A Few Words About A few words about...™ The Untouchables -- in HD & BD

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Jul 24, 2007.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist

    Feb 8, 1999
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    Robert Harris
    Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, a 1987 production, was a beautifully produced studio film, photographed by Stephen H. Burum, ASC.

    Based in part upon the book by Eliot Ness, a screenplay by David Mamet, and with terrific cast of both leads as well as supporting players, The Untouchables continues, two decades later, to easily hold one's attention.

    It is also one of the films from the Paramount library that I've been personally waiting to see on HD & BD, and I'm very pleased that it's finally here.

    A treat for cinephiles is the sequence shot in Chicago's historic Union Station, which after 12 years of construction opened in 1925. As an Amtrak traveler, I've spent hours wandering this complex, inclusive of the worn stairway which serves as a setpiece for the film, and an homage to the Odessa Steps sequence from Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, also (coincidentally) 1925.

    Colors are rich and blacks are generally well defined, but after viewing the film in HD, and then switching over to the BD counterpart, something continued to trouble me, and it appears to be based on some sort of processing decision.

    As an example, there is a scene that provides a well-lit two shot of Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, and I viewed this, as well as a few others numerous times.

    What I'm seeing is what a friend and co-worker has defined as the "CBS Movie of the Week" look.

    What this means is that grain has been heavily reduced to a point at which it really no longer exists, except that it occasionally seems to hang, unmoving, on a background.

    High frequency information that would have been carried within the grain has been lost along with the grain, and the resultant image has then been slightly sharpened or tweaked to attempt to bring the missing information back. This is something that is extremely difficult to do well, if one finds the need to do it. Forensics, perhaps?

    On Mr. Connery's face, it appears as a virtual loss of definition and detail, and an artificial darkening and sharpening of facial features such as lines, almost taking on the appearance of our old friend, electronic enhancement, but in high definition mode. Viewed close up, it gives the actors an extremely artificial look. Essentially this seems to be an attempt to bring back detail originally captured by Mr. Burum's lens, removed via grain reduction and then artifically added back via resultant sharpening.

    Another friend has defined this as the "freshly waxed linoleum" look.

    Returning to the real world, these comments should not be taken as damning of the release, simply because there probably aren't more than a dozen people around that will be troubled by it, or care in the slightest.

    Does it matter?

    I believe it does, as it disallows the film to look like film, and turns it into something else -- more like those beautifully scrubbed new editions of the Disney classics, which are fine, as young children should be kept away from both dirt and grain, unless parents are going to have them sent in for occasional dry cleaning.

    Will it affect the way that the general public looks at this disc.

    Not one bit.

    The reality is that they'll be thrilled by both it's cleanliness and "apparent" sharpness. This is a disc that will be well reviewed, and possibly a wonderful test case for understanding how to read both reviews as well as reviewers.

    The Untouchables is a terrifically entertaining film, that in HD and BD is just a bit different than it might have looked with all of the photographic detail that would have been enabled by the high definition process left intact.

    For everyone except those dozen people who will react negatively to a decidedly non-film look, the disc is Recommended to the general populace.

  2. RickER

    RickER Producer

    Jan 4, 2003
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    Tulsa, Oklahoma
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    Thanks for the review Mr. Harris. I read 3 times, and i guess i need it spelled out for me...the HD and BD both have the same look? Both HD transfers have the same faults?
  3. Dave H

    Dave H Producer

    Aug 13, 2000
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    I have a well calibrated and ISF'd 57" Sony CRT RPTV and I too noticed watching The Untouchables (BD) on my PS3 the other night that some kind of filtering appeared to take place. The image seemed to lack the film grain and detail one might expect as the image looked a bit plastic at times - and not very filmlike as a result. Add to it, I noticed some edge enhancement in some scenes. Of course, I've never seen the original source material, but based on my general experience with movie viewing and Robert's thoughts, it all seems to be true.
  4. Ian Currie

    Ian Currie Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 1, 2002
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    I was going to ask the same thing. My guess is 'yes', but I would like it confirmed.
  5. Geoff_D

    Geoff_D Supporting Actor

    Jul 18, 2002
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    I totally agree, it does look over-processed. Somewhat "tarted up", as I put it in the other thread. But did I still enjoy the film? You betcha.

    RAH, have you looked at Paramount's The Warriors (on either BD or HD-DVD) yet?
  6. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

    Mar 16, 1999
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    Amazingly, I found this today on Blu-ray in my local Future Shop's overstock pile (underneath their main HD/BR display shelves, for $25.00), and had to pick it up! I only have the original DVD release to compare it to, not the remastered issue from which this version is taken...

    I was immediately impressed by the powerful sound quality of Morricone's wonderful score in this release, and not being bothered by what has been considered digital overcleaning by Mr. Harris. I was even able to better hear dialogue in the table scene at the restaurant following the liquor raid, and I'll tell you, I can sure hear ADR looping where I didn't before. Otherwise, I guess I can consider myself one of the "general populace", as he puts it. This a film I can easily watch at any time, even when it shows up on broadcast television. It is that entertaining.

    I was actually impressed by the detail in the classic two-shot scene in the close-up profile shots of Coster, which I had never given that much attention to previously. I didn't specifically go looking for oversmoothness, but did see great detail in the opening credit sequence.

    Anyway, I'm thrilled to now have this in my BR section, even though I have recently ordered (but not received) the HD version in the recent Amazon sale.

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