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HTF DVD REVIEW: Vertigo Special Edition - Highly Recommended



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#1 of 49 Kevin EK

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Posted October 19 2008 - 07:39 PM





VERTIGO
LEGACY SERIES SPECIAL EDITION

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Release Date: October 7, 2008

Rating: 4 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones
Written by: Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor
Based on the novel “D’Entre Les Morts” by: Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock




Vertigo is one of the most striking and memorable films in the canon of Alfred Hitchcock. Unabashedly romantic, the film still dares to show that its hero character has tendencies that can lead him to villainy. Jimmy Stewart, in one of his best performances, plays Scottie Ferguson, a police detective who resigns after developing an extreme case of acrophobia in the opening moments of the film. Much of the film then concerns his pursuit of a beautiful woman (Kim Novak) who may be the reincarnation of someone who lived a lifetime ago. There’s a lot of thematic material here about obsession – with death, with the idea of love, etc. – and Hitchock places the audience in a pretty uncomfortable position as he repeatedly gives us more information than he gives Stewart. Where the film gets its power (aside from some beautiful visual compositions and a powerful score by Bernard Hermann) is the realization that Scottie is so obsessed with creating and recreating the image of this beautiful woman that he fails to see the reality of the person in front of him. The film still has resonance today – it moves a little slower than the thrillers we see today, but it has more power than almost any current film.

The current DVD is a 2 Disc “Legacy Series” special edition, and is at least the third time this film has been released on DVD by Universal. An initial DVD edition was issued 10 years ago, showcasing the restoration done by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz with a non-anamorphic transfer but bracing it with a host of extras, including a group audio commentary and the AMC documentary “Obsessed with Vertigo", along with a “foreign censorship” alternate ending, trailers, production notes and archive materials. In 2005, a “Masterpiece Collection” of Hitchcock films was issued, including a copy of Vertigo with an anamorphic transfer. To my knowledge, this copy was not available separately – in order to get the anamorphic transfer, you had to buy the whole set of films. Now, for the 50th anniversary of the film, Universal has released the film again on its own. This time, the film is presented with the anamorphic transfer (I believe it’s the same one from 2005, but it may have been remastered since then), the original extras, and a few additional extras including a new commentary by William Friedkin, some featurettes on Hitchcock’s collaborators, audio excerpts from the Truffaut/Hitchcock interviews, and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by the master himself. ADDENDUM: The original mono soundtrack for the film has not been included with this edition. The 2.0 mono track indicated on the packaging is actually a downconversion of the 5.1 remix done by Harris and Katz for their restoration.

Fans of Vertigo who only have the original DVD release from 1998 will certainly want to pick this one up for the anamorphic transfer, although they should be aware the the original mono track is not included here. Fans who already have the 2005 collection should probably rent this first to check out the extras. And anyone who hasn’t seen this film needs to take two hours and watch it. On that idea, I’m sure we can all agree.


Posted ImageVIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½ /5Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image ½

Vertigo is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is easily head and shoulders above (bad pun for a film about an acrophobic person...) the quality seen on the 1998 edition. The colors are simply brighter and sharper, and it’s really a pleasure to watch. I should note that enthusiasts for the film (and Robert A. Harris) have discussed an error in the transfer of the film's opening title sequence. The color for that sequence is apparently off, and apparently was such on the 2005 Masterpiece Collection release. That aside, the transfer is still much better than what came before on an individual basis.

Posted ImageAUDIO QUALITY: 3/5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Vertigo is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English that spotlights Hermann’s score but replaces the original sound effects with new Foley work done in the 1990’s during the restoration process. (This is all shown in the “Obsessed with Vertigo documentary on the 2nd disc.) The mix is fine as far as I’m concerned in presenting the dialogue, the music and the general effect of the piece – I didn’t find the surrounds to be obtrusive here. This is a mostly frontal mix, as it should be. There is some music and a few effects in the surrounds, but nothing that jarred me. A 2.0 mono track is also included with the film, but it is not the original one from the film's theatrical release. Instead, it is a downconversion of the 5.1 mix. For some inexplicable reason, the original track cannot be found here.

Posted ImageSPECIAL FEATURES: 3 ½ /5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image ½

Vertigo comes with a host of special features, most of which date back to the 1998 release, but several of which are new, including a commentary with William Friedkin, a new batch of featurettes on Hitchock’s collaborators, an excerpt from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Case of Mr. Pelham”) directed by Hitchcock.

On the first disc, we find:

Feature Commentary by Associate Producer Herbert Coleman, Robert A. Harris, James C. Katz, with inserted comments by others including Samuel Taylor – This group commentary is the same one available since the laserdisc edition and the 1998 DVD. It’s mostly a scene-specific talk with Harris and Katz prodding Coleman for production stories, but there are several places where pre-recorded comments by other contributors are inserted. There’s a lot of information being passed back and forth here, so it’s a track you’ll really need to pay attention to, even at the expense of watching the film closely.

Feature Commentary by William Friedkin - NEW COMMENTARY – Friedkin sits down for a scene-specific commentary that has some information tucked in it, but mostly consists of Friedkin telling the story of the movie as it plays out. In some cases, Friedkin spoils later events of the film, and in other cases, he simply repeats what we already know. I didn’t find this to be a terribly rewarding commentary, but other viewers may get more from it.

Foreign Censorship Ending (2:08, Non-Anamorphic) – A brief epilogue for the film is included here, as it was on the earlier editions. This ending, shot to satisfy foreign exhibitors, features a radio broadcast indicating that the villain of the story will indeed be caught. This ending, of course, is completely superfluous.
The Vertigo Archives (9:44, Full Frame) – The archive of sketches and pictures from the 1998 DVD is preserved here. You can click through the various items in the usual fashion.

Production Notes – The original production notes from the 1998 DVD are preserved here. You can click through them in the usual fashion.

Trailers – (2:29 and 1:23, Full Frame) - As on the 1998 DVD, the trailers for the original release and the restoration edition are both included here.

On the second disc, we find:

Obsessed with VERTIGO: New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece (29:16, Full Frame) – The AMC documentary from 1997 is once again included. It’s still an effective, informative examination of both the making of the film, and the restoration of the materials by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. Interview material is intercut with footage from the film, video of the restoration work, and examples of how the restoration improved the picture quality.

Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators – (54:51 total, Anamorphic) - NEW FEATURETTES – These new anamorphic featurettes focus on four different people who were a key part of Hitchcock’s creative life: Saul Bass (titles), Edith Head (costumes), Bernard Hermann (musical score), and of course, Alma Reville, Hitchcock’s wife and companion throughout his life.

Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview Excerpts (14:17, Anamorphic) – NEW FEATURE - Audio from the famous interviews is included here, specifically excerpts pertaining to Vertigo. The audio is played over anamorphic clips from the film that can illustrate exactly what the filmmakers are talking about, with Hermann’s score playing for background mood.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Case of Mr. Pelham” (25:34, Full Frame, Black & White) – An episode of Hitchock’s anthology series is included here for good measure. This segment, directed by Hitchcock and starring Tom Ewell, concerns a man dealing with some of the same issues of duality, reality, madness and obsession that the film tackles.



Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.


IN THE END...

Vertigo finally gets an individual anamorphic release for its 50th Anniversary, coupled with some additional extras to make the package more interesting for anyone who picked up the earlier editions. If the viewer only has the 1998 DVD, I recommend an upgrade to this one. If the viewer already has the 2005 collection, I’d recommend a rental to check out the new materials. And if the viewer has not seen this film, I recommend putting everything down and watching it, for goodness’ sake. While the information given me regarding the original mono track's non-presence here, as well as the error in the title coloring, is compelling and disappointing, it does not deter me from recommending this edition for those people who have not seen the film before on DVD, or who only have the original non-anamorphic release. In the event that a revision of this edition becomes available with the mono track, or with a correction for the main titles, I'll be the first to recommend that people seek an exchange. In the absence of such a revision, I must stay with what I have in hand.


Kevin Koster
October 19, 2008. (Revised October 26, 2008)



#2 of 49 James 'Tiger' Lee

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Posted October 19 2008 - 09:11 PM

No offence, but if you took the trouble to research this very forum, you'll see that this DVD does NOT have the original mono track. What it has is the 5.1 remix, new sounds and all, converted into 2.0 audio.

Universal's claim that the DVD has mono is therefore false advertising, and I hope your review will be ammended to acknowledge this

#3 of 49 MarcoBiscotti

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Posted October 19 2008 - 09:54 PM

No sale for me given the above information...

#4 of 49 WilliamMcK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 01:49 AM

Since I'm the one who originally posted about the lack of the 1958 mono track I have to ask--did you listen to both tracks? And if you did would you do me the favor of going back and just watching and listening to the opening rooftop chase again and confirm for me that the second English language track is from 1958 and not 1996. It's easy to tell the difference: the 1958 track will have single gunshots; whereas the 1996 track will have a doubling or ricochet effect.

Since yours is an official review for a significant web site, I think it's important to be accurate here. If in fact the *original* mono track is included on your set I suppose this means I can exchange my copy for a correct pressing, which is good news. However, if your copy does not include the original track your review is doing a disservice to the movie community in general and to Hitchcock/Vertigo fans in particular. Regardless of one's preference for either the original 1958 or the 1996 reconstructed sound track, I think we can all agree that it is important to make *both* tracks readily available. By not recognizing the gaffe, you give Universal a free pass to release the film in future formats without its original sound track: not a good thing for those of us who care about movie history.

Apologies for my obsessive pedantry regarding this movie--but then why would you expect a fan of Vertigo to be any other way. :-)

#5 of 49 Kevin EK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 02:13 AM

James, I appreciate your response. But please recheck the other thread and you'll find my post there. And please note that Universal has at no time said that the mono track on this DVD is the original mix, so calling it false advertising is not completely accurate either. (What got WB in trouble with the Superman release in 06 was that they had said it was the original sound mix, and it was clearly a downmix of the new one from 2000. So they appropriately re-issued the disc and sent exchanges to many people, including me.)

The reason I said I can't confirm that it's not the original mix is that I cannot locate a DVD or VHS tape with that mix. I have tried for three weeks to do so, but have had no luck. (I have the VHS of the restored version, but nothing else to base a comparison.) I don't feel comfortable conclusively stating what the mix is until I can listen to the original mix myself. Once I can do that, I'll be happy to adjust the review accordingly.

There's another factor we should all keep in mind here. Unless I'm mistaken, Vertigo has not been available in anamorphic widescreen outside of the Masterpiece Collection set. As an individual purchase, it is my understanding that you could only get it the 1998 release with the non-anamorphic transfer. That's pretty significant for me, as I'm watching the film on a display that will make great use of it. If we're comparing to the Masterpiece Collection, I hear you that it isn't a real visual difference. But for those of us, myself included, who did not get that set, and who would prefer to get the film on its own, I honestly think this is a significant difference, and a reason by itself to pick this title up.

You're certainly entitled to the opinion that the title is not worth picking up on the basis of the mono mix, but I would hope that you would take the other factors here into consideration.

#6 of 49 Kevin EK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 02:15 AM

William, yes the bullets have the doubling effect even on the mono track. I listened to the opening chase all the way through. You guys are probably correct that this is a downmix, but I'd rather hear the original mix on another disc or tape before I conclusively say it. I agree with you that I don't want to be making blanket statements without knowing for sure.

I do feel that referring to my review as being a disservice to the film community is an unfortunate statement. I understand where the sentiment comes from, but I do put a good deal of time and attention to my work here, and I don't believe I have earned that comment.

#7 of 49 Neal K

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Posted October 20 2008 - 03:25 AM

WHY would they have a MONO downmix of the redone stereo track? Even if they were trying to help out those with only a two channel setup, it would be a 2 channel STEREO downmix, don't you think? That leads me to conclude that Universal THOUGHT they were providing the original mono track and that several people were asleep at several points in this process, and that the thousands of us out here that would recognize the overwhelmingly overbalanced added foley from the recent version weren't there to catch the gaffe. So now what do they do? Rather than repress the disc for a WB style replacement program (sure makes you appreciate WB, eh?), now they say they never claimed that track was intended to be the ORIGINAL mono track? Give me a break!! I'm sorry, but this propensity for Universal to keep releasing these titles over and over with SOME aspect improved (anamorphic for those without the previous boxed set release) and others degraded is a maddening combination of marketing chutzpah and just plain incompetence! Same thing with the original "Dracula". Their continued arrogance regarding proofing their finished product before release and refusal to correct gaffes does not bode well for the anticipated eighth and ninth dip for these films on BD.

#8 of 49 WilliamMcK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 03:51 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Neal K
WHY would they have a MONO downmix of the redone stereo track? Even if they were trying to help out those with only a two channel setup, it would be a 2 channel STEREO downmix, don't you think?


I can't speak for Kevin's review copy, but the copy I purchased doesn't have a mono down mix, but a stereo 2.0 down mix. On the audio menu page it's labeled simply as "English" (as opposed to the default track which is labeled "English 5.1"). On the Masterpiece Collection disc the second audio option is labeled "English 2.0 mono." I'd bet that your supposition about "someone falling asleep at the switch" is right on the nose. I wonder if this is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Perhaps Universal thought they were responding to complaints that the mono track on their Masterpiece Collection Vertigo was in bad shape (it is... but I still prefer it to the 1996 botch). But instead of cleaning up the original mono track they simply created a down mix of the DTS track. Oh... who knows! I wish we could get a release of this very important movie that didn't have these stupid gaffes. At least every couple of years those of us in the NYC area can rely on the American Museum of the Moving Image to screen its original IB Technicolor print in glorious monaural sound (Vertigo works best projected via celluloid on to a big screen anyway).

#9 of 49 James 'Tiger' Lee

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Posted October 20 2008 - 04:47 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin EK
James, I appreciate your response. But please recheck the other thread and you'll find my post there. And please note that Universal has at no time said that the mono track on this DVD is the original mix, so calling it false advertising is not completely accurate either. (What got WB in trouble with the Superman release in 06 was that they had said it was the original sound mix, and it was clearly a downmix of the new one from 2000. So they appropriately re-issued the disc and sent exchanges to many people, including me.)

The reason I said I can't confirm that it's not the original mix is that I cannot locate a DVD or VHS tape with that mix. I have tried for three weeks to do so, but have had no luck. (I have the VHS of the restored version, but nothing else to base a comparison.) I don't feel comfortable conclusively stating what the mix is until I can listen to the original mix myself. Once I can do that, I'll be happy to adjust the review accordingly.

There's another factor we should all keep in mind here. Unless I'm mistaken, Vertigo has not been available in anamorphic widescreen outside of the Masterpiece Collection set. As an individual purchase, it is my understanding that you could only get it the 1998 release with the non-anamorphic transfer. That's pretty significant for me, as I'm watching the film on a display that will make great use of it. If we're comparing to the Masterpiece Collection, I hear you that it isn't a real visual difference. But for those of us, myself included, who did not get that set, and who would prefer to get the film on its own, I honestly think this is a significant difference, and a reason by itself to pick this title up.

You're certainly entitled to the opinion that the title is not worth picking up on the basis of the mono mix, but I would hope that you would take the other factors here into consideration.

It is false advertising. Mono would lead anyone curious to assume it is the original audio

And Vertigo has had an anamorphic dvd in the UK since 2000

#10 of 49 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted October 20 2008 - 04:53 AM

I suspect it is much closer to a production error than false advertising, but Universal is so traditionally mum about stuff like this when it surfaces that the difference seems academic. Hopefully, they will do right by their customers like they did with the Back to the Future and Jurassic Park DTS discs.

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#11 of 49 Thane101

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Posted October 20 2008 - 05:27 AM

I still don't see why they didn't just release this on Blu-ray. After seeing what an HD transfer of Vertigo looks like I can't settle for anything less.

See for yourself...
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#12 of 49 BillyFeldman

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Posted October 20 2008 - 05:35 AM

And why no mention of the mis-colored opening of the main titles? Sorry, if this release is being compared to the non-anamorphic release of 1998, it's really not an apt comparison, as the Masterpiece Collection DVD has been available for several years, and that's the only one it should really be compared to - Hitchcock fans will have picked that up - and from what I understand the same master was used, but this new transfer looks a bit sharper.

As to the sound - you don't need to wait to amend your review - too many people have confirmed that the original mono track, included on the Masterpiece Collection DVD, is not on this new DVD.

#13 of 49 PaulP

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Posted October 20 2008 - 06:54 AM

I have the MC box and this, and other re-releases, sound very unnecessary. Sure, I would like to have seen the new featurettes, and some of them sound very interesting and lengthy, but I can't see double-dipping just for those, when the a/v improvements are either miniscule or simply not there.

#14 of 49 Carter of Mars

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Posted October 20 2008 - 07:16 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin EK
The reason I said I can't confirm that it's not the original mix is that I cannot locate a DVD or VHS tape with that mix. I have tried for three weeks to do so, but have had no luck. (I have the VHS of the restored version, but nothing else to base a comparison.) I don't feel comfortable conclusively stating what the mix is until I can listen to the original mix myself. Once I can do that, I'll be happy to adjust the review accordingly.
Here's the opening scene in mono. You can compare it to the DVD 2.0 track and this should convince you that the new DVD is incorrect.

YouTube - Vertigo - mono opening scene

#15 of 49 Kevin EK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 08:04 AM

John Carter, thank you for the submission. When I get home from the day job and can concentrate on that, I'll take a listen.

Billy, the reason I didn't go into what the coloration was for the titles is that, again, I don't have a comparison copy to judge at this time. (And I'm not about to use my VHS of the restored version as a model.) I tried over three weeks to rent another copy of this title for comparison purposes and finally went ahead with the review 12 days after it hit the street. If you say there's a color issue in the titles, I don't dispute it. I only know that the transfer I watched on this DVD was superior to what I have seen in the past, and is certainly an improvement over the only other individually available DVD of this title.

William McK, I did not notice any stereo effects on the 2.0 track, but I'll be happy to check that again. I agree with the other posters that if the mono track is the 5.1 downmixed, then it's likely a matter of a production error rather than someone deliberately trying to mislead the public.

James, I'll try to reclarify here. I didn't know about the UK edition of Vertigo being available in anamorphic - primarily because in order to play that title I believe you'd need an All-region player since it would be encoded for Region 2. I was specifically referring to editions of this title available and playable on machines here.

Guys, I appreciate all your input here, but I feel like I've opened a wound for everyone and I'm turning into a pincushion. I recommended this title because I love the film and I'm happy to see a decent transfer of it, with some attention to adding something for the consumer. Granted, the title is a triple-dip - but that assumes that all Hitchcock fans bought the Masterpiece Collection. I didn't. And there are many others who didn't. If they didn't, and the only copy of this film that they have is a non-anamorphic transfer, I don't think this is an unreasonable purchase.

That said, if errors have been made along the lines of Superman or Back to the Future, I agree that they should be addressed, and I'll be happy to amend my review to note the same.

#16 of 49 PaulP

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Posted October 20 2008 - 08:25 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin EK
Granted, the title is a triple-dip - but that assumes that all Hitchcock fans bought the Masterpiece Collection. I didn't. And there are many others who didn't. If they didn't, and the only copy of this film that they have is a non-anamorphic transfer, I don't think this is an unreasonable purchase.

But why wouldn't you? It's an amazing value, and a comprehensive collection.

#17 of 49 WilliamMcK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 08:42 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin EK
Guys, I appreciate all your input here, but I feel like I've opened a wound for everyone and I'm turning into a pincushion. I recommended this title because I love the film and I'm happy to see a decent transfer of it, with some attention to adding something for the consumer. Granted, the title is a triple-dip - but that assumes that all Hitchcock fans bought the Masterpiece Collection. I didn't. And there are many others who didn't. If they didn't, and the only copy of this film that they have is a non-anamorphic transfer, I don't think this is an unreasonable purchase.

That said, if errors have been made along the lines of Superman or Back to the Future, I agree that they should be addressed, and I'll be happy to amend my review to note the same.

I understand the recommendation... and I also understand why some would be reluctant to shell out for the boxed set (it was a no-brainer for me, despite limited funds... but that's because I love Hitchcock... were I casual fan, I doubt I would have made the investment under my then [and current] budgetary limitations). But assuming my copy of the Legacy edition wasn't a mis-pressed anomaly, I'd like to see the major caveat appended to the review (and a note about the mis-colored face during the main title sequence too) ... but of course it's your review!

#18 of 49 BillyFeldman

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Posted October 20 2008 - 08:44 AM

The incorrectly tinted main title problem was on the Masterpiece Collection - someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the monochromatic correct look on the original 1998 release (I don't have it anymore)? Also, a simple query to Robert Harris would enable you to get correct information and amend your review.

#19 of 49 Kevin EK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 09:19 AM

I'll send a message to Robert Harris.

Do I still face a firing squad at noon?

#20 of 49 WilliamMcK

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Posted October 20 2008 - 10:09 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BillyFeldman
The incorrectly tinted main title problem was on the Masterpiece Collection - someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the monochromatic correct look on the original 1998 release (I don't have it anymore)? Also, a simple query to Robert Harris would enable you to get correct information and amend your review.

Yes, the first (non-anamorphic) DVD release has the correct monochromatic look to the face during the credits. I've held on to it for that reason alone (even occasionally popping it into the player).


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