A Few Words About A few words about...™ Gladiator -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Sep 13, 2009.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    "No, 'tis not so deep, nor so wide, but 'tis enough..." - William Shakespeare

    Ridley Scott's Gladiator is an example not only of superb storytelling, but superb technical filmmaking, and as such should be a treasure to cinephiles, especially those with higher end systems able to decode the technical superiority of its visual and aural elements.

    I've been reading page upon page of negative comments on line, and seeing examples of problematic frame grabs, which can be notoriously unreliable. I've now experienced the two first releases (the other is Braveheart) in Paramount's Sapphire Series, and have come away with a number of thoughts, all of which are personal and based upon what my eyes and ears are telling me.

    Gladiator is one of those Blu-ray releases that is screen size dependent. It is in some ways similar to previous problematic discs -- the worst visually being Patton and Gangs of New York (each for different reasons).
    But Paramount's Gladiator, unlike the others is, in my humble opinion, neither the softened mess that is Patton, nor the softened and sharpened Gangs, to which was then added contrast, which gave it lovely "force fields."

    Gladiator has problems of a far less damaging nature than those which are the notorious poster children for unprofessionally prepared Blu-rays, and which should have been recalled. Gladiator appears to have come from the original high definition master, the source for the original standard definition DVDs. As such, it would (and should) have gone through a bit of grain reduction (read: throwing it slightly out of focus), and then a touch of sharpening. Both actions would have permitted proper compression and ultimately, a good looking standard definition DVD.

    Had the entire film been sourced from that original master, the problem may not have appeared to be as great. However, the addition of 16 minutes of extended footage exacerbated the problem, and allowed a perfect vision of precisely what Gladiator could have looked like from an entirely new scan and master -- a master that the film deserved, especially as a lead-off title of a heralded new studio series.

    Let's return to the concept of "size dependent" for a moment. Anyone viewing this film on a screen up to about 40" or even a bit larger should have no problems. This is because the discs negative attributes, inclusive of a softening of the image, and the requisite addition of sharpening, which gave the standard definition DVD its acceptability, are no where in the league of that found on Patton and Gangs. The Academy Award winning special effects, which have been affected by the processing, along with a myriad of other digital problems, simply don't show up at the smaller size. Yes, this includes the errant arrows.

    Run them at a good, modern, high-end home theater size, however, of 100 inches or thereabouts, and they become all too obvious. Again, not so obvious as Patton or Gangs, but when compared to the extended footage, an obvious loss of the quality that should have been on screen.

    As an aside, arrows have gone missing before.

    Laurence Olivier's brilliant King Henry the Fifth (1945), available on Criterion, had a sequence in which archers let loose a stream of arrows at opposing forces. The arrows had been created via animation, and were a separate pass, an additional layer of film, that needed to be exposed in the creation of either original Technicolor printing matrices, or later, an Eastman IP. In at least one example, the extra roll of film was left aside, and hence... no arrows.

    While it's certainly a pity that Gladiator is not what if could have been, I'm not seeing this error as a hanging matter, nor do I believe that it begs a recall. With multi-layered and beautifully created audio intact, and uncompressed reproduction now offered in DTS-HD, and an extremely high end set of extras thanks to Charlie de Lauzirika and his high standards, Gladiator is an imperfect, but ultimately a quality ?Blu-ray.

    If I ruled the world, which unfortunately, I don't, I would do the following:

    Go back to original film elements, scan them in 4k, re-insert the extended footage, and view the resultant HD master for quality on a LARGE SCREEN. 35 or 40 inches will not do. Once it is found that things are truly in order, do a running change between printings, with some indication to the interested consumer on the packaging. Make it known that a new printing up to Sapphire standards is available, and institute an exchange program for those with home theaters of high enough quality to perceive the upgrade and who desire it. Is this making lemonade from lemons? Possibly. But in providing the product that should have been in the marketplace initially, all bases end up covered.

    Can I give Gladiator as it stands a recommendation?
    I'm afraid that I can't. But with the requisite changes and upgrade to what should have been released, Gladiator would then rate Very Highly. We'll wait to see what the next move is, hope that the studio stands behind what I'm certain was its intended product, as opposed to what was released, and then re-visit.

    RAH
     
  2. alexAN

    alexAN Agent

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    Thanks for the comment, I agree with most of what you've said, but just pure plain curiosity: after all the noise and when the disc has been available for almost 2 weeks, what took you so long? Many of us were expecting your few words, even with more expectation than usual
     
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Simple availability (or non) of necessary time.
     
  4. Torsten Kaiser

    Torsten Kaiser Film Restoration & Preservation
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    I agree with much of what you said, Robert. To this day, unfortunately, the MO is still confined even at the studios and their respective corporate partners / facilities to small(er) displays rather than big screens (such as the 5 meters [200"] DCI-conforming unit we are working with). Even in the recent past usually what was standing in front of you in a suite was or even still is a 20-24" CRT. Some have upgraded to using both CRT units and large LCD displays between 40 and 50". On these units, you can already see the "troubles of things past" when you QC an older master. However, you are absolutely correct - they are not enough for furture reference. Projection screens, which are used for DI work, are also necessary for mastering and also restoration. A preservation project we just finished reminded me very vividly of that. As with many other projects, but this one in particular, I am sure we could not have gotten the precision out of the material without that large screen and this specially designed Post Production Projector, aided by the native 30" 2K displays we use on the workstations as well.

    By the way, the issue of the de-graining and resharpening (GLADIATOR) would not have been made on the HD level at that time, it was and often still is a matter tackled either on Digital Betacam (degraining, via Arch Angel or Software tools in Standard Definition) and/or (the sharpening) during the encoding to MPEG-2. For one, the used stock is not that grainy at all and techniques used during filming insured that grain was really "low key". The exquisite attributes of the film materials is reflected astonishingly well on the Japanese Superbit edition, for instance, which also does not have the severe sharpening attributes many other releases in the U.S. or Europe have. As with so many of the older (HD) masters, which got their "sharpening edge" quite recently for Hi-Def release on HD-DVD or Blu-ray, this one, too, most likely got its share of "added edginess" in the processing of this BD issue, and not only by simply adding conture. It is also very evident that the master also underwent some color corrections, making the spread in the grayscale even wider and thus contributing to the worsening of what is wrongly called edge enhancement.

    Personally and professionally, I do not agree that the (on top of it even poorly executed) automatic cleanup in some sequences is "not a hanging matter" as you called it - for two reasons.
    ONE: choosing the wrong tool in the first place on a film that does not need it, and
    TWO: using that tool and then not even checking the outcome nor QCing it.
    If we were to work that sloppy you and I would long have been out of business. And on the HD level, with people being able for the first time to appreciate film close to as it really is on large screens, things like this no longer can pass as "acceptable". The people who spend money don't want to throw it away again and again and again until perhaps a correct version arrives in 2023. (By the way, the artifacts are also very visible even on a small 24" studio monitor even in motion, but are devastating on a large screen).

    A format that is advertised as "THE PERFECT HI-DEF EXPERIENCE" (Universal) on every cover that presents a master littered with artifacts in sequences that were evidently not even QCd is hardly good craftsmanship nor is it a recommendation for HD mastering or the format Blu-ray - at any price. It could - and should - have been a regular mastering job that would have brought this title to shine without a(ny) problem. But, as it now stands, both these aspects (massive artifacts in some sequences due to poor automatic Cleanup, no QC) would surely result in a rejection in QCs from broadcasters such as the BBC, NHK, or ARD (Germany). That I am absolutely sure of, working with them closely. Unfortunately, people at the PM level in the Home Entertainment divisions often do not have the necessary experience to really make such "QC calls" at their respective studio. SONY has a different way of operating, which has proven to be much more rigid - and successful. Maybe if something would be changed on that level, this would insure a more stable line of quality.

    Best,
     
  5. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Torsten,

    I seriously doubt that there was a total lack of QC for this release. I would surmise that whatever QC was performed, may have been on cute little miniature monitors, and nothing near a size necessary to the job. If there is to be blame, I place it upon not the individuals who are attempting to do their jobs, but rather upon the function (or in this case possibly non-functional) system that has been created by those above them.

    RAH
     
  6. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    *IF* Paramount chooses to redo this title (and recall the current stock or at least offer free exchange), then I'll buy it as *both* my way of telling them they're doing the right thing *and* owning what is an entertaining, but not "must have", title for me.

    I think others should do likewise and hold out for that -- unless they really feel like this is a "must have" despite the PQ issues, in which case I'd say definitely write them to let them know you want better from them.

    Meanwhile, I recently gladly paid the moderate price premium for the Braveheart BD, instead of waiting for a better (
     
  7. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    My sentiments exactly. To me Gladiator is really just an intelligent manly action movie with several impressive set pieces. Missing elements in the set pieces pretty much ruins it for me. I'd definitely buy a redo.
     
  8. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    I'd also buy a redo. As it stands in tight times, I'll have to make decisions. I love this film, and would love to own it, but not with a compromised picture. Thanks for the insight. I'll hold out for the next release.
     
  9. ChadMcCallum

    ChadMcCallum Second Unit

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    Thanks for your (not so) few words on Gladiator, Robert.

    I'm not sure what to do about this title. I don't love the movie but I don't think its a bad movie either and I haven't seen it since it first came out on dvd and it would be nice to add it to my collection. I want both cuts of the movie and to buy those on dvd would be much more expensive then the blu-ray but I only have a 32" screen so I won't see many of the problems but I also don't want to support a flawed release. I suppose I could buy it and email Paramount expressing my displeasure with the transfer but I think voting with my wallet would be more effective. Why can't every release be perfect? It would make dvd collecting so much easier.
     
  10. Brian Husar

    Brian Husar Stunt Coordinator

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    I bought the disc for 2 reasons, I wanted to see for myself and everyone was right, and so far I own most of Ridley Scott's Blu Ray releases. It is not bad, and defnitly not as bad as Gangs Of New York (which I bought since Scorsese is my favorate filmmaker), but this needs a redo. It is a watchable disc, but it is not a masterful job like Braveheart. So far Woodstock, Braveheart, Ghostbusters and the soon to be Wizard Of Oz will be the discs to beat this year. I would say to buy Gladiator if it is on sale, or if there is ever a price cut at Target. Ridley should not have allowed this and has anybody brought this up Charlie de Lauzirika's board here? Again as everyone has said, it is a watchable disc, but compared to Braveheart and other discs, this should not have been allowed. I have a 42 inch Toshiba Regza, and although if I sit back on my couch and relax I don't see many of the issues, when I first buy a new disc on DVD or Blu Ray I move a chair to either the middle of the room or slightly closer to the monitor so I can see if there are issues, and when you get up close, you can see the softening, and the edge enhancement. Now that does not take away from the power of the story, but as a representation of what was shown in it's intial release and what Saphire is suppose to be, it is careless. Now if only the Hi Def geeks can get that through their head, just go the the user comments on Blu Ray.com and read people saying "I don't see what the problem is, this is the best the picture ever looked". That is true, it is a better looking Standard Def version on Blu Ray, if that makes sense.
     
  11. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    It's been mentioned but if he thinks it's messed up, he isn't going to burn his bridges and say that on a message board.
     
  12. JulianK

    JulianK Supporting Actor

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    I've been QCing video for numerous clients (including major studios and national broadcasters) for many years, and would like to suggest one possibility that hasn't been mentioned: that the master failed its QC, but the client chose to release it anyway. It happens all the time!
     
  13. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    I decided to use a free Blockbuster rental coupon and gave this a view over the weekend. I was expecting the worst, but I didn't think the video was as terrible as I feared. However, it was also not nearly as good as it could have been, based on the extended cut scenes that looked wonderful.

    Hopefully Paramount will eventually redo this transfer. I will not buy the current version, as I am trying to avoid double dips with the BD format, and this transfer is just not good enough to permanently go into my film library.
     
  14. GregK

    GregK Screenwriter

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    I did the same thing and rented it through my Blockbuster On-line program.

    It's worth noting my display is an Infocus 1080P front projection system throwing a 120" image, which is quite unforgiving. I enjoyed the movie, but was shocked at the level of EE. In 'some' ways it reminded me of an upconverted DVD .. but don't get me wrong. It's not that is wasn't sharp, but I'm just not used to seeing EE to this extent on Blu. I noticed some slight DNR, but not as much as the EE. It wouldn't surprise me at all if smaller displays mask some the shortcomings of this transfer, but for me and my given setup: Yikes!

    If this would have been a movie of the week transfer for a given network in HD, it would have been a little more understandable. But for a Bluray disc, let's just say I am VERY happy this was strictly a rental.
     
  15. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    Finally got a chance to see this and the screencaps I've seen don't do this justice.

    Parts of this (extended scenes) looks amazing however certain erased details (i.e. missing arrows) are even more jarring in motion. I would've easily noticed this without the caps.

    The most damning is the heavy EE in too many of the scenes. Going from one scene that's beautiful to another with thick EE is like a punch in the nose. When it's there it's one of the worst examples of EE I've seen for a BD.

    Inconsistent PQ is an understatement. Unfortunately the bad far outweighs the good here.

    A definite botch job.
     
  16. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    I rented it from Netflix. I am really glad I canceled my pre-order. I had hoped the screen caps were merely isolated frames, but in the flaming arrows panning shot, there just weren't any arrows (okay, maybe three). The shot with missing spear elements (when the spears are thrown at the testudo formation) probably would have gone unnoticed if I were not looking for them, but the flaming arrows and missing lightning bolt were quite apparent. I thought some colors were brighter, particularly in darker scenes, but I decided to stick with the original DVD for now. At least everything is there.
     
  17. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    As I mentioned before, I bought it because of the sale price at BB ($10 off if you bought this and Gladiator + $10 mail in coupon). But I have to admit I was unhappy with the look from the beginning fog in the opening credits which literally look like they're swimming gnats of noise as opposed to fog, and the clearly erased flaming arrows in the opening battle scene (which I always thought was a super-cool effect). I haven't been able to make it through the rest of the film (though admittedly it's just as much due to lack of free time as it is disappointment with the way the transfer looks in the beginning). Some of the letters of the captions (non player-generated) are also pixelly/unstable due to the apparent NR that was applied.

    While I'm sure as I watch there will be parts of the transfer that do look good, I'm really disappointed now that I have the film in hand that it was, at best, given an uneven transfer.

    A recent Academy Award winning film from a major director and studio deserved better treatment.
     
  18. Xylon

    Xylon Stunt Coordinator

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    Amateur hour.

    Paramount is stinking up the place.
     
  19. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

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    Looked good to me at 185", and consistent.

    Braveheart looked soft in comparison (on and off).
     
  20. Dave Moritz

    Dave Moritz Producer
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    Has anyone heard if this title is going to get a new scan or not? I love this movie and its one of my top films and I will not upgrade it until this title has a new video transfer! Now that Dolby True HD has provided a clean and accurate lossless audio track I do not care if the re-release is Dolby, DTS or PCM. I just want them to fix the botched DNR'd mess they put out on the market! Now if they want to remix it to 7.1 you will not catch me complaining. But lets be honest, we will be lucky for this title to get a fresh video transfer anytime soon.

    Till then I will just enjoy my SD-DVD with DTS-ES 6.1 !!!

    Braveheart is one of the next titles on my list to purchase along with Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, The Quick And The Dead and the upcoming releases of Miracle On 34th Street, Contact and Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. I would totally expect that Transformers 2 will have a pristine video transfer, but am waiting to see if WB DNR's Contact or not? I hope they do not get stupid and DNR anything else to death like a few other studios have done on Bluray!

    Bluray should be the best of the best of the best, sir with lossless on top.
     

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