EXT. ROOF TOP - SUNRISE
Buying old films on Bluray can be quite a disappointing experience. I've learned my lesson the hard way. When I buy the Bluray version of a film produced prior to 2004, the first thing I do is check out some of the online reviews. This method is by no means flawless, since all eyes see things differently, but usually you can get a general idea about the quality of a disc by checking out 3-5 reviews.
Recently I acquired Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002) on Bluray. I had done my research well, especially in terms of video quality, and I had encountered a slew of "5 out of 5 stars" reviews of the video presentation. Imagine my surprise, when I popped the disc in the player and saw the quality of the image for myself. It looked HORRIBLE. Absolutely atrocious. It was grainy as hell, in an awfully inconsistent way. (Grain in a film is not a bad thing. In fact, grain is your friend. Grain gives a film texture and life. It makes the image feel organic and dynamic. The right kind of grain that is.) Some shots in this film had so much grain they were buzzing like a nest of angry bees. Several scenes were also marred by frequent occurrence of specks, meaning flaws in the image that appear as tiny white dots.
I was heartbroken. I was angry. Heads were gonna roll. I went back and re-read the reviews, and sure enough the praise I remembered reading was all there. So where did it all go wrong? Am I just completely off base here, and is this actually a completely accurate representation of the film?
Let me stress the fact that there are many different factors that influence the final look of a film. From the way the film was shot, to how it was treated during post-production. Other factors come into play when you watch it at your local cinema. What's the quality and condition of the print? Is the projector properly set? What about the screen itself? When we get to the home theater environment a completely new set of factors enter the equation. How was the film scanned or encoded? How was the DVD or Bluray authored? What player are you watching this on? What display? And let's not forget that your own eyes and even your own mind play a part as well.
My point is that it's impossible to ensure a consistent experience for everybody. It's also equally difficult to determine what the right look is, especially if the film predates the digital age. Often the director doesn't even know!
On top of that Minority Report IS a tricky film to evaluate. Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski made a conscious effort to create a dirty, gritty look for the film. The trick is, of course, to reproduce this look faithfully on Bluray. The format lends itself to a sharp image, with rich colors. It's during such conditions that Bluray shines, and that's not the look that was attempted on Minority Report. A chemical "silver retention" process was employed during the post-production of the film, which helped to create the film's signature washed out, blue look. The heightened contrast, and the rough appearance of the image, is all part of the plan. The first instinct of an uninitiated mind would be to try to get rid of these "flaws", but it's important to note that they are as much a part of the film as Tom Cruise.
Up to a point that is.
A DETAILED MINORITY REPORT
So let's look at some of the reviews I checked out before I bought the disc.
My method for finding these reviews is relatively simple. I subscribe to a few DVD/BD sites that post reviews of most of big releases, and I also do a Google search on "title + Bluray + review". This will bring up most of the big sites.
In the case of Minority Report I started with Blu-ray.com. Here Martin Liebman writes: "This Blu-ray release of Minority Report comes from a "Spielberg-approved HD Master," and the results are indeed spectacular."
He continues: "[The] transfer retains a finely-tuned layer of grain that sometimes swells to enormous proportions but nevertheless lends to the movie a wonderfully gritty film-like texture that allows for the retention of an awe-inspiring level of fine detail."
Grain is good. Grain is the way to go, but a level of "enormous proportions" doesn't seem right to me. When I first read the review all I got was "spectacular", "wonderfully gritty film-like texture", and "awe-inspiring level of fine detail", but now that I've actually seen the disc, and carefully re-read the review I suddenly realize that this doesn't make any sense. The conclusion doesn't match the evaluation.
Mr. Liebman adds: "A few errant speckles are visible in the scenes with the heaviest grain structure, but they barely distract from the image and indeed, seem almost a part of the rough-and-tumble texture the film employs."
Read that again, please... This reviewer actually EXCUSES the presence of flaws, stopping short of calling them an added feature!
The next review I checked out was from Dale Rasco of HomeTheaterShack.com. He claims: "The grain in Minority Report can fall anywhere from non-existent to almost saturated but never feels unintended as Spielberg used this technique to give Minority Report it's gritty feel. This transfer is definitely reference quality throughout and I would argue that it is the best looking transfer of a live action movie since Blade Runner."
I'm gonna take a deep breath and just say... That would be no.
Let me stress this UNEQUIVOCALLY: We can disagree on how accurate the film looks, but there's no way a film with so much grain, which is so inconsistent, can be called reference quality. NO WAY IN HELL. Comparing it to Blade Runner (1982) is beyond offensive, especially because that Bluray is a perfect example of how a film can look both beautiful AND gritty. Though, admittedly, the gritty look is more expressed in Minority Report.
Even the dependable DVDBeaver seems to have had too much coffee that morning. There Gary Tooze writes: "This transfer seems impeccable - representing the film with pin-point authenticity. Achieving the intended appearance so succinctly I'd have to say this image quality is quite perfect - as perfect as I have seen in a while. It appears to look EXACTLY as the film was meant to. If you aren't keen on the appearance blame the filmmakers not this pristine transfer."
I will give Mr. Tooze one thing: If the filmmakers intended for the film to look flawed and inconsistent, then they got it right, but assuming that's the case, I still don't think we can say the "image quality is quite perfect".
I can't remember the theatrical experience of Minority Report well enough to judge whether this Bluray is pin-point accurate, but I don't believe it is. Some scenes do seem to capture the intent of the filmmakers perfectly, but was it really the filmmakers' intent that other scenes should look vastly different, and far worse in terms of grain? Even scenes that take place in the same location, under the same lighting conditions seem inconsistent. I find it hard to believe that was intentional.
My final example is from DVDTown.com, where John J. Puccio almost seems to have given up: "[The] case notes that Spielberg approved the HD master, so I suppose whether we like what we see or not, it's what the director intended and as good as it's going to get on BD."
Can you read between the lines there? I sure can. It appears Mr. Puccio was somewhat disappointed, but has surrendered to the idea that we're never going to get anything better than this. A little earlier he writes: "The picture appears shrouded in a mist, a heightened contrast, and a faint glare."
That's a very fair description of the effect of the "silver retention" process, Mr. Puccio seems to be on the right track here, but he still gives the film an 8/10 rating in video quality, which I think is inconsistent with his own description of the image.
I just can't wrap my head around the reviews I read of the Minority Report Bluray. It seems everybody saw a different disc than me. I sure would like to get my hands on their version.
LET'S GET IT STRAIGHT
Minority Report is meant to look ugly. It's meant to look rough. What I take issues with is how rough it looks, and the uncritical praise this Bluray has received, despite its considerable flaws.
But fair enough, let's assume I'm COMPLETELY wrong. Let's assume all the things the gentlemen wrote above are correct. Let's assume that the film is presented 100% accurately. I still don't think you can give it a 5-star rating. After all, if you transferred a videotape from the '80s to Bluray, complete with all the authentic flaws, you wouldn't give the disc top rating. Even though the Bluray PERFECTLY reproduces the original work. You would say it looked like shit, and you would give it a shit rating. Or if you decide to forgo that logic, at the VERY least you should mention that most viewers will be HORRIBLY disappointed with disc.
It's not that I don't have some heinous Blurays in my collection, but they don't piss me off, nearly as much as this does. Minority Report is a "new" film. It's an expensive film. A completely new master was created. And it still looks like shit. It just doesn't seem right to me.
Now, insert your own joke about the crimes committed on this disc, and how it, ironically, could have been prevented in the film's own universe.
There's no easy way to navigate through this maze of Bluray discs, and it's only getting more and more difficult. How is a film supposed to look? Who knows these days?
Maybe the Minority Report Bluray perfectly captures the film. Maybe it did look exactly like this when I saw it back in 2002. Maybe I'm overly critical, because I paid good money for this disc, unlike some of the folks who review it online. Or maybe not.
This was a "Spielberg-Approved HD Master". That's great, but here's the thing: Again and again we see that the worst offender, when a film is messed up, is the director. Look no further than William Friedkin, who completely messed up the HD transfer of The French Connection (1971). He altered the entire look of the film, without consulting the Director of Photography Owen Roizman, who was mighty pissed when he found out. That's clearly not the case here. I'm just saying that director's stamp of approval might not be such a big deal in the end.
It feels like a bit of a cop-out to say this, but the bottom-line is that any film experience depends on the eyes that see. The Minority Report Bluray looks like shit to me. And now I have to be even more careful when I buy older films on Bluray. Remember VHS? Things were much simpler back then, weren't they?
FADE TO BLACK.