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Blu-ray Review Brainstorm Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Cameron Yee, Jul 12, 2012.

  1. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    When a movie’s technical back story proves more interesting than the film itself, there’s a problem. “Brainstorm’s” debut on Blu-ray is similarly flawed sounds faithful to its theatrical presentation, though its meager extras speaks volumes about the film's overall appeal.



    [​IMG]


    Brainstorm


    Release Date: July 10, 2012


    Studio: Warner Home Video


    Packaging/Materials: Blu-ray “Eco-Box” keepcase


    Year: 1983


    Rating: PG


    Running Time: 1:46:19


    MSRP: $19.98







    THE FEATURE

    SPECIAL FEATURES



    Video

    AVC: 1080p high definition; aspect ratio shifts between 2.40:1 and windowboxed 1.78:1

    Standard definition



    Audio

    DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: Spanish 1.0

    Stereo



    Subtitles

    English SDH, French, Spanish

    None





    The Feature: 2.5/5


    Douglas Trumbull, known for his visual effects work on films like “2001: A Space Oddysey” and the recent “Tree of Life,” explores the nature of the mind and beyond in his science-fiction thriller “Brainstorm.”



    The film stars Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher as Michael Brace and Lillian Reynolds, a pair of scientists responsible for creating “The Hat,” a device used to record and replay a person’s brain activity, from the senses to the emotions. When the military gets wind of the project, they move in and take over the research facility, run by a morally ambiguous administrator played by Cliff Robertson. The government’s intentions are, as usual, nefarious and the Hat is ultimately turned into an interrogation / brainwashing device. With his wife Karen, played by Natalie Wood, Michael attempts to shut down the military’s plans, while also trying to get his hands on a final recording that may hold the secrets to the afterlife.



    Though it contains some interesting ideas and makes a compelling statement about what’s in the great beyond, much of what’s worthwhile about Trumbull’s “Brainstorm” is upended by goofy dialogue, stilted performances, and an understanding of technology that hasn’t aged very well. Wood in particular seems a little dumbfounded most of the time, and it’s unfortunate the film stands as her last onscreen performance. Walken seems like he’s having a good time of it though, and Fletcher is in rare form chewing the scenery. Still, the hokey aspects of the production aren’t of the kind to push it into the “so bad it’s good” territory, its technical back story (see below) proving more interesting in the final estimation.


    Video Quality: 3/5 4/5


    ”Brainstorm” was intended to be the first film shot in Trumbull’s Showscan format, which uses 65mm film projected at 60 frames per second to enhance the viewer’s sense of immersion in the picture. But the studio backed out on the idea, and Trumbull wound up sticking to the standard 24 frames per second with Super Panavision 70 and 35mm film, framed at 2.20:1 and 1.70:1 aspect ratios, respectively. The larger format, finer grained film was used to shoot the Hat’s brain imagery sequences, and the other was used for the events taking place in the physical world. Based on available information, I’m guessing the experience was like watching “The Dark Knight” (more so at home than at a legitimate IMAX theater) with its aspect ratio and resolution shifts.



    Unfortunately, the transfer for “Brainstorm” doesn’t seem to replicate what Trumbull was trying to achieve. Not only do the aspect ratios seem a bit off, being presented instead at ratios of 2.40:1 and 1.78:1, the latter is windowboxed with black area around all four sides of the image. Aspect ratio shifts are already somewhat jarring, but the transition in “Brainstorm” is made all the more abrupt by what amounts to a 30% reduction in size for the bulk of the content. In this case, complaining about the black bars is legitimate given the director’s original intent and I can’t think of any good reason for Warner to have formatted the picture this way. As a stretch, one could argue the physical reduction of the 35mm content is consistent with the film’s theme around the significance of the physical world, but I have a feeling Trumbull wasn’t trying to take it that far.



    That said, the other aspects of the image look solid, the material shot on 70mm more so than the rest due to its finer grain, higher resolution and greater color depth. The psychedelic imagery, harkening back to Trumbull’s work on “2001,” looks particularly clean and sharp. The 35mm material winds up looking kind of shabby by comparison (and more than it needs to be given the windowboxing), though considering the story, it’s conceivable those scenes were intentionally made to look a little hazy and muted and the brain imagery more rich and detailed. Black levels and contrast between the two formats show similar differences.



    UPDATE: Based on information from a couple knowledgeable HTF members, the aspect ratio changes do sound consistent with how the film was shown theatrically. Be sure to read the comments after the review. I've also upgraded the score accordingly.


    Audio Quality: 3.5/5


    Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track seems a bit low, and well as a bit edgy and hollow at times. Surround activity is reserved for moments showing the immersive brain imagery and tends to be mixed a bit louder, I’m assuming to emphasize the intensity of the experience (and it does have the effect of startling or jarring the viewer sometimes). LFE is non-existent, but the track has a satisfying depth throughout.


    Special Features: 0.5/5



    Theatrical Trailer (3:17, SD)


    Recap


    The Film: 2.5/5


    Video Quality: 3/5 4/5


    Audio Quality: 3.5/5


    Special Features: 0.5/5


    Overall Score (not an average): 2/5 3/5



    Warner Home Video turns in a problematic faithful presentation for “Brainstorm,” Douglas Trumbull’s ambitious, but ultimately flawed, exploration into the mind. The limited bonus material seems appropriate for both the quality of the production and its general appeal.



    [​IMG]
     
  2. SilverWook

    SilverWook Cinematographer

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    I have an old Japanese Laserdisc where the real world scenes are windowboxed in the letterboxed frame. Many of the other video incarnations of this film messed things up.
     
  3. Emmanuel Denis

    Emmanuel Denis Auditioning

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    It is NORMAL that the 1.85 panoramic image is windowboxed on the right and left sides, it is the way it was shown in the movie theaters, the widescreen 70mm image is supposed to get wider and bigger than the standard image, not the other way ! It's the same thing at the beginning of "The Road Warrior" for instance...
     
  4. SteveJKo

    SteveJKo Second Unit

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    Cameron when I saw Brainstorm in 70mm in a D-150 theater the parts of the film that were shot in 35mm spherical filled the full height of the giant curved screen, but not the entire width (similar to any other 70mm blow-up of a 35mm spherical film). When the Super Panavision 70 sequences would take place the screens full width (as well as it's height of course) was used.
    From what you describe (the windowboxing of the 35mm bulk of the film) it sounds like they're attempting to maintain how Brainstorm looked in 70mm back in 1983. Their other option would have been to only letterbox the 70mm sequences (with the 35mm scenes more or less filling our entire HDTV screens). This would be like the VHS tape version of Napoleon which has it's final three panel sequence letterboxed and appearing smaller (because it's shorter instead of wider) to us than the first part of the film........the opposite of what was originally intended.
     
  5. JoshZ

    JoshZ Supporting Actor

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    As mentioned by others, the aspect ratio on the Blu-ray is correct, at least as far as a 35mm theatrical screening would have gone. The "real world" scenes are 1.66:1 windowboxed in the middle of the screen, which is consistent with the intent that they be presented narrower than the "brainstorm" scenes, which expand horizontally out to 2.40:1 (70mm screenings would have been 2.20:1).
    This is just something that doesn't translate well to a 16:9 HDTV screen. The earliest DVD release presented the real world scenes in full-screen 16:9, which made them larger than the letterboxed "brainstorm" scenes and was the complete opposite of the artistic intent. The Blu-ray is correct; it's just kind of annoying to watch 90% of a movie in postage-stamp size on an HDTV for the benefit of a few minutes of scope content. The disc plays better on a Constant Image Height projection set-up.
    The bigger problem with the Blu-ray is that it's been transferred from 35mm reduction elements, which makes the 70mm scenes look like 35mm and the 35mm scenes look like 16mm. Neither is a particularly good example of those formats.
     
  6. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    Thanks for that information Denis, Steve, and Josh. I was hoping our knowledgeable members would provide some insight into it! I've made some revisions to the review to reflect it.
     
  7. JoshZ

    JoshZ Supporting Actor

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    Regardless of the aspect ratio issue, I agreed with your original score of 3/5. The disc was transferred from weak source elements that make both the 35mm and 70mm footage look mediocre at best.
     
  8. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    That's too bad. I received mine yesterday and won't have time to check it out for a couple of days, so thanks for this heads up.

    But what JoshZ is describing makes total sense: To our eyes, now, though it may be absolutely correct insofar as the relationship between the reality and the "brainstorm" scenes are concerned, we now perceive that on our home screens as just a bad case of windowboxing. And in replicating the original intent, there's nothing to be done about that. I'd guess that those with the largest projection setups will benefit the most. And I dread to think of what our good friend J6P is going to say when he gets hold of this.

    And again, too bad about the elements used.
     
  9. JoshZ

    JoshZ Supporting Actor

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    Warner really should have provided an explanation for the windowboxing either as a supplement on the disc or at least printed on an insert sheet. All the packaging says is "2.40x1" with no further elaboration. This is going to confuse a lot of people.
     
  10. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Cinematographer

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    I think the massive windowboxing of the 35mm footage is a wrongheaded decision. It just doesn't work at home.
    Vincent
     
  11. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie

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    The only way this experience will work properly @ home is via projection with an anamorphic lens. That way, constant image height is maintained, and the windowboxing isn't apparent. Some films were never designed for the home experience. This is one of them. It's a shame they harvested from a 35mm source, though; ideally, WB would have sourced from both 35mm and 65mm elements, but since only diehard fans of the film are going to buy it, they probably figured it wan't worth the expense.
     
  12. JoshZ

    JoshZ Supporting Actor

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    It does for those of us with Constant Image Height projection.
    Ideally, the studio should provide two transfers, one windowboxed and one in a 16:9-friendly format. And they should both be transferred from the original 65mm and 35mm footage. Unfortunately, that would require Warner Bros. to care enough about the movie to go to that effort.
    There are a lot of reasons why this movie doesn't work at home. Aspect ratio is the least of them.
     
  13. dlbsyst

    dlbsyst Agent

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    I am very dissapointed with this Blu-ray release. I saw this movie back in the day presented in 70mm and it was absolutely jaw dropping amazing visually. What a missed oportunity from Warner to present this movie like it looked in the theater.(
     
  14. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    I've always been a little fascinated by this movie because of the death sequences but mostly because I've always wondered what it would have been if Woods never died before the movie was finished.
     
  15. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    Do you know what was left for her to do?
     
  16. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    No it's been too long but I feel like I read something years ago that they were not able to film the third act the way it was intended due to her death.
     
  17. JoshZ

    JoshZ Supporting Actor

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    I could be wrong, but I think Wood's part was mostly completed. A few of her scenes needed to be finished with stand-ins and desperate editing (you can kind of tell near the movie's end), but I don't believe she had too much left to film when she died. The real problem is that MGM wanted to cut and run, and just collect on the insurance policy, but Trumbull had it in his contract that he had the right to finish the film. This led to a big feud and legal battle, during which MGM cut off his budget. That meant that Trumbull had to scale back or scrap some of his planned SFX sequences and work with what he had. He was able to cobble together a coherent story, but I'm sure that he had more ambitious plans for the "brainstorm" scenes and the climax.
    That's my understanding of what happened based on some random articles I've read over the years, anyway. Would love to hear from someone with more knowledge of the situation.
     
  18. JParker

    JParker Second Unit

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    There's a great interview here with Douglas Trumbull that covers much more than Brainstorm and it's worth reading. However, this is a relevant excerpt. I think it's best to understand the film as he said as an "unfinished symphony". In the conventional, not 70mm showing, I recall the bars by the way.
    http://parallax-view.org/2012/02/11/breaking-new-ground-has-always-been-in-the-medium-itself-an-interview-with-douglas-trumbull/
    Another fascinating interview, on the future, is here:
    http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/douglas-trumbull-a-writerproducerdirectorengineerinventor-looks-forward
     
  19. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    Ok all that makes sense. Probably because it's been thirty years and movie news and behind the scenes we harder to come by then I had the impression that
    Woods being gone derailed what was supposed to be the end. It actually wasn't woods it was something else and the end was finished just not exactly the way Trumbo intended.
     
  20. JoshZ

    JoshZ Supporting Actor

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    Great find, James!
     

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