Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 25-Jul-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Menu Animation & Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Audio Commentary-E. Elias Merhige (Director)
Production Notes
Featurette
Featurette-Schreck Make Up Application
Featurette-On Set
Featurette-Photo Montage
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Biographies-Character
Trailer-Blood-The Last Vampire; Amores Perros; Ring 2; Mullet
Trailer-The Monkey's Mask, Innocence
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 88:01 (Case: 91)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (48:08) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By E. Elias Merhige
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring John Malkovich
Willem Dafoe
Cary Elwes
John Aden Gillet
Eddie Izzard
Udo Kier
Catherine McCormack
Ronan Vibert
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $39.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 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

    When I was allocated Shadow Of The Vampire for review, I looked forward to it with some anticipation. I had missed its initial release at the movies so I was keenly anticipating its release on DVD. I have always been a keen follower of the Vampire mythology ever since I had the great fortune to see the original Nosferatu movie at uni. The print had been newly restored at the time, and although the crowd was rather boisterous over the silence, it was fascinating to see something that wasn't full of the blooding-dripping, elongated-incisor stereotype that had become prominent with the Christopher Lee incarnations of the late 60s and early 70s.

    The story of Nosferatu is heavily based on the work of Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. There's been a slight name change, he drinks blood through his front teeth, not his incisors, and he doesn't conjure up legions of rats and bats, although he does sleep in a coffin at night. It is interesting to note that the movie Nosferatu could have been lost in antiquity due to a court case that took place in the mid 20s, when Bram Stoker's widow successfully sued F. W. Murnau and he was forced to destroy all existing negatives of his movie. 2 negatives are known to have survived in Holland, plus a couple of prints in France, possibly from private collections.

    The original was remade in 1979 by Werner Herzog, and included the redoubtable Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani and Bruno Ganz. It was an excellent and stylistic retelling of Murnau's classic so any attempt to retell the story once again might well be unfairly compared with either. It is therefore an interesting twist that director E. Elias Merhige uses with his homage to a master of early cinema, by retelling the story from the point of view of Murnau and his crew and the making of the movie.

    The Shadow of the Vampire is a mixture of colour and black and white footage, intermixed to present a movie maker in all his madness. John Malkovich plays F. W. Murnau as an erratic genius consumed with the making of his movie. It's irrelevant to him that he doesn't have permission to use Stoker's original novel to work from - he simply changes a couple of things and sets out on his journey. His producer, Albin Grau (Udo Kier) is also a man possessed, in counting the cost of every shot. His cameraman, Wolfgang (Ronan Vibert) follows along dutifully as does the rest of the cast and crew.

    In order to gain the highest possible realism, Murnau announces he is taking his movie, after shooting his opening scenes in Germany, to Czechoslovakia where he has discovered the ideal scenic locations. This causes some consternation with Grau (always wanting to save money) but especially with Wolfgang who feels he's been undermined. Gustav (played by Eddy Izzard and beautifully cast as the ultimate B-grade silent movie actor - you'll understand what I mean when you watch the movie) informs the crew that Murnau has cast Max Schreck as his Count Orlok (Willem DaFoe plays Schrek/Orlok with a touch of brilliance). Schrek is said to be a member of an obscure school of acting from Russia, and that he will be playing his part 'in character' throughout the movie. The only problem is, Schreck/Orlok actually is a real vampire and nobody knows what deal Murnau has offered him in order to convince him to play the part in his movie.

    There are a couple of other cameo performances that should be noted in this movie. Cary Elwes plays Fritz Arno Wagner, the replacement cameraman (after Orlok 'snacks' on Wolfgang) and Catherine McCormack as Greta Schroeder, to whom Orlok takes a liking after seeing her picture in a locket. This was a superbly made movie with an excellent cast that was thoroughly entertaining.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    There can be no greater tragedy than a transfer to DVD that is no better than VHS quality. I watched this movie four times in order to try and understand why this was so bad. I still can't fully explain it except to think that a totally inferior source was used or that there was something seriously wrong with the transfer equipment!

    The first thing to note is that this movie was shot on 35mm stock and the original theatrical aspect ratio is listed as 2.35:1. We are offered a ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced which means that the movie has been 'cropped' of 33% of its viewing area even when viewed in widescreen. An example of this cropping can be seen at 55:01. You will notice Elwes/Malkovich and Izzard in the background, with Udo Kier in the foreground talking to a script girl, who is almost invisible except for her hand and nose. Very poorly done!

    I can't really begin to describe how bad this is without shuddering. To be brutally honest, I can't recall a scene with any level of real sharpness or definition, without visible or solid grain and with any real background definition or fine detail on offer. There are the odd, occasional scenes where the quality is fair but nothing better. To be accurate, it would be more fitting that I list all half-decent scenes and not the problems!. Here's a sample from my notes that I took while reviewing this movie. These notes are precisely as I've written them, in the dark, on a notepad, while watching the movie, so please don't expect Shakespeare!

    I think the above covers most of the problems. There were more instances I noted, but I won't list them all - otherwise this review will stretch on for a week!

    The colour was reasonable, but a definitive assessment is hard to make because of the grain content. There was nothing really vibrant on offer except in the occasional outdoors scene. The interior shots seemed composed of mainly solid colours with little variety.

    There didn't appear to be any MPEG artefacts noted and I've listed the only film-video artefact above. The usual scratches and marks on the film were unnoticeable due to the grain for the most part. The original black and white footage from the original did contain some artefacts but this was to be expected.

    There were no subtitles on offer on this disc.

    The RSDL change came at 48:12, mid scene and was very noticeable.

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

Audio

    Fortunately for my sanity, at least the audio was of superior quality to the video. An interesting trick was employed (according to E. Elias Merhige) for some of the scenes involving the black and white footage. In order to get that 'tinny' sound you so often associate with early talkies and phonograms they recorded some of the audio onto wax cylinders to give it that distinctive sound.

    There was only one soundtrack on offer on this disc: an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack at a very tasty bitrate of 448 kilobits per second. There is an optional audio commentary track recorded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kilobits per second. I listened to both tracks completely during my reviewing.

    As I noted above, the dialogue is often a little tinny in places due to the technique used to emulate the sounds of the day. This in no way causes a problem except for the fact that the sound is placed purely in the centre channel and you may find it a little soft. Apart from this, the dialogue was very clear and audible with no audio sync problems.

    The music is uncredited on the sleeve but is by Dan Jones III. I don't know a lot about him and his list of other accomplishments isn't that exciting. Still, he has managed to create quite a haunting soundtrack for this movie in parts. There is a definite 'gothic' feel to the music at times and the performance of the music by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales adds to the murky feeling you see on-screen. The music is far too often muted for my liking, although there are some good moments to it.

    The surround channels get some workout with redirected musical support and the usual special effects. There is nothing spectacular here because this isn't really a movie with a lot heavy sound effects, but they are used substantially enough to give a decent envelope of sound at times.

    The subwoofer basically comes in for the same treatment as the surrounds. There is some decent bass on offer at times, but you won't be jumping out of your skin on this one. The best offering for the .1 is during the scene with the crew taking the train to Czechoslovakia.

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

Extras

Menu Animation & Audio

    An interesting 'Metropolis' like animation was used for the menu. Also interesting is that approximately every 30 seconds or so, the menu will redraw itself and cycles through the menu options in a random fashion. If you are at one of the sub-menus it takes you back to the main menu and eventually you end up at the Madman Propaganda menu and you are cycled through the trailers. Interesting setup.

Audio Commentary

    This was an interesting commentary once you got past E. Elias Merhige's passion for lavishing praise on his cast. Most of the comments are screen-specific with a lot of his own metaphysical interpretations of the film and how he structured and layered the movie. He's a good speaker and never boring, and doesn't mumble or stutter which is a bonus. There were some obvious moments of silence as he was watching the movie. He made mention of his previous movie, Begotten, a silent movie and made reference to the court case involving Stoker's estate and Murnau. The sound seemed to be exclusively out of the centre speaker although this was listed as a 2.0 soundtrack.

Production Notes

    7 pages - light reading

Featurette

    A surprisingly short feature about the making of the movie. It has a running time of 6 minutes and is displayed in Full Frame 1.33:1. This is a selection of scenes from the movie, outtakes and setup shots with some interviews with various crew members. The most amazing thing about this is that the shots from the movie exhibit ZERO grain, have brilliant colour and look razor sharp with masses of detail on show. Even the black and white footage exhibits very low grain - this is what the movie should have looked like!

Featurette

    Schreck Makeup Application - approximately 1:20 (there is no time coding on many of the features, so I've approximated them) running time. The make-up artist describes the application of make-up to turn Willem DaFoe into Count Orlok, while on the right side you see stills of it happening. This is done in a box-section setup located in the centre of the screen.

Featurette

    On Set - Running time 8:03 in Full Frame 1.33:1. Various scenes and setups on offer with the interesting side note that the clapper boards proclaim the movie to be called "Burned to Light", which E. Elias Merhige explains in his commentary was changed when Willem DaFoe asked "who is Ed and why was he burned?". There is no commentary in this feature, except from within the shots. It also shows various location shots, the building of the boat and takes being done.

Photo Montage

    A selection of 43 colour and black and white shots from the movie.

Biographies-Cast & Crew plus interviews

    The most innovative extra I've seen in a long time and the only way to present biographies of cast and crew. Basically each interview is presented in a boxed section, centre of the viewing area over a background of the menu. There is varying quality on offer but you shouldn't have any problems.

E. Elias Merhige - 4 pages of text plus interviews

Nicholas Cage - 8 pages of text plus interviews Willem Dafoe - 7 pages of text plus interview John Malkovitch - 9 pages of text plus interviews Steve Katz (writer) - 2 pages of text plus interview

Theatrical Trailer

    With a running time of 1:29 in Full Frame at 1.33:1 this is a typical trailer sporting slightly saturated colour but again low grain.

Biographies-Character

Madman Propoganda

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on:

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on:

Summary

    Shadow Of The Vampire is an amazing movie all round. All I'll say is that I was really annoyed that such a good movie has received such awful treatment on DVD. I have been reliably informed that the movie itself suffered none of the video problems noted above which can be borne out by the extras, where shots from the movie are crystal clear by comparison. All I can think of is that a completely inferior source print was used. The video is a travesty. The audio is solid, if unspectacular in parts, but varied enough to be enjoyable The extras are plentiful in number but far too brief at times. In comparison to some other DVDs out there, though, they are excellent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Wednesday, August 22, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)

Comments (Add)
Daniel -