Saturday, May 10, 2014

Uneasy Riders - First look at the Sorcerer Blu

Before getting down to business, I just wanted to preface this post with an admission that this post was originally inspired by Tim Lucas' recent blog post on the new Sorcerer Blu-Ray, which I felt was just a bit too snotty towards one of all-time my favourite films, so now that sides have been chosen...

I'm just fresh from a screening of Warner's new Blu-ray edition of Sorcerer and overall I'm very pleased. Previously my only experience of the film was courtesy of Universal's 1998 DVD, which was little more than a port of the 1990 US laserdisc, with a soft, fuzzy transfer, faded sickly colors, and replicating the disastrous full screen framing found on the laser. Happily the Blu obliterates the DVD in almost every respect, with an astonishingly fresh looking HD transfer framed at 1.78, restoring the cinematic sweep of the film, and sporting wonderful robust colors and incredible detail, lending the jungle sequences in particular, an extraordinary dimentionality. Given Friedkin's propensity for tweaking his films for home video, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the Blu features two revisions, to the video and audio. Picture-wise, the Blu features somewhat different color timing to the DVD. Fortunately it's not quite as radical as the original French Connection Blu, but it's worth mentioning. I've selected two screenshots from DVD Beaver's review of the Blu and placed them alongside some grabs I took from the DVD - the caps are not quite in sync with one another but you might get a sense of what I mean:

 top - Sorcerer DVD 1998 (1.33 framing)
bottom - Sorcerer Blu-Ray 2014 (1.78 framing)

In the first comparison the queasy pink look of the DVD is replaced by a much more naturalistic look on the Blu. The difference in color timing is far more pronounced in the second comparison with the Blu opting for a much darker look for the film's 2nd bridge-crossing sequence. Personally, I like this new look, it adds a grittier contrast to the lush jungle vistas, and the failing light (the sequence is set during a tropical storm) adds more excitement to this great set piece.


The second revision made to the film for the Blu-Ray occurs in the very final moment of the film before the end credits. Without spoiling the ending, Friedkin add two gunshot sounds to the soundtrack where originally there were none. This addition has prompted debate as to whether Friedkin has over-egged the film's finale with this change but I think it matters very little, the original ending remains the same. Elsewhere the audio portion of the Blu does justice to the film's subtle but intricate sound design and the film pulsates with the crack of explosions and violence in the film's first half (strong stuff for a PG, it must be said), while later on the jungle scenes buzz with a powerful insect menace. Incidentally, the film is noteworthy among other things for the soundtrack score by Tangerine Dream (their first film commission in fact), although given Freidkin's sparing use of the music they provided, the album could just as well be counted as one of their great studio albums of the 70's. Finally I mentioned earlier something to the effect that the Blu was superior to the DVD is almost every way - in terms of extras the DVD has the edge containing the hard-working US theatrical trailer ("an unusual adventure into the realm of suspense") and 7 pages of production notes. I suspect any extras are being held back for a future edition, perhaps to mark the film's 40th anniversary in 2017. But don't wait until then, Sorcerer has returned in fine style and is an absolutely essential addition to your film collection.

Further Reading: Toby's Sorcerer Blog is well worth a visit for fans of the film and is teeming with all sorts of interesting articles, links and curios related the film.

19 comments:

  1. Who'd have thought that two films came out in 1977!

    Watched this a couple of nights back and it's like watching a different film to the terrible fullscreen DVD. Personally, I love the movie and the cynicism of the whole thing, the bride's black eye is a good indicator of the type of movie you're about to get into.

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    1. Wynter, I've seen Sorcerer maybe 5 or 6 times and either I'd forgotten it or not seen it at all, but I just noticed that black-eyed bride when watching the Blu yesterday. A great little touch. I'd say it's probably the roughest, toughest, meanest PG-rated film one is likely to see... Another thing I discovered just yesterday from the booklet that comes with the digibook is that the naming of one of the trucks, Sorcerer was inspired by Miles Davis' great 1967 album of the same name. I love that connection...

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    2. Yeah, but the booklet has kind of put me off buying the memoir. I've gone for William Friedkin: Films of Aberration, Obsession, and Reality
      by Thomas D. Clagett instead. (what a title!).

      regarding the gunshot sounds, maybe it's my set up but, I like that they were not massively clear on the soundtrack.... hard to say more.

      The thing I notices for the first time was the similarity between the face carved in rock and front of Sorcerer, Seems obvious since I spotted it but the title still baffles, it's not even the truck that Scanlon drives... maybe a nod that the supernatural has old beliefs are dead... damn this film is just riddled with interest.

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    3. Yeah, the title is baffling alrite, so much so the film originally went out in the UK and Ireland as Wages of Fear. Personally, I love the Sorcerer title even if it is superficial to think about... I love the truck faces, and the Sorcerer's front with the grinning grill face echoing the rock carving - it's always resonated powerfully with me, just like the of the demon mask from Onibaba - I wonder was it an influence ?

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  2. Excellent Wes, I've never actually seen this, though it seems like it might be the best time to catch up on it. The change in colour concerns me: is this another of Friedkin's attempts to alter history a la French Connection, or is it that something went wrong in the re-timing of the colour? I can only assume it's Friedkin meddling, I really do detest this kind of behaviour.

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    1. Thanks John. I think the color timing has been improved on the new Blu, it certainly wouldn't stop me from picking it up. My original idea for the post was to bang out a few words on the Blu but then I thought I should point out the differences between the Blu and the DVD, even though I'm no expert at these kind of comparison reviews. Honestly though, the Blu is required viewing so don't let it put you off. I totally know what you mean about home video revisionism - I didn't care too much about the Star Wars adjustments because I'm not a big Star Wars fan, but I was annoyed that there was some tweaking done to THX-1138, or that Michael Mann removed a short but brilliant bit of dialogue from the Heat Blu. Having said all that, I wouldn't mind if someone went back and redid some of the opticals in Dune - some of those special effect shots are painful to watch...

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    2. To be honest, the Star Wars fiasco is disgraceful, and his attempts to bury the original negatives were completely childish. I mean, the original was accepted for the National Film Registry for cultural significance, they should have thrown it out when he went back and altered it. What he did to THX 1138 is also detestable, now the only decent version available is the VHS.

      To an extent, tinkering is OK, once the original film is always available, in the way Blade Runner did it. Going back and removing the matte boxes and blue screen 'halo's can be very effective with todays technology. I don't think anyone would argue over having the updated restored version, and a restored version with all the crappy effects still in place, all in the same boxset, giving you the choice on which cut to watch. Sadly, this seems to be expensive and time consuming, so I don't think they will be willing to fork out the same for Dune just yet!

      What annoys me about Friedkin is he's a director who should know better. He was allowed have his cake and eat it with The Exorcist re-edit, but at least we still got the original, unaltered. Sadly, films like Sorcerer just don't have that same clout, so he will be allowed do whatever he wants with it, until someone pays to do another Blu Ray (I believe this happened with The French Connection?).

      Anyways, sorry for the long rant, bottom line is, I will be checking the film out!

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    3. Rants are always welcomed and encouraged... Yep, I agree with everything you say - by all means change, adjust, alter, cut or expand but leave the original for the rest of us. I thank the movie gods (or movie devils) for preserving The Exorcist in its original form – I caught the revised version on TG4 a few years back and it was dreadful, a complete vandalism of the film. It’s a real emotive issue - I remember mentioning on a forum somewhere about re-doing the effects in Dune and it really escalated into a vicious argument – maybe the timing was bad, I think The Devil Rides Out Blu had just come out and people were feeling raw about the enhanced special effects – I haven’t seen that disc myself, and even though I think the original effects really hurt the film, Studio Canal’s decision not to include the original film, warts an' all was a bad move… I remember in the months after Apocalypse Now Redux came out on DVD, copies of the original film (my all-time favorite film I should add), started drying up which made me very anxious – I thought Coppola was rewriting history, but that wasn’t the case thankfully so – the original film is the one I return to every time I need my fix. I think one of my most regretted directorial tweaking was when David Lynch cut that spectacular exploding head shot from Wild At Heart – I definitely would have held onto my old Palace tape if I knew that would happen. I didn't really care too much about obscuring the nudity for Mulholland Drive's home video release, but damn I miss that exploding head ! I hear Michael Mann tweaked a shot for the Criterion Thief, so I may not bin the old MGM DVD after all...

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    4. Woah, Wild at Heart no longer has that glorious exploding head? Really? I've never had it on anything but VHS. Same goes for Mulholland Drive, I saw it in the cinema and had the dvd, but don't recall any discrepancy between the two. I know Kubrick did the same for the ass shot in Eyes Wide Shut...

      Another that causes great anguish with fans is the incorrectly colour timed Halloween. I agree though, the initial blu ray just looked wrong, and the new edition definitely improves it, with the colours looking as close to what they should be as possible. Some people think it's being anal, but if people didn't kick up a stink then we may as well forget about considering film as art if it isn't going to be preserved properly. Things are already kicking off about the new HD transfer of minor cult classic, Tourist Trap - hardly Apocalypse Now, but a good flick- and that isn't released yet. Just wait til they tape over Citizen Cane and leave us with a colorized version with burnt on laugh track or something equally horrid...

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    5. John, Wild At Heart has a sort of exploding head left in the current DVD/Blu editions but it's not the splatter masterpiece you remember from the VHS - the exploding head now goes out like a bright firecracker. I should have elaborated further on this earlier but the modification was actually made when the film was before the MPAA back in 1990 - the exploding head was tweaked to avoid an X. In Europe the film was released unmodified, but since the film was rolled out on DVD (and subsequently Blu) we've been watching the R-rated version, sans original exploding head. I really loved that shot - in the bad days of the BBFC, exploding heads were something to cherish so I'm really sorry to see it gone. More info here... With Mulholland Drive, Lynch was asked by actress Laura Harring apparently, to obscure her full frontal scene for DVD (and subsequently carried over to the Blu)... I thought the Halloween Blu (I have the UK edition) looked very nice, but I don't have the best eyes for this kind of thing unless it's really in-your-face obvious. How many editions will it take to get this film looking correct ? That's a shame about Tourist Trap - it's always great to see the small classics get the rolls-royce treatment - I have the old US DVD and like Lemora or Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, it's one of those secret gems...

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    6. That's interesting, I hate when that happens. We get screwed over all the time with edited versions of DVDs, and we hardly ever even realise it. Perfect example, Season One of Walking Dead was cut on DVD, to placate the german censors. Most people probably didn't realise it though, despite it airing uncut on TV.

      The issues with Halloween are that the saturation is incorrect, you will notice it on outdoor scenes as all the trees are bright green, unlike the 'autumnal' look that was intended. The night time scenes also look off, colour wise. The new steelbook UK disc is the fully approved mastering, and it does look much better.

      The issues with Tourist Trap isn't actually to do with the colouring, it's that roughly ten minutes of the film are now missing! Scenes have been moved, etc. Nobody is taking responsibility for the fuck up, but it was probably Charles Band who supplied the print. I have the same DVD as you, and I won't be upgrading any time soon...

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    7. John, it always amazes me about German film censorship - that it exists at all, considering some of the hardest, kinkiest porn is made in Germany... I was just reading up on the Cundey-approved Halloween Blu - I have the 2007 Anchor Bay UK edition which is not the one to own it seems, but fuck it, I'm not able. I'm kinda sick of Halloween now. I mean I love it, but it's been beaten into the ground at this point - it's gotta be the most prolific home video release out there. Fortunately I own only (?) 2 editions of the film, the Blu and the old, old Anchor Bay DVD which came in an odd lenticular keep case, and I must say in 2000 it was revelation compared to my old 4-Front VHS… That’s a real shame about Tourist Trap, whatever about the quality of the transfer, losing 10mis or so of the film is unforgivable – that’s a lot of screen time ! I dunno what kind of guys 88 Films are but they should have dropped that acquisition like a bad habit when they found out the master provided was incomplete. Worst of all it looks like 88 have no plans to withdraw the film which is a real shame. I was gonna pick up their Blu of Bloodsucking Freaks but maybe I’ll hold off until it gets out there and people sign off on it. All this reminds me of Monte Hellman’s 1988 film Iguana, and Anchor Bay's DVD which was missing a 2min sequence. I have to say I didn't notice the omission myself (it's a very good, overlooked offbeat film), but William Lustig who was at Anchor Bay at the time claimed that Anchor Bay had lined up the complete version to put out but orders for the DVD were so poor the plan was ultimately scrapped - which is too bad, considering it's such a niche film who knows when it might surface again. Despite the incompleteness, the Anchor Bay disc is still worth picking up in the absence of anything else...

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  3. Wes, it sounds like we have some identical releases, as I too have that lenticular sleeve edition of Halloween, and I was the same as you; it was one of my first DVD purchases, and put the wobbly 4front release to shame.

    the thing about 88 Films is that they obviously have a contract with Charles Band, as 95% of their releases are Full Moon productions, so they had already dropped for the price of the HD master. Apparently it's the same release as that in the states, and fingers are pointing at Band and accusing him of mishandling the original negatives. I wouldn't be surprised...

    I think you will be safe on Bloodsucking Freaks, as there has been no reported issues on it missing any footage, and I think you will be fine on it. It was compared on DVD Beaver and the master got a favorable review. Better than the old Troma disc, that's for sure!

    Anchor Bay can never be trusted, to be honest. They've released many films claiming to be uncut and screwed up. Tenebrae is another release they botched, which was missing a few stabs and dialogue. Apparently there are some who claim that their print of the first Blind Dead film is missing a whole murder sequence, though I've never seen the film on European tape so I have no idea if it's true or not. It could be something like the different cuts of Witchfinder General, or that allegedly lost, extreme version of Bava's Lisa and the Devil, featuring more rape and nudity...

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  4. Oh gawd, those 4Front tapes were just dreadful, remember those hideous generic gold covers ? I used to love the old Redemption VHS sleeves – I’d usually insist on original poster art but those sleeves were always cool and sexy. I still have a few Redemptions – Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Tombs of the Blind Dead and a few more… I was looking thru the list of films 88Films have put out and there’s almost nothing there for me, I wouldn’t touch Charles Band. I see they’re putting out a Blu of The Last Horror Film in July which is interesting – many times I wanted to pull the trigger on the Troma disc but supposedly the transfer looked pretty shabby. I wonder what 88 will pull out of the hat ? Yeah, Anchor Bay could be hit and miss but in the old days they were putting out really great stuff – I’m thinking of the Euro-Cult stuff but also the Werner Herzog films and all those great early Paul Verhoeven films. That reminds me I still need to upgrade my copy of Tenebrae, as I have the old Anchor Bay disc, (double-billed with Deep Red) – I never picked up Arrow’s second Blu edition that came in the steelbook – I can’t stand those awful steel contraptions…

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  5. I gotta admit, I never liked the Redemption ones, even though I have a few knocking around. As you said, I was more of an 'original poster art' kinda guy.

    I do have a soft spot for some of the Charles Band stuff, but he seems to be cheaping out on providing decent, uncut prints for many of his films. I refuse to pay money for cut versions, there really is no excuses now, no doubt you feel the same way.

    I REALLY need to pick that new Tenebrae up. It's one of my favorite films, and the previous transfer was nothing short of disgusting. Arrow should have been ashamed of themselves...

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  6. John I’m looking down thru a Charles Band filmography and it’s a wasteland for me, nothing I’d be interested in. I seriously thought he directed Zone Troopers but not so… Yeah Tenebrae is fantastic and it’s the film I'd point an Argento-beginner towards – I really can’t say why, but the shot of the straight razor smashing the light bulb is one of my most favorite shots in Cinema. I almost picked up the German Blu of Four Flies on Grey Velvet just after Christmas – it’s probably still languishing in my Amazon.de cart but it was just too expensive, €40 or something all in. Back in 2005-ish I was at the Profondo Rosso store in Rome and bought Luigi Cozzi’s book on the film although regrettably I didn’t ask him to sign it – I waited and waited to pluck up the courage and when I was just getting 'round to it, we were interrupted by some 5year old kid who knocked over a stand and he had to deal with that. Just as well, I probably would have said something corny like "Contamination is my favorite film". I just remember the fantastic Starcrash quad that was on the wall behind the counter – a real beauty !

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    1. Tenebrae is what I used as a 'gateway' drug for some of my friends for Italian horror - it just has everything! Great camera work, lively pace, a goofy John Saxon, lovely kills...

      Yikes, 40 big ones is steep, I couldn't shell that out these days I'm afraid. I'm strictly a bargain chaser this last year.

      That's hilarious on Cozzi, I was the same when there, I acted too cool and should have plucked for a signed 'Starcrash' - there are definitely worse things in my collection! I went for a t-shirt instead, and mumbled something of praise at him, no doubt he thought I was a moron...

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  7. 4Front Video, there's a memory. I'm 34 and my film school boils down to moviedrome, the occasional Welles / Kurosawa season on BB2 or C4 (all taped) and anything put out by 4Front with an 18 cert and £5 price tag. Glorious fun... I can't imagine someone getting a bit sentimental over a vod service.

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    1. Yeah, those 4Fronts were cheap alrite but damn ! those hideous covers ! Yeah, totally agreed about vod, there's no romance there at all, but I guess the landscape is changing - I mean do people actually listen to albums these days, or does the ipod shuffle reign supreme ?

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