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A few words about...™ The Stunt Man -- in Blu-ray

A Few Words About

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#1 of 21 ONLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted June 09 2011 - 07:52 AM

From the time of the earliest HD and Blu-ray releases several years ago, to the latest digital productions and well-produced image harvests of catalog titles, the quality bar keeps getting raised.


I'm always hopeful, that, title by title, quality will be held, images will be well harvested from the proper film elements, and when necessary the resultant data will be reasonably, if not meticulously cleaned.


The Stunt Man, filmmaker Richard Rush's 1980 look into the insanity of the filmmaking process, is a personal favorite from all perspectives, inclusive of the wonderful turn by Mr. O'Toole.  The Stunt Man is right up there with The Ruling Class.


Did I mention that I'm always hopeful that things will have been done correctly?


Here they were not.


From the selection/availability of the film element used, to the way that the image was harvested, the handling of the data after that harvest, everything seems to have been performed in a very okay ("let's get it done and move on") fashion.  Working from a dupe, wear, dirt (both positive and negative), detritus and misc. emulsion scars are present, big as life, in glorious Blu-ray high definition, six times that of standard.


Wonderful film.


But here with just acceptable color, highlights that seem off, possibly because of the generation, and a myriad of other ills, this Stunt Man, is a wonderfully pedestrian Blu-ray of a film that deserves far better treatment.


Worth holding off purchasing in the hope that someone else might take the rights and do a proper job, especially at a $20 street price.  As an aside, audio is compressed.


RAH


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#2 of 21 ONLINE   Charles Smith

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Posted June 09 2011 - 08:22 AM

(Oh man, I love "The Ruling Class".)


But as to this:  Ouch.  What a disappointment.

Glad I have the DVD set, at least, because I need to get back into this film to learn and savor it a thousand times better than I did in my single viewing long ago.





#3 of 21 OFFLINE   Hollywoodaholic

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Posted June 09 2011 - 08:27 AM

Not to be missed if you love the magic (and trickery) of cinema. But how likely are to ever see a Criterion or other upgraded version of a cult film like this? Let's take what we can get. And don't forget to mention several short and new HD extras.



#4 of 21 OFFLINE   WinstonCely

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Posted June 09 2011 - 01:15 PM

Well this stinks!  This is one of my favorites as well, and one I wanted to upgrade to Blu-ray.  Unfortunately, it looks like I won't be.


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#5 of 21 ONLINE   Charles Smith

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Posted June 09 2011 - 03:28 PM

If there's new stuff on it I'll have to go for it.  But I was inspired to sample the DVD tonight, and -- perhaps the Chardonnay was influencing the judges -- but I found it looking fantastic.  One way or another, though, I will immerse myself in this movie.




#6 of 21 OFFLINE   FoxyMulder

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Posted June 10 2011 - 03:16 AM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

From the time of the earliest HD and Blu-ray releases several years ago, to the latest digital productions and well-produced image harvests of catalog titles, the quality bar keeps getting raised.


I'm always hopeful, that, title by title, quality will be held, images will be well harvested from the proper film elements, and when necessary the resultant data will be reasonably, if not meticulously cleaned.


The Stunt Man, filmmaker Richard Rush's 1980 look into the insanity of the filmmaking process, is a personal favorite from all perspectives, inclusive of the wonderful turn by Mr. O'Toole.  The Stunt Man is right up there with The Ruling Class.


Did I mention that I'm always hopeful that things will have been done correctly?


Here they were not.


From the selection/availability of the film element used, to the way that the image was harvested, the handling of the data after that harvest, everything seems to have been performed in a very okay ("let's get it done and move on") fashion.  Working from a dupe, wear, dirt (both positive and negative), detritus and misc. emulsion scars are present, big as life, in glorious Blu-ray high definition, six times that of standard.


Wonderful film.


But here with just acceptable color, highlights that seem off, possibly because of the generation, and a myriad of other ills, this Stunt Man, is a wonderfully pedestrian Blu-ray of a film that deserves far better treatment.


Worth holding off purchasing in the hope that someone else might take the rights and do a proper job, especially at a $20 street price.  As an aside, audio is compressed.


RAH




I guess they don't want my money.


Any chance you could take a look at Vera Cruz, i know its been reviewed at this site already but i'd like your take on it too.


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#7 of 21 OFFLINE   Cassy_w

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Posted June 10 2011 - 04:47 AM

Such a strange film. It doesn't work for me at all because we all know now that big giant complex action pieces are shot in tiny pieces, not all at once. So when I first saw the film I kept laughing at it, knowing it was preposterous. I couldn't take it seriously at all.

A shame the Blu-Ray release is substandard. No doubt it will never have another.



Death to PG-13! And now death to DVNR too!!

#8 of 21 OFFLINE   David Wilkins

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Posted June 10 2011 - 08:16 AM

No sale. I have plenty to watch and purchase already.


#9 of 21 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted June 10 2011 - 09:18 AM


Already sold my AB disc (I think I had #76,407/100000, so I had to think twice about parting with it). I picked up the new Bd last night. The 'up'grade cost about $4.

I went through this whole process after seeing some screencaps that looked a bit dodgy to me, and some that looked just fine- along with generally positive reviews here and there.


I have no intention right now of selling off the Bd to re-buy the AB set, so I will have to watch this and (Good Lord! Choke!) make up my own mind about it.

Last review I read said they upscaled the previous sets standard features so that material is now hogging space/bit rates that could have been allocated to the main feature. Oh well.

For as much as I watch the film, it will most likely be fine, I'm sure.



#10 of 21 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted June 12 2011 - 02:07 PM



Originally Posted by Paul_Scott 


For as much as I watch the film, it will most likely be fine, I'm sure.


The BD isn't a great transfer, but it's a slight improvement over the DVD, and the many extras make it well worth the small amount you paid to upgrade.



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#11 of 21 ONLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted June 13 2011 - 12:02 AM

I want to make the point, once again, that the overriding concept of Blu-ray, what it is, and what it should be, is not to improve upon or be a bit better than standard definition.  Extra features, if any, should stand on their own.


The concept of Blu-ray is very simple.


To replicate the theatrical experience in a home environment.


This begins with the selection of film elements from which to harvest image and audio, the proper handling of those elements toward the harvest, proper color timing, a reasonable clean-up of the data, removing anything that was not originally part of the image, and finally compression and authoring which create a positive experience.


I'm not specifically referencing any of the comments in this thread.  Merely reminding readers.


And this is why The Stunt Man on Blu-ray is a technical failure of a superb entertainment.


Creating a proper Blu-ray should not fall in line with miracles.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#12 of 21 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted June 13 2011 - 05:40 AM


No, you're right. I checked this out the other night and there is definitely something wonky going on.

All the exterior shots look jaundiced- almost like the yellow problem with the Searchers- and there also looks to be some odd tweaking with the gamma curve.

It's probably all wrapped up in the image harvest as you say. The 'grain' in some shots looks very much like the grain in some of the Blue Underground titles which to me looks very artifical- however I've seen it speculated that that also is an issue with the how the particular scanners used handled the elements (and the trouble they have resolving grain), rather than a case of digital noise being introduced after the fact to simulate grain (which is what it looked like to me).


I wish I had kept the AB disc to compare, because this really does look like it went off the rails. I never saw the film theatrically, so I have no preconceptions about it- although when I look at the trailers on the same disc, the clips there appear far more natural and film-like in just about every respect- color, contrast, etc. The feature is sharper with more resolved fine detail, but simply doesn't look natural in comparison.

You're the first person that seems to have panned this release, so I thought the odds were better than not that I would find your issues with it much ado about little- but no.

This is definitely one of the lesser representations of a film in my Bd collection. A shame since this isn't likely to be revisited anytime soon.


The concept of Blu-ray is very simple.


To replicate the theatrical experience in a home environment.


Yes. I agree absolutely. Which is why it bugs me how often filmmakers get a pass to go back and revise their films via new digital color grading. I realize from your standpoint these are likely two separate issues, however from mine- both these things -improper harvesting of elements and the global manipulations and changes to the images- have the result of creating an artificial feel to the presentation to me. Which honestly kills a lot of my enthusiasm for this format.


DVD never reached the heights that Bd is capable of when everything aligns properly- but it also never seemed to be as frustrating as this format has been over the last 5 years.



#13 of 21 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 13 2011 - 03:51 PM

One of my favorite films. Here are my $.02 which are probably worth less than that next to Mr. Harris' comments...


EDIT: I just read RAH's 2nd comment.  I must have scrolled right past it.  Apologies for the following, but since there have been several posts comparing the Blu-ray with the DVD, I felt compelled to contribute the following...


I found the Blu-ray to be a substantial upgrade over the Anchor Bay DVD.  This should be a given, but alas, it's not the case sometimes.  On larger screens, the DVD just barely holds together, trying to resolve the grain within clumps of mosquito noise - but it was a great disc in its day.  The Blu-ray, thankfully, has not been DNR'd excessively (if at all) and no contrast boosting/edge enhancement is visible, at least on my 92in Stewart screen.  In fact, these two points alone - for me - are cause for celebration.  Which might be a sad statement, actually.


The Severin Blu-ray should have gone thru a dirt removal pass - I agree that it's rather blemished.  However, this was not as distracting as I was expecting, but no excuses - it should have been cleaned up.  I mentioned in Richard's HTF review thread that I'm reminded of the Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray from a couple years ago - another fine film released to Blu-ray by an indy shop likely limited by resources and/or budget.  In fact, I found the analog artifacts on that release far more distracting than those seen in The Stunt Man Blu-ray.

Does it replicate the theatrical experience for this particular film?  I don't think I'll ever know, so I'll defer to RAH's expertise as to how The Stunt Man should have been brought to Blu-ray and how it should look.  When the Blu-ray was announced, the first two things that crossed my mind were:  I hope they're able to resolve the grain without DNR (it's a gritty film, particularly the opticals during the opening credit sequence), and I hope they don't re-sharpen or contrast boost the inherently soft, dreamy images after they knock out the grain.  For me, these are two key requirements for replicating a general theatrical experience in my home, and in these areas, I think Severin made the right choices.


The most distracting thing for me is the odd pale blue-greenish palor over many scenes.  The previous Anchor Bay disc was warmer and had stronger dark blues and reds.  Now, I've read this current transfer is "director approved," so who knows...?


I've loved this film since I was a kid.  Basically since the pay TV service OnTV premiered it in 1981, a few months after the film was supposed to have had its theatrical release.  I've also seen it on VHS in the 80s, the 4:3 laserdisc from FOX in the 1990s, the Anchor Bay DVD in 2001 and now the Blu-ray.  I wish I was at the New Beverly last December when it was screened in 35mm; would have loved to finally see it theatrically.  Nonetheless, when I now want to revisit The Stunt Man on my HT setup, I will reach for the current Blu-ray until a new, improved version comes along.  Which reminds me...

I emailed Jon Mulvaney at Criterion back in 1995 or thereabouts asking about the possibility of Criterion obtaining the rights to The Stunt Man and giving it their treatment (for laserdisc).  Jon's reply was basically that this was a title they were looking into, but no news to report.  Then 5 or 6 years later Anchor Bay released their DVD and 10 years later now the ball is in Severin's court.  I would love to see a better representation of The Stunt Man in HD; however, I just don't think I'll see it happen within the next decade or so.  I hope I'm wrong.


Did I mention how much I love this film?  I just hope the critical comments here (including my own) will not prevent folks from checking out this wonderful film.



#14 of 21 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted June 14 2011 - 02:14 PM

Felix, your response is similar to mine. One of the challenges facing reviewers is whether to recommend a Blu-ray title which has significant flaws. Robert Harris knows what could have been done and what should have been done, and he rightly calls out a release which falls short of the mark, particularly when it is a film as significant as The Stunt Man. However, the members here who read reviews and already own the DVD want to know, among other things, if the Blu-ray represents an upgrade, even if it is an imperfect upgrade.


Had it not been for the new extras, I would have recommended that fans of the film hold onto the DVD. When I do an A/B comparison between a DVD and a BD, I expect to be dazzled by the BD. That obviously didn't happen in this case. I also could not detect any significant difference between the 5.1 soundtrack on the BD and the DTS soundtrack on the DVD.


To put it into clearer perspective, those who own the standard edition 2001 DVD are getting a significant upgrade in extras. The upgrade is less impressive for those who own the Limited Edition DVD, because the Limited Edition contains the documentary "The Sinister Saga." That still leaves new featurettes with Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Alex Rocco, and Barbara Hershey, the Q&A session at the New Beverly, and the retrospective look at Richard Rush's career.


As a reviewer, though, my recommendation (pro or con) is less important than giving a fair assessment of the product. The includes the quality of the film itself, the video, the audio, the extras and the packaging. In other words, give the members enough information to make a decision based upon their own priorities.


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#15 of 21 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 16 2011 - 05:44 AM

Fans of the film should hold onto the DVD for the DVD-ROM inclusion of the screenplay, script notes, and structural notes by Rush.  Or at least hold onto those files before retiring their discs.


Here's an excerpt from the script notes:

The buzzard scene: My recollection is that after discussion this scene was acceptable to all. However, BL script shows a note saying, "Eliminate scene or change dialogue."   If this is still in contention, I reject the suggestion on the following basis: it became apparent that because the first twelve pages of the script bombarded the audience with such incredible rapid-fire action, (a police chase, fight with the lineman, encounter with the Duesenberg, explosion on the beach, rescue of the old lady), we were in danger of misleading the audience into thinking they were seeing "Batman." And so we opened the picture with a sense of allegory in order to create the right frame of mind for the audience and to set up what will evolve as the basic theme for the film:  

  • Man's universal panic and paranoia, born out of an inability to control his own destiny, to even understand the ground rules by which he is supposed to play. In his fretful search for meaning, he accepts ritual, invents purpose, creates enemies to test his strength against. Cameron's nightmare adventure is like the nightmare uncertainty of our lives. Try as we may to avoid the thought, there is always the strong suspicion we're playing with a stacked deck. This is the delicate fabric from which our reality is cut and why it is sometimes difficult to distinguish truth from illusion.
  Isn't Cameron like that buzzard, trying to escape one danger by flying into a greater one? Isn't the pilot of the helicopter like Cameron, assuming the bird was trying to kill him? Aren't the random events of our lives like pinballs bouncing in the machine, we try to control them with body English and silent prayers -- in the hopes of winning another free game?


Isn't that fantastic?


I have reached out to Severin to get additional info on the element, transfer, etc. and the extent of Mr. Rush's involvement.  If I get a response, I'll circle back here and share the info.



#16 of 21 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted August 12 2013 - 05:33 AM

I have reached out to Severin to get additional info on the element, transfer, etc. and the extent of Mr. Rush's involvement.  If I get a response, I'll circle back here and share the info.

I'm coming up on my annual viewing of one of my favorite films.  I never did hear back from Severin, but based on this interview with director Richard Rush (6 minutes into the video he discusses the blu-ray), he was very involved with the transfer.



#17 of 21 OFFLINE   FoxyMulder

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Posted August 12 2013 - 07:35 AM

The blu ray is a clear upgrade in image detail over the DVD, if that's all you want, if the director approved it then i guess this is how he wants it, i'm not saying it's correct as to the theatrical look, someone else can answer that, perhaps its changed substantially, no idea, but i doubt we will get better on blu ray if the director wants it to look like this.


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#18 of 21 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted August 20 2013 - 03:28 PM

The blu ray is a clear upgrade in image detail over the DVD, if that's all you want, if the director approved it then i guess this is how he wants it, i'm not saying it's correct as to the theatrical look, someone else can answer that, perhaps its changed substantially, no idea, but i doubt we will get better on blu ray if the director wants it to look like this.

I don't like the color of the blu-ray.  I kept the LE DVD which had the right color (for me), but when I want to watch the film, it's the blu-ray, with a custom color setting on my projector; ridiculous, I know.  Alas, that interview with Richard Rush makes a re-dux/re-release on blu-ray unlikely.


Edited by Felix Martinez, August 20 2013 - 03:34 PM.


#19 of 21 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted August 20 2013 - 03:31 PM

...i'm not saying it's correct as to the theatrical look, someone else can answer that, perhaps its changed substantially, no idea, but i doubt we will get better on blu ray if the director wants it to look like this.

I think very few people saw it theatrically, but you're right.  As for me, I can point to the exact dates and times I saw this as a wide-eyed 13 year-old on ON TV in 1981...

 

Stunt_Man001.jpg


Edited by Felix Martinez, August 20 2013 - 03:34 PM.


#20 of 21 OFFLINE   ahollis

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Posted August 20 2013 - 04:37 PM

Played THE STUNT MAN in Theatres back in 1980 and recall a golden tint to the daytime scenes. The interior and night scenes, were a little dull but that was the scheme for films made in the late 70's. I vividly remember the opening shot of Railsback escaping in cuffs and how golden a hue it was. It did seem to glow. Right down to the vulture.

I have the DVD and think I'll hang on to it.
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