A Few Words About A few words about...™ Mildred Pierce (HBO) -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Jan 11, 2012.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Frustrating.


    That's the best word for HBO's Mildred Pierce mini-series. Based upon the same book by James M. Cain that was the basis for the classic 1945 Joan Crawford, Warner Bros. version as directed by Michael Curtiz.


    Actually, that's the first question that a rep from Oppo asked me when I called. "You're having problems playing a six year old standard def disc..."


    This approximately 300 minute (5 episode) production, as directed by Todd Haynes has arrived via HBO on Blu-ray, and I've spent far too much time with it.


    The basics:


    Generally, HBO does superb work, from image capture to packaging, but this one takes the cake.


    I didn't realize when ordering, that it was four discs, representing both standard definition as well as Blu-ray -- and I'm not really sure who needs that-- and not 300 minutes spread across four discs. My error.


    Apparently charging $35 for two discs might be considered a bit high, so they've included the same thing in standard def. This has always made sense to me when the Disney organization does it, as a standard def DVD player might be "handed down" and end up in a kid's room. That allows for the exhibition of the Blu-ray in a family's home theater, and if a child wants to take it to bed, they can play it on their smaller set in SD. Great idea, really.


    Probably over-tired, I loaded the first disc, and was unimpressed with the image quality.


    Now, understand...


    This was shot, quite nicely in 16mm, and went through a 2k DI to the final product. But what I was seeing was not at all impressive. Soft and with EE around titles. Not a good situation. Then I checked to make certain that I was running 1080p, and sure enough, I was not.


    After a long day, thinking that this was a four disc set, I had put the first disc an Oppo 83 and hit play, and the results...


    Once I realized that this package, which is actually oversize for what it might be, had two formats, I went for the Blu-ray, ready to be amazed.


    I wasn't.


    My player groaned a bit, and then locked on 0000-00 and bricked.


    Hit open tray.


    Nada.


    Once I shut down the player, I was finally able to extract the disc and go back to the SD version.


    From what I've seen thus far in SD, Kate Winslet does a wonderful job in the lead role. Melissa Leo is superb, as always. But I really want to see this in high def.


    I checked the disc on another Oppo, and it plays, after some grief and a long load time, but I didn't wish to review on a large screen.


    After a couple of calls to Oppo -- I do love that company, and their products -- it came down to a problem in either authoring or piracy prevention, although a defective disc could also be the culprit. They're going to get a copy of the disc and see if they can figure it out and come up with a solution.


    Issue turns out to be a defective disc.

    NOTE: Please see Post 17, as this discussion continues.


    RAH
     
  2. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    The first Blu-ray disc loaded fine on my PS3.
     
  3. Craig S

    Craig S Producer
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    Ditto. Plays on my PS3, looks pretty good.


    RAH, is it possible you just got a bad (damaged) disc? Have you tried the 2nd Blu-ray?


    FWIW, I hear you on the added DVDs in the set. Seems completely unnecessary for this type of release, other than as an excuse to jack the price up.
     
  4. ShowsOn

    ShowsOn Second Unit

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    This kind of reminds me of my first experience with the Blu-ray format. I bought a blu-ray reader / dvd burner combo drive for my computer which came with blu-ray playback software. Since the software was a bit old, it wouldn't actually play any of the blu-rays I had bought until I downloaded 250 MB of patches. Whoever came up with the copy protection scheme Blu-rays use obviously wasn't very interested in making things easy for the consumer to use.
     
  5. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    Not sure why we have DVDs in the set either, oterhwise I watched the first disc the day it was released no issues in my PS3. Sounds like some technical issues between the discs and the players. It is a shame the review will be tarnished because of non-playability. Seems like PS3 players area go for this release though.
     
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Disc One BD plays on an Oppo 95, but starts fitfully, losing and gaining sync or handshake.


    Disc Two BD plays on Oppo 83 without problem.


    The fact that this was shot 16mm seems quite irrelevant, as image quality in HD is very nice.


    Packaging is extremely wasteful of space, although nothing even close to where WB occasionally goes. There is no viable reason that a box would be standard def size and need to be greater than the thickness of two normal Blu-ray packs, unless there isn an attempt to market it as something far larger than it is.


    This is a fine production, the packaging of which bears the legend The Collector's Edition. What would have been nicer, at a far lower price, might have been a NON-Collector's Edition. A simple Blu-ray pack of the two BD discs.


    The marketing and pricing in this case is very odd.


    Amazon lists the standard definition 2-disc set at a list of $40, street is $29.


    Upgrade to Blu-ray, and the list goes to $50, with a street of $35. A difference of $6 for a Blu-ray set with additional "Collector's" content.


    Price point in normal nice Blu-ray packaging could easily have been a $30 list, with a street price around $22.


    My point being that the extra cost and useless oversize box works against the product.


    I've been a long time fan of HBO packaging, especially where a large number of discs need to be packaged in an elegant and protective fashion. And they have proven that they have the capability to do this superbly.


    Take a look at Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and most recently Deadwood -- all beautifully done. Keep in mind that complete Deadwood is 13 discs in a nominally sized, high quality book-like package that currently streets at $110. That's approximately $8.50 per disc.


    Compare to Mildred at $17.50 per disc for Blu-ray.


    Or to be more current, compare to HBO's Boardwalk Empire, in a smaller (Blu-ray sized) package, albeit more of a cardboard folding affair within a box, which works out to $35 for seven discs, or $5 per disc.


    Once I get Disc One functioning, I'm certain that the mini-series will prove its mettle, but pricing on this release tends to relegate the Blu-ray at $35 to the rental category, whereas at $20 or a bit more, it would be worthwhile to have around for additional future viewings.


    What is not needed is bloated, and overpriced packaging of what is essentially a two disc set. Had they truly wanted to create something using a "Collector's" moniker, they might have taken the Joan Crawford original to Blu-ray and added that as an additional disc. And that would have hit their current price point.


    Just a thought.


    Lastly, as far as playability issues are concerned, this may be isolated to Oppo. In the meantime, I'll try another set and see if it plays any better.


    RAH
     
  7. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    That is a great idea. I reluctantly passed on purchasing the current release considering the price point for the content to be a bit much; but would have been all over a set such as the one you proposed. - Walter.
     
  8. Craig S

    Craig S Producer
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    RAH, everything you say about this title's packaging & pricing is spot on. Hopefully this will be a failed experiment for HBO and they'll back off this type of release.
     
  9. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Yes, the Joan Crawford Mildred Pierce in HD as a bonus feature certainly would have tweaked my interest to a notable degree.
     
  10. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    I remember really liking the adaptation (very faithful to the book) and being thrilled at the look of the 16mm film, so I'm hoping for good news of the transfer itself. (Also appreciated the "recreation" of 1930s Hollywood and Glendale, etc., even with that beach grass and causeway that are SO not So. Cal.).
     
  11. rsmithjr

    rsmithjr Screenwriter

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    I have difficulty with things filmed in 16mm. Historically, there was some justification for 16mm, especially for documentary titles and things that required small cameras hand-carried into difficult settings. For studio productions, however, I still would like to see everything that is put on film use 70mm (65mm negative of course). This went out of style over 40 years ago in favor of 35mm capture with blow-ups to 70mm release prints, but you can really tell the difference. Even Blu-ray transfers improve markedly with 65mm capture. At the very least, use 35mm capture for the best results. BTW the argument that 16mm is an "artistic" choice to capture the period look is pretty bogus. The original Mildred Pierce was photographed in 35mm B&W and it is sharp as a tack. The 40's was definitely not fuzzy! And color films made in the 40's were not the muted orange colors we see in the HBO Mildred Pierce, they were largely beautiful dye-transfer Technicolor. See the MGM and Fox titles from that era for example. FINALLY: artistically, the new Mildred Pierce is far inferior to the Joan Crawford/Michael Curtiz Warners production, which still holds up. Oddly enough, the new version may be "bolder" in some ways, but overall the original is much tougher as well as being more tightly constructed.
     
  12. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    There is a huge difference between shooting in 16mm and printing in 16, or blowing up to 35...


    and scanning an original 16mm negative in 2k, toward a DI.


    Modern 16mm Kodak stocks, especially when exposed for S16, can yield rather miraculous results.


    The HBO Mildred Pierce, on Blu-ray, is technically a beautifully crafted presentation.


    RAH
     
  13. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    It would have been great to have the original film released on blu also. Sad that WB's didn't pursue the idea. It had to have been thought of?


    I don't know why HBO / WB's went with the oddly oversized packaging, I figured they used a standard CASE that would work for the DVD and the BLU releases, but I checked out both editions at Target and the DVD version is taller but very slim compared to the blu which is a bit taller than a normal BLU case even for HBO Deadwood / ROME Standards. Just odd.
     
  14. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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  15. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Most elegant IMHO is Deadwood.
     
  16. Guest

    A bit off topic, but MILDRED PIERCE was largely filmed on Long Island, NY, and it was a kick to see CGI mountains added, and palm trees placed to suggest the Los Angeles area.
     
  17. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Parts were shot in Peekskill, NY, where I was involved in the shoot of a low budget sci-epic back in 1987 or thereabouts.


    Now that I've had a chance to view the final two episodes in Blu-ray format, I've come away rather bemused at how poor the film looks in standard definition. But in Blu-ray, it shines. I had mentioned the fact that it was shot on 16mm. I had read some negative comments about the look and feel on another website, but I've come away with precisely the opposite opinion. Those who read the first post in this thread will be aware that I mistakenly loaded the SD version of the film, and after watching a minute or so stopped to double check as I felt something was amiss. I'm almost wondering if the reviewer from the other site might have done the same thing, but had continued, as I'm seeing none of the problems that site related.


    I'm finding grain never a problem, and looking quite normal (and nominal) at all times. Black levels, shadow detail and color are all exemplary.


    I found Edward Lachman's cinematography absolutely stunning. Actually, some of the most beautiful work that I recall in the past few years. Making the move from episode 4 to 5, one hits the late 1930s, and Mr. Lachman's palette takes on the glory of the sort of three-strip Technicolor that one might have seen in an original nitrate print of Leave Her to Heaven (1945) as shot by the great Leon Shamroy.


    At 250 minutes in, knowing that it was going to end in less than an hour, I was actually dreading coming to the end of the film.


    Blu-ray technical issues, packaging, and price aside, HBO's Mildred Pierce via Todd Haynes is an extraordinary production. It takes a different turn from the 1945 original, following the James M. Cain novel more closely.


    Superb entertainment.


    We'll find the answer to the Blu-ray disc one question, as I've purchased a second copy which should arrive shortly.


    Whether it turns out to be a defective disc or some anomaly affecting the player based upon copy protection, that part of the situation will work its way out. At present it seems to only affect Oppo 83, and no others of which I'm aware.


    I still would have preferred a simple two disc Blu-ray set in a more space sensitive box at a more reasonable price, but in the end this is a series that will stand up to multiple viewings. Those who do view multiple times may come upon a shot used twice (two different takes) during the real estate search, as the car passes the same house twice, with a Rolls coupe sitting in the driveway. Worthwhile, as the car is a beauty, as are the majority of the cars selected for the shoot. I especially like Monty's Cord roadster.


    Mildred Pierce comes Very Highly Recommended on Blu-ray. In standard definition, I'd give it a pass.


    Now I'll have to try to re-visit the first three episodes in Blu-ray, and view it properly.


    RAH
     
  18. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    It's too bad about the packaging decisions on this one, but -- whew -- that's what I wanted to hear.
     
  19. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    When viewing in HD, one cannot help but note the use of foreground elements, some transparent/translucent, some not, that divide image. Also, very interesting use of dust on vehicles, glass, etc. Apparently, as explained in excellent production shot, is based upon work of a still photographer.
     
  20. Douglas Monce

    Douglas Monce Producer

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    I can't speak to the packaging, but I always like when an SD version of a film is included in the set. Doug
     

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