Why the variable quality from Universal?

Discussion in 'DVD' started by John Morgan, Jun 12, 2012.

  1. John Morgan

    John Morgan Supporting Actor

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    I am quite shocked and disappointed in some of the recent Universal releases, both in Blu Ray and standard DVD. Some releases are stunningly good from new transfers done with care. Other new releases seem to be ancient masters that lack quality that would be hard to fathom on VHS.
    I am aware that Universal lost a lot of their masters in that fire several years ago, so I would assume they are playing a very expensive game of catch up, but it seems old transfers survived the fire and were probably in a different location.
    I remember near the end of the laser era, Universal really produced some outstanding releases. I still can remember the excitement of seeing THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943), THE CLIMAX in beautiful color, as well as ARABIAN NIGHTS. I remember someone telling me about one of the honchos at Universal that cared about their product and used his power to make sure most releases were stellar. I think his first name was Michael and sadly he perished in an airplane crash.
    What prompted me to start this thread was the just-released TCM Vault set of the WOMEN IN DANGER films. If you go to the site and description for these films, it clearly states: “Presented for the first time on DVD, these four films have been fully restored and re-mastered….” Certainly WOMAN IN HIDING (1950) looks superb and looks like a new transfer to me, but FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955) looks like open matte (1:33) and THE UNGUARDED MOMENT (1956), the only color film in the package is wider screen, but not anamorphic and the color is so washed out and picture is so blurry, it looks like a VHS transfer.
    I was also disappointed in their recent BACK STREET twofer. Although the later color BACK STREET as anamorphic, the color and look of the film was bad...sort of like the before and after little demo for PILLOW TALK, which this transfer looked like “before.”
    Also, the 1941 version looked like an old transfer with fuzzy picture, marks and wear all over it and something you would see on AMC 20 years ago.
    On the other hand, the TCM Vault series of those obscure Universal horrors (and one Paramount), including THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET, THE MYSTERY OF DR. Rx, etc. looked stunning and were obviously new transfers.
    And then back to the latest Bob Hope collection, which included two Hope films that were tied up in a legal wrangle, but looked superb, but with that we had a couple of his best films, THE CAT AND THE CANARY, that looked okay, but THE GHOST BREAKERS was an inferior master that was not nearly as good as the previous DVD version which I think was 2002.
    And the TCM Vault Collection containing the wonderful, MURDER, HE SAYS, which looks pretty good, but FEUDIN’ FUSSIN’ and A-FIGHTIN’ is plain lousy in the mastering department. I wonder when THAT one was done.
    Universal can do superb work. The last Abbott and Costello “Suit Case” release of all their Universal films is really excellent with the exception of IN THE NAVY, which is the weakest looking of the bunch.
    Finally, we know about their variable record on Blu Ray releases of catalog titles. I just wish if a film has only an ancient transfer, they hold off releasing it on DVD until they upgrade their master. I am sure they have plenty of good looking stuff in their catalog that hasn’t been on DVD as yet.
    Well, that’s my two-cents. Sorry for the long post.
     
  2. Robin9

    Robin9 Cinematographer

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    Don't apologise for your long post. Not a word was wasted. Like you, I'm appalled by the new DVD of The Unguarded Moment and like you, I'm reminded of VHS.
    The consequence of this inconsistency in the quality of Universal discs is that I will now not buy any their product until I read a few opinions.
     
  3. Chuck Pennington

    Chuck Pennington Supporting Actor

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    I wonder if THE UNGUARDED MOMENT ever looked decent. It certainly should've been anamorphic, but I wonder... I've never seen the film before on any format before this. It has a strange diffused look like MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1954) has on the transfer Criterion used for their release (leased from Universal). On old TV broadcasts and the old VHS release, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION didn't have that strange diffused look, and it certainly didn't have the color fringing seen on the Criterion release either, so I wonder if its flaws were due to the poor protection elements made when the film was new. It is merely conjecture, but maybe THE UNGUARDED MOMENT looks so terrible because of this as well. I don't know, but the strange contrast and color bleeding point to something out of the norm.
    Does anyone remember the story behind the making of A STAR IS BORN (1954) and how Warner was trying to push Cukor into using inferior lenses and film stock and he refused after making some tests? Some of that test footage was ultimately used in the opening of the film, and it is cross cut with far superior quality footage lensed with the kind of lenses and film stock used for the rest of the film. The shots in question appear below. THE UNGUARDED MOMENT has the same kind of very soft and murky look as the lower quality footage used in A STAR IS BORN.
    [​IMG]
    And here are shots grabbed from THE UNGUARDED MOMENT DVD.
    [​IMG]
     
  4. JoHud

    JoHud Producer

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    Ok, didn't realize that Universal flat out lies about the transfer like that. Or is someone seriously slacking off on the home video department? If nothing else, hopefully that bit of false advertisement is retracted.
    Universal's home video department is very spotty, especially in terms of less mainstream titles. Sometimes they are excellent, sometimes mediocre, and sometimes still trying to shovel laserdisc/vhs transfers to unsuspecting consumers. Their TCM sets in comparison to Sony's this past year are quite drastically mixed at times compared to the Sony TCM product which often look excellent and, at worst, average. Open matte transfers and especially non-anamorphic letterboxed transfers might slide in a bargain set, but these TCM sets are pretty pricy and I can see people getting pretty disappointed over some of those transfers. An average consumer seeing an open matte transfer might not notice out of blissful ignorance over OAR (or just not care), but transfers as poor and ancient-looking as The Unguarded Moment should garner some negative feedback, especially compared to how good the other films look.
    The strange thing is, outside of a rare exception or two when it was just starting out, their MOD line has a surprisingly high quality standard in terms of video transfers
     
  5. FoxyMulder

    FoxyMulder 映画ファン

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    I'm not shocked, i am very disappointed with a number of catalog titles from Universal, i started a thread a long time ago to discuss this, their standards are low but they must sell therefore they keep to the same standards.
     
  6. Camps

    Camps Stunt Coordinator

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    "Spotty" is an exceedingly polite adjective to use in describing Uni's home vid dept. these days. I'd say they're downright AWOL. We've just seen Amazon and MGM announce a classic movie/TV streaming deal, which now places MGM on 3 on-demand platforms -- MOD DVDs, Netflix and now Amazon. Their MOD DVD output is already fairly robust (even though many of MGM's vault titles can be found on TCM), as are Columbia's and especially Warners (with whom MGM and Columbia wisely partnered for back-office and distribution support).
    But Universal? What, 6 or 7 MOD DVDs every quarter? Is that the run-rate? And how many more Rock Hudson and Deanna Durbin movies are there, anyway? Whoever was in charge there 4 years ago or so was doing a great job (box sets of Universal and Paramount classics in the horror and pre-code genres, not to mention the WC Fields set). I can't imagine those execs are still around; I'm sure they'd be a bit more active than whoever's running the show there now. When is Comcast going to crack the whip on that dept.? :huh:
     
  7. Robin9

    Robin9 Cinematographer

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    I watched Woman In Hiding last night. I agree it looks superb. A really good DVD.
     
  8. Robin9

    Robin9 Cinematographer

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    I can't speak with any authority because I didn't see The Unguarded Moment when it first came out, but my guess is that it did look good.
    First it was photographed by William Daniels, one of the most versatile and competent of all cinematographers. To get a view of Daniels' work in the mid-1950s, look at the DVDs of A Hole In The Head and Night Passage, two superb looking wide screen movies. One of Daniels' strengths was that he had minimal ego and did not try to impose his vision onto a movie. In Hollywood Cameramen: Sources Of Light Daniels is quoted as saying "Unlike, say, Lee Garmes, I vary my work considerably according to the story. Even my lighting of Garbo varies from picture to picture. There wasn't one Garbo face in the sense that there was a Dietrich face. I'd give each director what he wanted. But of course I could improvise. And the directors always left the lighting to me . . . . I think the photographer, the cinematographer, should be an inventor of detail, adding to the imagination of the director with his own scientific skills. Beyond that I haven't tried to go."
    Given that Daniels subordinated himself to his director, the question becomes is it likely that Harry Keller tried for a diffuse look? Judging by Keller's other work, that is most unlikely. Keller was not a great visual stylist.
    My guess is that when it first came out, The Unguarded Moment's visuals were conventional but done to a very high standard.
     

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