Both The Muppet Movie & The Great Muppet Caper are “sister” DVD releases in that they mirror one another on most technical points such as image quality, sound quality, bonus feature, and in how they each compare to their corresponding Columbia Tristar DVD editions. For this reason, there’s much redundancy between my reviews of these two titles, so bear that in mind and don’t think that I just got lazy when, upon reading, you say to yourself, “Hey, this sounds almost the same as that other Muppet DVD review…”. The Great Muppet Caper review can be found here:
|The Muppet Movie...|
“Millions of people happy”
That’s what Jim Henson, through Kermit, set out to do.
I was privileged to view The Muppet Movie in a movie-house during its original theatrical run. As a young child I remember the audience filled with adults, laughing uproariously scene after scene while Henson’s satire delivered parodies of familiar movie-formulas with irreverent skill. While many of the jokes may seem a bit tame, or even a bit dry, to modern viewers, it’s important to keep in mind that movies like The Muppet Movie were the first films to play with these kinds of jokes so shamelessly…these jokes weren’t cliché when audiences were smitten with the giggles in 1979.
For those of you from a younger generation who find it difficult to view the Muppet Movie from the perspective of its historical context, realize that The Muppet Movie was the “Shrek” of its day—a family safe movie that kids could watch but parents could enjoy on a more adult level as the movie poked fun at the plot-gimmicks that many other films take seriously.
The Muppets did satire. The Muppets made fun of themselves. They played off of shameless gags. They gave famous actors cheesy 2-second cameos. They talked to the camera. They made millions of people happy.
I’m sure that those of you with the Columbia Tristar DVD editions of The Muppet Movie (and Muppet Caper) are really hopeful that the new Disney DVD edition might improve the inconsistent, and generally poor image quality of the previous disc. I’ve done some careful A/B comparing back and forth between the two versions and I think I’ve got a good handle on what’s different and what’s the same.
The image is a little better.
Columbia Tristar DVD Comparison:
It appears to my eyes that this DVD is sourced from the EXACT same print as the previous edition…I’d go so far as to say the exact-same film-tape transfer. In My opinion, the subtle (but appreciable) improvement I see follows the “My Fair Lady” methodology: a new DVD edition that does a better job with compression making a less digital, more analog looking result from the same film-tape transfer.
Colors look identical. Black-level, contrast, and film-grain are exactly the same…scenes that were clean in the previous DVD are clean on this edition, and scenes that were grainy in the previous edition are grainy here. The difference is where the older DVD looked “noisy” in an electronic, digital-sort-of-way, the new disc looks “grainy” more like a film. Fine object detail is also marginally improved, which impresses me.
I suspect that viewers with displays 27 inches or less, or those viewing from greater than 2 screen-widths, might not find the improvement in the image of the new disc noticeable; Those with large-screen displays or those viewing from closer than 1.75 screen widths might appreciate the subtle, but meaningful, improvement in digital mastering.
I had been hoping that Disney might uncover a better print of The Muppet Movie to source a new film-tape-transfer. I’m disappointed that no better print could be found (I’m assuming) as the elements for this transfer (just like the previous DVD) are inconsistent, and while some scenes are clean and natural, others look excessively grainy in a way that doesn’t seem to serve any artistic desire on the part of the director. Contrast is a bit flat, and the image rarely dips into deep blacks or vivid brights…lacking in strong dynamic range. Again, let me repeat that this is the nature of the film source and not the fault of poor digital mastering (which is handled quite well). Image detail isn’t Fifth-Element sharp, but it’s marginally more detailed than the previous disc and the image has a generally natural, film-like presence that’s refreshing to view. Colors are properly saturated and satisfyingly bold when appropriate. And allow me to praise Buena Vista regarding the lack of any distracting edge-ringing from over-applied EE.
Image Quality Summary:
Ok…so looks to my eyes that it’s got the same “film problems” of the original DVD, minus the “digital problems”. That makes this disc more comfortable on the eyes on my 106” screen, but how significant the improvement is in your own viewing environment may vary. I’d use the “My Fair Lady” DVD editions to be your guide…if you found that the newer DVD edition of that title brought an improvement in image quality to your system, then you’ll probably find a similar increase in image quality with Disney’s edition of The Muppet Movie.
Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE) or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.|
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
Yes, it’s better than the audio on the Columbia Tristar DVD…but not by much. It sounds like the same mix, sourced from the same elements, but with more top-end preserved giving a more open (and slightly brighter) sound. This is welcome as the audio on the Columbia DVD was dull and lifeless…sounding almost muffled as if the top end had been filtered off in some misguided attempt at noise-reduction to reduce hiss. Curiously, I notice no distracting hiss in the audio on the new disc and, while not producing miracles, the increase in frequency response on the new disc does make the audio much more listenable.
The audio, just like with The Great Muppet Caper, does not seem to have been “remixed” in any way from any source stems. Whether discrete music/dialogue/effects elements still exist I don’t know, but in any case they weren’t used here…the composite mix of the print/previous DVD edition has simply been presented with less high-frequency filtering so it sounds a little better than it did on the Columbia disc.
As with the video, the limiting factor with the audio is the source material…this DVD seems to “let the audio through” to its best potential outside of a complete remixing from discrete stems. For those of you who don’t already own the Columbia DVD, the general character of the sound is “fat mono” despite the 5.1 encoding flag lighting up the LED display on your receiver. Audio dynamic range is compressed. Bass response is more or less nil. Let’s face it, this movie was mixed/mastered for 1970’s theaters and it sounds like it. While I will continue to harbor the dream that some day this movie will appear on a home-video format with the musical numbers remixed from the stereo master used for the LP soundtrack, rest assured that this DVD isn’t making the audio sound any worse than it did when it rumbled through theaters in 1979…
Sound Quality: 3.5 / 5
Let me rephrase: Special Feature.
Ok, get used to this “special feature” because you’ll see it on all four of the Muppet DVD releases (Only Muppet Christmas Carol offers more). We get a “Pepe Profile” which, in the case of the Muppet Movie, profiles Kermit. It’s cute. It’s about 5 minutes long. It’s all you get. I don't think I'd be alone in saying that given the "50th Anniversary" status of this edition it would have been nice to have had a few more legitimate bonus features on this disc. A nice making-of documentary? A history of Kermit featurette?
Disney has brought to DVD what looks to my eyes to be a superior digital mastering of the same print/film-tape transfer used for Columbia’s previous DVD edition. While the same film-print related anomalies remain (such as inconsistent film grain), the layer of digital haze that obscured low-level picture detail in the previous DVD has been removed in this Disney DVD, which may improve the viewing experience for big-screen/wide-angle viewers (it did for me). The audio mix still suffers from “seventies-itis” and sounds dated, with limited fidelity as a result. However, Disney’s presentation includes a brighter, more open-top end which goes a long way to making the mix, which sounded dull and lifeless on the Columbia DVD, come alive with more detail and presence on this 50th Anniversary edition. Extras, I mean the extra, is slim. The lack of bonus material and subtle improvement in AV quality make this a tough recommendation for those of you who already own the Columbia DVD. Let me be so bold as to suggest that this Disney DVD edition is recommended to anyone who:
[b]A. Doesn’t already have the Columbia DVD
[b]B. Finds themselves annoyed by the overly-dull audio on Columbia DVD and/or was satisfied that the newer My Fair Lady DVD brought an improvement in AV quality that would have made that particular upgrade worthwhile.
The Muppet movie is creative. The Muppet Movie is fun. It’s movie magic. It made millions of people happy.
[b]RECOMMENDED for first-time Purchase