MyFairLadyStudio:Warner BrothersYear:1964Film Length:173 minutes Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 Audio:5.1 DD English, 1.0 DD FrenchSubtitles:English, Spanish, FrenchSpecialFeatures:Commentary (Art Director Gene Allen, Singer Marni Nixon, and film restorationists Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz), Retrospective Documentary, "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" & "Show Me" scenes with Audrey Hepburn's vocals, Historic production and publicity footage, Galleries, Trailers, more...ReleaseDate:February 3, 2004 The Movie... (Thanks Herb for letting me review this WB title!) Gorgeous costumes. Fabulous sets. Great actors like Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. It's one of the classic movie-musicals and it has a right to be. Don't like it? Well there are plenty of people who don't like The Sound of Music or West Side Story. The faults of My Fair Lady are consistent with the "faults" of all big-budget high-profile musicals of the period. You might find it too long. Maybe you feel that the adaptation from the stage to the screen was a bit awkward in certain scenes or maybe you think that producers didn't pick the right cast for all the roles (a bit of controversy about Audrey Hepburn playing the role of Eliza Doolittle -- with dubbed singing -- after Julie Andrews brought such success to the stage). To enjoy My Fair Lady you have to put on your "musical mode" hat and enjoy it for what it is. It's not a perfect film, but it's beautiful and it's a classic. Every time I watch My Fair Lady it ends up becoming a sing-along event so you can guess where I fall on the meter... Besides, you already know if you love My Fair Lady or not anyway. You're reading this review to find out if you should replace your existing DVD copy with the new SE copy. So let's get started... The Disc Presentation... You’ve got an outboard protective sleeve that houses a slip-out cardboard fold-out set with two discs. Both the outer and inner cover sport historic poster art for this magnificent film and I applaud Warner for using it for the DVD. Artwork is silk-screened on both dual-layer discs. The movie's chapter stops *and* the list of Disc 2’s “extras” are all clearly written out on the fold-out packaging making navigation a breeze. Inserting the DVD brings up tasteful menu screens without any annoying forced-trailers or other commercially oriented fan-fare to detract from the theatrical experience. Ok...so the only DVDs I’ve watched lately have all been from Buena Vista so my point of reference as to what to expect when plopping a DVD into my player has been a bit skewed lately! Nice package and nice DVD presentation. Picture... I was initially disappointed upon first learning that this new Special Edition DVD would be utilizing the same film-tape transfer as the previous single-disc DVD. The original DVD suffered from some ringing around hard edges, a lack of fine picture detail, a bit of MEPG compression noise (mosquito noise around faces especially), and a generally overly-processed looking image with background details that tended to "crawl". The original DVD had a picture that seemed to covered with a thin layer of "digital haze". While most of us were happy to be weaned from the NTSC limitations of the laserdisc (or even worse...gasp...VHS) and upgrade to the first 16x9 DVD, these electronic artifacts prevented the first DVD edition of My Fair Lady from really delivering a satisfying film-facsimile on larger-screen rear or front-projection systems. Curiously, the box of the new SE DVD states "High Definition transfer from the 1994 Restoration picture and Sound Elements". I've been told by a few industry folks that this magnificent 1994 film restoration was only transferred to video at a standard-definition resolution (Warner Brothers was producing 16x9 standard-definition masters long before most other studios and long before high-definition film-tape mastering became commonplace). I hope that this curiosity is cleared up soon...any of you with more information please share. In any case, utilizing the same transfer (whether it is Standard or High-definition) for a second DVD incarnation can have the potential to result in a substantial picture quality increase. This is because quite often many of the artifacts we associate with a "poor quality" DVD are not film-source related, but rather are electronic in nature and are accumulated during the subsequent process of "mastering" that source transfer when preparing it for DVD authoring. Given that nearly all of the artifacts that I found objectionable on the first My Fair Lady DVD originated in the electronic domain, I was hopeful that this new edition would ameliorate some or most of them. (Ok, 'nuff already. Will this guy tell us what the new disc looks like?!) I'm quite pleased to say that the new DVD DOES correct the majority of the ills of the first edition -- virtually everything except for the edge enhancement. HTF's own Gary Tooze's amazing on-line DVD comparison site (http://www.dvdbeaver.com) has just been updated to include a screen-capture comparison between the new and previous R1 DVD: http://188.8.131.52/film/DVDCompare2/myfairlady.htm. Gary has given me permission to link to his pictures here and so he is to be credited for the fantasic screen-caps posted in this review. THANK YOU. Quote: Gary Tooze's Summary: On a projection system the earlier disc was virtually un-viewable, with incredible amounts of edge enhancement. The new version is from the same transfer (look at the bit-rate peaks and valleys). It runs at a higher bitrate, but still has a great amount of edge enhancement when viewed on larger than a 50' screen - this is when it tends to breakdown. The Ascot gown, fence railings outside Rex's home, all have double lines around them, which is unacceptable. The screen captures look sharp but these DVDs don't pass the test when put through an HTPC projection. For tube owners (not HDTV) this should not be a problem. The new SE version is the one to buy. Great Extras - we can hope for improvement in the PQ one day. Most will be very happy with its sharpness and vibrant colors. Gary's impressions very closely reflect my own. Our only real divergence (which may be more in appearance-only due to the general brevity of his comments) is that while I share Gary's misgivings about the persistence of edge enhancement in the new DVD, I find myself a bit more enthusiastic about improved detail and overall more "film like" impression of the new disc. For this review, I did some direct A/B comparison on both my 16x9 direct-view 34" CRT monitor and on Sony 10HT front-projection system. Good: In comparison to the earlier DVD, the new DVD is a revelation. Detail that was formerly obscured by DNR processing or HF filtering (a common practice to facilitate compression) is now rendered clearly and cleanly. The measured "quantitative" increase may not be too dramatic, but the qualitative increase is significant for a number of reasons... For the first time on home-video, the intricate textures and patterns of the award-winning costume and set designs have begun to shine through. While I was never lulled into believing that I was watching an image with the resolution of a 35mm film-print with the new disc, I *was* lulled into that "content" place where I felt that my eyes were gathering in a rich palette of satisfying textures and details. The former DVD always left me with a frustrated feeling that I was "missing something" and wanting for more picture information. The visible detail in new DVD gives me much more of an "ahhhh" sensation. Just how much of an improvement would I consider this new disc to be? The improvement with the new SE is more significant than the what you're used to seeing from a "Super Bit" Columbia DVD edition. I'd even declare that the improvement in overall image detail with the new My Fair Lady SE is more dramatic than the improvement we often see when upgrading from 4x3 lbxed transfers to 16x9 (some, not all). This sort of experience really makes you wonder just how much picture quality you're missing on all the other DVD titles on your shelf given what that source master may have been capable of delivering! Detail isn't the only improvement. The image also is thankfully free from the "digital noise" that plagued the former DVD. Backgrounds look much more natural and less "electronic". Gone is the digital "smear" and finally intricate patterns in fabric and wallpaper comes through solidly with out a gauze of "crawlies" getting in the way. The image has an enhanced sense of 3-dimensionality over the previous edition which is probably in some part a benefit from the greater detail, clarity, and image stability. Though the image still has the same tendency to bob slightly and move around in the frame as with the older disc, now the entire image moves together as a whole like a *real* projected film rather than breaking up into jittery parts that all seem to ramble and shift asynchronously as though some DNR algorithm is having difficulty keeping up with the motion (which was a HUGE problem with the older DVD). These improvements are absolutely fundamental to the success of this newer DVD because those details...costumes, sets, and actors' faces...are the essence of a big-screen musical like My Fair Lady. If you can't see the expression on the mid-ground actors' faces and details in far-ground sets and costumes then you're not really experiencing this film. Lastly, let me say that big-screen viewers will also not be distracted by the copious mosquito noise that swarmed around the actor's faces in so many scenes in the former DVD. The Ascot Race scene is a fantastic A/B comparison if you want to pop in the new disc to see how the added detail and lack of digital noise have raised the bar on this new disc. All in all, these improvements reminded me very much of the improvements I saw when I upgraded my Amadues DVD to the newer SE edition (so if you've become familiar with Warner's two incarnations of that title, it should give you some idea). Bad: As Gary has rightfully mentioned, the same EE/ringing in the previous DVD is also present here. For those of you who do not own the previous DVD, we're talking about ringing a little worse than Sound of Music but not quite as bad as Music Man. I found that from 1.5 screen-widths from a projected image halos could be seen...especially on sharp/high-contrast edge transitions like the contours of top-hats or around black-painted iron fencing. However, given the revelation afforded from all the added image detail, the result was that I felt disappointed by the ringing, but I still found the overall experience of viewing on the large-screen projection satisfying. As Gary stated, those with smaller screens below 50" that are viewed from more than 2 screen-widths away will probably not find anything objectionable. Those who sit at a closer viewing angle or with a proportionally larger screen may find the ringing distracting compared to other, better-transferred/mastered DVDs (ie: Hello Dolly). The slight ringing aside, the main consequence of this artificial sharpening to my eyes is that the image has been robbed of that coveted "film like" naturalness that results when a DVD image preserves the subtlety and refinement of the 35mm frame. Yes, we all know that DVD is an inherent compromise and cannot convey the true resolution and fidelity of a *good* 35mm film print. However, some DVDs (those transferred and mastered with a "minimalist" philosophy where the DVD is digitally transferred from film without excessive HF filtering and compressed without incurring artifacts from electronic manipulation) can come very close to communicating the effect of film to a convincing degree (even at 1.75-1.5 screen widths away). The new My Fair Lady DVD fails this delicate "film like" test because the mild edge-sharpening, even if not resulting in strong ringing that's directly visible in every scene, adds a slight hardness to the image that feels ever so slightly artificial. An analogy would be comparing the effect to a good solid-state amplifier with good frequency response with the only fault that it flattens the midrange just enough to lose the naturalness of an otherwise great analog recording. Any of you tube or vinyl-loving audiophiles should be able to visualize what I mean. I'm assuming that the ringing (just like with Lawrence of Arabia) is "built into" the source master and was introduced during the film-tape transfer process because its presence is identical to the former disc despite the dramatic improvements in all other areas with Warner's new effort to re-author this disc (and WB knows how to author discs free from edge enhancement so I'm confident they would have eliminated it if they could have). Also there are one or two minor instances of scan-line aliasing which would be an uncommon sight resulting from a modern film-tape transfer. Color, Contrast, and Black-level are all extremely close if not identical to the previous DVD...which is to say that they are very good. While I found the overall color-palette a little on the "dull" side from what my instincts expected to find, I have my suspicions that given the superlative film-restoration effort (by none-other than our own RAH) and conscientious film-tape transfer from 1994, that the color timing, and contrast are faithful to the look intended for this magnificent film. My Fair Lady doesn't look "punchy" like Finding Nemo--but it's accurate so the DVD is doing its job. Jabber jabber jabber. Will this guy show us the pictures! Thanks to Gary for posting these on his site (http://184.108.40.206/film/DVDCompare2/myfairlady.htm -- I'm just linking to his pictures). The top image is the former DVD, and the bottom image is the new SE version. Keep in mind that while the improvements you see here may seem subtle sitting two feet back from your computer monitor, on a 100" screen their effect is much more pronounced. Also keep in mind that the moving image communicates more detail than the still-frame digital captures. Ok...I'll shut up. Old: New: Old: New: Old: New: Whew! Thanks Gary. More pictures are posted at his site so please check it out. PQ Summary: While a new 1080 24P HD film-tape transfer would undoubtedly have benefited this DVD even further, the current transfer reveals a vast improvement on this new SE DVD in comparison to the previous DVD incarnation. All of the previous DVD's strengths, such as color and contrast, are maintained. Most of the previous DVDs image faults that originated in the electronic domain, such as MPEG noise, loss of HF detail and a general case of "digititis", have been rectified. The only real fault that remains visible is a fair bit of ringing around high-contrast sharp-edge transitions, which keeps this DVD just inches away from producing a truly film-like picture on large-screen systems. All in all the picture quality increase over the former DVD is as much as (or more than) you often see with Columbia's Super-Bit titles or when a studio offers a new 16x9 disc to replace a former 4x3 lbxed version--and in that sense any videophile who would like to improve his or her My Fair Lady viewing experience while we wait for a future HD-DVD version should consider upgrading. Wrapping up my overall sentiments regarding the picture quality of this new DVD. Picture: 4.5 / 5 Sound... Sound is surprisingly good, and seems identical to the previous DVD for those of you familiar with it. The special feature content goes into some detail about the picture and sound restoration for this film, and you'll discover (if you didn't already know) that the source 6-track stems for My Fair Lady have been lost. Despite this sad tragedy, the objective sound quality on this disc sounds quite good to my ears. Vocals come across full-bodied and the symphonic score seems rich and vibrantly portrayed. There's no hint of thinness or brightness to the recording--which is refreshing. Surround use is appropriate in the few scenes (Ascot Races) in which it becomes evident. A nice use of L/C/R mixing is employed for several musical numbers where back-up vocalists spread nicely across the front stage (Wouldn't it be Loverly). If anything is to be criticized, the high-end at times seems a little dampened for my tastes (probably a result of noise-reduction) and I found the level of some of the vocals in certain musical numbers a bit low...I found myself turning up the audio during a few "songs" to achieve what felt like a more comfortable balance. Also, the sound has a somewhat "dark" quality and the instruments and vocals sometimes lack warmth. I'm assuming this might be a result of the 1994 digital audio mastering technology? However, these are minor quibbles and I'm willing to concede that given the source the restoration team had to work with, the audio presented on this disc does reasonable justice. Indeed, the audio presentation illicited spontaneous comments of "the sound is very good" from other enthusiast and non-DVD enthusiast types alike who viewed the film with me. Putting those comments in balance, the same listeners described some of the musical numbers as having "too much reverb" which I found curious as I've heard similar comments from other members at HTF (the reverb isn't as bothersome for me personally). My biggest disappointment was that I was hoping to have a 5.1 audio option with Audrey Hepburn's vocals (similar to the audio option on the laserdisc that afforded the opportunity to watch the movie with Audrey singing all her tunes herself). I consider that a BIG missed opportunity on this DVD and I'm sad Warner wasn't able to grant the film-collector this feature. Audio presentation on this disc is identical to that on the previous cut...which includes the 1.0 French track and 2.0 DD stereo commentary track. I haven't heard the source mix to compare to the audio on this DVD nor have I ever heard this film presented in its original 6-track format, so my judgment of the audio on this disc is a simple reflection of how I experience it, without any predetermined expectations... Sound: 4/ 5 Special Features... Oh my. I’ll have to revisit this section when I have more time to finish typing. Let me make a quick list with some brief comments: [*]Commmentary on during the feature film with Art Director Gene Allen, Singer Marni Nixon, and Restoration experts Robert A. Harris (yes, Mr. RAH who posts here regularly) & James C. Katz. I haven’t had a chance to really get in-depth with the commentary so please, those of you familiar with the commentary on the first DVD release (which appears to be identical to the commentary here) share your comments with us. [*]More Loverly than Ever: My Fair Lady Then and Now retrospective documentary. I found this immensely enjoyable. Assembled here is a nice mix of historical anecdotes, production issues, studio politics, casting decisions, technical issues behind the filming of various scenes etc. I didn’t check the running time (though I did watch the entire program) but this featurette is of a generous length (I believe about an hour total). Folks with the laserdisc...please let us know if this is a feature that has been ported over from that 1994 12” edition. [*]Vintage 1963/4 Featurettes, Footage and Audio: This will appeal more towards the seasoned musical fan or film-history enthusiast. Picture quality varies and I personally didn’t find the content riveting, but I can recognize its value in the context of this special edition content. [*]Alternate Audrey Hepburn Vocals: You get to watch two musical numbers from the film in their entirety – “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” and “Show me” – with Audrey Hepburn’s own vocal tracks (in the movie these tunes were overdubbed by Marni Nixon...who was responsible for most of Eliza’s singing in the film). Both scenes are presented in 4x3 lbxed OAR (would have REALLY liked these 16x9) with 2.0 DD audio (would have preferred PCM or 5.1 DD). Why am I being so picky? I guess it’s because I really wanted an audio option on the feature film to include Audrey’s vocals so one could watch the movie with her singing as a 5.1 option...so I’m working out my frustration here. These vocals are a treasure and one of the most valued “extras” on this disc for me personally, and I’m very grateful that Warner is providing them here. Those of you with the laserdisc, please share if there were other vocal numbers with Audrey’s voice that are omitted here. [*]Show Me Galleries: Haven’t check them out yet. Others? [*]Comments on a Lady: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Martin Scorsese offer some brief insights/comments on the film. While these two folks are also featured extensively in the retrospective documentary, the comments included here are not duplicated. I found their insights and thoughts worth the listen. [*]Trailers for Brigadoon, Camelot, Gigi, and My Fair Lady (1964 and 1994 30th anniversary). Haven’t had a chance to check’em out but I’ll post back once I do. If you’ve got the disc please enlighten us... [/list] In Closing... It’s My Fair Lady. It’s a notable improvement over the previous disc. If you had to have it the first time, you’ll need to buy it again. If you’ve been “holding out” waiting to get this title, now is a good time to get off the fence. A generally good picture (much improved over the previous DVD), good sound (identical to the previous DVD) and great extras make picking up this DVD essential for any fan of Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, or the movie-musical genre. Recommended!!!