Raise the Orange Lantern??

February 23, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

I know, I have promised something about naked Oscar winners, but I instead have delivered a DVD rant... Please be patient. Or take a cold shower. Or both.

I started buying DVDs in 1997. Over nine years, my collection has grown from a few dozen to north of 1000. Most of those are purchased with my own hard-earned dollars; less than 100 are freebies. One by one, I have seen my favorites arrive in DVD format, and one-by-one I have discarded faded VHS copies and overweight (overpriced) laserdiscs. But there remain some glaring omissions. One was removed late last year when the 1933 version of King Kong made its small disc debut. (Was it worth the wait? Considering the quality of the transfer and the supplementary material - yes.)

The DVD I would most like to own that is currently not available is Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. I have the movie on laserdisc, but my laserdisc player has grown erratic from lack of use. According to industry sources, a special edition of the film is in the works as I write this, due to hit shelves before the end of the year. I would willingly settle for a movie-only version, but the multi-disc set is apparently going to have a number of special features.

Another movie I have been waiting for is Raise the Red Lantern. A few weeks ago, while perusing "soon to be released" lists, I discovered that the title was about to become available, so I ordered it. Then I received a warning e-mail earlier this week indicating that the quality of the transfer was not good. After slipping the disc in a player yesterday, I have to write that "not good" is an understatement. This is one of the worst transfers I have seen.

The Raise the Red Lantern DVD is a crappy money-grab. Much as I love the movie, I can't advise anyone to buy the DVD. It appears that someone took a second-generation VHS copy and used it for the transfer. The print looks horrible, the colors are smeared and washed out. (The red lantern looks like a jack-o-lantern.) And, to add insult to injury, the 2.35:1 picture is not anamorphically enhanced. (That was acceptable in 1997; it's practically unheard of in 2006.) Okay, I can play with the controls on my TV to get an undistorted version of the picture to appear, but then I lose the subtitles. So I have to watch it letter-boxed and window-boxed to see everything.

The chief source of disappointment with this DVD is that it means we probably won't be seeing a quality copy any time soon. This is what happens when people who don't care about movies get into the DVD production business. The disc isn't outrageously expensive but, even at $14 (discounted), it's $14 too much. Raise the Red Lantern is a beautiful film; it's too bad anyone having the misfortune to watch this DVD won't share that opinion. They'll think it's the work of a second-rate hack using a decade-old camcorder.

The company perpetrating this atrocity is Razor Digital Entertainment, and I'll be giving their future releases the kind of wide berth I should have given Raise the Red Lantern. (Thanks, by the way, to the e-mailer who alerted me to this situation. At least I was forewarned.)

In other DVD news, North American Doctor Who fans can finally legally see the first season of the new program. The Region 1 DVD set is currently available in Canada, and can be ordered from any Canadian DVD distributor. (Amazon.ca is offering he usual discount.) The U.S. DVD date was postponed to July to allow the series to have a first run on the Science Fiction Channel (where it starts March 17), but the content and price of the Canadian DVDs are identical to what will eventually be available in the United States, so there's no practical reason for a fan not to order it now.