Pastel Popeye

To go by early dvdforum reactions to the forthcoming French Connection Bluray (out 2.24), director William Friedkin has purposely degraded his Oscar-winning 1971 film by using a “pastel” process in order to present the originally intended feeling of New York grit. The result, say some, is “out of synch” and “bleeds horribly” — a VHS experience.


French Connection Bluray; the excellent 2005 standard DVD edition

One viewer claims it looks “almost disconnected from the image…it bleeds horribly and looks like something from a dodgy VHS copy…no, I’m not exaggerating…if you pause the picture when Gene Hackman‘s Popeye Doyle is running in his Santa outfit, you’ll see swathes of red hanging in the air around him.”

Another writes that Friedkin “even says on the featurette that the film did not look this way originally , but with the advent of Blu-ray we can finally see his film(s) as he intended . [But] there’s a difference between looking authentically grainy and grubby and what Friedkin has put out here. It’s cruelly ironic that he’s used state-of-the-art HD post-processing to produce something that looks like a well-worn VHS rental. The color is so out -of-sync it’s laughable.”

In other words, it appears that Freidkin (a) agreed with what I wrote on 12.25, (b) tried to give his film a raw funky look in keeping with the spirit of the film to begin with, but (c) overdid it to the point that people are feeling ripped off.

“I was delighted with the sharp, robust, extra-clean image quality of the Fox Home Video French Connection DVD that came out in February ’05,” I wrote two weeks ago. “William Friedkin’s 1971 crime classic probably looked and sounded better than it ever had in Nixon-era theatres.

“But it’s not supposed to look too good. Too much attractiveness would take away from the raw-grit vibe that Owen Roizman‘s photography tried very hard to capture as he shot in various Manhattan, Brooklyn and other-borough locales. So I’m wondering what the point is going to be of the French Connection Blu-ray disc that’ll be out on 2.24.09.”

The above reactions have given me pause. I may just stick with the ’05 standard DVD and leave well enough alone.

  • Chase Kahn

    Yeah, these catalog titles are toss-ups — ‘2001’ just looks incredible on Blu, but then you get a ‘French Connection’ thrown in there. I never buy a catalog disc without reading 2 or 3 reviews beforehand.

  • Rich S.

    Something else I’ve noticed about HD discs that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere: they seem to be really, really tough on films with extensive matte paintings.

    In the past year, I’ve been especially struck by the Earth matte painting in 2001 and the cityscapes in Blade Runner. The scene where Deckard goes out onto his balcony and the spinner flies below him is jarring.

    I don’t know what you can do about it, but when they finally release the Star Wars films, where many of the large landscapes and spaceship hangar scenes were done with matte paintings, I’ll bet a lot of people are going to be shocked.

  • actionman

    this is a prime reason for skipping Blu Ray and waiting for the next big thing

  • erniesouchak

    Regardless of what Friedkin did in the timing, it’s pretty well established that Blu-ray has a real problem with images that were grainy to begin with. That would make me leery of any 1970s movie, anything shot by Janusz Kaminski, and certainly anything shot on Super 16 for the eventual blowup.

  • Chase Kahn

    I know that these catalog titles are a big deal for us, but I don’t think it will have a bearing on how Blu-ray succeeds as a format.

    People want to see ‘Iron Man’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ — they don’t care about ‘The Third Man’.

    As long as they nail the ‘Star Wars’ transfer and ‘Lord of the Rings’ looks good, people will convert.

  • Sabina E

    Chase Kahn: oh come on, there are some of us who actually want to watch “The Third Man” (or any other classic films) on Blu-Ray.

  • George Prager

    It’s going to look like shit.

    “Basically he’s a good cop…he gets a lot of good hunches sometimes.”

  • JapAdapters

    Is there really that big of a difference for a movie on Blu Ray that wasn’t shot in high-def? If you watch a HD movie channel the 70s stuff looks good but nowhere near as good as more recent movies, and not much better (if at all) than an up- converted regular DVD. Unless they g back and REALLY do it right (like with the Godfather trilogy) thn it’s not worth it.

  • Chase Kahn

    Deaf: yeah, I know — “some” being the keyword. Like I said, the future of blu-ray’s staying power will be determined by how many people are wowed by watching the opening bank robbery sequence of ‘The Dark Knight’, not watching ‘The Third Man’…

    I love ‘The Third Man’, and the rumblings that the DVD Criterion version is better transfer is dissapointing…

  • Edward

    I’ve been shopping for an HD TV and while at Best Buy saw a clip of the first Pirates Movie in Blu-ray. Impressive on the one hand, but I was struck by how empty and cartoonish it was. I hate to think how the other two play on Blu-ray.

  • DeafBrownTrashPunk

    Chase Kahn: oh come on, there are some of us who actually want to watch “The Third Man” (or any other classic films) on Blu-Ray.

  • mizerock

    No one seems to have these complaints about matte paintings during the original release. It Blu-Ray actually higher definition than 70mm film? That seems unlikely to me. Is it because you can’t do a freeze frame in the movie theater, to break down the extent of color bleeding and grain?

    IMO, the ideal HD transfer is one that looks as close to the original film copy as possible. Digitally erasing graininess may be technically possibly but it’s not always desirable. Ideally, the same people that were in charge of the look and feel of the original film (Director of Photography? Art director?) would oversee the digital transfer. If a technical improvement is actually an improvement than what was possible in the original – than make it. But otherwise, you’re over-doing it, in the process spending a lot of effort to create a product that isn’t as good as it good be. As it was.

  • mizerock

    = “improvement over” … “then make it”

    etc.

  • algarciashead

    Anybody transferring 70s movies to Blu-ray should just look at Close Encounters of the third kind and do it like that.

  • Daniel Tayag

    Screenshots of the new French Connection Blu-Ray: http://www.hundland.org/hd/f/f.htm#french1

  • moorish

    I attended a screening of The French Connection in London late last year, with Friedkin in attendance and doing a Q&A afterward. His first comments were that the print we had just seen was from the blue-ray (pronounced by him as “Blooo-RAY”) and was “the best looking print I have ever seen of the film”.

    “Really?” I was thinking. “I thought it looked like shit!”

  • Mr Bohemian

    I don’t care enough to pay $ 30 for an old movie on a disc

    I don’t care how sharpe the image, I am really tired of being screwed over on films

  • Bob Violence

    I love ‘The Third Man’, and the rumblings that the DVD Criterion version is better transfer is dissapointing…

    Who’s saying this? They’re wrong. It’s also an excellent riposte to the “Blu can’t handle grain” line that you see so often (e.g. from erniesouchak) — which stems from the excessive and frequently hideous DNR that distributors slather all over their titles (as a sop to the clueless “I demand 3-D POP!!!!!!!!!” brigade) and has nothing to do with the inherent properties of the codecs.

  • Bob Violence

    It Blu-Ray actually higher definition than 70mm film?

    It’s impossible to precisely quantify the resolution of a film print, but even a 35mm release print has more effective resolution than BD. 70mm is in a completely different league.

  • nancyyy
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