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HTF REVIEW: Martin



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#1 of 67 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted November 17 2004 - 05:17 PM

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Martin


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Studio: Lions Gate
Year: 1971
Rated: NR
Film Length: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: None
Retail Price: $14.95




Some would call George Romero the greatest American horror director while others would label him a disappointment who got lucky with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. No matter which side of the fence you’re on the one thing I’ve always admired is that Romero always stuck to his guns and did things he own way. Between the first two Dead movies Romero had a string of disappointments, which included the rarely seen There’s Always Vanilla as well as The Crazies and Season of the Witch. The year before Dawn was released the director did for vampires what he did for zombies and that film is the now cult shocker Martin.

Martin (John Amplas) boards a train headed for Pittsburgh where he is going to be living with his Uncle who plans on saving his soul before killing him. While on the train we learn why Martin is to be killed. That night he sneaks into the room of a young lady, drugs her to sleep and then slices her wrist open in order to drink her blood. Martin is not only a troubled young man but he also believes that he is a vampire but without the fangs, he must resort to other ways of seeking blood.

Martin is a film I first saw nearly ten years ago and I really didn’t care too much for it. Over the years I was somewhat shocked to see that many consider this the best horror film of the decade so I was looking forward to this second viewing. While I found the film slightly better this time around there were still many problems I had with the film. Anyone slightly familiar with this film will know about the legendary 2 ½ hour cut of the film, which was cut down for theatrical release and has gone missing since then.

I’m not exactly sure what was in this longer version but I think viewing it that way would be the only way to get the full impact that the director was going for. Martin contains some brilliant moments but it’s quite clear that a lot’s missing here and that keeps the film from being a total achievement. What’s most interesting is Romero updating the vampire myths including killing off everything we’ve learned from previous films. Martin has no fangs, no beautiful women and the sunlight really doesn’t bother him.

The film moves at a snails pace but that’s not to say this is a boring film. The slow pace, like that in Dawn of the Dead, helps tell the story and lets us get to know Martin, his actions and those around him. It’s very interesting getting to know this troubled kid and how those around him react towards him. Some feel sympathy while others feel horror. Romero takes his time in telling the story, which again, it would be important to see the longer version. Even in this 95-minute version, we get enough clues to keep us mildly entertained throughout.

The most fascinating moments are the actual stalk and murder scenes that Martin goes out on. The idea of a vampire having no fangs and having to resort to cutting wrists for blood works perfectly and adds all sorts of needed suspense. There’s a wonderful sequence where Martin breaks in on a victim only to be confronted by someone else. I won’t ruin the scene for everyone but Romero has a wonderful time playing the audience as well as the characters on screen. Another wonderful thing about the film is its atmosphere, which is able to make this appear like a classic gothic tale. The atmosphere is thick throughout and really helps the pacing.

The problem with Martin however is that there is clearly stuff missing and the story here really isn’t fully explored, in this version at least. Towards the end of the film Martin begins to have a sexual affair with a woman and this here is sadly all too brief. I’m going to guess this is expanded in the longer version and I’m sure it is a very important moment so that the ending makes a bit more sense. Even the nutty Uncle is never fully brought to life and his beliefs in the subject are never really understood. There are other small characters that pop in that are never fully addressed.

This 95-minute version of Martin is fun to watch due to various brilliant moments but in the end I can’t help but feel we’re watching a bastardized version of a better movie. The producer’s needed a hit, they cut the film and sadly it appears the longer version is lost but as it stands, this longer version is perhaps one of the most important films that needs to be found. Martin works well but I suspect this longer version might very well be one of the greatest horror films ever made.


VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Hooray for Lions Gate for finally releasing a horror film in widescreen? Perhaps not. It’s quite clear that Romero prefers this film to be viewed open matte (4:3) but we can debate all day about this situation. The previous release from Anchor Bay featured an open matte transfer so if that’s the way you want to view the film then you’ll have to spend quite a bit of money since that version is now out of print. As with Kubrick, even though Romero preferred 4:3, some fans don’t care and want the image to be like it was in theaters, matted of course and that’s what we get here.

In the commentary track Savini and Romero point out a few scenes where the matting hurts the image but overall I thought the matting looked quite nice. None of the cinematography in the film is that “great” so it doesn’t appear we’re missing too much except for a few foreheads that are cut off in a couple scenes. There’s one death scene where the matting interrupts some of the gore but other than this scene, nothing else looked too bad.

I got a screener for the original release way back in 2000 but never got a chance to review the entire thing so I’m going to be honest here and say I haven’t seen that version. However, I think I remember enough of it from skipping around the film to say that this transfer is a bit better. One thing to remember is that this came very close to being a lost film, which is something people should consider when judging the video quality. Another thing to keep in mind is that this was shot 16mm so that explains some of the grain that appears on the print.

Outside of the expected grain, the transfer appears better than the Anchor Bay version, which as I remember, was full of digital artifacts, which were quite distracting. The transfer here is free of any artifacts and I didn’t notice any edge enhancement thankfully. Colors were fairly good considering the history of the film. A few lines appear throughout the film but overall I was quite pleased with the transfer.

AUDIO---We get a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as the original Mono track. The Mono track is pretty good, although there’s a fair amount of hiss heard in the background. Dialogue is clear throughout and easy to understand while the music score sounds quite nice. The 5.1 mix isn’t anything too special and pretty much sounds exactly the same as the Mono with the exception of a few scenes. Dialogue sounds the same between the two tracks, although the 5.1 does offer a bit more range in the sound effects, especially the stuff on the train. The music score also packs more of a punch but the hiss is easier to hear on the 5.1 track, especially in the quiet moments.

EXTRAS---Once again Lions Gate outdoes the Anchor Bay disc, which is quite shocking but I’m certainly not going to complain.

Audio Commentary---The audio commentary features director George Romero, make up artist Tom Savini, producer Richard Rubenstein, cinematographer Michael Gornic and music composer Donald Rubenstein. This is a new audio commentary track, which is a joy to listen to. The guys seem to be having a blast going back over the history of the film and they are all constantly talking and laughing. Romero goes into detail about the production of the film as well as the original cut and his ideas of shooting the entire film in black and white. The producer is also fun to listen to and he also talks about why he cut the film and why he didn’t want it shot B&W. As usual, Savini goes into detail about his makeup work and once again reminds us what he did in Vietnam. This here certainly goes up there as being one of the best tracks I’ve listened to.

Making of Documentary---This here runs just over nine minutes and features interviews with all the guys involved in the commentary. This featurette is rather nice because we get several behind the scenes photos including one of Savini dressed up as the vampire. There’s also an interesting segment where we go to the house used in Martin and see what it looks like today. We also get a brief interview with the woman who owned the house then and now. Most of the talk is leftover stuff from the commentary track but this is still worth watching.

Finally we get a photo gallery, which contains just over 30 photos. The theatrical trailer is included and the interesting thing about this is that it features a few changes from what appears in the film. In the film, the flashback sequences are shown B&W but they are in color for the trailer. A TV spot is also included, which is nice. There’s also a trailer gallery, which features trailers for Saw, The Final Cut and Stage Beauty.

OVERALL---The film itself is a rather interesting one that I’m sure will get better on repeat viewings. Even with the controversy surrounding the aspect ratio, Lions Gate has delivered one of the best discs of the year especially considering you can find this for around $10. The commentary track alone is worth that much.


Release Date: Out Now

#2 of 67 OFFLINE   James Lambert

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Posted November 18 2004 - 01:00 AM

Intersting review Michael, and I think I'll buy it for the commentary alone (I was burgalled a couple of years ago and my AB Martin was my biggest regret). However I'm quite surprised by the feeling that there was so much missing. I agree with you, but only after I found out that there was a much longer cut once available. I'd seen it several times before then and always thought it held up fine on its own. I might well be misreading your review, but it goes against what I remember about the film. When you talk about
the idea I got from this was that it opened up the very real possibility that Martin isn't a vampire at all, rather a very disturbed kid being influenced by his crazy uncle. For me this is the crux of the film, which never gets resolved. As for the Classic Gothic feel to the film, to me Romero seems to be constantly undermining it. The example that springs to mind is when Martin is stalking a woman, he has a B+W flashback, where the woman beckons him seductively to her bed. This then cuts back to the actual woman he's following, who's covered in beauty cream, head in a towel and far from inviting. The shifts in tone also backs up Martin's romanticed view of himself and the life he leads, against the cold cruel reality around him. I would also recommend another viewing of Martin in the 4:3 ratio, as you say it isn't "great". For many the frame composition is one of the most interesting aspects of Romero as a director, in particular his aping of comicbook frames (see Night of the Living Dead and Creepshow) Still a good review, and the above is only the way I see the film, which obviously isn't definitive!
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#3 of 67 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted November 18 2004 - 01:14 AM

SPOILERS AHEAD

I probably should have worded it differently but at first, Martin is a vampire, at least in his mind. His mind has certainly been tampered with by his uncle and probably the films he has seen but in reality he's just a confused kid. I think this is something that could have been cut from the longer version because when we first meet Martin he doesn't talk to anyone and is a real creep. As the film goes on, he slowly begins to talk to people, become caring and starts having a sexual relationship. Towards the end of the film he mentions on the radio show that he's having a hard time picking people to kill. To me, this is Martin finally realizing that he's human and not a vampire but of course it's too late when the uncle shows up in his room at the end. In fact, when Martin starts to realize he's human, he begins to look at his uncle as a nut, which was the wrong thing to do because it eventually got him killed. Had he realized that his uncle was really crazy then he probably would have left the house for starters and wouldn't have played that prank on him in the playground. That prank in the playground is the real sign that Martin knew he wasn't a vampire and decided to have fun with it.

END OF SPOILERS


As for the aspect ratio, I believe the director's should have the call but as with Kubrick, many people won't buy these unless they're widescreen. When the original disc was released many people wouldn't buy it because it was open matte so I'm going to guess Lions Gate decided to release something different. The film was shown this way in theaters so I'm not going to bash LG for this. However, both versions included probably would have been best but for $10 this disc is still one of the better releases of the year.

My buddy met Romero a few years ago and asked about the AB disc and Romero told him that he prefers all his early films be seen 4:3. This includes DAWN OF THE DEAD and I was actually shocked the box set didn't feature an open matte version considering Romero worked on it. Perhaps his opinions have changed since then. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is another film that would have been matted in theaters but we've never gotten a widescreen release. With that film, it's clear 4:3 is the way to go and that the matting would take away information. With MARTIN, only a few scenes appear bad and only one looks really bad. The rest of the film seemed to look pretty good with the mattes.

#4 of 67 OFFLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted November 18 2004 - 08:19 AM

Michael: Where exactly did you hear that people wouldn't buy the original release of MARTIN because it was "open-matte"? BTW, when talking about 16mm films, "open matte" really isn't an issue, because the camera ground-glasses don't usually have 1.85:1 frame markings. There's usually just the full-frame, and perhaps a centered "TV safe action" area depending on the camera used. While some filmmakers may have their own ground-glass markings made when shooting in 16mm to "protect" for a 35mm blow-up, it seems that this isn't the case at all for MARTIN, and as such, the film should NOT have been released on video matted. Like SLACKER, this should be full-frame. As for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I believe it airs on the Monsters HD network in widescreen. Vincent

#5 of 67 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted November 18 2004 - 01:25 PM

Vincent, while reviewing at the "you know who" site, we got the press release from MARTIN and right away people started to complain because the thing wasn't shown widescreen. The press release sent by Anchor Bay stated Romero wanted this shown 4:3 but people didn't care. They released a second press release and more "info" on why Romero wanted it this way but still some people wouldn't buy it. When released, we got all sorts of e-mails from people unhappy with the release. I know you've followed some of the Kubrick debates here but even though we have Kubrick saying open matte, some are unwilling to buy the discs. You're a lot more knowledgeable when it comes to stuff dealing with filming. I was simply taking my opinion from the fact that these were shown matted in theaters so that's why I really didn't have a problem with them being shown that way on this DVD. My only guess is that LG didn't want to release the same thing and from what I understand, they knew people didn't buy the previous release due to it being 4:3. This is a company that releases most of their horror titles open matte when they're supposed to be shown 1.85:1 so that's my only guess. In the commentary Romero and Savini point out the scenes they feel are hurt by the matting. When it comes to the Kubrick debate I'm always on his side but over the past few years I've started to realize the side of those wanting the films to look like they did in theaters. I understand AB going with what Romero wanted but I also understand LG going the other way and offering the film the way it was seen in theaters. I guess you can't win with either side but unlike the Kubrick discs, people at least have the option of picking which version they want with MARTIN. Even if any of these weren't meant to be seen matted, there's always that side that says they were shown in theaters that way so that's what should be on the DVD.

#6 of 67 OFFLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted November 18 2004 - 06:08 PM

:: I guess you can't win with either side but unlike the Kubrick discs, people at least have the option of picking which version they want with MARTIN. Except for the fact that the Anchor Bay DVD is long out of print and almost impossible to find unless you're willing to pay an arm and a leg. :: Even if any of these weren't meant to be seen matted, there's always that side that says they were shown in theaters that way so that's what should be on the DVD. The difference is the Kubrick films were shot in 35mm with 1.85:1 marked ground-glasses and he clearly composed the images to work when projected that way theatrically from THE SHINING on, regardless of what he prefered for home viewing. MARTIN was shot in 16mm and clearly was not composed to be projected in 1.85:1- the fact that the 35mm blow-up was shown this way is due to the limitations of theaters and no other reason. The DVD should not be matted to a wide aspect ratio in this case, period. I wonder if the same folks who avoided MARTIN are also avoiding SLACKER, or even GONE WITH THE WIND- after all, GwtW was shown in widescreen during some of its theatrical re-releases, even as "wide" as 2.2:1 70mm in one case. Since GONE WITH THE WIND was once shown theatrically at 2.2:1, should we insist that a DVD also be made available in that aspect ratio? Of course not, and I don't see how MARTIN is any different. Vincent

#7 of 67 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted November 19 2004 - 03:50 AM

I believe all the R2 releases are 4:3 as well. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. I'm certainly not going against you when you say this should be viewed 4:3. In fact, I agree. However, since it was shown theatrically this way, I really can't critisize the studio for this widescreen transfer.

#8 of 67 OFFLINE   Mattias_ka

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Posted November 21 2004 - 12:12 AM

Well, I'm with Vincent on this one. Martin is not a 1.85:1!
And I have not seen the AB DVD or the new DVD but from the screenshots I don't really think the new dvd have better picture:

Lion Gate
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Anchor Bay
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Lion Gate
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[b]Anchor Bay[b]
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More picture do you find here:
Lion gate vs Anchor Bay

This is a NO BUY for me.

#9 of 67 OFFLINE   Kevin M

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Posted November 21 2004 - 03:34 AM

I agree that the AB dvd has a few digital artifacts in it (mainly in foggy & dark sequences) but I still think the transfer quality and color palet are much better than the Artisan release....not to speak of the AR which I agree is decidedly 1:33:1.

However the Anchor Bay dvd isn't that hard to find and not for that much money, here is a Amazon link that has quite a few used copies for $14.99. plus there are a few for Auction at E-Bay with fairly low bids on them...$6.99 on one.

I'd say at least try to get the AB version before getting this new version....but only if OAR (or Director's Preferred Ratio) is an important issue for you.
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#10 of 67 OFFLINE   Joe Karlosi

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Posted November 21 2004 - 06:54 AM

I never bought this film but I've been meaning to. Unfortunately, there's no way I want this new disc, being matted as it is. The screenshots say it all. I really don't care "how the film was projected at the theatre," -- if it wasn't the director's intended way, then it's incorrect. There were probably thousands of movies which were shown improperly on theatre screens over the decades. That doesn't make them the director's vision.

#11 of 67 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted November 21 2004 - 02:25 PM

On Friday I got an e-mail from a guy who worked on the DVD. He was involved in the extras (commentary/interviews) and I've asked if I could post that e-mail here. He also gave me the e-mail of the guy who decided to matte this and I will try and contact him as well. If either will allow me to post what they said then I'll do it.

#12 of 67 OFFLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted November 22 2004 - 04:11 PM

:: since it was shown theatrically this way, I really can't critisize the studio for this widescreen transfer. Michael: In that case, if GONE WITH THE WIND was released on DVD at a 2.2:1 aspect ratio, would you defend it, too, since it was once "shown theatrically" that way, as well? Vincent

#13 of 67 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted November 23 2004 - 12:46 AM

I certainly might if it were a decision made by the director i.e. his intent. Such wasn’t the case in 1967 almost two decades after the director’s death, however.
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25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#14 of 67 OFFLINE   James Lambert

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Posted November 23 2004 - 01:19 AM

Ah, aspect ratios, you've got to love them!!! Although it's clean cut to many films what the "correct" ratio is, there are always those pesky films where there are arguments for more than one. In this particular case I think we're just going to have to go with personal preference. I've not heard the commentary first hand, but I believe that Romero states he prefers the full frame copy. I also assume then that he doesn't rant at the screen saying that the cropping is unacceptable either. Personally I'm going to get the UK R2 release that's full frame, and I believe it has a 20 min Romero doc also, and perhaps pick up the Lionsgate release for the commentary if it's really cheap.
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#15 of 67 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted November 23 2004 - 04:12 AM

Here's the e-mail I received about this issue. I've taken the guys name out of the e-mail (as well as his address) but you can read into it what you want. This guy is in no way connected to Lions Gate nor is he involved in sending me screeners so please don't think I'm just posting this for the studio. I've also been in contact with someone from the studio who made the decision to matte this. Again, if he gives me permission then I'll post what he had to say. Hello, this is XXXXXXXXXXX and I just read your review of the Lions Gate release of Martin. I helped produce the extras for this disc but I wasn't there when the decision came for the transfer. I was there when the commentary was recorded and interviews filmed. Everyone involved with this release was aware that Lions Gate was going to be matting the film and everyone, including Mr. Romero and the producer's were okay with it being presented that way. Mr. Romero told me personally that he prefers all of his early films be seen open matte but he does not mean he is against them being matted for a DVD release. Mr. Romero knows that people want these films presented the way they were in theaters and that is why he didn't object to this release of Martin and agreed to be a part of it. The same is true for The Crazies, Theres Always Vanilla and even Dawn of the Dead. Mr. Romero prefers these be seen open matte but does not object to them being shown matted. I appreciate you taking the time to review this title and thought I'd throw some feedback your way. If you have any other questions about this release then please let me know and I'd be happy to answer anything I can.
This really isn't a fair example Vincent. I've seen many older films matted in theaters simply because the theater couldn't show the films 4:3. This includes KANE, CASABLANCA and a few others. When GWTW was released, it was shown 4:3. When MARTIN was released, it was shown 1.85:1. To me, that's the bottom line on this issue even though I think the director should get what he prefers. However, this would cost sales and I'm sure no studio wants that. If Romero prefers DAWN 4:3 then why didn't AB do it that way? Because it would hurt sales. You know there are many who refuse to buy the Kubrick films even though the director prefers 4:3. They want the film presented how it was seen in theaters. Perhaps the studio felt that when they delivered MARTIN. I'm certainly not disagreeing that the film shouldn't be viewed 4:3 but in 1977 when people saw this, it was 1.85. With that in mind, I'm going to support the release. It's not like they took a 4:3 film like KANE, which was never shown widescreen and matted it to make owners of widescreen sets happy. MARTIN was actually shown 1.85. Romero might also want his other 70's films shown 4:3 but again, they were shown theatrically matted. I'll post the other e-mail if he allows but it seems that Romero supported this release and he knew well in advance that it would be shown the way it was in theaters. He might prefer 4:3 but it's clear he doesn't mind the matted DVD.

#16 of 67 OFFLINE   Charlie O.

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Posted November 23 2004 - 07:08 AM

I guess this is were the "flipper" disc can be useful.

#17 of 67 OFFLINE   JeffMc

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Posted November 23 2004 - 07:11 AM

MARTIN had such an extremely LIMITED theatrical release back in 1977 that I don't think that very many "people saw this" in 1.85:1. We can go around and around in circles about which aspect ratio is correct, but the bottom line is that Romero has always preferred the open-matte presentation and that's the way the film should be seen now. We're not back in 1977 anymore. Of course, Romero isn't going to bad-mouth Lion's Gate for releasing it matted. This is the entertainment business - you don't burn bridges. He may actually be OK with their decision to matte it, but I'm sure if he had the final say and was producing the disc himself, he would present it the way he prefers it to be seen. At least we have the AB disc, though, so this Lion's Gate fiasco is easy enough to get over. How many people didn't buy the Kubrick sets because some of the films were presented open-matte? Was there a poll done on this? Did thousands and thousands of people avoid buying THE SHINING because it was open matte? I didn't hear about that - maybe I missed that news story. I do know people have discussed the Kubrick preferences a lot on these forums over the last few years and many people weren't educated about his preference for open-matte on some of his films, but once all was explained, I didn't see anybody boycotting those releases. It comes down to people being educated. Some movies are supposed to be seen widescreen, some aren't. If a consumer doesn't do his homework and thinks MARTIN should be seen widescreen, that's his loss. He may have avoided buying the Anchor Bay release all these years and has now bought the Lion's Gate one which is missing people's mouths, gore, and other crucial info (based on those screenshots). But at least he can be happy saying that this is the way it played for 1 week back in 1977 at a few theaters across the country. Cool! Romero saying he's OK with the Lion's Gate presentation is just entertainment biz lip-service. John Waters does the same thing when people ask him why New Line stupidly matted PINK FLAMINGOS and FEMALE TROUBLE, both severely cropping out hairdos, shoes, newspaper headlines, and other crucial info. Waters did not compose those films for 1.85:1, but he's not going to bad-mouth his bread-and-butter. DAWN OF THE DEAD had quite a large theatrical run so it's widescreen presentation makes a bit more sense. However, if Romero does actually prefer the film to be open matte, I agree with you, it SHOULD be presented that way, at least as a second option. I can tell you, though, I've seen DOTD in widescreen a hundred times and there are no shots in the film that look as severely cropped and tight and as "wrong" as those screencaps from Lion's Gate's MARTIN disc.

#18 of 67 OFFLINE   Charlie O.

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Posted November 23 2004 - 07:54 AM

Not to get off topic but I thought when when Criterion released the PINK FLAMINGOS LD, John Waters asked for it to be matted. Am I wrong?

#19 of 67 OFFLINE   JeffMc

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Posted November 23 2004 - 08:08 AM

Charlie: Really? If that's true, that was a seriously dumb request on his part. Why would he do that? On his commentary track on the matted DVD's, he makes reference to things that are matted out (Edith Massey's shoes, etc.) because he was obviously watching the open-matte version at the time. He talks in length about how he even found those shoes in that sequence, so to request a matted presentation that covers them up makes absolutely no sense. That's in reference to FEMALE TROUBLE, by the way, but there are similar occurences in PF. New Line did issue a restored VHS release of FT that is open-matte and looks 100 times better than it's DVD counterpart. It's OOP now, but worth looking for if you want to see the full image. It's the only version I would ever watch, but I do keep the DVD for the extras and the excellent commentary tracks. I may do the same with the Lion's Gate MARTIN disc just to get the extras.

#20 of 67 OFFLINE   Joe Karlosi

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Posted November 23 2004 - 08:43 AM

But so what? If they were shown "matted" in theatres in the '70s, then for all intents and purposes that means they were shown "improperly" (or in a less-than-"ideal" way) back then, too. I just don't understand the whole "this should be watched 1.85 as it was projected in theatres" argument for 4:3 movies that probably would have been better off shown that way when they were first released. You used CITIZEN KANE as an example. Are you saying that, if KANE had been projected in a less-than-ideal manner of 1.85 on a theatre screen in 1941, it would be fine to have it that way on DVD today?





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