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Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: RED RIDING TRILOGY

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Aug 30, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    [​IMG]



    Red Riding Trilogy (Blu-ray)






    This is a trilogy like no other. Three films by three directors, each in a different medium (16mm, 35mm and HD), each with a different time and protagonist, but all sharing the same writer, locale and many supporting characters. The title of each chapter refers to a “Year of Our Lord”, but the reference is ironic. Evil is so pervasive in these tales of murder, betrayal and corruption that one might easily be persuaded to the extreme condemnation of the human species espoused by Se7en’s John Doe. Rarely has film noir been painted in such deep shades of black.




    The trilogy is an adaptation of four novels by David Peace (who also wrote the book on which The Damned United is based). In the U.K., the trilogy was given a theatrical premiere, then shown on Channel 4. In America, it played in theaters. I am treating it as a theatrical release, because in style, ambition and accomplishment, it deserves that level of recognition.




    As an aside, I strongly recommend against reading accounts of these films at IMDb, Wikipedia or similar references. I have looked at numerous such sources while writing this review, and almost all of them give away too much. I have tried not to.








    Studio: MPI Home Video


    Rated: NR


    Film Length: 106 min. (1974); 97 min. (1980); 105 min. (1983)


    Aspect Ratio: 1.85 (1974); 2.35:1 (1980, 1983)


    HD Encoding: 1080p


    HD Codec: AVC


    Audio: English DD 5.1 (640kb/ps); DD 2.0


    Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish


    MSRP: $34.98


    Disc Format: 1 50GB + 1 DVD-5


    Package: Keepcase


    Theatrical Release Date: Mar. 5, 12, 19, 2009 (U.K. broadcast); Feb. 5, 2010 (U.S. theatrical)


    Blu-ray Release Date: Aug. 31, 2010





    The Year of Our Lord 1974




    The Feature:




    West Yorkshire in Northern England. A young reporter returns to his home town from a stint “down south” to work for the local Yorkshire Post. His name is Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-Man), and the day of his return is also the day of his father’s funeral. But work takes priority, and Eddie is late to the funeral, because he joins his editor, the appropriately crusty Henshaw (Bill Hadley), at a police press conference. There Eddie is introduced to Det. Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), a key official in the West Yorkshire Constabulary (or “WYC”) who appears throughout the trilogy.




    The press conference has been called because a little girl has gone missing on her way home from school. The police have asked the parents to make a public appeal for anyone with information to come forward. Has anyone seen Claire Kemplay?




    Eddie is ambitious, and while he’s not a conspiracy theorist like his old friend and fellow reporter Barry (Anthony Flanagan), he’s energized by whisperings that Claire Kemplay isn’t the first girl to disappear. Even though the WYC chief, a tough bastard named Molloy (Warren Clarke), warns him not to mess with police business, Eddie starts his own investigation. When his editor assigns him to accompany Barry to interview the wife of the local real estate magnate, John Dawson (Sean Bean), Eddie leaves Barry on his own and goes looking for Paula Garland (Rebecca Hall), the mother of a girl who disappeared several years earlier.




    Eddie is so caught up in pursuing his own hunches that he’s out of touch and unavailable when a major break occurs in the Claire Kemplay case. His editor, Henshaw, hands the story to a senior reporter, Jack Whitehead (Eddie Marsan), whom Eddie despises. (The feeling is mutual; Jack refers to Eddie as “Scoop”.) But Eddie keeps pursuing his leads, and he gets a painful confirmation that he’s onto something when he starts receiving “visits” from two WYC cops, Bob Craven (Sean Harris) and Tommy Douglas (Tony Mooney). If you know the series Life on Mars, you might say that Craven and Douglas are graduates of the Gene Hunt school of police work, but there’s nothing admirable about them. They’re thugs in uniform, and they enjoy inflicting pain for any reason (or no reason).




    When even Craven and Douglas can’t persuade Eddie to drop his inquiries, another form of persuasion appears: John Dawson himself, offering a ride in a chauffeured limousine, a fine meal and a juicy scandal about a local politician that could be just the career-making story Eddie’s been yearning for. It’s a tempting offer.




    Though it’s only an hour and three-quarters long, 1974 is dense with information and event, and one of the challenges for the viewer is that Eddie, from whose perspective we see everything, is frequently on the fringes. A lot happens that Eddie can’t or doesn’t understand, and so we don’t either. We just know, as he does, that something is very, very wrong. (If you watch 1974 a second time after completing the trilogy, as I did, it’s almost like seeing a new movie.) Screenwriter Tony Grisoni and director Julian Jarrold don’t talk down to the audience. There are no neat narrations or expositional speeches to tell you what’s going on. The viewer gets no more help than Eddie does. To make matters even more unsettling, the story is punctuated by dream sequences in which Eddie’s subconscious keeps trying to work out the mysteries he can’t solve when he’s awake. But dreams are notoriously inconclusive.




    1974 does reach a conclusion of sorts, but it’s not one that any viewer will find satisfying. Red Riding is a true trilogy. Any hope of closure lies in the future.






    Video:




    1974 was shot on 16mm for a deliberately grainy and washed-out look, and the Blu-ray delivers it accurately. However, the grain is well-controlled and never distracting, and the image is exceptionally detailed, even in dark scenes. The occasional flash of color (e.g., a red cape that Eddie imagines the missing girl wearing) indicates that the general drabness of the image is intentional.






    Audio:




    The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 at its highest bitrate of 640kb/ps (and, for those who care about such things, with the dialnorm setting at neutral). The mix is heavily front-oriented, with the rear channels used primarily to reinforce the mournful score by Adrian Johnston (a frequent collaborator with director Jarrold). The high bitrate allows the music to be reproduced with an open and airy sense of presence. The dialogue is clearly reproduced, but that may be of little use to many American viewers, because the accents are extremely thick, much more so than those heard in something like Life on Mars. Fortunately, there are English subtitles if needed.




    It should be noted that, just because the rear channels aren’t heavily used, that doesn’t mean the sound editing isn’t sophisticated. 1974 makes extensive use of “subjective” sound editing, in which certain sounds are suddenly dropped out of the mix, while others are given special prominence, all in the service of conveying a character’s state of mind. These effects are crucial to certain sequences in 1974, and the DD track conveys them forcefully.







    The Year of Our Lord 1980




    The Feature:




    For five years, the region has been terrorized by the so-called “Yorkshire Ripper” (a real case on which novelist David Peace based this story). In response to public outcry over the WYC’s failure to end the Ripper’s slaughter of women, the British Home Office assigns an outsider to assess the department’s performance. He is Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), a police detective from Manchester. When Hunter asks why they’ve chosen him, he’s told it’s because of his role in investigating a major scandal some years earlier in which members of the WYC were involved. Personal family circumstances prevented him from completing that investigation, but the WYC cops already hate him. Since he’s already a pariah in West Yorkshire, it might as well be him.




    After insisting on choosing his own team, Hunter arrives on the scene with fellow detectives John Nolan (Tony Pitts) and Helen Marshall (Maxine Peake). Hunter has history with both of them. They begin reviewing the files, and Hunter quickly finds things that don’t add up.




    Hunter is an especially unwelcome presence to Bob Craven, one of the two police thugs we met in 1974. The other, Tommy Douglas, has retired on disability. It turns out that Craven and Douglas were both involved in the earlier incident that Hunter investigated. Now Hunter is finding connections between Craven and one of the Ripper cases. Then Hunter is approached by the Rev. Martin Laws (Peter Mullan), a figure who appeared briefly in 1974. Laws presents himself as someone who ministers to runaways, prostitutes and the homeless. The reverend wants to introduce Hunter to an individual who may have relevant information for him.




    Appropriately for the middle chapter of the trilogy, 1980 gives us the perspective of a more mature protagonist, one who’s been around the block and has fewer illusions about both himself and other people. Still, Hunter has his weaknesses, and the forces opposing him (as shadowy as they were in 1974) use those weaknesses against him. Like Eddie Dunford in 1974, Hunter is always at least a step behind the people he’s chasing, and he remains a fringe observer of almost every key event in the story. As with 1974, the resolution is unsatisfying, and it’s meant to be that way. A few villains have been dealt with, but the larger forces they represent remain securely hidden and free to continue their evil ways.






    Video:




    The image derived from the 35mm photography (by Igor Martinovic, who shot Man on Wire) is clean and detailed. Colors remain relatively muted and the palette is dominated by earth tones. Black levels appeared to be solid, and I did not detect any digital artifacts or evidence of DNR.






    Audio:




    Again, the sound mix is front-centered and serviceable. The atmospheric score by Dickon Hinchliffe, who most recently scored Winter’s Bone, is well-presented.







    The Year of Our Lord 1983




    The Feature:




    The third part of the trilogy is distinguished by lengthy flashbacks with major revelations about the events of 1974. Precisely because they are so revealing, there is almost nothing I can say about them, except that from the opening scenes of 1983, you have to begin rethinking much of what you thought you knew about 1974.




    The third part also differs from the previous chapters by splitting the audience’s attention between two protagonists. One of them is Det. Superintendent Jobson, who appears in both the current scenes and the flashbacks. (Check the length of his sideburns if you’re not sure which year you’re in.) The other is a broken-down lawyer named John Piggott (Mark Addy, most recently Friar Tuck in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood).




    As 1983 opens, Piggott is bringing his mother’s ashes home to Yorkshire. It’s a difficult time for the WYC. Another young girl, Hazel Atkins, has gone missing, and people are whispering that this is the same villain responsible for the disappearances that were thought to have been stopped in 1974.




    Chief among the whisperers is Mrs. Myshkin (Beatrice Kelley), the mother of Michael Myshkin (Daniel Mays), the simple-headed man who was convicted of Claire Kemplay’s murder nine years ago. Mrs. Myshkin insists that her son’s confession was coerced. She asks Piggott to take the case, but he declines, saying that he’s not a criminal lawyer. Still, he meets with Myshkin and is troubled by what he sees.




    Meanwhile, the WYC is desperate to find Hazel Atkins, or at least to prove that her disappearance was caused by someone who was not responsible for the crimes attributed to Michael Myshkin. On the theory that no avenue can be left unexplored, Jobson is instructed to interview a psychic, Mandy Wymer (Saskia Reeves), who claims to have relevant information. Jobson’s visit to Wymer is deeply unsettling, for reasons he can’t quite explain, and he ends up returning. He also starts poring over the old case files and asking uncomfortable questions.




    Chief Molloy takes a more direct approach to the investigation. Since he’s sure “in my heart” that Myshkin committed the earlier crimes, he concludes that Myshkin’s former friend, Leonard Cole (Gerard Kearns), whom we met briefly in 1974, has become a copycat. When Leonard is hauled in for questioning, his mother (Cara Seymour) appeals to Piggott for help. This time Piggott says yes, and the investigation will lead him to places he never imagined.




    On paper at least, 1983 is the only part of the trilogy that offers a complete resolution, but does it really? The full extent of the evil haunting West Yorkshire has been exposed, but will anyone hold the perpetrators fully accountable? As we’ve seen from the previous two chapters, cover-up has become almost a way of life in these environs. The final lines of 1983 are fraught with ambiguity. The last voice heard is that of a potential victim reciting in voiceover a list of the cruelties escaped. (It’s become something of a famous passage, and it’s quoted at IMDb; stay away from the entry if you want to avoid spoilers.) At first, it seems to be a hopeful note. But as the list of horrors rolls on, it becomes depressingly clear that the voice isn’t one of celebration. It’s hollow, resigned and weary. It sounds like a voice from the grave.






    Video:




    Cinematographer David Higgs (who shot RocknRolla on HD for Guy Ritchie) has used the HD format effectively to create a textured look that provides an instantly recognizable difference from the previous two chapters but maintains a sense of visual continuity with the rest of the story. This becomes particularly important for the flashback sequences. The HD format also permits excellent reproduction of detail in certain sequences where darkness might otherwise have been a problem (and I’m afraid I can’t be more specific than that). The locale being much the same, the color palette remains unchanged.






    Audio:




    The sound mix remains front-centered, but the score by Barrington Pheloung (whose credits are primarily for British TV) is somewhat grander and more dramatic, as befits the final chapter of a trilogy.






    Special Features:




    At startup, the Blu-ray disc plays trailers for Five Minutes of Heaven, The Killer Inside Me and Boogie Woogie; these can be skipped with the top menu or chapter forward buttons and are not otherwise separately available.




    All of the remaining special features are contained on a separate DVD. They are arranged in four categories:




    1974:




    TV Spot (2.35:1; centered in 4:3). This spot is clearly for American TV and bears the IFC logo.




    Julian Jarrold Interview (2.35:1; enhanced for 16:9) (11:25). Jarrold (whose previous credits include Becoming Jane and the remake of Brideshead Revisited) discusses what attracted him to the project, why he cast Garfield as Eddie and various artistic decisions that went into making the film. Of particular note is his citation of Seventies American “conspiracy” films such as The Parallax View, Klute, Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men, all of which Jarrold looked to for inspiration.




    Deleted Scenes (1.85:1; centered in 4:3) (7:10). Two scenes are included. The first is short and is merely an extended version of Eddie’s arrival at his father’s funeral. The second is an entire deleted sequence that was probably cut for running time but is quite good. In it, Eddie investigates an additional aspect of the case and has an interesting encounter. (I am being deliberately vague, because the context of the scene would involve potential spoilers.)




    1980:




    TV Spot (2.35:1; centered in 4:3). Again, the spot is for American TV and bears the IFC logo.




    Making Of (1.85:1; enhanced for 16:9) (18:45). CAUTION: Major spoilers! This featurette combines extensive footage recorded during the filming of 1980 with interviews of director James Marsh (an Oscar winner for the documentary Man on Wire), star Paddy Considine, writer Tony Grisoni and various lead crew members.




    Deleted Scenes (2.35:1; centered in 4:3) (6:49). There are five scenes. Although no explanation is provided for their removal, one can divine the reasons in most cases, with the exception of an additional scene between Hunter and his wife, which, to me at least, would have added dramatic weight to a development late in the film.




    1983:




    TV Spot (2.35:1; centered in 4:3). Yet another IFC-sponsored promo for American TV.




    Making Of (1.85:1; enhanced for 16:9) (6:41). CAUTION: Major spoilers! A brief behind-the-scenes, focusing on make-up and production design.




    Deleted Scenes (2.35:1; centered in 4:3) (8:08). There are eight scenes. None of them adds anything new, and one (an extended dream sequence involving Piggott) would have been a mistake to include.




    Trilogy:




    Theaterical Trailer (2.35:1; enhanced for 16:9). Created for IFC.




    TV Spot (1.85:1; centered in 4:3). Also created for IFC.




    Behind the Scenes (4:3 & multiple AR) (3:02). A brief promo piece broadcast on the IFC Channel.






    In Conclusion:




    In its evocation of evil, Red Riding Trilogy accomplishes something that I didn’t think possible. It generates stinging shocks from a genre that has become so familiar in recent years that one hardly expects much of a reaction other than the frisson accompanying a novel twist. Shows like Millennium, Homicide and (on a good night) Law and Order: SVU have so thoroughly mined the depths of human depravity for entertainment that audiences are no longer impressed by the average human monster. And yet, as Red Riding snakes its way through the years of systematic cruelty, the layers of deception, the bodies shattered and the lives destroyed, you’re left at the end with the simple question posed by my wife, whose instinct for the bottom line is unerring: “How can people do that?”






    Equipment used for this review:




    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player


    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


    SVS SB12-Plus sub
     
  2. MarkBirds

    MarkBirds Stunt Coordinator

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    Great review. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one.
     
  3. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Excellent review. This sounds great.

     

    When you wrote "Interviewed in 1974," did you mean something "Interviewed when 1974 was released?" :)
     
  4. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Thanks for the catch! The phrase shouldn't be there at all. This is what happens when you take notes too quickly (and don't have an editor looking over your shoulder).

     

    The interview is preceded by a title card that says "Nineteen Seventy Four Interview With Director Julian Jarrold". So of course I abbreviated it to "1974 int. w/dir. JJ", which would normally mean what I initially wrote -- but, obviously, that makes no sense.
     
  5. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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    Had heard about it, read your excellent review and took the plunge to view it. A worthwhile descent into unpleasantness - fortunately of a cinematic nature. While the scope and artistry of the project are impressive and many elements grow in retrospect (and I'm sure upon multiple viewings), I was bothered by some elements/loose ends and cliches that equally nag me in hindsight. But I'm glad I saw it; it is truly an impressive undertaking.

     

    I hope Ridley Scott does indeed take a crack at his adaptation.

     

    Among other things, I found it hard to believe that all this conspiracy, murder, torture, etc. was done with such broad strokes by those involved to protect a lone "powerful" businessman (why is he so powerful? Because he has money?) who's going to make the "elite" rich by developing a very speculative venture: a large shopping mall in the middle of this forsaken land where that's probably the least sure thing going. Why not continue milking the prostitution, drugs - heck, gambling - all the vices since we're dealing with EVIL here, right? But a shopping center? It's not like the parties involved had to make the "family business" legitimate like Michael Corleone courting Immobiliare (even though there was a hint of that in one of the group meetings) since the shopping center dream appeared to have essentially disappeared in 1974 after the Karachi Club Massacre. Yet the evil deeds and cover-ups kept going for years. Why? If it's because it's evil for evil's sake (a good, disturbing idea), then again: why all the fuss about developing the shopping center? And the child killer revelation - too many issues I have with that to mention. And did the police NOT torture anyone in that town? "Speeding where ya? Put jer 'ands out, palms down..."
     
  6. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Felix, I'm glad you enjoyed it. In response to your spoiler-protected questions:

     

    To me, the great revelation of the opening flashback in 1983 is that Dawson wasn't the kingpin. He was just a the manager of one investment that this cabal of corrupt cops decided was a good place for some of their "dirty" money. Then he turned out to be too much of a liability, when his personal indulgences got out of hand, and it was his own investors -- the cops -- who arranged to have him killed by Garfield. (This is very clear if you re-watch 1974.)

     

    The fate of the shopping center deal is an interesting question. I'm not entirely sure what happened to it after Dawson's death. If it was far enough along, it might have happened anyway -- and I suspect there are bits of dialogue layered in there that provide clues and will be noted on a repeat viewing.

     

    As far as who the police chose to torture (or worse), I think the point was that they were generally careful to single out those who were in no position to complain or protect themselves effectively. Dunfield was something of an exception, born of necessity. As for the child killer, who exactly do you think it was? There are several candidates, and I'm not even sure that all the children were murdered by the same person.
     
  7. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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    Hi Michael, yes, dialect notwithstanding, it was pretty clear what occurred once you get to the revelations in 1983 without a Scooby Doo type ending. That was well-done.
     

    BTW did you find something strange with the audio of the 1980 segment? I had to switch to the 2.0 option as the 5.1 seemed to have all the dialogue equally spread across the front speakers, sounding a bit out of phase. Other than that, I thought the set was quite solid.
     
  8. Yorkshire

    Yorkshire Screenwriter

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  9. Yorkshire

    Yorkshire Screenwriter

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    I should add a little about Red Riding.

     

    I grew up just across the border from the West Riding in the City of York at about the same time as author David Peace - he's actually a couple of years my junior. In his books he has captured the epoch almost to perfection, it was a miserable, dark time where frankly the sort of corruption portrayed in the work was quite plausible.

     

    These films are worthy in their own right, but the books are astonishing.

     

    Steve W
     
  10. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    No, I can't say I noticed anything like that. As I indicated in the review, the mix was front-oriented, but the dialogue sounded anchored to the center.
     


    My guess is that Felix is referring to the regional accent, which, to an American ear, can be very challenging in these films.

     

    Thanks for your comments about the period and locale. I read somewhere that Peace did a lot of research for the novels, which makes the stories even more disturbing.
     
  11. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Too bad there aren't plain English subtitles (as opposed to SDH).
     
  12. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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    Yes, the regional accent, sorry.

    Looks like I'll be picking up the books, but I'll probably give it a few weeks and disconnect from this world for a bit.
     
  13. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    I think Steve was making a funny about the dialect -- note his location.
     
  14. Yorkshire

    Yorkshire Screenwriter

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    'appen.
     

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