Blu-ray Review Touch of Evil Blu-ray Review - Highly Recommended

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Apr 26, 2014.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    XenForo Template Touch of Evil Blu-ray Review - Highly Recommended

    Touch of Evil crosses the border to Blu-ray with an edition that provides impeccable HD picture to three variations of the movie while preserving all the bonus features from 2008’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD. The film, Orson Welles’ last opportunity to work with a major studio, continues to show Welles’ ability to stage bravura sequences and summon indelible performances from a wildly varied cast. This edition, complete with Welles’ infamous 1957 Memo and multiple scene-specific commentaries, is a classic example of a “Film School on a Disc”. Students of film history, fans of Orson Welles, and aficionados of bold filmmaking will want to purchase this as soon as they can. This release is Highly Recommended.


    Cover Art


    Studio: Universal

    Distributed By: N/A

    Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

    Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA

    Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

    Rating: Not Rated, PG-13

    Run Time: 1 hr 36 mins (Theatrical Release), 1 hr 49 mins (Preview Cut), 1 hr 51 mins (Reconstruction Cut)

    Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy, UltraViolet

    Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

    Region: ABC

    Release Date: 04/15/2014

    MSRP: $29.98




    The Production Rating: 4/5

    Before I begin the review proper, I need to thank Joe Kane, for allowing me to bring this Blu-ray to his professional grade system for evaluation, and I also must thank Robert A. Harris for accompanying me on this task. I’m grateful to both men for giving me the opportunity to do so, and I thank them for their generosity, graciousness, good counsel and most of all for their patience. For the record, Joe’s system is the Samsung SP-A 900, an HD projector that he designed, and the screen is a Daylight Affinity .9 Gamma that is 90” (7 ½ feet wide), also of his design. Joe’s system is calibrated to the nth degree, and is set up to allow whatever information is on a Blu-ray disc to be transmitted to the screen and speakers at around 90% - meaning that the system passes through the information without trying to reinterpret the signal. Sitting comfortably at a distance of 8 feet from the 90” screen, we were were able to evaluate all 3 versions of the movie as projected. I should note that Joe’s projector has a special “carbon arc” setting, that allows the viewer to watch a black and white movie with the proper warmth.

    The following review quotes a bit from my 2008 review of the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD, but I have made some adjustments to address the obvious improvement for the new Blu-ray release.

    Touch of Evil gets a first class treatment from Universal on Blu-ray, complete with lovely high definition transfers for all three versions of the film on the single disc. It is my belief that the theatrical and preview cuts are presented together via seamless branching, but the 1998 Reconstruction cut is a completely different kettle of fish. All three look terrific. As with the 2008 DVD, care has been taken to present the film in the best possible condition, as well as to carry over the extensive supplements found in the 2008 package. The film itself has a checkered history, as the last studio picture directed by Orson Welles, containing multiple character cameos and an unforgettable opening shot that is still discussed today. It’s a brilliantly executed film, if a bit murky in its plotting, showing Welles’ skill in composition and juxtaposition throughout. The basic plot, involving corruption on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, functions mostly as a vehicle to showcase the gifts of a quite varied cast (including a surprising cameo by Dennis Weaver and an appearance by Marlene Dietrich that surprised the studio execs) and Welles’ considerable gifts in telling the story. Unfortunately, the film Welles may have intended to release has never been available, due to a series of recuts and reshoots done at the behest of the studio after Welles disappeared during post-production. After the film had been reshaped with new scenes directed by Harry Keller, Welles’ attended a preview screening and issued a 58 page memo, indicating a series of changes he hoped the studio would make to bring the film closer to his intentions. His memo was not followed, and the studio in fact made further cuts before releasing a version of the film at 96 minutes in the second position on a double bill. Years later, a longer preview cut of the film was discovered and released for fans, including more footage but bringing fans no closer to Welles’ vision of the film. Finally, in 1998, a new version of the film was released, this one attempting to follow Welles’ memo as closely as possible, using the existing prints. This restored version is not a “director’s cut” as Welles did not participate in it, but it at least tries to bring the film more in line with what Welles had in mind. (I should note that an unknown amount of Welles’ footage from the film was destroyed around the time the film was released, so it is impossible to ever know what a true “Welles cut” would look like.)

    The new Blu-ray edition includes all three versions of the film on a single disc. Each version of the film gets its own scene-specific commentary, with the restored version getting two separate commentaries. Much of this material appears to have been prepared back in 1999 for the original DVD release of the restored version, including interviews and commentary with Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. (My understanding is that litigation prevented the inclusion of the commentary and the featurettes at that time.) The earlier DVD contained just the restored version of the film and an onscreen copy of Welles’ memo, along with some production notes and the film’s trailer. The 2008 DVD contained all three versions, the commentaries, the trailer, the featurettes and a stapled copy of the memo in the DVD packaging. The Blu-ray edition includes all the same content, only now the memo is presented in a more easily readable bound copy.

    I’ll stress here that the new HD transfers of the movie, done in 4K over a year ago, have resulted in an extremely pleasing picture for whichever version of the movie you choose to watch. The mono soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD but without trying to gussy up the sounds or project them into multiple channels. Quite simply, this is the best presentation ever made for this movie, and it’s an obvious one to recommend for purchase. This Blu-ray is Highly Recommended for purchase.



    Video Rating: 5/5  3D Rating: NA

    Touch of Evil is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 18 mbps on all three versions) that provides an extremely satisfying high definition picture. Grain is visible along with plenty of detail. Watching this edition offers an experience as close as one can imagine to sitting in a movie theater watching the film being projected. I should note that there are two different transfers to see here. One is for the 1998 Reconstruction, which is radically different throughout the movie and would never be able to be seamlessly branched from the others. The second transfer is for both the Theatrical Release version and the longer Preview Version, which simply adds another 13 minutes of footage. Given the two transfers, you may see minor differences here and there as some viewers have noted in various forums. I will also note that as with the 2008 DVD, the movie is presented solely in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Without getting into the endless discussions of various people’s opinions about the ratio, we understand that this is the proper ratio in which to view the movie.



    Audio Rating: 5/5

    Touch of Evil gets an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix (@ an average 1.8 mbps), for all three versions that presents the dialogue clearly and, in the case of the restored version, provides a variety of music and sound effects at easily discernible levels. This isn’t a surround mix, of course, but it definitely gets the job done in presenting both the words and the world of the film.



    Special Features Rating: 5/5

    As with the 2008 50th Anniversary DVD, the Blu-ray of Touch of Evil comes with no less than four scene-specific commentaries, along with two featurettes and the original trailer. This is great stuff for anyone interested in the history of the film – enough to keep pretty much anyone busy for some time to come.



    Restored Version Feature Commentary with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and producer Rick Schmidlin – This is a wide-ranging discussion of the production of the film with the two leads, as engaged by restoration producer Schmidlin. Some of the information is repeated in the featurettes, but it’s still a lot of fun and an education to hear these things directly from Heston and Leigh. (Given the fact that neither is with us today, and that Heston was stricken soon after with Alzheimer’s, it’s a gift that this commentary exists at all. I believe that this commentary was prepared for the earlier DVD but could not be included at the time. Thankfully, it is included here.)

    Restored Version Feature Commentary with producer Rick Schmidlin - While the first commentary consists of Schmidlin asking Heston and Leigh questions about the film’s production, the second one finds Schmidlin on his own discussing his work on the film at length. This is a little more technical than the chatty exchanges on the first commentary, but it is equally helpful.

    Theatrical Version Feature Commentary with Film Critic F.X. Feeney – The theatrical cut gets a running commentary from the longtime critic for the L.A. Weekly and many other publications. Feeney openly states his appreciation for the theatrical cut right off the bat, describing it as the fastest moving of the three. Like the others, he discusses the history of the production and the choices involved with the editing of the film down to the original release length.

    Preview Version Feature Commentary with Orson Welles Historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore - This commentary finds the two men discussing the movie with each other, and noting the differences for this edition. As with the other commentaries, this is another “film school in a commentary” and it is just as helpful as the other ones in this set.

    Bringing Evil to Life (20:58, 4x3, 480p) – This featurette discusses the original production of the film and what happened in post production after Welles left to pursue another project. (Heston is admirably frank about the consequences of that action, noting that Welles committed a major no-no and never got to direct a studio picture again in the United States.) (This featurette was clearly prepared around the same time as the cast commentary, with contemporary interview footage of both Heston and Leigh.)

    Evil Lost and Found (17:05, 4x3, 480p) – This featurette discusses the work done by Walter Murch with Rick Schmidlin, Jonathan Rosenbaum and others to follow the Welles’ memo in re-editing the film. There is some repetition with the first featurette, but this is still all helpful material. Curtis Hanson takes the viewer on a tour of the various locations in Venice, concluding with the bridge location on the Venice canals for the film’s climax.

    Theatrical Trailer – (2:09, 4x3, 480p) – As with the 2008 DVD, it’s not listed on the packaging, but the original trailer is again available here. This is the same copy available on the prior DVD release.


    Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.

    Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference for each version. I should note that the disc menu is structured so that you must select which version of the movie you wish to view before you can proceed further. Once you get to the specific version, then you have access to a chapter menu and an extras menu that includes the featurettes, the trailer and the appropriate commentary.



    Overall Rating: 5/5

    As I noted in 2008, with this Blu-ray, Touch of Evil gets a truly special collector’s edition for its debut in high definition. I am pleased to Highly Recommend it as a find for fans of the film, Orson Welles, or cinema in general.


    Reviewed By: Kevin EK


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  2. Reggie W

    Reggie W Cinematographer

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    Excellent review, Kevin and I concur this film looks fantastic on blu-ray.
     
  3. Doug Wallen

    Doug Wallen Screenwriter

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    One of my favorites and the disc looks amazing.

    Doug
     
  4. StellarJay

    StellarJay New User

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    I don't see how anyone can prefer the inconsistent video quality of the blu-ray release of "Touch Of Evil" over the standard DVD. The Reconstructed Version on the blu-ray is marred by several lengthy segments filled with DOZENS of BRIGHT vertical lines...lines SO BRIGHT they stand out against the afternoon sky! On the other hand the DVD version may be only "Very Good" but at least it doesn't have the blu's GLARING distractions. I can't believe how this release is praised by critics/reviewers who are usually far more nit-picky than I am. I could understand it i[SIZE=13.63636302948px]f these horrible flaws were irreparable [/SIZE]but as I said, they don't exist on the earlier standard DVD release.
     
  5. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Have you considered the issue might be with your specific display and not the disc?
     
  6. StellarJay

    StellarJay New User

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    Yes. I played the blu-ray on two different systems and it looked the same. I also considered that maybe I had a defective disc but I have come across a few consumer comments that mention the problem and express the same bafflement with the critic's silence on this issue.
     
  7. aPhil

    aPhil Second Unit

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    I saw the 1998 "Reconstructed" Touch of Evil theatrically projected at the Carolina Theater in Durham NC within the past 2 years —

    Those vertical scratches over the desert motel sequences were there on the big screen.


    I have not seen the older DVD, but I would be very surprised if the scratches are not there — Possibly not noticeable on a smaller or standard def TV.


    On the Blu-ray, I do think the Preview Version looks sharper, cleaner, and more detailed than the Reconstructed Version (and the original reviewer is likely correct in saying that it is seamlessly branched with the Theatrical Release Version).


    After getting this Blu-ray when it was released in 2014, I read DVDSavant and found that I agree with his assessment, and I will add my own feelings —

    I don't think the "Reconstructed Version" is really Welles, and it is more like a what's-left-to-cull-and-assemble to Welles notes (from surviving film elements) combined with a 1990s Film Editor making his more modern preferences —


    DVDSavant pointed to the Preview Version as (ironically) possibly closer to the original intent of the 3 versions

    (despite it not being what Welles originally wanted and resulting in his notes),

    and I really agree.


    When I watched the Preview Version, I did not at any time think that I was missing any information or scenes from the "Reconstruction," and I felt the story played much better.


    The "Reconstructed Version" has some frenetic editing that I do not think Orson Welles (as innovative as he was) would have made in 1958.

    I think the 1998 Reconstructed Version has a number of "jumpy cuts/edits" (for want of a better description) that are the result of both using what remains of the film elements combined with a style of editing that evolved decades after the production of "Touch of Evil."


    I think that the Preview Version is a really satisfying film and with an editing style more in sync with the style of shooting/directing and post production of the time, and I would recommend that version to anyone watching for the first time.
     
  8. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Well, I'll point you to the opening line of Kevin's review, and the caliber of equipment and talent taking a look at the disc - with important points bolded by me (you can't get much better than the tools and professional eyes than this bunch, so have to conclude that the Bu-ray shows the film as it is supposed to look):


    "Before I begin the review proper, I need to thank Joe Kane, for allowing me to bring this Blu-ray to his professional grade system for evaluation, and I also must thank Robert A. Harris for accompanying me on this task. I’m grateful to both men for giving me the opportunity to do so, and I thank them for their generosity, graciousness, good counsel and most of all for their patience. For the record, Joe’s system is the Samsung SP-A 900, an HD projector that he designed, and the screen is a Daylight Affinity .9 Gamma that is 90” (7 ½ feet wide), also of his design. Joe’s system is calibrated to the nth degree, and is set up to allow whatever information is on a Blu-ray disc to be transmitted to the screen and speakers at around 90% - meaning that the system passes through the information without trying to reinterpret the signal. Sitting comfortably at a distance of 8 feet from the 90” screen, we were were able to evaluate all 3 versions of the movie as projected. I should note that Joe’s projector has a special “carbon arc” setting, that allows the viewer to watch a black and white movie with the proper warmth"
     
  9. StellarJay

    StellarJay New User

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    All I can say is compare the effected sections yourself. The "50th Anniversary Edition" DVD(s) and the "Limited Edition" blu-ray. Then explain why (if you agree the blu-ray looks SO much worse) the problems couldn't be corrected.
     
  10. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    I think aPhil's comment above actually is the answer you are looking for here.
     
  11. StellarJay

    StellarJay New User

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    I, too, prefer the "Preview" version over the "Reconstructed" version. I just don't understand WHY the blu-ray of the "Reconstructed" version looks so much worse in four lengthy sections than the standard 2008 DVD. There may be subtle lines on other versions but they're not so GLARING/JARRING. I have a Plasma 50" monitor but the difference in video quality between the two, regardless of playback equipment, is evident.
     
  12. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Those are emulsion scratches in the preview print. At the time the reconstruction was performed, there was no rationally economical means of eliminating them. Today there is, generally, but in their place is sometimes left ugliness by our digital friends.


    They look more obvious because you're now viewing at six times resolution.


    They are what they are. I have no problem with them, and would leave them.


    RAH
     
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  13. StellarJay

    StellarJay New User

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    So the latest technology highlights and magnifies the flaws. I find viewing the standard DVD of the "Reconstruction Version" less distracting and an overall more enjoyable experience.
     

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