room with a view - brief review

Discussion in 'DVD' started by andrew markworthy, Mar 30, 2004.

  1. andrew markworthy

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    As part of the re-release of key Merchant-Ivory movies, A Room With A View has been released in a 2-disc SE with remastered picture and revamped 5.1 sound and a host of extas on a second disc.

    The movie is based on E.M. Forster's great novel of the same name and concerns Lucy Honeychurch, a typical upper-middle class young woman of the period, who, chaperoned by her aunt, is doing a tour of Italy (to see the art treasures) before being married off into a life of dull, if financially secure, domesticity. During her stay in Florence, she meets a young man not bound by the staid conventions of the time, who awakens her physical side. Were this a modern tale, we could expect all that such a phrase entails, but quite simply all he does is kiss her - once. By the standards of the time (Edwardian Britain in the 1900s) this is quite shocking behaviour, and enough for Lucy and chaperone to bring forward their plans and return to England at once.

    The scene then moves to the idyllic (and oh so dull) setting of rural England. Lucy has got engaged to a socially suitable (but irredeemably wet) character called Cecil. And then, by chance, the young man who kissed her rents a cottage in the village where Lucy lives ...

    Now all of this sounds very very silly, but watch the movie and you'll see that it's not. You rapidly get assimilated into the mores and manners of the time and it all makes sense. The film was a big hit in the USA (and the UK) when released, and generally it's a charming film (if with a rather predictable ending).

    I personally have never totally warmed to the movie because I love Forster's novels, and I think that it trivialises a lot of his more profound arguments. The characters are also far more two-dimensional than in the novel. This isn't helped by the acting, which in hindsight seems a little two-dimensional at times. However, this could be because exquisite little British costume dramas have now become commonplace and the whole genre feels rather tired. Having said this, it's preferable to a join-up-the-dots action movie, so these criticisms should be seen as relative, not absolute.

    Regarding the transfer, it's as good as we're likely to get. The 5.1 sound does show up some of the limitations of the original recording. I thought that a lot of the dialogue sounded a little 'boxy' and the music a bit muffled, though others may disagree. There is a commentary by cast and crew which I confess I haven't listened to, having grown utterly bored with 'X was wonderful in this scene'-type sycophancy on other DVDs. If this commentary is any different, please let me know.

    The extras are interesting. The movie was originally made by Channel 4 Films, an offshoot of a UK commercial TV company. Channel 4 Films closed down a couple of years ago, and the distribution rights to their films were passed to the BBC (at least in the USA). This may be to our advantage, because the BBC has impressive archives. Included on the extras are three clips from BBC Breakfast Time (obviously enough, a breakfast-time TV show, still a novelty in 80's Britain) reporting contemporary reaction to the movie, plus interviews with Simon Callow and Daniel Day-Lewis. These are interesting in their own right, but also fascinating for a Brit as a reminder of a couple of popular interviewers of the time (one of whom fell from grace a few years later in a sex and drugs scandal of quite lurid proportions). The jewel in the crown, however, is a BBC programme made just after Forster's death in 1970 and includes some of the greats of English literary criticism discussing Forster's work. This was at a time when the BBC wasn't afraid to follow its original mandate to inform as well as entertain, and there is no dumbing-down.

    Overall, unless the phrase 'Merchant-Ivory' has you instinctively reaching for the sick-bag, this is a movie I would strongly recommend.
     
  2. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Thanks for the review!

    Did you screen the r1 or r2 version?

    Can you say more about the picture quality?

    -dave [​IMG]
     
  3. andrew markworthy

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    R1.

    The picture quality is tricky to describe. It appears to be a fairly faithful replica of the film. [And I saw the film the day it was released in the UK in an excellent clean print and then a couple of weeks later (curiously enough, with two successive girlfriends - one at the end of the reliationship, the other at the start, but that's another story [​IMG])]. However, I always thought the original picture quality wasn't all that good - grainy and not lit all that well (this is a personal opinion only, so please don't attack me!). Therefore, to me personally, I'd say the picture quality is as good as we're likely to get it, but I wasn't personally bowled over. Sorry, I didn't put this convoluted explanation in the original contribution as I thought it too long-winded, and I certainly wouldnt want to deter anyone with what I think is a personal preference thing.
     
  4. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    It does turn out to be the case that this SE is not a part of the Merchant/Ivory collection being jointly released by Criterion and HMV.
     
  5. BryanV

    BryanV Stunt Coordinator

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    It is a great movie scenery wise. With ARWAV you have the art work of Italy and both the itallian and English Countryside.

    Merchant-Ivory are great movies this one and Howards End rank the best I think.

    I am very pleased to hear this got a 2-Disk special.
     
  6. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    The current DVD is truly horrid. It's filtered to the point of having VHS-level detail, and is ridden with all sorts of video artifacts like scan-line aliasing and electronic artifacts like digital blur from PAL-NTSC conversion etc.

    Which reminds me. Can you confirm that the R1 disc is indeed a "native" film-NTSC transfer? If you still-step frame by frame, does every other frame or so appear as "ghosting" like a blurred double image (which would indicate another pal->ntsc conversion)? If it still-steps like a normal movie and appears to have a clean "frame by frame" step of motion...then it's not a PAL-NTSC conversion.

    As long as I can watch the new DVD and have it look reasonably like "film" from 1.75 screen widths I'll be ok.

    -dave
     
  7. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    I have the current DVD and I haven't even watched it!

    The new one comes from the BBC, which isn't really good news. I'm hoping it's not a PAL-NTSC conversion too, because I find these almost unwatchable (the Chaplin series are all conversions like this, as is the recent Phantom of the Opera).

    But the SE does have quite a lot of extras.
     
  8. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    A&E's Pride and Prejudice is another terrible R1 disc that is just loaded with PAL-NTSC conversion artifacting. It really sucks...such beautiful films (film-source media here...not video source) and yet the studios releasing the R1 DVD feel compelled to run that PAL master through an electronic conversion process for the NTSC market. There MUST be a source 24 fps master from the initial film-tape transfer...[​IMG]...why can't they just use that to generate the NTSC master?

    If Room with a View R1 turns out to be another PAL-NTSC conversion botch job I can't promise to stay calm. I may have to write some rather virulent letters. You thought my campaign for a WS Muppet Treasure Island was bad. Just wait [​IMG]
     
  9. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    You know, speaking of that Pride and Prejudice....

    It must have been filmed on video, and then transferred to film. It isn't just filled with artifacts. The color is hideous, and the definition of it looks very odd.

    I waited to buy it until the latest anamorphic edition, a kind of SE.

    It looks just as bad.

    Made the same year as Sense and Sensibility, but the cinematographer of the latter clearly knew what he was doing.

    I also think the DVD of P&P suffers from odd sound, the music is fine, but the voices are oddly mixed down, so you can't really hear them properly. Better to send it to 2 channels than listen to the 5.1 mix.

    It isn't my favorite show, anyway. I prefer, infinitely, the old MGM movie with Olivier and Greer Garson.

    I also own the BBC series from about 1979, and I like it better, too.
     
  10. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    I'm also waiting on more definitive word on the transfer, as I agree with David that the Image release was horrid, their previous LD which used the same transfer was superior due to the lack of compression artifacts.

    This is a great film that I hope has been done justice.
     
  11. GlennH

    GlennH Cinematographer

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    Don't let my wife hear you dis this movie. [​IMG]

    The BBC/A&E version of Pride and Prejudice is one of her favorites. (Not to take anything away from the other versions.) She pulls it off the shelf every time she gets sick. Just lays on the couch and watches it for hours.

    I agree the video and audio quality on this DVD is a crime. Really bad color and lots of video noise. I had high hopes for the SE and sold our original full frame copy to "upgrade," only to find it wasn't much better. Still, it's better than the old VHS copied off A&E we used to have, and at least doesn't have commercials to FF through.

    But I digress. Back to the subject of A Room With a View, here's a review that liked the quality of the new DVD quite a bit.
     
  12. andrew markworthy

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    Glenn, thanks for the review. I wouldn't diagree with it. As I said, my reserve is based on personal quirks, not objective evidence. [​IMG] To reiterate - I thought the transfer was fine; it was the original film quality I had qualms about. I'd also endorse the comment about the slight bass-heaviness in the early part of the movie.

    To reply to an earlier question - I think it's unlikely that it's a PAL-NTSC conversion. There's no new SE of ARWAV in R2 (nor any sign of an upcoming release) so chances are that the NTSC version is the first.
     
  13. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    I didn't know this was coming out. For the first time in nearly a year, I'll be picking it up, most likely, on Tuesday along with Grapes of Wrath.
     
  14. GlennH

    GlennH Cinematographer

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  15. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    my copy finally came in from DDD yesterday.

    right off the bat, the packaging, the design, the choice of card stock used, the silver foil embossing...just beautiful.
    i was expecting just the simple clear 'PAL style' cases of the other M/I discs, so this was a pleasant surprise.

    only had time to scan a few scenes but what a superb improvment over the old disc! its rapturous to look at again, and i was struck many times by how dimensional the image appeared.
    there still is just the shyest hint of instability in the picture, but i suspect that might just be a fine but visible grain structure inherent in the film.
    i'm thrilled with the way this disc looks and can't wait to sit down with the movie again.
    this is a film (like Prisoner of Second Avenue, Dawn of the Dead, Accidental Tourist, and others) that i knew i liked, but forgotten how much i loved till i saw them again w/in the last few months on disc.
     
  16. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie

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    This is indeed a great looking disc. It's not perfect, but it does the nearly 20-year old film justice. No PAL ghosting from what I could detect. The 5.1 is more ambient than enveloping, but that is to be expected given the low budget and vintage of the film.
     
  17. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Agreed.

    I hope to get a moment to post an official "HTF Review" of this disc. A truly beautiful DVD.
     
  18. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    The DVD suffers from PAL speedup issues. Runtime is supposed to be 117 minutes (it even says so on the box). Actual runtime is 112 minutes. Do the math (adding 4 percent to account for PAL speedup) and you can see that they botched the transfer bigtime on this one.

    To tell that the movie is running too fast, compare the main and end theme in the movie to what is playing on the menu. The movie music is a semitone higher than the menu music. The voices are at a higher pitch. It is most annoying.

    I want my old Image disc back.

    - Steve
     
  19. Eric F

    Eric F Screenwriter

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    I've got a room, I've got a room with a view.
    I've got a room, I've got a room with a view.
    I've got a house full of troubles, and room with a view of the blues.

    I've got no rug on floor, no pillows for my bed, no pictures on my wall, just a ceiling o'er my head.

    I've got a room, I've got a room with a view.
    I've got a head full of worries, and a room with a view of the blues.
     
  20. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    It may suffer from PAL speed-up issues (doesn't bother me immensely) and is certainly a PAL-NTSC conversion as still-stepping reveals the odd "ghost" frames that have been digitally interpolated in the 50-60Hz conversion process. Really a shame given that this was all native 24 fps film and any 24 fps 1080 HD master could have been used to directly generate both native NTSC and PAL DVD masters.

    In any case, the audio quality is excellent (speed up not withstanding) and the video quality is also surprisingly good considering the PAL-NTSC conversion processing. Detail is excellent for a film of this type. If I get a chance after the Disney Treasures I might do a review.
     

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