“Its clearer..its clearer” was the cry as I turned around to face the people in the tower. I resist calling this post the ‘Curse of Frankenstein” simply because it is not a curse at for people that love film. I speak of the Bluray edition of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) which has now become available for individual purchase in North America apart from the eight disk Classic Monster Collection. I did very much look forward to this release being a ‘Monster Kid’at heart yet I tempered my spending when I did see the set.
Firstly I have always been dubious to these old pictures being released on bluray. These genre pictures are made for less then satisfactory negatives and or source prints. Large money makers like BEN HUR, CASABLANCA, SINGIN IN THE RAIN and others get the treatment because they appeal to a wide audience. Be that as it may the studios do there best to reel me in with thoughts of new footage, new documentaries, new commentary, unique packaging and I admit it right here..a toy. Yes like some version of popcorn with a surprise at the bottom I get torn up when a favourite of mine appears with any of these or sometimes all. BLADE RUNNER (1982) came out one Christmas in in large box set in three versions (In HD, DVD, and Bluray) The set contained 35mm film ornament, a plastic version of the origami figure done by replicant and assorted other things plus the movie in five different versions all in a small plastic case. Needless to say it worked and I bought one of these followed by a version of FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) in limited edition tin box.
James Whale’s version of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) has had almost as many reincarnations as it has sequels. This supposed that you are a “Monster Kid” like me going back some years and FRANKENSTEIN was your favourite above all films that you want to have. You would have been treated through the years to the following availability. 1/ Super 8 film versions by Castle Films, 2/ First Beta/VHS format version, 3/ Repackaged VHS version new graphics, 4/ First Generation DVD version with documentaries and commentary, 5/ 75th Anniversary edition DVD, 6/The Legacy collection with the three figurines, 7/ Universal Studios 100 Anniversary combo DVD version, and now 8/ the Bluray edition. I may have missed some editions depending on country but suffice it to say you could have bought your favourite film eight different times. My big question is with all those versions is there really a difference?
This is not a bash of studios that market their product as the true mark of a classic is that it speaks to various people in different times. Technology in dubbing and compression has also gotten better in the years what hasn’t followed in some cases is the source print. If you have a terrible source negative with tears, watermarks, scratches, audio drops, then you will get a poor print when is struck. Hence why large film restoration is very expensive proposition taking time and effort in a labour of love. Film does need to be preserved especially from fragile nitrate film stock. The difficulty is picking the pictures that get the treatment (That is another subject)
The Frankenstein (1931) bluray is clearer in image. You can see the water running on the road and the hills in the storm sequences. The make ups come shining through in all there subtle look. The Monster truly does look more non human in every detail except those magnificent Karloff eyes. During the first introduction of the Monster with Waldman and Henry Frankenstein you can see at least I did the detail in the make up when the Monster raises his arms towards the sunlight.
Debate has raged on other sites about the aspect ratio of the pictures being moved for the original to now 16×9 for the larger television monitors which in my opinion is some what needless. The biggest concern even though these films were shot to in smaller aspect ratio as with all older films of that era is that they will now reach a new audience who actually may not know the difference. The screen image does look a little stretched our in some places but that is the trade off.
Which brings me to my original point of being are all these versions of the same film necessary? Do they serve something other then to fill the shelves for the “Complete collector” ? My opinion is yes to the bluray version only if you would like to see areas you have not seen before.There was work done on source prints to do what could be don with an old negative. You can see the featurette included in on the disk detailing the restoration. Besides very soon another format will be upon us or the studio will release another version of the Legacy Collection on Bluray with all the sequels….or better still some reproduction of the neck bolts for people like me. (I own the original dvd version and Legacy Collection with the figurines)
The UNIVERSAL STUDIOS CLASSIC MONSTERS will live for you.