Fashion-forward though it be when it comes to the feeding habits of wealthy couples, the New York Times has, like most other mainstream outlets, been reluctant to discuss the existence of other regions in its home video coverage. There's nothing illegal about purchasing a DVD or Blu-ray from another country and watching it in the U.S., nor is there in purchasing a player capable of watching it on, although the studios have used the licensing of the technology underlying Blu-ray to force manufacturers like Oppo to stop making players that could be converted to region-free with a simple remote code. (There are ways: Look them up.)
But that didn't stop Glenn Kenny, late of the much-missed "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report," from devoting his guest Times column to two versions of Brian De Palma's The Fury, one from the U.S.' Twilight Time, the other from Arrow Films in the U.K. In fact, since Twilight Time's limited edition of 3,000 has been sold out for some time, it's effectively a review of Arrow's new Region B Blu-ray, but shhhh -- don't tell anyone.
Even if you don't have the equipment to play foreign discs -- and you're missing out on a gratifying and fairly costly habit if you don't -- Kenny's column is a fascinating look at how differently the same film can be handled by different companies. Twilight Time's, he reports, was based on a five-year old transfer from 20th Century Fox, who prepared the movie for Blu-ray and then cancelled the release when the home video market started to go soft. By most accounts, the Fox transfer accurately reproduced what The Fury would have looked like in theaters in 1978:
And there, for some viewers of the Twilight Time Fury, was the rub. De Palma is a technical virtuoso and The Fury one of his most bravura works. He and the director of photography, Richard H. Kline, pulled out the stops with focus manipulations, cleverly orchestrated effects and rear-projection work. Composite, or dupe, shots are put together in a lab, combining materials shot under different conditions. Merging and rerendering these elements creates an inevitable downgrade from the quality of the original camera work; that’s what experts mean when they say a particular shot looks "dupey."
Arrow managed to go back to the original negative, and the result, Kenny says, is a "smoother, less garish" Fury. (My copy is, as the Brits say, still in the post.)
Kenny also gets into the nagging criticism of Twilight Time's business model, which those who stay out of the threads at Home Theater Forum have mostly likely been spared. It's frustrating when a Twilight Time sells out before you can get to it, especially if it happens before it's even release, as happened with John Carpenter's Christine. But the fact that Fox actually had The Fury ready to go and declined to release it speaks volumes about the studios' relationship to their back catalogues. If Twilight Time has a model that keeps them in business and keeps otherwise unwanted films flowing their way, a little proactivity on collectors' part is, along with $29.99 plus shipping, a reasonable price to pay.