Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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[Any comments are by me (Steve Crook) and other members of the email list]
Submitted by Christoph Michel
Looking closely at the DVD
The first example: We come to the end of the first part of the introductory monologue; it is 2:24 into the film, and we have been guided across a map towards where it is showing Canterbury. We will soon dissolve to shots of mediaeval pilgrims, but first we are invited to peruse this image:
Clear and sharp, well detailed, as I hope this piece illustrates which I have chopped out of it:
"Six hundred years have passedLet's have a look at a shot (at 3:55) just after the famous transmutation where a bone changes into a satellite. Oh, I am sorry, that was Stanley Kubrick's genius at work (nothing new under the sun).
what would they see / Dan Chaucer and his goodly company today"
Now go to the lower right hand quadrant; in the middle of it, you can see the chinstrap, and one can even recognise its weaving:
Not too bad, what does the VHS tape say about this?
I don't know if you can see it here, but one can easily make out even the camouflage webbing on the underside of the helmet in detail:
All right, so the bright mid-contrast stuff works well; let's look at something darker, shall we?
"Can't I have early morning coffee?"
"Oh no, sir !"
The time is 24:37, the place a room at the inn. The maid opens the curtains and light begins to pour into the bedroom:
Hope I didn't brighten it too much. Look a little closer (below), and I hope you can see even in this compromised rendition that the blacks are solid (not blocky), the shadows textured (without noise), the highlights sharp yet structured:
Then the details get muddy as soon as the camera or the object moves, however. I certainly don't want to tout this disk as a great achievement. That weakness about the details being there only as long as you have a static shot is, I'm afraid, not demonstrable within the technical limitations set for this exchange, but there is a severe problem I will address in the next installment.
The ghost in the orchardNow for that nasty "ghosting". Unlike the effect you sometimes get in terrestrial TV reception, where the present image gets doubled as it were, this is more in the nature of a pre-echo, and reminiscent of overdone contour enhancement.
What it is is a premature imprint of the NEXT frame's key contours. Very helpful in creating high image compression, but a highly annoying distortion nonetheless. Let me point out again that for the purpose of clarity, I have reduced the quality of the image drastically.
Now here's the scene (at 42:37): Alison is looking forward to spending her lunchbreak with Fee Baker, fellow victim of the glueman. Fee arrives and is in this frame walking away from the camera towards Alison:
Here are two enlargements showing Fee (left of center). The contours you see show where her arms and hat are GOING to be in the following frame.
Terrible, isn't it? You can also see that the fellow on the right is far more blurred than his movement would suggest. This saves data on the DVD. Idiots. What kept me from going into DVD at first was precisely this arrogant attitude of the DVD producers, deciding for the viewer what's crucial to an image and demonstrating a position of "aaah, nobody's going to notice that". Luckily this view has all but disappeared. Now and then, however, it still shows.
The stone from the old roadPardon me while I have a strange interlude concerning two arbitrary extremes picked out on a whim, both generously cropped.
A very nice insert pops up at 20:48, during Alison's conversation with the innkeeper, who asks her, "That stone interest you, Miss?"
Is it well readable on your end too? The way it looks now, it shows just what they did right in mastering this disk. Solid shadows that don't bleed or block, so important for the night scenes; fine textures that represent wood as wood, rock as rock, not macroblocks as pixels; clear contours that only rarely wear a "piping", if you know what I mean.
An extremely strange incident of the pre-echo Ghosting occurs at 22:55, when Alison knocks on Bob's door at the inn. While we are still inside the room watching the angry Bob, we hear her ask "Is that you, Bob?", and I kid you not, here's the frame just PRIOR to the cut to her:
Is it at 56:00? - "That's right:"We come to one of the high-contrast night shots.
The most wonderful Esmond Knight should be seen a little larger, don't you agree?
I hope it looks just as satisfying on your end. The blocks come from the JPEG compression, the original was really smooth. Hey, this looks much better on the DVD, sorry it won't come across. It's the second-to-last installment anyway.
Covering all the detailFinally, we are holding a volume of "Climbing in The British Isles" at 1:12:04 ...
... and it seems nicely detailed. If we take the trouble to get a little closer ...
we will even notice that the title is embossed. Again, this is at about half the resolution of the image proper, but I hope it does give an impression anyway.
All in all, the disk is alright, there are no really serious slipups. A little sloppiness in compression is in evidence, but rarely annoying. Definitely worth its price, and far better looking than a tape. I didn't mention the sound quality at all, which is adequate. The music comes out fine, without drowning the rest of the sound, as is sometimes the case in DVDs; luckily Carlton didn't get around to doing a remix.
That's all for now, I hope I have managed to shed some light on the quality issue concerning this disk. For any comments, questions, requests and things-I-did-not-think-of-checking, just drop me an e-mail.
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