Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Feb 16, 2009.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    [​IMG]
    The Midnight Meat Train (Blu-ray)

    "Please. Step away from the meat."


    Studio: Lionsgate
    Rated: Unrated (original rating: R)
    Film Length: 102 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: VC-1
    Audio: English DTS HD-MA 7.1
    Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $39.99
    Disc Format: 1 25GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: Aug. 1, 2008 (but see below)
    Blu-ray Release Date: Feb. 17, 2009



    Introduction:

    So horror legend Clive Barker co-produces a film based on one of his short stories. It has a
    decent budget and features real actors with A-list movie credits and buckets of blood. In a market
    that can tolerate five Saw films, twelve Friday the Thirteenths, innumerable Halloweens, the
    Night/Dawn/Day/Land/Shaun of the Dead oeuvre (and countless lesser knockoffs), Freddie
    Krueger, the Scream franchise and far too many torture porn films, you'd think any reasonable
    studio would be happy to spring for a few thousand prints and enough advertising to support a
    low-key August or September release, right?

    Wrong. Lionsgate couldn't bury this one deep enough. They dropped The Midnight Meat Train
    into a hundred theaters for a week on August 1, 2008, just enough to fulfill contractual
    obligations. And not real theaters, mind you, but bargain theaters, as far as possible from major
    metropolitan centers like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago - anyplace where there was a risk
    of finding large numbers of Barker fans who might actually show up to see the film. Rarely has a
    studio gone so far out of its way to leave money lying on the table.

    At the time, Barker agitated both publicly and privately to get Lionsgate to reconsider, but to no
    avail. As if to make amends, Lionsgate has now released the film on Blu-ray, and - as far as I can
    tell, with nothing to compare it to - the release appears to be first-rate.


    The Feature:

    Leon (Bradley Cooper of Alias and The Wedding Crashers) is a photographer looking for his true
    artistic vision. The subject that fascinates him is "the city". The locale itself is never identified by
    name. Various details suggest New York, but nothing in the film looks like New York, especially
    the subway system, where so much of the film takes place. This is "the city" as a generic beast.
    (The film itself was shot in Los Angeles.)

    Leon lives with his girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb of Iron Man), whom he promises to marry as
    soon as he's made enough money from his photography. Meanwhile, Maya supports them by
    waitressing at a greasy spoon diner where Leon, a vegetarian, has to beg the cook to fry him tofu.

    Leon persuades his friend Jurgis (Roger Bart of The Producers and Desperate Housewives) to
    introduce him to a high-powered art dealer named Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields). Susan
    challenges Leon to go deeper and show her the "real" city.

    It is while prowling the streets late at night in an effort to meet Susan's challenge that Leon
    encounters the austere, silent, intimidating man we will come to know as Mahogany (Vinnie
    Jones, veteran of several Guy Ritchie films as well as X-Men 3 and Gone in 60 Seconds).
    Mahogany works in a meat-packing plant above an abandoned subway station, lives in a hotel
    room filled with bizarre tools, and there is just something about him . . .

    As Leon's interest in Mahogany deepens into obsession, he begins exhibiting odd behavior (like
    eating steak!) and experiencing bizarre dreams. While Leon tails Mahogany, Maya begins
    following Leon, eventually dragging along Jurgis. This being a story from the mind of Clive
    Barker, the results are catastrophic and bloody but not necessarily in a way that you might expect.
    Let's just say that, when someone goes looking for "the real", they may be shocked to discover
    that the real has been looking for them.

    In other hands, the basic story of The Midnight Meat Train might have served as an episode for
    Tales from the Crypt. But Barker has always wanted more from horror than just the gross-out
    surprise, followed by a high-pitched snarky laugh, that made Tales from the Crypt an entertaining
    but ultimately disposable pastime. Barker wants people to feel something (even if the feeling
    isn't pleasant), and he's willing to risk having an audience laugh at him in an effort to have his
    characters and their emotions taken seriously. (It's a tricky balancing act, as later installments of
    the Hellraiser franchise show; Pinhead, probably Barker's most famous monster, can easily
    become ridiculous.) In The Midnight Meat Train, Barker and screenwriter Jeff Buhler take the
    time to let the actors build a real relationship between Leon and Maya so that the audience can
    become invested in what happens to them. Bradley Cooper and Leslie Bibb are appealing leads,
    and they make the most of the material.

    Mahogany is also more than just an unstoppable killing machine, although his story is only
    gradually revealed (and, personally, I found it more stomach-churning than the copious slaughter,
    but your mileage may vary). Vinnie Jones is perfect casting, because he has great physical
    presence and can convey menace and other, less expected emotions without saying a word.

    Director Ryuhei Kitamura maintains a grim, unsettling atmosphere throughout the film, favoring
    a desaturated pallette and a heavily filtered look that makes even the daytime scenes seem
    shadowy. He has a nice feel for both the mechanics of suspense (as in a chase through hanging
    racks of meat) and for the over-the-top violence that fans expect from anything bearing the name
    of Clive Barker. The film on this disc is the unrated director's cut; so nothing has been trimmed
    for the sake of a rating. (According to the commentary, the version released in theaters had to be
    heavily edited for both sex and violence, especially the latter.)


    Video:

    The film is presented in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Although I have no other experience of the film
    for comparison, the color values appear to be appropriate for the blue-tinged, desaturated look of
    the city at night, which is the primary world of The Midnight Meat Train. There is highly visible
    film grain throughout, and this appears to be the product of deliberate "filtering" - which is to
    say, boosted contrast ratios, probably in the digital intermediate stage. I did not detect the kind of
    edge enhancement that would result from artificial sharpening. Rather, it appears that the
    enhanced contrast was intended to accentuate the noirish appearance of the film, and it
    contributes a sense of wear-and-tear to the cityscapes that they otherwise might not have. (This
    turns out to be important for reasons you'll have to watch the film to understand.) Again, with the
    caveat that I have not seen the film projected, this appears to be an excellent transfer.

    (NOTE: Anyone comparing the film to the trailer included on the disc will note that the same
    scenes in the trailer have more color and less grain. Similar comparisons in the past have
    sometimes led people to conclude that the film transfer was botched. It's important to remember
    that trailers are prepared before a film is finished, using footage that has not been finalized - or
    "color timed", as they'd say in the days before digital intermediates. If the entire film looked like
    the footage in the trailer, it would lose much of its mood and atmosphere. Lacking any evidence
    to the contrary, I have to believe that the film transfer represents the intended look.)


    Audio:

    The DTS-HD MA 7.1 track is the only audio option, and it's a treat. The scenes in the subway
    and in the slaughterhouse could be demo material, except that the subject matter isn't for most
    viewers. Dialogue is clear and natural. As I sit here now, I can barely remember the musical
    score, which is usually a sign that it's well-integrated. (Sidney Lumet once remarked that Howard
    Shore's score for The Silence of the Lambs was one of the best he knew, because he couldn't
    remember any of it apart from the movie.)


    Special Features:

    The video for all special features is in HD.

    Commentary by Clive Barker and Ryuhei Kitamura. Barker and Kitamura engage in a lively
    conversation that runs the entire length of the film with barely a pause for breath. Even though
    Barker co-produced, he was not present for much of the shooting, and he takes the commentary
    as an opportunity to "interview" Kitamura about how he set up and achieved many of his shots.
    Barker also gives a candid account, from his perspective, of how Lionsgate was originally
    enthusiastic on the film, scheduling it for a wide release in May 2008, but then turned negative
    and canceled the release date after the film's champion at the executive level, Peter Block, left
    the company. To this day, Barker says, he still doesn't know what corporate scores were being
    settled at the film's expense.

    Barker and Kitamura also discuss changes from the original story (notably the character of Maya,
    who was invented for the film) and numerous films that influenced them in one respect or
    another. Some of the influences are fairly obvious (The Fly, The Exorcist, Alien), while others are
    unexpected (The Hitcher, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Cruising).

    Clive Barker: The Man Behind the Myth featurette (14:54). Probably the highlight of the
    special features, this is less about the film than about Barker in the later stages of his prolific
    career. The bulk of the featurette is a tour of Barker's art studio. Even though he did not begin
    painting until age 45, Barker has produced hundreds, perhaps thousands, of canvases, and he
    speaks with infectious enthusiasm about what painting means to him and why he enjoys it. He's
    even willing to show the camera canvases that he considers to be failures and plans to paint over.

    Mahogany's Tale featurette (5:12). A short introduction to the film's villain. Spoiler alert: Do
    not watch this until you have seen the film.

    Anatomy of a Murder Scene featurette (9:17). A making-of documentary on the complex
    choreography behind one specific scene of mayhem. The scene begins simply enough, with three
    people, a couple and a friend, riding the subway late at night. The wife is concerned about
    possible danger, but both men assure her they're completely safe. Guess what happens next?
    Again, spoiler alert: Do not watch this until you have seen the film.

    Trailers. In addition to the film's trailer in HD (available under special features), the film is
    preceded by trailers in HD for My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Haunting in Connecticut, Saw V,
    Cabin Fever
    and The Descent.


    Final Thoughts:

    Successful makers of horror films have always found a way to tap into something deeper than
    just the mechanics of making you jump or turning your stomach. Artists like David Cronenberg,
    George Romero, Tobe Hooper or Don Coscarelli (on a good day) may differ in their means, but
    they all find ways to get under your skin before they deliver the shocks. Clive Barker, even when
    he's just producing and offering inspiration, is another such filmmaker, and on the rare occasion
    of his venturing back into the medium, he deserved better treatment than Lionsgate gave The
    Midnight Meat Train
    . While not a classic on the level of Barker's own Hellraiser or Nightbreed,
    the film is easily superior to most of what passes for horror movies today. On Blu-ray its
    audience can finally experience it in all its bloody glory.

    Finally, if my recommendation isn't enough to tempt you, consider the thumbs-up of someone
    with much weightier credentials: director Guillermo del Toro, creator of Pan's Labyrinth and the
    Hellboy films. According to Barker, del Toro liked the film so much that he arranged for it to
    have a theatrical release in Mexico instead of going direct to DVD. Now that's a horror fan with
    clout.


    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    Velodyne HGS-10 sub
     
  2. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1997
    Messages:
    9,306
    Likes Received:
    0
    Not at all a criticism, but an observation: It strikes me as kind of odd that so much of the talk about this film has been about Barker. Not because it shouldn't, but because I'm not a particular fan of horror in general and Clive Barker in particular, so I didn't realize that "The Midnight Meat Train" was such a well-loved story. The American debut of Ryuhei Kitamura was very much the draw for me, and when I saw the movie at Montreal's Fantasia festival, that seemed to be where much of the interest of the audience lay (in part because Kitamura was doing a Q&A). As much as Barker got a bum deal, Kitamura is the guy I think of as really getting screwed here: He's a guy that was clearly very excited about coming to Hollywood and getting to work with the resources available here, and watching the film, I got the feeling that he knew that he was probably only getting one shot and he was going to make it count. He passed on other projects and tried his damnedest to make every shot in this movie memorable. And then Lionsgate buries the movie and what should have been Kitamura making a splash is cut off at the knees.

    Ticks me off, it does. Kitamura's Japanese work has been uneven, but energetically so, and when he's on, there really aren't many better. Midnight Meat Train is some of his best work, and I was really hoping it would being a steping stone to something even bigger.
     
  3. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
    Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2003
    Messages:
    5,319
    Likes Received:
    714
    Location:
    North of the 49th
    Real Name:
    Stephen J. Hill
    This movie has had rave reviews in the horror underground. It will be interesting to see if it gains a new life on BD/DVD.
     
  4. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    It's a fair point, and I agree that Kitamura's work here as director is well worth people's attention. (Barker thinks so too.) I suspect the focus on Barker is attributable simply to the fact that Barker is the one with the established fan base in America, which put him in a position to raise hell (if you'll pardon the expression) when Lionsgate dumped the film. If you're trying to generate a public outcry quickly, you have to work with whatever fan base you've got.

    At least we now have Kitamura's preferred cut of the film in a format that does it justice. And who knows? Cult classic status on video sometimes jump-starts a career. Barker says in the commentary that he's outlined enough material for two sequels.
     
  5. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1997
    Messages:
    9,306
    Likes Received:
    0
    It's not so much the "Barker/Kitamura got screwed over" bit as my own tunnel vision: My perspective on this film when it was coming out was "Ryuhei Kitamura's first American film", and my image of Barker was that he used to be interesting in that his horror stories were more sexually charged than the norm but that he was sort of a brand name of late, with more "Clive Barker Presents" than "By Clive Barker" going on, if you know what I mean. Just strikes me as funny, since I'd come at it from the opposite direction, and my review was all about Kitamura while seemingly everyone else's was about Barker.

    (Well, okay, I did find the line in the review about Barker as a filmmaker being kind of odd, as it seems to suggest he was more hands-on than perhaps he was)
     
  6. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    I was referring to Barker's career in general, and he has certainly been a filmmaker, as well as an author and painter. While I wouldn't claim that he was the principal filmmaker of MMT, his fingerprints are all over it -- which is not surprising when you consider that it's Barker's story, that Barker was involved with the film project long before Kitamura, and that Barker remained hands-on with the script even during filming, because the third act was being rewritten until the very end. (All this is covered in the commentary.)
     
  7. ChadMcCallum

    ChadMcCallum Second Unit

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2002
    Messages:
    438
    Likes Received:
    0
    I watched this last night and I loved it! Easily one of the best horror movies I've seen in a long time. Nice, creative deaths (best Ted Raimi death ever!) and the amount of blood on screen is impressive. It looks like they ran out of either time or money on a few of the CGI effects, but it was really only a couple of shots that didn't look great. I read the short story years ago but I didn't remember it. I bought the complete Books of Blood a while back and haven't gotten around to reading them yet but after seeing this they've been bumped up in in my reading queue.

    I watched the Clive Barker featurette too and I had no idea he had painted so much. The man must spend all his time painting. I was taken aback by his voice though. He sounds like a 90 year old with throat cancer. I had no idea he had health problems. Its sad since he has such immense talent.

    This is sure to be a cult classic and its too bad it didn't get the theatrical release it deserves but I'm glad the blu-ray got the treatment it deserves.
     
  8. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    He sounds much better on the commentary. That may just have been a bad day. Too many cigars, maybe?
     
  9. Martin Henry

    Martin Henry Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2008
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    0
    The Forrest Gump gag was the only thing I liked about the movie. That and Vinnie Jones. I know he takes some flack, but he's put a smile on my face with some of his 'performances'. He'd make a great Terminator...
    "Sarah Connor? I'm The Terminator, bitch!"
     
  10. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2003
    Messages:
    7,421
    Likes Received:
    185
    Location:
    KY
    Real Name:
    Michael Elliott
    I viewed this earlier in the year when it was playing on Fearnet. Not only did LionsGate drop the theatrical release but they also showed it for free on TV and the internet before a DVD release.

    With that said, I think LionsGate made the right move because I found the movie to be very, very bad. I thought the acting was horrid and wasn't too thrilled with the gore, which seemed to be added in to make the SAW crowd come to the movie. I doubt they would have, which is why I think LionsGate made the right call by not pumping this into 3000 theaters.

    This is coming from someone who doesn't care too much about Barker. Hated NIGHTBREED and I'm not overly fond of the HELLRAISER films, although the first one was okay.
     
  11. Chris Joyner

    Chris Joyner Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2003
    Messages:
    53
    Likes Received:
    0
    I watched this movie a couple of nights ago and I was suprised by how much I enjoyed it. I found it to be refreshing, it is so much different than all of the recent horror movies. I'm mad it wasn't released in more theaters, I think it would've done well at the box office. I thought the Blu-ray looked great.
     
  12. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    I never said anything about 3000 theaters. My intro suggested 1000. Even the original 100 would have been OK, if they'd picked theaters in major cities, like most limited releases. There's a difference between cutting your losses and deliberately burying a film.

    But I should thank you for giving us such a classic example of one way in which studio executives make bad decisions -- i.e., by confusing personal taste with a dispassionate appraisal of the market.
     
  13. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2003
    Messages:
    7,421
    Likes Received:
    185
    Location:
    KY
    Real Name:
    Michael Elliott
    You could be right about Fearnet but I'm not 100% certain. They usually show "R-rated, open matte" versions of films but this one here was advertised as being uncut and they did show it widescreen. The amount of gore wasn't really a problem with me since I'm a veteran of various Italian films that show real stuff. The problem I had with the gore here was the CGI, which I thought was pretty bad and cheap.

    Another thing to remember though is that the guy who buried this film was also a producer on THE STRANGERS, which came out the same day as this. One could argue that he didn't want that film to lose money so he threw this one away. THE STRANGERS became a hit as it was the type that could bring in big crowds. This just didn't seem like that type of film to me and that's why I said I think LionsGate made the right call. I know many said LionsGate was trying to "clean" themselves up and get away from this type of film but that's been proven false since we got MY BLOODY VALENTINE, another SAW and more horror stuff from them. They've also dove back into the direct to DVD market.

    To me is has to be something with this movie or those making it. Heck, even the press release for the film doesn't pump it up too much. Looking over what they sent it seems like they don't even want stores to stock it. Not to mention showing it for free before even trying to get rentals out of it.
     
  14. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    Movie history is full of examples of films in which a studio had no faith that went on to become classics (Brazil is an obvious example) or cult classics (Hellboy or Donnie Darko come to mind). The comments in this thread alone indicate that your assessment is by no means the final word.
     
  15. RickER

    RickER Producer

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2003
    Messages:
    5,130
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Tulsa, Oklahoma
    Real Name:
    Rick
    I had to add this to my NetFlix Q. Saw a preview on another movie, and i thought it looked pretty good!
    I forgot the name of it, until i asked in another thread.
    How does one forget a name like this! [​IMG]
     
  16. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2003
    Messages:
    7,421
    Likes Received:
    185
    Location:
    KY
    Real Name:
    Michael Elliott

    No doubt as it has already became a cult item with all the news around it.
     
  17. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2004
    Messages:
    26,633
    Likes Received:
    3,804
    Location:
    The basement of the FBI building
    I can't imagine how much more violent the unrated cut is then. I saw it on FearNet and I thought that when the movie was violent, it was really violent. And to clarify, I'm a long time horror fan and probably 99% desensitized to onscreen violence.
     
  18. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    The endorsement of someone of Guillermo del Toro's stature probably didn't hurt either.
     
  19. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2003
    Messages:
    7,421
    Likes Received:
    185
    Location:
    KY
    Real Name:
    Michael Elliott

    It's funny but I thought the entire thing was a publicity move by the studio. Having been a horror fan all my life and reading countless magazines for 20+ years, the best thing to do is get horror fans into a "f*ck the studio" mind set. Why? Because horror fans always feel picked on by the major guys and they will go on the attack to support a film. I honestly thought that's what LionsGate was doing to build up interest in the film. The story spread like a wildfire and I'd bet more people heard about the film then than when the trailers were playing. Of course, this opinion changed after the studio posted the movie for free, which of course brought out all the bootleggers. The real head scratcher is how well is this going to rent and sell considering it's been shown on TV for free, online for free and various sites have the movie available to watch for free. Whatever the reason is for LionsGate it's certainly a strange one.

    I believe I have a screener of this waiting for me back at my house and if so this little discussion has spiked my interest in listening to the commentary at least. I'm in the minority on the movie but it's doubtful I'll ever pay it another visit.
     
  20. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    Barker has a temper and readily admits it. (He's in good company.) But a liar? No idea where that's coming from.

    Anyone want to talk about the movie? [​IMG]
     

Share This Page