|Category||Musical||Menu Audio and Animation
|Running Time||135:14 minutes|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||MPEG||None|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None||Dolby Digital||2.0 mono|
|16x9 Enhancement||No||Soundtrack Languages||English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 224 Kb/s)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||
|Subtitles||None||Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
In order to save you all a heck of a lot of time, let me assure you that this is arguably the worst DVD that has ever been released in Region 4. Whilst I have not personally viewed the generally accepted to be appalling Dune, after returning to that review for reference I would suggest that this one is in pretty much the same league. My mother watched this for about two minutes and declared that it "looked terrible". My father, being the real musical devotee that he is, for the first time ever sat down to watch this with me from the start: he gave up after 55 minutes - and this is one of his favourite films! He has pronounced this worse than his VHS tape of the film! So now you know.
In case you are still reading, this is broadly speaking the screen biography of Jerome Kern, arguably one of the greatest American songwriters of the twentieth century. The film starts with the triumph of Show Boat, then goes back in a slightly narrative style to take you through the highlights of his life from the first meeting with Jim Hessler, his first arranger as a young man, to his going to England to try and break the British bias on Broadway, meeting his future wife, getting the big break and living out the American dream of making it big. Nothing really unusual here and as far as the film is concerned, only of great import to devotees of the genre. This is not the sort of film that you would stick on for pure entertainment, unless you are that real devotee.
However, the cast here is something along the lines of a who's who of the musical genre. Having said that, there is nothing really special here as far as performances are concerned, but rather just a collection of solid professionals doing a solid job. Some have raved about the performance of Judy Garland (apparently pregnant at the time with Liza Minnelli), but really I would not rate it that highly. Certainly, she has a presence that most of the others do not, but the style of the film hardly gives anyone the chance to shine. The overall feel is of a solidly professional film without anything to really make it distinctive.
In a word, the video transfer on offer here is a shocker.
In common with many films of the era, the original aspect ratio of the film is 1.37:1, which equates very readily with the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of modern televisions. We tend to call it Full Frame. It is of course not 16x9 enhanced.
Where to begin with what is wrong with this transfer? Well, actually it is a lot easier to start with what is right - absolutely nothing. On any level that one can possibly think of, this is a sadly deficient transfer in virtually every respect. Indeed, it is fair to say that whilst I have seen some very poor DVDs, I have always been at least heartened by the fact that the transfer in all probability on the VHS tape is even worse. In this case, I am disheartened by the fact that the Very Hazy System tape is significantly better than the DVD. In general, the transfer lacks anything approaching even reasonable sharpness, with some appalling detail at times. The first ten minutes of the film demonstrates how bad the transfer is: the Show Boat scenes are as flat and as lifeless as you can possibly imagine, especially for scenes that should be vivid and full of life and detail. Shadow detail is generally shocking, to the extent of being non-existent. Low level noise is not that prevalent during the transfer, but is occasionally noted.
Colour? Well, yes, it does have colour but in common with what seems to be many Technicolor films of the 1940s, the colour is always very rich and bordering on oversaturation. This one at times really goes way beyond the border, but this is very inconsistent. This was probably a riot of colour upon first release, but you would hardly know it here. What should have been a vivid transfer ends up being so poorly defined in colour and so inconsistent in this regard that it borders on being unwatchable. The classic example is again the opening scenes from Show Boat where the dresses worn by the supporting cast look like a diffuse mass of nothing, completely lacking in colour definition at all. A typical example of some of the overbright mess that the transfer descends into can be seen at 65:28, during the title song of the film. This is repeated on a number of occasions. And yet, the very next scene might well display a close-up of a female cast member wearing bright red lipstick that is so oversaturated at times that it is almost revolting. Not only is it oversaturated, but it also suffers from colour bleed. Indeed, on several occasions the colour bleed is very prevalent, with plenty of examples in the first twenty five minutes of the film (just check out the right cheek of Tony Martin during the Show Boat scenes). The lack of consistency in the colour is one of the very serious problems here, as in general the palette is completely unnatural with skin tones being especially poorly handled: the overall transfer has a distinctly red bias to it.
Where does one start with the question of artefacts? The note pad that I keep handy whilst reviewing DVDs is positively covered with scribbles of problems noted in the transfer, far too numerous to mention here. MPEG artefacts comprise some rather nasty looking blockiness in the picture (14:30 is a particularly good example) and some disgusting loss of cohesion in just about any shot involving even a mild pan (69:30 is a good example of an image losing cohesion). At about the 86:12 mark there is a rather noticeable wave-type artefact in the image, which may be an inherent film fault. There is also a rather noticeable ghosting of the image on occasions (23:18 and 23:55 for example), which takes the colour bleed issue even further. There was one instance at about 21:12 where the video stream seemed to drop out completely for two very brief moments: these may of course be inherent faults in the source material. Film-to-video artefacts are comprised of some aliasing, which actually is not too bad in comparison to other problems. Thankfully there did not seem to be any serious problems with telecine wobble, however there was something of a judder problem at about 129:18 which may be an introduced problem from the telecine process. At 95:33 there is something of a pause, then a jump in the video. Just for a bit of variety, what would appear to be the reel change markings on the upper right hand edge of the print at about twenty minute intervals are actually pinkish black rather than plain black, something I have never seen before. Given all the other problems, naturally film artefacts are something of a problem here with everything from black and white dirt marks to scratches and blotches.
Overall, this rates as the worst DVD video transfer
that it has been my misfortune to watch, for the very simple reason that
it is definitely worse-looking than the VHS tape that my father rather
obligingly lent me to (briefly) view. In broad terms, the major problem
here is the fact that the film has been mastered onto a single sided, single
layer DVD: I really don't think that a 135 minute film can be mastered
successfully onto such a DVD, and I am convinced that at least some of
the problems are the direct result of overcompression. The overall image
lacks any sort of credibility at all, with some sequences being so bad
as to be positively cartoonish in effect. When I first took the DVD out
of the parcel it came in, I was surprised by the very diffuse image used
on the front cover: ultimately this turned out to be very representative
of the quality of the video transfer.
There is just the single audio track on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. The reference to hi-fi stereo on the packaging is grossly misleading.
The most immediately noticeable problem with the soundtrack is the distortion and drop outs in the audio. None of these are really extreme but they are definitely noticeable.
Dialogue is all over the place here, sometimes being reasonably clear and easy to understand, sometimes being so muddled as to be virtually unintelligible.
Just about the first comment my father made about the film was the fact that the dialogue was out of sync. Now given that he is on the wrong side of seventy years old, you can hazard a guess here that the audio must be really out of sync. It is very subtly out of sync throughout the film. If you have a serious problem with audio sync, then perhaps this will be more of a problem than it is to me, as I readily adjusted to the slight but noticeable audio lag. The problem I would suggest is inherent in whatever master was used for this transfer.
The music here obviously comes from Jerome Kern and is the whole point of the film. Most of his better-known tunes are given a run here and this was perhaps one of the better aspects of the film - if I had been able to hear them properly.
Being very much a mono soundtrack, you can forget anything remotely approaching surround channel use or bass channel use here.
Overall, this is one of the poorest examples of an
audio transfer I have heard from the 1940s on DVD.
|Surround Channel Use|
A shocker of a video transfer.
A poor audio transfer.
A forgettable extras package.
© Ian Morris (have
a laugh, check out the bio)
2nd September 2000
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515; S-video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in|
|Amplification||Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|