Psycho (1998) (Blu-ray)

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Released 2-Mar-2016

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Featurette-Psycho Path - Documentary
Additional Footage-International News Reel Footage
Additional Footage-Additional Shower Scene
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 105
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Gus Van Sant
Studio
Distributor

ViaVision
Starring Vince Vaughn
Anne Heche
Julianne Moore
Viggo Mortensen
William H. Macy
Robert Forster
Philip Baker Hall
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $19.95 Music Danny Elfman
Steve Bartek


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

††† Even in 2015, simply the notion of remaking Alfred Hitchcockís Psycho seems every bit as ill-advised, pointless and idiotic as it did back in the 1990s. Why waste time and money to remake perfection? This ďwhyĒ can admittedly be addressed in a financial sense, since Universal likely assumed that there would be a built-in audience of curious fans and oblivious film-goers. However, there is no artistic motive to remake Psycho, especially with director Gus Van Sant staging a scene-for-scene, almost shot-for-shot aping of Hitchcockís original, except now itís in colour, stars a more modern cast, and is supported by a generous budget. A mostly limp, paint-by-numbers bore, 1998ís Psycho is still every bit as dreadful as ever, with the filmís shonky reputation now speaking for itself.

††† A real estate secretary earning a thankless wage who yearns to do more with her life, Marion Crane (Anne Heche) is entrusted by her employer to deposit $400,000 in the bank. (For those keeping score, it was only $40,000 in the original.) However, Marion perceives the sizeable sum of money as an opportunity for a fresh start, impulsively deciding to steal it and run. En route to visit her boyfriend Sam (Viggo Mortensen), an exhausted Marion pulls into the Bates Motel on a rainy evening, where she meets proprietor Norman Bates (Vince Vaughn). Events of this evening eventually turn violent, with the jealous rage of Normanís twisted mother putting an end to Marionís plans. Once Marionís disappearance becomes worrisome to those close to her, private investigator Milton Arbogast (William H. Macy) is recruited to hopefully put an end to the mystery.

††† Ironically, Van Sant once stated in a Newsweek article that he detests remake. In fact (irony of all ironies), he calls his Psycho an ďanti-remake film.Ē But producing something comparable to his ambitions requires a deft touch that simply eludes Van Sant, with the picture bearing no evidence of satire underneath its surface. Itís just extremely dreary and meaningless.

††† Remakes are not inherently bad, as some remakes have successfully produced a new, exciting interpretation of older material. Hell, recycling ideas and stories has been a staple of Hollywood since cinemaís inception - Akira Kurosawaís samurai masterpiece Yojimbo was remade as both A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing, while John Sturgesí The Magnificent Seven was a western appropriation of Kurosawaís Seven Samurai. But Hitchcockís Psycho does not possess the type of transcendent premise that easily yields itself to a new reimagining, and apparently Van Sant himself even knew this. Thus, Van Sant actually re-uses Joseph Stefanoís screenplay for the original film, making a few minor changes along the way. Moreover, with Van Sant wanting to produce a shot-for-shot recreation, he constantly referred back to Hitchcockís film on-set, asking the performers to mimic movements to the best of their abilities.

††† Granted, if Van Sant made any major alterations, it may have alienated Hitchcock purists, but at least the project would have been bolder and more compelling. What if the entire story was told from Normanís perspective? What if Van Sant produced a page-for-page translation of Robert Blochís source novel? Instead, this Psycho is tragically gutless, with small changes that are detrimental if anything. There is some rear nudity, for instance, the setting is modernised, and Norman is unmistakably masturbating as he peeps on Marion. Thus, the movie copies Hitchcock without paying heed of his ďless is moreĒ approach. How ironic. Hereís the big problem: even if you want to praise something in 1998ís Psycho, you would be much better off praising the Hitchcock film. In fact, youíd be better off just watching the Hitchcock film as opposed to this drivel. Furthermore, one of the biggest reasons for Psychoís success in 1960 was because of how bold, original and unexpected it was, with strict cinema policies to avoid spoiling any surprises. But the twists are well-known now, lessening this remakeís impact, especially since it lacks unexpected twists of its own.

††† With Van Sant determined to include every line and pause from Hitchcockís original, nothing flows naturally; it all feels very awkward, with lines and actions included perfunctorily rather than organically. To be sure, the presentation is professional, as to be expected from the budget, while Danny Elfman recreates every cue of Bernard Herrmannís original compositions in rousing stereo. But with the film feeling so forced, this incarnation of Psycho is not particularly thrilling or scary, playing out in a slapdash fashion. Added to this, the movie feels strangely humdrum in colour, whereas Hitchcockís stylish black and white photography enhanced his filmís unnerving mood. Even the remade shower scene is an absolute dud, lacking the immediacy of the original film. Almost all shots are recreated (though pointless flashes of a stormy sky are thrown in as well), adding up to nothing except a lifeless imitation, much like the rest of the movie. Motion pictures are supposed to constantly evolve, with script revisions in pre-production and on-set, while editors continuously tinker with a movie in post-production, adding and removing shots, scenes or lines of dialogue. This is exactly why this Psycho never works, as itís too closely tethered to the original movie, stuck with moments that worked for Hitchcockís film but are simply ineffective here.

††† The performances are another issue, as the cast play surface-level impersonations of their characters instead of embodying them. Heche pales in comparison to Janet Leigh, and is unable to recite lines without sounding hopelessly forced. Mortensen is equally weak, and frequently sounds as if heís just reciting lines from nearby cue cards, though Julianne Moore and William H. Macy do fare slightly better. Most lamentably, Vaughn is unable to present a truly compelling interpretation of Norman Bates, despite his attempts to imitate a number of Anthony Perkinsí mannerisms. Itís actually quite amusing to look back at Vaughn trying his hand at a serious performance here, since he now works exclusively in comedy, and the notion of Vaughn in a straight-faced drama or thriller is sure to provoke ridicule. Vaughn fails to breath life into his portrayal of Bates, spouting the original dialogue in an often unconvincing fashion.

††† The makers of 1998ís Psycho obviously wanted to pay tribute to Hitchcockís exceptional work, but the film comes across as more of an expensive self-indulgent exercise - it was, after all, undoubtedly more fun for Van Sant and crew to make the film than it will be for an anybody to watch the fruit of their labours. All these years on, this remake is only worth watching as a historical curiosity, though there probably is an audience of young modern movie-goers who would prefer to watch this newer, colour version of Psycho over the ďoldĒ original. With its critical mauling, terrible reputation and box office failure, 1998ís Psycho has only served one useful purpose: It has discouraged other studios and filmmakers from doing another remake of Hitchís untouchable classic.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† This is the first time that 1998ís Psycho has hit Blu-ray in an English-speaking region, with this remake only receiving a problematic release in Italy. Via Visionís 1080p high definition master came directly from Universal, with the AVC-encoded video framed in the movieís original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

††† The big issue with the video is that it lacks the refinement and pop of fine detail one would expect from a movie of this vintage. Universal is notorious for its use of digital noise reduction, and this fairly dated transfer often looks smeary and waxy. For instance, the shot of Arbogast arriving at the motel and talking to Bates has been hopelessly scrubbed of grain and fine detail, looking like an oil painting. I also detected a fair amount of edge enhancement. And with some unrefined video noise popping up from time to time, the image looks unusually compressed.

††† One assumes that the video engineers simply did not care about 1998ís Psycho whilst prepping it for HD, and this transfer was most likely created in the early days of the Blu-ray format. This may even be an old DVD master. It looks very dated indeed, suffering from the issues which plagued early era Universal Blu-rays. Itís disappointing to witness this, too, as Universal has recently remastered a number of catalogue titles, including 1995ís Apollo 13, which is an older movie but (on its recent American Blu-ray re-release) looks leaps and bounds better and more refined than Psycho.

††† On a more positive note, some shots look better than others, and I didnít detect any crush, though there is some ringing. Colour is fine, looking true to the movieís theatrical presentation (it lines up with the VHS and DVD versions I recall viewing as a teen). The print is dotted with marks and specks, but itís not too much of a problem.

††† Casual viewers may not notice or even care about this transferís big issues, though they will likely find the video to be less impressive than carefully-remastered catalogue efforts. But videofiles will no doubt find this HD presentation drab and unimpressive. Considering the fact that everyone involved in the movie probably wants to forget it ever existed, this may be the best we will ever get. And since I do not plan to watch the movie much in the future, I canít say Iím too fussed.

††† There are no subtitles.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† Although Psycho was released on Blu-ray in Italy, the English option available was a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track that was plagued with glitches that had the movieís three or four fans up in arms. Luckily, Via Visionís audio presentation of Psycho is much better, with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that does its job remarkably well. No other audio tracks are available, so non-English buyers beware.

††† Psychoís audio track is much better than the problematic transfer; itís crisp, clear and refined, as to be expected from a late-Ď90s production. Dialogue is well-prioritised, coming through with utmost clarity, but itís Danny Elfmanís rearrangement of Herrmannís music that really benefits from a lossless audio presentation. Indeed, even though itís a carbon copy of Herrmannís original score, it does sound magnificent, with the surround channels creating a nicely enveloping soundscape.

††† With its low-key nature, the rear channels are mostly reserved for music and ambience, while the subwoofer accentuates the visceral stabbing sounds. There are no problems with the audio to report, and anyone looking for a faithful audio presentation of the movie wonít find much to complain about.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† A decent selection of bonus material is included. Curiously absent, however, is the commentary track with Vaughn, Van Sant and Heche which was on the Collector's Edition DVD. Also curious is that Via Vision's Psycho DVD collection lists the commentary track on the back cover, though I cannot confirm if it is on the disc. The movie's detractors wonít care either way, but it does make this overall package feel incomplete.

Psycho Path - Documentary (SD; 30:24)

††† This documentary is more interesting and enjoyable than the movie itself. Opening with a montage of people trashing the idea of remaking Psycho, this extra delves into the mindset and genesis behind the project, with interviews from a number of key players, including Van Sant, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and even original screenwriter Joseph Stefano. Ample behind the scenes footage is included, with Van Sant often seen watching segments of Hitchcockís original film between takes. The filming of the shower scene is included, as well as a few other key sequences. The music is even covered, with Danny Elfman referring to Herrmannís original compositions. Even if you dislike the remake as much as I do, this featurette is worth watching.

International News Reel Footage (SD; 7:45)

††† Even though this disc is dedicated to the remake, this is the same extra available on the Blu-ray for Hitchcockís movie. Itís a reel of news footage from the release of Psycho in 1960.

Additional Shower Scene (SD; 2:30)

††† This is the exact same extra from the original movieís disc; the shower scene of the 1960 film is included both with and without music.

Trailer (SD; 1:49)

††† Taken from a visibly old (full-screen) source, this is the trailer for the movie, with the Universal logo watermark at the bottom.

Stills Gallery (HD; 1:11)

††† This is a selection of screenshots from the movie. Please note that you cannot navigate between photos; itís a video slideshow.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

† † On May 9th, 2017, Shout Factory released a Region A-locked Blu-ray edition. The transfer appears to be identical. Shout's edition misses out on the "Additional Shower Scene" and "International News Reel Footage" but adds:

††† I'm giving the win to Shout. Two commentaries is a pretty good get, though I can't imagine too many people rushing out to buy this flick in the first place.

Summary

††† It's hard to find much merit in 1998's Psycho, which has not stood the test of time. I feel that everybody involved wants to sweep it under the rug, and I can't say I blame them. This Blu-ray release is a bit underwhelming, with a highly flawed, processed video presentation, though audio is pretty good. Extras are reasonable, but the absence of the audio commentary from the DVD is disappointing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Review Equipment
DVDPlayStation 4, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42LW6500. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationLG BH7520TW
SpeakersLG Tall Boy speakers, 5.1 set-up, 180W

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