Wicker Man, The: 30th Anniversary 2 Disc Collector's Edition (1973)

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Released 4-Aug-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Featurette-The Wicker Man Enigma
Interviews-Cast-With Christopher Lee(Actor) and Robin Hardy (Director)
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Radio Spots
Biographies-Cast & Crew
DVD-ROM Extras-Original Theatrical Brochure for The Wicker Man
Alternative Version-Director's Cut with feature commentary
Easter Egg
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 84:03
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:49)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robin Hardy
Studio
Distributor
British Lion Films
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Edward Woodward
Christopher Lee
Britt Ekland
Ingrid Pitt
Dianne Cilento
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Paul Giovanni


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Wicker Man is a film that defies categorisation, blurring the lines between thriller, mystery and musical, with a touch of humour and some stunning direction thrown in for good measure.

    Our tale follows Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward), dispatched from a mainland constabulary to a small secluded island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The island in question is renowned for its fresh produce and the alternative lifestyle of it's inhabitants - a seemingly simple folk governed by the mysterious Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee). On the surface these townsfolk appear as normal as you or I, but behind their doors lurks something out of the ordinary. As Sgt. Howie begins questioning the island's residents about the missing girl, he is met with both apathy and conflicting information. Some insist that the girl doesn't exist, others suggest she died some time ago - and the deeper he digs, the more he begins to suspect that the missing girl may be intended for ritual slaughter as part of the island's Mayday celebrations.

    The principal story for The Wicker Man came about as a result of the friendship between Director Robin Hardy and Writer Anthony Shaffer. The pair had previously collaborated on several television projects, and were fans of Hammer Productions - regularly travelling across town together to see the latest offering from the legendary studio. Out of this appreciation for the classic British thrillers came a desire to turn the Hammer formula on its head. Where traditionally the bad guy is portrayed as a shifty-looking pariah or foreigner, they envisaged a thriller that would place a devout Christian man in a community entirely comprised of heathens, instantly turning an everyday God-fearing man into the outsider.

    The story and screenplay were written with Christopher Lee in mind to play the Lord of the island, and he still maintains to this day that this was the greatest original script he had ever read. News of a remake has recently surfaced, with Lee reprising his role, and Nicholas Cage starring as Sgt. Howie. Is nothing sacred?

    The casting of this film couldn't be better. Britt Ekland was at the height of her fame at this time, and married to Goon Peter Sellers. Christopher Lee was eager to break away from the clichéd roles that had made him popular, and had actually been cast from the film's conception. Edward Woodward was also at a career high after starring in the internationally popular television series Callan, and was intent on beginning a film career. Peter Cushing was rumoured to play the role of Sgt. Howie but was already committed to other projects.

    With such a marketable cast it amazes me that the film wasn't more highly regarded by British distributors. Much has been documented of the hardship this film has experienced over the years, heavily edited upon its initial release, denied a premiere and legitimate distribution, and ultimately left for dead by its studio - these tales and more are described in detail in the extra material on this DVD. The director himself says that he feels the film wouldn't be as popular as it is today if it hadn't been suppressed in the manner it was.

    I can barely begin to describe the importance this film has for me personally, I have always felt that it - the Director's cut in particular - is one of the most timeless and intriguing films ever to come from British cinema. If you haven't experienced it, I can only recommend you at least rent this DVD, but if you make the purchase you will be rewarded with an amazing film that stuns the senses in a different manner each and every time you watch it, and believe me - you'll want to watch it more than once.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    For a thirty year old film, this is an acceptable transfer. Much of the issues here stem from the condition of the film source, not its transfer to DVD.

    This transfer is presented in an aspect of 1.78:1, with 16x9 enhancement included. This is close to the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1.

    Although much of the film has a decidedly soft appearance, there are some very good examples of sharpness present in this transfer, such as the detailed skin textures in a facial close-up at 61:42. There are a number of dark scenes that exhibit good shadow detail, and there were no instances of low level noise.

    Considering the film was shot in bitterly cold conditions, it is surprising that the overall look of the film is very colourful and summery. The colours are not as bold as one would find in a recent production, but are adequately rendered. Skin tones appeared consistent, and there was no oversaturation present.

    MPEG artefacts were nowhere to be seen, as they should be. A few minor instances of telecine wobble were visible (38:42, 49:33), but were not terribly distracting. Aliasing was totally absent. Quite a bit of film artefacting is evident, particularly during the opening scenes of the film. These imperfections range from the usual dust and hairs to large water marks and damaged frames of film (33:28). A persistent scratch is visible on the left of the screen for more than thirty seconds at 52:00.

    There are no subtitles.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring at 64:49. The pause briefly interrupts the rhythm of a beating drum, but is far more preferable than having it interrupt dialogue.

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

Audio

    This is a good audio transfer, but it would have been nice to have the option of the original mono soundtrack as well.

    There is only one audio track available, English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448Kb/s.

    The dialogue quality does vary - the differences between location and post production audio are sometimes glaringly obvious. That said, I found no difficulties in understanding the spoken word at any time.

    Audio sync was generally good. A slight ADR slip occurs during some dialogue at 47:05 but bear in mind I only noticed it because I was looking hard for it.

    I find it impossible to imagine this film without its musical backbone - Paul Giovanni's brilliant compositions breathe new life into ancient verses, and give the fictional Summerisle its mysterious quality. The songs range from bawdy pub chants for The Landlord's Daughter to the moving folk ballad Willow's Song. Many soundtrack albums have been released over the years using mono audio captured from the Director's Cut of the film. The stereo audio masters were thought to be buried somewhere with the many cans of missing film, but it wasn't until 2001 when the original two-channel master tapes miraculously surfaced and were digitally restored that the definitive soundtrack album was released as Paul Giovanni intended, which incidentally is also highly recommended.

    Surround channel usage is very mild. I noted a slight echo from Sergeant Howie's megaphone at 3:40 and some similar vocal echoes at 77:00. Some fire and atmospheric crackling effects can be heard at 80:37, but the majority of this soundtrack is panned across the front soundstage.

    The subwoofer pulsed a little during some crashing waves at the film's climax (77:10), but was otherwise dormant. Considering the film's age, this is not surprising.

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

Extras

    This is a comprehensive collection of extras, and is unlikely to be superseded by a superior release - unless the masses of extra footage and original negatives are found someday. The only extra I would have liked to see that isn't present here is a script to screen function. All extras are nicely presented with 16x9 enhancement.

Menu

    All the menus contain audio accompaniment and are 16x9 enhanced. The main menu is animated using a crackling fire. With Pro Logic II enabled, the fire effects are directed to the rear channels creating a very effective sensation.

    Disc 1

Featurette - The Wicker Man Enigma (34:36)

    The story of how The Wicker Man was whittled away by studio executives and the original unedited negatives destroyed brings a tear to the eye, and has to be seen to be believed. Christopher Lee maintains that the negatives must exist somewhere, as no human being in their right mind would commit twenty cans of negative to landfill. Hopefully he is right. This is a very good retrospective documentary, featuring many interviews with cast and crewmembers, including Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Robin Hardy, Anthony Schaffer and American filmmaker Roger Corman.

Critic's Choice - Featuring Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy (25:09)

    An interview by critic Sterling Smith, recorded for American television around the time of the film's second theatrical run in the United States. The three discuss their devotion to the film and share their thoughts on a variety of subjects. This interview was included as an Easter Egg on the Region 1 release.

Theatrical Trailer (2:13)

    A typical trailer for the 70s, playing on the film's mysterious aspects and giving away a bit too much of the plot in the process.

TV Spot (0:36)

    A poorly edited American promo piece, with voice-over.

Radio Spots (5:07)

    A collection of American radio promotional pieces, some of which feature the voice of Christopher Lee. Great for the answering machine!

Biographies - Cast & Crew

    Lengthy biographies and filmographies for Christopher Lee (Actor), Edward Woodward (Actor), Robin Hardy (Director) and Anthony Shaffer (Author).

DVD-ROM content

    If you explore the disc via your PC you will find an Acrobat (.pdf) file containing the original six page press brochure for the theatrical release of the film. The resolution of the scan makes the brochure readable on a computer monitor, but it doesn't print too well. The Acrobat reader software is not included on the disc.

    Disc 2

The Wicker Man - The Director's Cut (99:42)

    Restored using scenes from a print in the library of American filmmaker Roger Corman, this extended cut is by far the better version of the film, extending Sgt. Howie's stay on the Island and introducing us to the enigmatic Lord Summerisle much sooner.

    There are noticeable shifts in quality from theatrical to restored scenes, generally involving a loss of resolution and colour depth. This, however is the best we will ever get unless the twenty-odd cans of missing film miraculously appear. The film is presented with 16x9 enhancement and the accompanying audio is Dolby Digital mono.

    The menus and scene selection are similar to that of disc one, and fully animated.

    For those that aren't familiar with this cut of the film, as well as some very minor extensions to a few scenes, the most noteworthy additional scenes include: 

Commentary - Christopher Lee (Actor), Edward Woodward (Actor), Robin Hardy (Director) and Mark Kermode (Commentary Moderator)

    It's a shame the late Anthony Shaffer couldn't participate in this commentary, but we are treated nonetheless in this excellent commentary, with the gentlemen delivering plenty of anecdotes covering the project's development, the production itself and the film's restoration. Quite simply one of the best and most informative commentaries I have heard.

Easter Egg (16:12)

    (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) In the main menu, highlight the Commentary On button and press the right arrow to highlight the human figure. Press enter for a video segment of the audio commentary being recorded.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

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

    This Region 4 release is absolutely identical to the Region 2 UK version. Even the navigation and menus are the same.

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on:

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on:

    A number of other minor differences exist between the Region 1 and 4 transfers that are worth mentioning, some of which I have detailed below.

    Update: August 2006. Optimum in Region 2 have acquired the rights to this title and are releasing a three disc version. The third disc is a soundtrack CD (of which I spoke highly in this review!) and an additional documentary is included by Mark Kermode, who also hosted a great docco for the Shawshank Redemption SE. If you're yet to make a purchase, this new Region 2 version seems the way to go.

Summary

    The Wicker Man is an amazing film, and a triumph for a low budget British production. This is an important release for Region 4.

    The video transfer is very good, but is limited by its source material.

    The audio transfer is excellent, but the original mono soundtrack would have been a nice inclusion.

    The extras are both entertaining and comprehensive. A reproduction of the original script is the the most notable omission.

    I have one final rhetorical question for any of my fellow lovers of this film: (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) If Sgt. Howie had given in to Willow's tempting invitation, would he have made a suitable sacrifice?

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Monday, September 08, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-525, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX76PW10A 76cm Widescreen 100Hz. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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Comments (Add)
The answer is (spoilers inside) - Zeke REPLY POSTED
R4/R1 Comparison - Downtown REPLY POSTED
UK edition suits the pocket... - Charlie & Tex REPLY POSTED
Theatrical release a masterpiece - director's cut actually weaker - Metaphor REPLY POSTED
Enigma Featurette - Letterboxed? - garumph (read my bio) REPLY POSTED