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While we wait for a full HTF Blu-ray Review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection Blu-ray Limited Edition - Recommended



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#1 of 34 Kevin EK

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Posted October 29 2012 - 07:52 PM

While we wait for a full HTF Blu-ray review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection Blu-ray Limited Edition.  And it is RECOMMENDED for purchase, albeit with some qualifications…







With thanks again to Robert A. Harris for the use of his apropos title, I’m going to post these first reactions to the Universal Blu-ray set of fifteen Alfred Hitchcock movies so that readers can have as much information in front of them before tomorrow’s street date. As I only received the review copy last Tuesday at work and there are many, many things to go through here, I have not had time to go through the extensive extras to be found on every one of the 15 discs. That summation, which must run through all of the bonus materials and discuss from whence they all come (most derive from the earlier DVD releases, and some go all the way back to laserdisc) will be coming next weekend.


In the meantime, I think it’s important that readers have my evaluations of the picture quality of the discs in this set. To this end,

I brought the discs over to Joe Kane Productions this past Saturday afternoon and spent over eight hours examining the contents on Joe’s professional grade system. I’m grateful to Joe for giving me the opportunity to do so, and I thank him for his generosity, graciousness and for his good counsel. For the record, Joe’s system is the Samsung SP-A 900, an HD projector that he designed, and the screen is a Daylight Affinity .9 Gamma that is 90” (7 ½ feet wide), also of his design. Joe’s system is calibrated to the nth degree, and is set up to allow whatever information is on a Blu-ray disc to be transmitted to the screen and speakers at around 90% - meaning that the system passes through the information without trying to reinterpret the signal. Sitting comfortably at a distance of approximately 8 feet from the 90” screen, Joe and I were able to evaluate all 15 discs as projected. I also brought along for comparison purposes the 2009 Warner Bros 50th Anniversary Blu-ray of North By Northwest and the 2010 Universal 50th Anniversary Blu-ray of Psycho.


The short version of this evaluation is that I’m going to Recommend this set for purchase, based on the strength of ten of the fifteen discs in the set. I cannot make this a Highly Recommended set, due to picture quality issues with the other five discs – Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, Torn Curtain and Family Plot. But fans of the other ten movies, including Rear Window, Vertigo and The Birds, are going to have a great time with this set. The movies on several of the discs look very, very good, and are worth being sought out, particularly as it is unlikely that any but the most popular of these movies will see individual non-box set releases.


I’m going to say in general that the sound on all the movies is quite good.  I didn’t have a problem hearing or understanding the dialogue, and the music and sound effects come across quite well.  The sound on The Birds is particularly good, but that should be no surprise to anyone who knows that movie well.


Let’s take the discs in order:



DISC ONE: SABOTEUR


VIDEO QUALITY 5/5

Saboteur is presented in an AVC 1.33:1 transfer (@ 30 mbps) that is truly a pleasure to watch. 


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Saboteur is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that brings the music and dialogue clearly to the speakers.  No problems here.



DISC TWO: SHADOW OF A DOUBT


VIDEO QUALITY 5/5

Shadow of a Doubt is presented in a VC-1 1.33:1 transfer (@ 32 mbps) that is once again, a pleasure to watch.   There is a bit more damage visible in the picture, likely reflecting scratches and other issues on the negative.  There is also a brief moment of pulsing that happens around 17:41 as Charlie’s train arrives, but I understand this to be an issue on the negative and not a problem with the transfer.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Shadow of a Doubt is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that, again, presents the dialogue as clearly as one could want.



DISC THREE:  ROPE


VIDEO QUALITY 3/5

Rope is presented in an AVC 1.33:1 transfer (@ 32 mbps) that has a problem that may or may not be an issue for some viewers.  This is a Technicolor picture, and it was shot on one camera in extended takes.  Unfortunately, when the transfer was done, the technicians did not confirm that the registration settings were correct for the camera that shot the movie.  The result is that the transfer is slightly out of red registration, causing small red outlines to appear around people’s collars and around the horizontal slats of the window frames.  Since the same camera was used throughout the movie, this problem stays for the whole ride.  Now, if you’re using a smaller monitor, you will likely not see this issue as prominently as I did at 90”.  When I checked the same moments at 65”, the issue was not as prominent. 


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Rope is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that has no problems I could discern.



DISC FOUR: REAR WINDOW


VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5

Rear Window is presented in an AVC 1.66:1 transfer (@ 33 mbps) that is a pleasure to watch for almost the entire length of the movie, but there are a few minor issues.  During the opening titles, there is some weirdness with the grain levels on the background sky and buildings.  During an iconic profile kissing shot of James Stewart and Grace Kelly, contouring can be seen at the lower center of the frame.  During one reel of the movie, separation masters were used, which look a little softer in a couple of shots of the gang looking out the window around the time that Kelly delivers the letter.  But these are really minor quibbles over a picture transfer that looks terrific.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Rear Window is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that brings both the score and the dialogue out well.



DISC FIVE: THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY


VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5

The Trouble With Harry is presented in an AVC 1.85:1 transfer (@ 32mbps).  This is a great Vistavision title and the colors here are a pleasure to see.  There are two brief shots at the very beginning that shows some gate jitter (and these shots are actually used, with the jitter, under the Main Menu!), and the movie is slightly softer in resolution than it should be.  But again, these are pretty minor quibbles for what is really a nice piece of work.  (We noted that the movie begins with the new Universal logo.)


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

The Trouble With Harry is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that, again, does its job well.



DISC SIX: THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH


VIDEO QUALITY ½/5

The Man Who Knew Too Much has an AVC 1.85:1 transfer (@ 34 mbps) that is the low point of this set in a big way.  Starting just a few minutes into the movie, a strong yellow pulse begins to happen which overwhelms the picture and leaves the viewer trying to figure out what is happening.  The sky shifts from blue to yellow, pavement shifts from gray to yellow, and I won’t go into what happens to the faces of Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.  The problem repeats throughout the movie, subsiding for a few minutes at a time, only to return at varying levels of noticeability.  We stopped watching after finding so many instances of it that there was no point in trying to get to the end of the movie.  This is compounded by a very strange scanning artifact that appears at the 1:24:13 mark as Doris Day stands on a London sidewalk.  During her close-up at that time stamp, you can see a solid blue line running horizontally through the middle of the screen.  The line drops to the bottom and disappears but is enough to again leave the viewer mystified.  This is truly a shame, and the best way to deal with this would be for the title to be recalled and fixed.  Of course, fixing this issue will require actually doing the restoration work that this title needs.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

The Man Who Knew Too Much is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that works a lot better than the picture transfer.



DISC SEVEN: VERTIGO


VIDEO QUALITY  5/5

Vertigo is presented in a VC-1 1.85:1 transfer (@ 32 mbps) that is really lovely to watch.  I realize that Robert Harris has made several good points about black levels, flesh tones and color matching, and I don’t dispute his expertise, particularly on a title he knows so well.  I can only say that we didn’t have the issues he was seeing.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  It means that neither Joe nor I are experts on this movie – we’re just fans of it, and it was a pleasure to watch.  We noted that this disc had an agonizingly long loading time, and that a new Universal logo is fronting the movie.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Vertigo is presented in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that improves over the 5.1 mix presented on earlier DVDs.  This mix sounds a lot closer to the original one, only opened up for the surrounds.  Yes, the original gunshots are back.  No, there are no birds singing in the dead forest

.


DISC EIGHT: NORTH BY NORTHWEST


VIDEO AND SOUND QUALITY 5/5, 4/5

North by Northwest gets a VC-1 1.78:1 transfer (@ 27 mbps) and a Dolby True HD 5.1 sound mix that look and sound just as good as when the movie was seen on the Warner Bros. 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition in 2009.  In other words, this is the same Blu-ray, right down to the menus.  To save everyone some time, I’m going to recommend you read Cameron Yee’s excellent review.



DISC NINE:  PSYCHO


VIDEO AND SOUND QUALITY 5/5

Psycho is presented in the AVC 1.85:1 transfer (@ 30 mbps) that we saw on the 50th Anniversary edition release in 2010.  And we still have the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix created for that Blu-ray.  As with the exception of the opening Universal Studios logo, this Blu-ray is identical to the one released two years ago.  To save everyone a little more time, I’m going to recommend you read my decently worded review from the time.  Of course, I have upgraded the picture and sound ratings to the full 5, as I have seen that the digital issues I was noting at the time have been addressed by my getting a 24fps HDTV, and I have come to appreciate the depth of the 5.1 sound mix a bit more.



DISC TEN:  THE BIRDS


VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5

The Birds is presented in an AVC 1.85:1 transfer (@ 30 mbps) that shows off good color and a lot of clarity throughout the movie.  There may be some digital massaging going on here, but it’s really subtle.  We noted a very slight red registration error just after the birds attack the school, but this went away very quickly.  Fans of this movie will have a lot of fun here.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

The Birds is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that is just as unnerving as when the movie played in theaters.  This isn’t a movie that has a big musical score.  It’s a movie that has a lot of sound effects and atmosphere that give the birds a presence and a voice.



DISC ELEVEN:  MARNIE


VIDEO QUALITY 1 ½/5

Marnie is presented in an AVC 1.85:1 transfer (@ 32 mbps) that falls short of the mark in two different ways.  I viewed the title both on Joe Kane’s optimal projection system and on my own 65” VT30 plasma HDTV.  Different issues appeared in each viewing.  On the projection system, we noted an uneven grain level and heavy filtration, the latter of which reflects the approach taken by Hitchcock during the filming of the movie.  The picture is overly soft during most shots of Tippi Hedren, something the Blu-ray really accentuates in a way I can’t imagine Hitchcock would have intended.  The effect doesn’t emphasize Ms. Hedren’s beauty but instead makes her shots jump out at the viewer in terms of their lack of clarity.  There’s a bit of visible pulsing around 21 minutes into the movie that has no explanation.  There are also many moments of good quality as seen in projection, but the last few minutes of the movie are extremely soft, making the film difficult to watch.  Now, this would be troubling enough on its own.  Except that when the Blu-ray is viewed on the VT30 (and this is a professionally calibrated set with the work having been done this past June), the digital grain noise mentioned by Nick Wrigley in his assessment jumps to the fore.  The digital noise appears for the first 17 chapters of the movie and then suddenly disappears in the final chapters.  I’ve been told this difference in PQ reflects a difference in presentation between a projection system and a flat screen HDTV.   It likely indicates a higher contrast setting on the HDTV which is bringing the noise out.  In either case, these PQ issues should not be occurring. 


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Marnie is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that, again, does its job well.



DISC TWELVE: TORN CURTAIN


VIDEO QUALITY  3/5

Torn Curtain has an AVC 1.85:1 transfer (@ 32 mbps) that mostly shows a heavy amount of filtration that makes many shots too soft to comfortably follow.  I am grading this picture in the middle of the range as I am unsure how much of the problems here are direct choices by Mr. Hitchcock, and how much of the problems come from the transfer.  As it is, the movie is notable for some truly odd framing and staging choices.  (The opening love scene between Paul Newman and Julie Andrews has some very strange shots in it, although it does seem to be the inspiration for a similar scene in the early minutes of Michael Mann’s Heat.)  There’s also an outdoor restaurant scene, filmed completely on a soundstage with exterior “restaurant” plates rear projected behind the cast.  This is truly one of the oddest-looking movies I’ve ever encountered, on Blu-ray or otherwise.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Torn Curtain is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that presents the dialogue and John Addison’s score quite well.



DISC THIRTEEN: TOPAZ


VIDEO QUALITY  4/5

Topaz is presented in a VC-1 1.85:1 transfer (@ 30 mbps) that is mostly quite strong in the picture area.  There is some pulsing during the opening titles, but the picture quality improves very quickly after that.  The picture shows some mild digital enhancement but the color is superb.  There is one very strange soft shot in an airport, but overall, this one looks quite good.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Topaz is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that presents the dialogue and music in a pleasing manner.


.

DISC FOURTEEN:  FRENZY


VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5

Frenzy is presented in a VC-1 1.85:1 transfer (@ 30 mbps) that is actually a lot stronger than I had been expecting.  There is some mild enhancement present, but the color and clarity are overall quite good.  I also note that the titles errors have been addressed, apparently by reattaching the original title sequence rather than using a textless background to recreate the sequence.    


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Frenzy is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that has no problems I could discern.



DISC FIFTEEN: FAMILY PLOT


VIDEO QUALITY  1/5

Family Plot is presented in a VC-1 1.85:1 transfer (@ 30 mbps) that is best described as unfortunate.  Things quickly get off to a bad start with the varying grain levels seen in the opening scene with Barbara Harris.   These levels wildly shift throughout the movie.  Some scenes are better than others.  A mid-film store counter scene around chapter 5 with Bruce Dern actually looks quite good.  But then things devolve again.  Digital work is evident here, but it’s unclear what it’s accomplishing as the picture really doesn’t look very good.  A matte shot with a young-ish Craig T. Nelson looks absolutely horrible – in a manner I strongly doubt it did when originally presented in theaters.  I note that the movie has a strong color palette and the Blu-ray presents that aspect well.  But the transfer is of poor quality and really should be redone.


AUDIO QUALITY 5/5

Family Plot is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that brings both the score and the dialogue out well.



On the basis of what I’ve described here, I’m still going to Recommend this set for purchase – purely on the strength of the ten good discs. The other five discs have issues of varying concern.  Two of them are outright disasters, two are arguably close to that level, and one simply has a registration error that may or may not displease viewers who can detect it.  If you’re a fan of Rear Window, Vertigo and The Birds, not to mention Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, The Trouble With Harry, Topaz or Frenzy, this is a good set to purchase.  As an added bonus, the set also contains the excellent Blus previously released of Psycho and North by Northwest.  On the other hand, if you’re picking up this set out of affection for The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie or Family Plot, you may find yourself grievously disappointed.  If you’re looking for a pristine copy of Rope or Torn Curtain, you may have more questions after seeing the Blus of those titles in this set.  So I’m going to recommend this set with the qualification that you think carefully about which of the movies you’re interested in, and which are your personal favorites.  If you can find the set at a decent price point, this is a great opportunity to pick up ten great Hitchcock films, presented quite well in high definition.  Just don’t expect much from the other five.


Kevin Koster

October 29, 2012.



#2 of 34 Robert Crawford

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Posted October 29 2012 - 08:45 PM

Kevin,


Thank you very much for your hard work and I look forward to your extended reviews.  Unfortunately, I can't say much more as my order of this box set hasn't shipped yet.










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Posted October 30 2012 - 01:28 AM

Excellent review!  I already ordered it!  Sorry I couldn't make it to Joe's house over the weekend.  Tearing down the theater from the meet took much longer than I anticipated.



#4 of 34 Scott Merryfield

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Posted October 30 2012 - 01:42 AM

Thank you for quick review, Kevin. Between this and Robert Harris's comments, I decided to once again place my order for the U.K. set, as Family Plot and The Man Who Knew Too Much are not favorites of mine. It's too bad that every title in this set is not well done, though, as each of us Hitchcock fans has different favorite films. Marnie is the biggest disappointment for me personally.

#5 of 34 Craig Beam

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Posted October 30 2012 - 02:09 AM

My copy should arrive today, so I'll be tracking the package like a hawk. I'm fortunate that only one of the problem titles is among my favorites (Rope). I'm hoping that Universal will redo it (and a few others) and offer exchanges at some point down the road.

#6 of 34 JoHud

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Posted October 30 2012 - 04:38 AM

I'm starting to wonder if one of the main problems with The Man who Knew Too Much and Family Plot on this set is Universal trying to "save" these transfers derived from poor source material with (as RAH would put it) lots of knob turning. Not too troubled by Marnie, because it seems the main problem is the very heavy soft focus, which appears to be something the film always had and doesn't lend itself to an HD presentation as well as other titles.

#7 of 34 Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 30 2012 - 06:26 AM

Thanks for all the time you put into this.  The Man Who Knew Too Much is one of my favorites so its too bad that it looks so bad.  There are a lot of other titles out competing for my $$ right now, so I will see what Universal will be doing about it (if anything) before I take the plunge.



#8 of 34 Nelson Au

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Posted October 30 2012 - 09:36 AM

Great summation Kevin. I have the same plasma HDTV you do, so I'll have to see if I see what you saw. I am surprised TMWKTM is described as you did. That sounds more like a rough cut then a final release print. That is shockingly bad! I got the set today, though I may not watch TMWKTM right away. I'm not sure which title to see first! :)

#9 of 34 Moe Dickstein

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Posted October 30 2012 - 09:46 AM

It seems like TMWKTM is just an example of what the deteriorated materials look like, that Universal has made a very accurate and sharp representation of the current state of the elements. Iinteresting and educational for those into film preservation, but not something to be watched as entertainment...
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#10 of 34 Walter Kittel

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Posted October 30 2012 - 09:53 AM

Precisely the kind of summation I was looking for to assist with my purchasing decision. Thanks for the work (and to Mr. Harris for his postings.) Still kind of on the fence, so we'll see. :) Thanks again for the information. - Walter.
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#11 of 34 JohnMor

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Posted October 30 2012 - 10:57 AM

Huh.  I think I got a foreign set by mistake.  My set arrived today and the back clearly states: "Perfect Hi-Def Picture!"  I'm not sure what language that is.  Can anyone here translate what that means for me?  It's right smack dab in the middle and in bold lettering, so I think it's meant to be seen and comprehended.


#12 of 34 Carlo Medina

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Posted October 30 2012 - 11:55 AM

Thank you for quick review, Kevin. Between this and Robert Harris's comments, I decided to once again place my order for the U.K. set, as Family Plot and The Man Who Knew Too Much are not favorites of mine. It's too bad that every title in this set is not well done, though, as each of us Hitchcock fans has different favorite films. Marnie is the biggest disappointment for me personally.

Does this mean the UK version is superior? If so is it all region coded or will I need to buy a region free blu ray player? Thanks!

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#13 of 34 Craig S

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Posted October 30 2012 - 12:32 PM

Originally Posted by Carlo Medina 


Does this mean the UK version is superior? If so is it all region coded or will I need to buy a region free blu ray player? Thanks!


Obviously no one has it in hand yet, but the UK set is supposed to be region-free, which means the discs will play in any player. In general Universal's discs are region-free; the recent UK Monsters set is region-free and plays just fine in my stock US PS3.

The main reasons a lot of us are ordering the UK set: (1) It's MUCH cheaper, even considering shipping from the UK; (2) It doesn't include a superfluous copy of North by Northwest.


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#14 of 34 Carlo Medina

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Posted October 30 2012 - 01:11 PM

Ah ok. I thought maybe someone had seen in a preview somewhere that maybe the UK versions were superior (it's happened before with other movies). But given how this is Universal in both regions, I'm betting they didn't bother to do two separate transfers for US/UK. I do see it comes out much cheaper and I do have NxNW so I'll probably go that way as well.

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#15 of 34 Moe Dickstein

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Posted October 30 2012 - 01:32 PM

We might need a ban on sarcasm because not everyone seems to be able to detect it...
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#16 of 34 Paul Penna

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Posted October 30 2012 - 02:35 PM

For all its problems that shouldn't have been there, I don't think that TMWKTM compares at all to the sheer ugliness of much of Family Plot, so my personal numerical relationship would have been the other way around, and a somewhat higher number for the former.

#17 of 34 Kevin EK

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Posted October 30 2012 - 05:34 PM

In my rush to post the pre-review, I made two pretty good typos. Thanks to the readers who pointed them out, and sorry about that. I try to do a good spot check before I post, but the gremlins in my computer sometimes get away with mischief...

#18 of 34 haineshisway

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Posted October 30 2012 - 05:48 PM

I finally have the set but have no idea of where best to post my comments. Here? The main overall thread? The separate Harris threads?

#19 of 34 Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 30 2012 - 05:59 PM

Thanks for the ongoing review. I am sorry that Family Plot looks so bad, because it is one of my favorites (the first Hitchcock I saw in the theater). While I have the U.K. Limited Edition on order, I may cancel that order and wait for the inevitable singles.

#20 of 34 haineshisway

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Posted October 30 2012 - 06:37 PM

I've posted in the separate threads but will consolidate here for anyone who cares. Please keep in mind, these are films I know intimately - not only because I've seen them countless times from the time of their release on (for the 50s films), but because I've owned dye transfer prints on every single film that was printed that way. The caveat is I have only spot-checked each transfer, watching about thirty minutes of each film at different points. So: Vertigo: Exactly as Mr. Harris states to the letter. Color off in the main titles at one point (not quite sure how it happened but it's obnoxious). And the handful of other problematic shots, but as he said, 90% of it looks pretty terrific - and unfortunately, that only makes the other 10% look even worse than it is. But what looks good looks VERY good and the color in 90% of the transfer is pretty damn accurate. I'll be watching it in its entirety soon. The Man Who Knew Too Much: Terrible. There is no way around this. Let me start by saying it's a huge step up from the grotesque DVD in the velvet box. Let me finish by saying I don't find it sharp at all - in fact, it's clear from frame one that this is not off the VistaVision negative or anything close to it. The color pulsing is so odd it's not to be believed, actually. The bazaar scenes are completely faded. I had to laugh when someone said that's what the skies should look like in that kind of place. No. They should be blue - they were always blue. Otherwise at its best its middling and at its worst it's truly awful. A major botch job and I'm afraid not the only one in this set. Marnie: It doesn't matter what you watch this on. Something clearly went wrong somewhere in this transfer. If I had to posit a guess, I think they used the DVD transfer from the velvet box, used some DNR then put back in, well, can't call it grain, so just call it that ugly black crawling stuff and snow - yes, Mr. Wrigley called it right. This is a disaster. Dye transfer prints on this film were wonderful, whether you like what Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Burks were doing or not. The street scenes at Marnie's mother's are just awful - they should be extremely sharp. And the color has been futzed with from the DVD color - you can see just how much very clearly in the pages of the credits and in the car ride towards the end of the film - the rear projection plate should be almost all gray with the rain - and here it's anything but that. But nothing works in this transfer and whatever they've done it has exacerbated the diffusion in a way that is grotesque. Shame on Universal for trying to spruce up something that was fine for DVD but hardly befitting something called The Masterpiece Collection in a little year called 2012. I now have to keep the velvet box. Torn Curtain: Can't agree with Mr. Harris on this one. Same transfer as the DVD (at least to my eyes) and it just doesn't look great to me. A new, fresh transfer off the actual camera negative would have produced a perfect Blu-ray. As it is, we're left with something a little sharper than the DVD, but not nearly enough. The problem is the DVD actually looked fine - but when you hi-def it suddenly you can really see the story, and, again for me, it's not what it should be. Not a disaster like Marnie of The Man Who Knew Too Much, but a disappointment nonetheless. It has nothing to do with the way it was filmed - you either like that or not - but the transfer is not up to 2012 snuff, at least not for me. I'll be checking the others tomorrow.





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