DVD in action? It is uncomfortable to watch. Even in the daylight scenes, which should presumably have a reasonably natural appearance to them, everything looks like it’s being blasted with a floodlight. There are shots in which characters’ faces are almost completely white. The scene in which Suzy talks to Madame Blanc, after Daniel’s death, looks horrible.

Posted by: Whiggles, October 25, 2007 12:01 PM

12.

"I really find it very hard to believe that the new transfer can be taken as a closer match than any of the previous DVD releases that I've seen".

It most likely isn't, and personally I'll stick with the Italian DVD - which is my preferred release of this particular film.


"Out of curiosity, have you seen the new DVD in action?"

Not yet, no. I am curious about the new DVD, and I may purchase it - but for the time being, despite its flaws I shall stick with the previous Italian DVD release, which best represents how I've seen the film in its previous incarnations, both theatrically (via a revival screening in 1990-something) and on home video. Sometimes with these films, we have to stick with the release that satisfies our own personal preference rather than that which may represent the intentions of the filmmakers - who sometimes seem intent on revising and rewriting their own histories. I gave up searching for definitive home video releases of my favourite films many years ago - with a film like Suspiria, searching for a definitive home video release means that, more often than not, one ends up simply chasing one's own tail, as there can sometimes be a plethora of contradictory information about the movie's presentation.

Posted by: , October 25, 2007 2:05 PM

13.

Personally, based on the screencaps I don't give two hoots what Argento's intention was. The CDE version looks horrible compared with the Anchor Bay edition. I can well believe it makes for an uncomfortable watch; it would burn through anyone's retinas.

Posted by: Baron Scarpia, October 25, 2007 4:28 PM

14.

For the first couple of caps I was thinking well yes, it is rather yellow, but then it goes all to hell...

I couldn't give a monkeys if Tovoli has supervised the transfer or not. Your "re-imaginings" of Whistler's Mother and the Mona Lisa demonstrate exactly what Technicolor have done to the film - they've quite simply fucked it up.

I wonder if the new French edition is from the same master?

Posted by: Philly Q, October 25, 2007 7:55 PM

15.

I forgot to ask - is there anything else on the DVD to make it worth buying?

Posted by: Philly Q, October 25, 2007 8:07 PM

16.

Um… the tin? Otherwise, no. The extras are pretty limited - trailers, TV spot, radio spots, poster gallery, the same Argento interview that appeared on the previous Italian DVDs, and a four-minute making-of clip which I haven’t seen before that interviews Argento and Simonetti, but looks to be a good few years old judging by their appearances.

Even the audio isn’t much cop - the English track is the same rough, crackly, distorted one that was used on the previous Italian releases.

The French DVD should be based on the same new and supposedly improved HD master. Once it is released, we’ll be able to tell whether the problems are with the master itself or simply what CDE did to it. If the French disc looks fine, then I will happily retract my attack on Technicolor, but until then, they look to me like the guilty party.

Posted by: Whiggles, October 25, 2007 8:10 PM

17.

Michael:

Although the Anchor Bay DVD claims to have been supervised by Tavolli, I've never actually seen any proof that it was. AB is pretty well known for putting incorrect information on their DVD cases.

Reading the interview with Tavolli in PROFONDO ARGENTO, he makes a big point about how when Technicolor was doing the few IB prints, he and Argento had them really boost the contrast to make the blacks super black and make highlights really pop. It could simply be that up until now, working in HD, Tavolli was never able to replicate that look on video due to the limitations of standard-definition video. Now, in HD, he's able to make it look like it did way-back-when in IB Technicolor.

Of course, it could be that something got messed up in the downconversion to standard-definition for this new DVD, too. Word out of the Cannes screening was that the restored SUSPIRIA looked stunning in High-Definition. Maybe the HD transfer is simply too much for standard-def, and as a result the downconversion looks to blown out?

Vincent

Posted by: Vincent Pereira, October 25, 2007 11:15 PM

18.

>> Maybe the HD transfer is simply too much for standard-def, and as a result the downconversion looks to blown out?

What technical reason could there be for that? There are small differences in colour gamuts, sure, but nothing that could cause something to look like this.

Posted by: Lyris, October 25, 2007 11:19 PM

19.

Look at the 2002 "10th Anniversary Edition" of Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS, then look at the "15th Anniversary Edition". They look VASTLY different, with the 10th Anniversary one having milky blacks and very flat contrast- i.e., the opposite of the "contrast boosting" we can see in Michael's screenshots, but just as objectionable.

Guess what? Both of those DVDs used the SAME HIGH DEFINITION MASTER TAPE as the source. When doing the downconversion and/or authoring back in 2002, somebody set the black level WAY too high, resulting in those milky, washed-out blacks.

The first DVD release of THE CROW in the U.S. had a similar problem, albeit not for the whole film. A long section of the film had milky- grey blacks and flat contrast, and this was an error in mastering of the DVD, NOT the digital master tape used to create the DVD.

Things like this happen sometimes. The simple fact is, you really can't judge an HD master based on how the downconverted standard-definition DVD looks. Too many things can go wrong in the process of downconversion and authoring of the final disc.

Vincent

Posted by: Vincent Pereira, October 26, 2007 1:09 AM

20.

Michael:
there is a comparison with screencaps at this link:
https://www.dvdessential.it/forum/viewtopic.php?p=597331

And here the Italian Ultimate Ed. doesn´t look like your screencaps.
There is also a comparison (AB/Italian old/Italian new) at cinefacts.de. I´ll have to get back with the link but the caps didn´t look yellow there either.
What´s up with this?
Stefan A
Sweden

Posted by: Stefan Andersson, October 26, 2007 9:42 AM

21.

Here´s the link to the German-language Cinefacts forum.
Compares ABUS disc with old and new Italian SUSPIRIA dvds.
https://forum.cinefacts.de/showthread.php?p=5031215

Comments, anyone?
Stefan Andersson
Sweden

Posted by: Stefan Andersson, October 26, 2007 9:48 AM

22.

Stefan, the screenshots in the link you posted only reference a couple of scenes that take place in relatively natural lighting. I’m confident that if the person responsible for these shots took captures of the same frames that I did, they would look exactly the same as on mine. Indeed, in the second shot, you can see the whites beginning to be blown out in the doorway.

Posted by: Whiggles, October 26, 2007 9:48 AM

23.

I posted this yerday but for some reason it did not appear, so here it is again ;)

*****

Fandom here seems divided: part is praising the pristine look of the film after restoration, part is blaming the loss of definition due to oversaturation.

One theory I read is that high definition masters could give these results, once downgraded to 720x576, and that we should wait for HD-DVD/BR release to have the "real" picture. But it sounds a bit out of focus, so to say.

Anyway, the fact that not all the shots are oversaturated at the same level seems to hint a precise choice was made, by whomever did the new master.

I've been looking everywhere for interviews with Tovoli about this, but nothing so far. Maybe Francesco Donadel Campbell, credited for the restoration (not for the master), could shed some light (pun not intended) on the subject: he is quite known in Italian anime DVD production, and possibly aware of raising controversy.

Here is an Italian interview about his work for the restoration of the most famous/beloved old Japanese anime in Dario's land.

Link

From what I read, here Donadel Campbell had to boost luma (is this the correct term?) and black, tone down blue and red, boost croma level to get a warmer picture - all of this in post production, after the master was done. If Suspiria received the same kind of processing, this could mean the oversaturation is not part of the HD master...

Posted by: MCP, October 26, 2007 6:16 PM

24.

For those of you interested in a restoration trailer...
Link

Posted by: cornelius666, October 31, 2007 10:45 PM

25.

Look at the french edition screenshots.
Same restauration crew :

Link

Posted by: French me, November 14, 2007 1:13 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

https://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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