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DVD Review HTF DVD Review: DIVA (Meridian Collection)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Reuben, May 28, 2008.

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  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Well-Known Member

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    Diva
    Meridian Collection

    Studio: Lionsgate
    Year: 2008
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 117 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.66 (enhanced for 16:9)
    Audio: DD 2.0 (mono)
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: French
    Subtitles: English, Spanish
    MSRP: $26.98
    Package: Keepcase
    Insert: Yes


    Introduction:

    Lionsgate is starting new series called the "Meridian Collection", which the company describes
    as "a compilation of acclaimed, groundbreaking and influential films from around the world".
    The plan is to release two new Meridian Collection DVDs every three months. In the first group
    is the 1981 French "thriller" Diva. If the quality of this DVD is any indication of what's to come,
    the Meridian Collection will be an exciting series for film lovers.


    The Feature:

    I put the word "thriller" in quotes above, because, even though that's how Diva is usually described,
    it's not an accurate description. Then again, there really isn't a category for Diva. The film is a world
    unto itself. I've seen it maybe half a dozen times since it first became an arthouse sensation in the
    U.S. in 1982, and it's always compulsively watchable. But it plays differently every time.

    At the most literal level, Diva is about two audio tapes. The first is a recording of a renowned but
    eccentric America opera singer--Cynthia Hawkins, the diva of the title, played by the real American
    soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez--who refuses to record her performances, because she believes that the
    bond with her audience is a sacred experience that should only happen in person. But a young French
    postman named Jules is so deeply in love with the diva and her voice that he sneaks a Nagra recorder
    (state-of-the-art for this pre-digital age) into one of her concerts and captures a nearly perfect rendition,
    strictly (as we say today) for personal use. Unbeknownst to Jules, though, his activities have been
    observed by two Taiwanese businessmen, whose interest in the recording is purely commercial and
    whose methods are unscrupulous.

    The second recording is a cassette containing a detailed confession by the mistress of a crime
    boss who runs a prostitution ring. This tape, which implicates important people, ends up in
    Jules's mail bag, but he doesn't know it, and he spends much of the film being chased by various
    people for reasons he cannot understand. The scariest is the character known only as "Le Curé",
    whose shaved head and sunglasses became the iconic image of the film. (The character also
    launched the career of the French actor Dominique Pinon, now familiar from such films as Amélie,
    City of Lost Children, Alien Resurrection and the current Roman de Gare.)

    In between chases, Jules manages to bluff his way into the diva's hotel suite and win her
    friendship, thereby beginning one of the more unlikely (and chaste) romances in modern movie
    history. Jules also meets Alba, a sort of Vietnamese Lolita, and her patron (for lack of a better
    word), Gorodish, a mysterious figure of apparently limitless means who lives in a giant blue-tinted
    loft space and approaches everything, whether it be negotiating with killers or spreading butter on
    baguette, with Zen-like detachment.

    Diva was adapted from one of a series of popular novels chronicling the adventures of Alba and
    Gorodish, and in other hands it could have easily become a forgettable crime film. Instead, in 1980,
    it was handed to writer-director Jean-Jacques Beineix, who, along with Leos Carax and Luc Besson,
    would over the next few years either revolutionize or (depending on your point of view) ruin French
    cinema. Like their contemporaries in America, these directors were heavily influenced by the imagery
    of advertising. Much of the early criticism of Diva was for its heavy reliance on visuals and its lack of
    traditional narrative exposition. It was dismissed as a "comic book" at a time when that was not a
    compliment. The style it established was christened the cinema du look because of its preoccupation
    with surface appearances.

    But today, more than a quarter of a century later, what's most striking about Diva is the dread
    pulsing beneath all those gorgeous surfaces. Beneix constantly places his characters in huge spaces that
    threaten to swallow them. And the spaces are never natural, but always man-made: opera houses, factories,
    cityscapes, subway tunnels. As much as the film appears to luxuriate in these man-made environments,
    they are also the source of almost constant unease--and not just from Le Curé and the other unsavory
    characters chasing Jules. The film opens with Jules himself committing an act of violation against the
    person he holds most dear by secretly taping her concert; the diva calls it a "rape" when a reporter asks
    her about bootleg recordings. It's a kind of poetic justice that Jules should become the object of pursuit
    over a tape involving prostitution, because that is how the diva views the recording and sale of her
    performances. When she allows Jules to befriend her, it is at a moment of great vulnerability, when she
    has reason to fear that such violations of her art have become inevitable. Of course, she doesn't yet know
    that the very admirer she is taking into her confidence is the prime violator.

    Eventually, the crime plot gets resolved (with help from Gorodish), and Diva begins where it ends:
    in a performance space. But no one is performing, and the ending is both romantic and tinged
    with sadness. I find it more moving with each viewing.


    Video:

    Anchor Bay previously released Diva on DVD in 2000 in what, at the time, appeared to be a
    serviceable edition. After watching the new Lionsgate Meridian edition, I went back to the old
    Anchor Bay disc. Comparing the two was a revelation.

    As did Anchor Bay, Lionsgate presents Diva in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with 16:9
    enhancement. There is slight windowboxing at the sides to allow for the proper aspect ratio,
    but this may be hidden on many monitors due to overscan.

    The similarities end there, however. Lionsgate's transfer was approved by director Beineix, and it
    is, in a word, gorgeous. But let me be absolutely clear about what I mean by that, because there
    will probably be reviews that disagree.

    Diva was shot on a low budget, using relatively little artificial light and with cinematographer Philippe
    Rousselot often having to improvise the means to attain the effects that Beneix wanted. (Rousselot
    has since become a world-class cinematographer, winning an Oscar for A River Runs Through It and
    lensing numerous major Hollywood films.) The finished product is beautifully composed with vivid
    colors, but film grain is always visible, especially in night scenes. And unlike the Anchor Bay disc, none
    of the grain appears to have been removed through digital noise reduction.
    Anchor Bay's disc is
    noticeably smoother, but it's also duller, flatter and muddier. Take the wonderful sequence where
    Jules and the diva walk through a deserted Paris in the early morning. The Lionsgate image pulses
    with grain, but it also pulses with life and warmth. Anchor Bay took away all the grain, but they also
    took away much of the image and all of the life. The sequence depends entirely on its visuals, and
    the Anchor Bay disc alters the visuals so drastically that the sequence is no longer the same. In fact,
    I can't think of a better demonstration of the evils of DNR than to run these two discs side-by-side.
    (Note that this is not something you can evaluate in screen caps. The evils of DNR are revealed in
    moving pictures.)

    Unfortunately, the internet is full of DVD "reviewers" who downgrade a disc at the first sign of
    grain. They don't realize when they're being presented with exactly what should be there. I hope
    Lionsgate is reading this, and I hope they ignore such philistines and continue putting out
    fabulous transfers like this one. It's exactly how classics should be handled. (And yes, I would
    love to see Diva on Blu-ray someday.)


    Audio:

    The sole audio track is French mono, which is the original audio format. Fidelity and dynamic
    range were excellent, and to my ear this track was more pleasing than Anchor Bay's attempt to
    remix the audio for DD 5.1. My only criticism is that the mono track is presented at DD 2.0
    at 192kp/ps. I prefer mono tracks to be presented as DD 1.0 at 192kp/ps, but it's a minor
    quibble. The disc includes English and Spanish subtitles.


    Special Features:

    No one could accuse these special features of being mere fluff. They fall into two categories:

    Scene specific commentary with director Beneix (app. 43:00). Instead of a feature-length
    commentary, specific sections of the film are accompanied by commentary. These sections
    can be selected separately from a menu or played all at once. Beneix speaks in French, with
    a simultaneous English translation in voiceover. Always the intellectual, he has little interest in
    telling production stories and focuses more on that he sees today as the important elements
    of the film. It is obvious that he remains proud of Diva and continues to take great satisfaction
    in its ultimate success after its initial rejection.

    "Searching for Diva. A series of contemporary interviews with cast and crew members that
    can be selected separately from a menu or played all at once. These are somewhat rougher
    and less polished than the documentaries that accompany major studio productions, and I
    much preferred their sense of spontaneity and authenticity. Some of the stories are fascinating,
    such as composer Vladimir Cosma's account of improvising one of the film's signature music
    cues on the spot in the recording studio when Beneix became dissatisfied with the classical
    selection they had originally chosen. The interviews alternate between French and English,
    and those in French are accompanied by simultaneous voiceover translation. An interesting
    note: Although Beneix's commentary is in French, his interview is in English, which he speaks
    quite well. A complete list of the interview segments follows:

    Introduction by Professor Phil Powrie & Eric Grinda (6:20)
    Vladimir Cosma (composer) (10:46)
    Dominique Besnehard (casting director) (7:19)
    Frederic Andrei ("Jules") (5:46)
    Anny Romano ("Paula") & Dominique Pinon ("Le Curé") (12:01)
    Richard Bohringer ("Gorodish") (6:54)
    Jean-Jacques Beneix (writer-director), pt. 1 (11:00)
    Jean-Jacques Beneix (writer-director), pt. 2 (8:32)
    Philippe Rousselot (cinematographer) (6:04)
    Hilton McConnico (production designer) (6:49)



    Final Thoughts:


    Unlike his compatriot Luc Besson, who quickly left the confines of French cinema for the world
    market and who would pay tribute to Diva in the The Fifth Element's character of the all-blue
    Plavalaguna (Diva's signature color), Jean-Jacques Beneix has never again attained the kind of
    success that he enjoyed with his first film. Watching the film on this excellent DVD, listening to
    Beneix on the commentary and in the interviews, it's not hard to understand why. Here is a
    filmmaker who, no matter how adept he may be at manipulating the technology of film, ultimately
    doesn't trust it--or any other technology. We're used to hearing filmmakers cast aspersions on the
    commercialization of art, but it's rare to hear one turn his critical faculties on technology itself. But
    that is exactly what Beneix did through the character of the diva, even though he (and, in the end,
    she) knows that opposing technology is idealistic and futile. Embodying that stance of hopeless
    resistance in a film, one of the most technological of artistic media ever conceived, is a big part
    of what keeps Diva endlessly fascinating


    Release date:
    June 3, 2008

    Postscript: After this review was submitted, additional issues regarding the video transfer were noted by Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver. These issues are discussed further down in this thread. To summarize:
    1. The Lionsgate version exhibits cropping (I would call it "slight" but YMMV) at the right edge of the screen, compared to the Anchor Bay; depending on your monitor's overscan, the difference may or may not be visible, although it is observable on screen captures.
    2. There is a small difference in geometry between the two transfers -- sufficiently small that it is not noticeable until screen caps from the two transfers are placed side-by-side. Gary believes the Lionsgate version has been stretched and is seeking further clarification from the disc's producers.
    3. Gary believes the Lionsgate disc suffers from EE or "edge enhancement" and that the colors on the Lionsgate version are inaccurate. Here we simply disagree.
    To the extent there is any follow-up from the disc's producers, I refer the reader to DVD Beaver."
    Edited by Michael Reuben - 7/23/2009 at 05:24 pm GMT
     
  2. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Well-Known Member

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    Wow Michael...good fake out.

    You linked to this review in the 'evils of DNR' thread in the HD forum, so I thought for sure this edition was going to be a sad example of it. After that glowing synopsis/analysis, it sure was a major relief to hear this is 'safe' to buy now. I remember seeing this on Cinemax back in '82 or '83, and I remember it being a compelling experience. I've wondered since then if that reaction was mainly due to the novelty of its visual style at the time or my youth and limited frame of reference. I never remembered much of the actual plot besides all the chasing, but it sounds well worth checking out again. I may have to toss this into a DD order next week.

    Good to see Lionsgate finally exploiting some of the quality titles they have access to. I loved their Angelique set, and am looking forward to the Catherine Deneuve set in a couple weeks. My opinion of them has altered quite a bit in just the last month. Here's hoping they keep on this trajectory.
     
  3. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Well-Known Member

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    Sorry, Paul, it wasn't intended as a fake-out. [​IMG]

    It was really surprising, though, to see how much of a difference noise reduction could make even on standard definition fare. We've been so busy talking about it in the hi-def forums that I'd kind of forgotten its other applications. Anchor Bay used to clean up a lot of its transfers, and I never thought too much about it. Doing this review made me realize that I should have.

    M.
     
  4. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Well-Known Member

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    Well it's really impossible to make any kind of call without a frame of reference. The Meridian edition sounds like the 'reference' edition for this film now ( on vid at least).
    As I think about it, this was very likely the first foreign film I ever saw. Either that or La Boum [​IMG]
    The only reason I might hesitate on picking this up now is because it really would have make for an ideal Blu-ray selection. I still might.
     
  5. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned

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    I hope Warner Home Video and all the other DVD-distributors read your observation and comply.
     
  6. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    Without sounding facetious - I own the new Meridian Lions Gate but must have a totally different edition to you as mine has French only menus and no English options on the extras. It's very strange - as if I have a 'Quebecois' version.
    My Menu
    [​IMG]

    The image must be different too as mine is cropped (see my comparisons with both the Anchor Bay and Fox/Lorber) quite a bit on the right edge and has edge enhancement. Skin tones look orangy and colors on the AB is far superior on my system and computer.

    Lions Gate

    [​IMG]

    Anchor Bay

    [​IMG]

    If anyone has any idea why mine would differ from Michaels - I'd love to hear opinions.

    Thanks,
    Gary
     
  7. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Well-Known Member

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    Then you must indeed have a different edition, because my menu is in English and the extras are as I described them.

    As for the image, I said in my review that I consider screen caps to be of limited utility in assessing the key differences between the Anchor Bay and Meridian editions. But in terms of color, I'd say that your stills are indicative of the general difference in "temperature" (not to mention detail) between the AB and the Meridian, and that I find the Meridian's director-approved transfer to be superior. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own taste.

    M.
     
  8. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    Hi Michael - yeah, mine too states it is 'Director Approved' and has all the extras yours does - just no option for English in the supplements.

    This is a favorite film and although I found it improbable that Lions Gate would release two seperate editions - I am find it equally incredulous that the two editions - released the same day - by the same company - would have different transfers. I've phoned Lions Gate with no satisfaction yet.

    I'll probably buy the 'US' sold edition, but, may I ask - do you see the extensive edge-enhancement on yours that I see on mine?

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    My 'Quebecois' or 'Canadian' or 'French' release (whatever it is) is virtually teeming with it... maybe this is a warning not to buy this in Canada.

    I just don't want to but the US edition and find it still the same - manipulated, cropped and the colors off. (but, I will and report back - sigh)

    Thanks for any input,
     
  9. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Well-Known Member

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    Gary, my supplements don't have an "option" for English. The English voiceover just kicks in. If that's not the case on your version, then it may simply be a soundtrack difference.

    As for the image, I didn't note edge enhancement in my viewing on a 72" screen, but then again I didn't blow up stills to look for it. I judge EE by whether there's any that's visible to me on normal viewing in moving images, and there wasn't.

    I did not note any cropping, but it may have been hidden by overscan; the only computer viewing I did was to confirm that both Anchor Bay and Lionsgate had windowboxed the transfers to achieve 1.66:1. I certainly did not notice any obvious change in framing in my comparisons between the two editions, which I did on my 72" Samsung monitor.

    As for the colors, you and I just disagree.

    M.
     
  10. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    On my issue there is no English overDUB - it's all only in French language. How weird is this?
    I see the edge enhancemnent plainly, if not the specific halos, on my 43" set.
    I'll report back when I get another Lions Gate Meridian edition (with English menus).
    Thanks Michael,
    Gary
    P.S. If you can remember to look on the disc itself one day - does it say 'MAPLE' above the Lions Gate and Studio Canal logos. I think this may be there doing.
     
  11. Bob Cashill

    Bob Cashill Well-Known Member

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    I have (from Amazon) the U.S. disc that Michael Reuben has. English menus and overdubs, no "MAPLE." Looks OK to me (watchable without complaint on my humble 27" setup) but I only have the wan Criterion LD to compare it with, not the Anchor Bay.
     
  12. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Bob,
    The DVD producer has contacted me and we are working to find out what is devil is going on - with some possible missteps at the encode level.
    The Lions Gate I own is also horizontally stretched (as well as the other noted deficiencies).

    Anchor Bay LEFT - Lions Gate (Meridian) RIGHT

    [​IMG]

    I'll report more once I have heard from Lions Gate themselves.

    Cheers,
    Gary
     
  13. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Well-Known Member

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    Gary, I'm most interested in the report from Lionsgate. When I saw your side-by-side comparison, it struck me that the Anchor Bay images looked somewhat squeezed (truly, that was my first impression). After seeing this last post, I took my best shot at comparing the two discs I have on a computer screen, and it appears to me that the same difference exists on the U.S. disc I reviewed. It's sufficiently small that it takes screen grabs to see it. It was not at all evident when I flipped back and forth between two players running the discs on my standard viewing screen.

    At the moment, I couldn't say with any certainty which geometry is correct. And again, I doubt that anyone watching either disc would notice the difference. But the transfers are so different in so many ways that any information you're able to obtain would be valuable.

    M.
     
  14. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Well-Known Member

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    I really hope no one watches a movie zoomed in on like that. [​IMG]

    I got this release a few weeks ago but just now checked it and it does have what Michael said.
     
  15. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    I doubt they do Michael E., but the zooming indicates that the Lions Gate edition I own has had a common form of digital manipulation which produces those, now visible, halos. This is commonly referred to as 'edge-enhancement'. What this means is the contrast has been adjusted, usually, in the encode process - in some cases black levels have been boosted to give the overall impression of being sharper but this then affects the spectrum of colors in the film and alter the entire balance. Sometimes brightness is boosted - this is often used to hide damage marks. It is tantamount to the DVD production attempting to fool you by deviating from a, usually, inferior master. If done selectively (like a Criterion) it can be considered 'restoration' but if utilized in a blanket approach it can fatally destroy the integrity of the film's colors. We really want to expose this and discourage companies from using this manipulation process - it has ruined countless film-to-DVD presentations.

    It really shouldn't concern DVD reviewers what system people are using to watch as they can span a myriad of options - from 8 foot projections to 26 inch CRTs. Regardless of the system - if the DVD has EE - it has EE no matter of whether you see it or not. You may not notice it on your system now, but hopefully the DVD will last a lot longer than your current display unit. The deficiences may become visible when you upgrade (and you will).

    In my 'Canadian' Lions Gate Diva editition - you can see the results below:

    Anchor Bay LEFT vs. Lions Gate RIGHT

    [​IMG]

    Screen captures can be an extremely useful tool in making determinations about DVD quality - espcially when used in a comparison with other editions.

    Michael R. - I don't *think* the AB is squeezed as the original Fox Lorber has the same proportions.

    This is all probably moot as we aren't talking about the same DVD yet. Lions Gate have contacted me and are sending me the 'US' sold version but my Canadian sold one is cropped, stretched and manipulated - Canucks beware!

    Cheers,
    Gary
     
  16. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Well-Known Member

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    I upgraded in 2001 so I know what you're talking about in regards to EE.

    Sorry you typed out that long post over a joke of mine but since you did:

    Very few people are hitting their zoom button to notice this stuff and quite often studios are taking heat from reviewers who do such things. If people zoom in or put their nose up to the screen then any transfer is going to be subject to criticism and to me, this really isn't fair since most people simply watch a movie and not inspect every single frame looking for something to stick out. Not that you did this with your examples here but there are reviewers who scream out "problem transfer" from a screener and then word gets around the internet of a bad transfer. Then, when the disc is on the store shelf, these people pick it up and don't see what is there. Is the problem there? More often than not the answer is yes but then again, not everyone is zooming to see it or notice it.

    Of course, reviewers also have to deal with one person's own personal preference in something like this. Your screenshots are great examples and I'm sure people would be split 50/50 over which one they prefer or which one they feel is correct.
     
  17. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    I'm not as sure as you - people, when educated about what is a proper transfer will more likely choose the one most accurate to the theatrical appearance (coupled with other factors - supplements, audio etc.) In my experience those capture comparisons are like night and day.
    Certainly you are not suggesting that reviewers ignore detailing these manipulations and consistently say everything is hunky-dory. What's the purpose of reviewing?
    Regards,
    Gary
    P.S. The 'US' Lions Gate was couriored and arrived today. I'll look at it in a day or so.
    P.P.S. Lions Gate has been a great DVD company the past few years but everyone missteps - in their email to me they actually appreciate being told and will strive not to let this happen again. I said - 'You're welcome'.
     
  18. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Well-Known Member

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    Gary, what did Lionsgate actually have to say? Direct quotation would be appreciated.

    M.
     
  19. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    As you might appreciate Michael, I don't want to expose personal email communication with DIVA DVD Producer, Mark Rance and the unnamed person from Lions Gate but it starts:
    (blush)
    I'll cover the US edition soon...
    Best,
    Gary
    P.S. This very well may be 'Maple' 's fault.
     
  20. Gary Tooze

    Gary Tooze Well-Known Member

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    By the way Michael R. - I apologize for all this in your review thread - I initially just wanted to know why, the heck, my version was different. It was so strange to have the French only menus and no Eng in the extras. I had no intention of hijaking this thread away.
    I'll post the results to my own site. A quick glance shows it to be the same transfer but I will verify at Beaver.
    Regards,
    Gary
    P.S. You made an excellent point about the use (overuse) of DNR
     

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