Saturday, November 17, 2012

A...Better Bilitis?

I've talked about different discs of Bilitis on this blog before, here and here. But it's time to do it again.

It has been alleged by a helpful poster in the comments to my last Bilitis post that the Australian disc might still be better than the new Pathfinder disc (and all the others). So I've now got a copy of the Australian disc (from Amsell Entertainment) in hand. And I have to say, he might just be right.

So, above is a screenshot from the Australian disc of the same screen I took a shot of from the Pathfinder disc.  [Note: after clicking these images to enlarge them, you can right click these images and click "View Image" to see them even larger than blogger's image viewer allows, and see these shots full-size]  Of course, the first thing you'll notice is that the image quality stinks, just like it does on all the others. The fact is, it's just a shame Pathfinder were unable to find 35mm masters to do a proper restoration. Casual fans will probably find this comparison academic - they all look poor, so you might as well just buy whichever Bilitis is the cheapest and easiest to obtain depending on where you live  But...

While the image is much more faded than the Pathfinder disc (who probably just upped the saturation), there appears to be more detail on-hand here. Granted, it can get a little hard to discern the grain/video noise (which there is plenty of on the Amstell disc) from actual detail. But let's look at a part of the shot closer up:
First of all, yuck to both. lol But okay, I definitely can make out vague, blurry facial features on the left (Amstell) that I don't see on the right (Pathfinder). I'm not sure we're talking about a superior image source... I suspect the difference might be that Pathfinder decided to DNR all the grain, thus scrubbing some detail and making everything a bit softer. I suppose there is still open debate about whether a smoothed out, less grainy image is preferable to a noisy image, where solid black backgrounds look like an army of crawling insects - at the cost of detail from the original images - but I think most purists would say (and I'd agree), that the DNR is too destructive.

I think we need another comparison to get a firmer idea of what's going on here. Pathfinder above, Amstell below:

The Pathfinder does have that waxier, smoothed-out look alright. Because the source is so poor, though, I'm not sure if we're actually losing any non-grain detail here. On a high end Blu-Ray transfer taken from a negative or film source, this kind of DNR would be untenable, but here? They may've made the right choice - or not. At this point, I think it boils down to preference. Both discs seem to be using the same source, but Pathfinder played with it some more, and whether they helped it or hurt it - I'll leave that up to you. What's less subjective is that the colors are better on the Path disc, but there's slightly more vertical information on the Amstell (look at the elbow on the left).

You might ask, why not have a look at the opening shot you used to compare Pathfinder to all those other versions in your last post? Oh I was intending to, but the Amstell disc is missing the opening shot! Amstell throws us in on the close-up, after the shot that pans out from a medium to a wide, showing Bilitis's bedroom, shoes etc. I have to say, I was not expecting that when I popped this disc in.

How do the discs compare outside of the image comparison? Well, here Pathfinder wins hands down. The Amstell disc has nothing but a simple Play button on the menu. Not only do you not get the extras (the soundtrack album, gallery and Breillat interview), you also don't get the subtitles or the alternate audio. While the English dub seems to use the original actress's voice (well, I'm not sure but our commenter seems confident that it's her), it's still obviously a pretty chintzy dub. The French audio track definitely sounds like the most naturalistic audio of the three, and the optional subs are a definite plus in cases like this.

You can really make a case for either disc (or perhaps more accurately, a case against either disc!)... Both have advantages over the other. Pathfinder has the French audio, subtitles, extras, and better colors (I'm not listing "less grain" as a plus, all things considered). Amstell has slightly better detail in at least some (I'd say most) shots, and isn't as over-cropped on the bottom edge. Of course, Amstell is also missing the opening shot, which isn't cool. Personally, considering the poverty of the image on all discs, I'll probably just hang onto my Pathfinder. But look at the shots and go for whatever makes you happiest. Hopefully someday a nice 35mm print will surface and we'll all be able to double-dip for a stunning Blu-Ray, anyway.