Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Article of the week: HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961) Blu-ray review

 


HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961; 1963 US) starring Reg Park (Hercules), Fay Spain (Queen Antinea), Ettore Manni (Androcles), Mimmo Palmara (Astor), Laura Efrikian (Ismene), Luciano Marin (Illo). Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi

As a fan of PEPLUM movies, one of the biggest frustrations is the complete lack of titles available on DVD or Blu-ray in English here in North America. As a big fan, this lack has forced me (and others) to create Fan Dubs: using the usually scratchy English audio taken from an old VHS recording from a TV broadcast and edit this track unto a pristine print taken from a DVD or a TV broadcast from Europe. I've done over 20+ such Fan Dubs. It's the only way to enjoy these movies if one wants to view them in English. 

HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961) is one of the bigger movies of the genre, figuratively and literally. It's the first movie starring big Reg Park as Hercules and the movie itself is big: big sets, big cast, big production, big cinematography. It's one of the few PEPLUM films shot in Technirama, now known as 70 MM. On this side of the Atlantic, the movie was hard to get in a beautiful print in English while the movie itself was available in decent prints in Europe, in Italian or French. The copies here are of the public domain variety, washed out, cropped and barely watchable. Until Retromedia released on DVD in widescreen and in English. It was available individually and also part of the HERCULES COLLECTION pack, which is the one I have. 

There are two versions of this movie, the original Italian edit and the US version, with a different opening credit and many changes to the score. The Retromedia DVD was the first time the US version was available in widescreen. Though not perfect by any means, it was the best print available of this grand colourful PEPLUM in North America. Until now. HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN was released last week on Blu-ray, by The Film Detective. This will be an overview of this release. I'll compare it to the Retromedia copy and a recent Italian TV broadcast. I won't review the extras or if there are scenes missing or abbreviated, etc. This is just a comparison. 

So, just to make sure:

Retromedia DVD
Italian TV Broadcast
New The Film Detective Blu-ray.

Since the opening credit is different in the US version from the original Italian version, I'll only compare the Retromedia DVD and The Film Detective Blu-ray.

Note: I didn't do any image retouching to any of the screengrabs used for this review. They are shown as is.


RETROMEDIA DVD


THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY 


 RETROMEDIA DVD


 THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY


 RETROMEDIA DVD


 THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY

In the Blu-ray, the oceans are green.


RETROMEDIA DVD


ITALIAN TV BROADCAST


THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY

In this scene, when Hercules and friends experience a vision, the image is supposed to be blood red. In the Blu-ray, it's orange. It's awful. 


 RETROMEDIA DVD


ITALIAN TV BROADCAST


 THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY


RETROMEDIA DVD

 
ITALIAN TV BROADCAST

 
THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY


RETROMEDIA DVD


ITALIAN TV BROADCAST

 
THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY

The orange tint in the Blu-ray is awful.


RETROMEDIA DVD


ITALIAN TV BROADCAST


THE FILM DETECTIVE BLU-RAY

The above comparison is telling: Ismene's dress is washed out and lacks details in the Blu-ray release while you can see details in the TV broadcast. The same thing can be said about the details in the surrounding rocks and landscape. The clarity of the Italian TV broadcast shows how disappointing the new Blu-ray is.




This GIF comparison shows how bad the new Blu-ray release is. One of the film's central theme is blood and the color red. When Ismene is released from captivity after Hercules kills Proteus, the walls behind her start bleeding. The entire Proteus scene is great and imaginative. But the blood in the Blu-ray is orange. In the DVD and the Italian TV broadcast, the blood is red. In this comparison, one can see the clarity of the TV broadcast. Not only are the colours wrong in the Blu-ray but the image is distorted.




This GIF comparison shows how problematic the new Blu-ray is: the DVD and the Italian TV broadcast are almost identical in terms of maintaining the image. There's no distortion between them. But the Blu-ray is squished, making the actors look taller and thinner than they are. The Blu-ray has more information on all the sides but the colours are wrong. For a Blu-ray release, the clarity of the image is only one step above the Retromedia DVD. The Blu-ray is not really sharp. While the Italian TV broadcast is crystal clear compared to the two. You can see Fay Spain's eyes in that image. 


AUDIO ISSUES

Impossible to show here in this review but the audio in the new Blu-ray is sometimes out of sync. Some would blame the fact that this is a dubbed movie but this out-of-sync issue is not present in the Retromedia DVD.

In one scene, Hercules jumps down to the floor and you can hear the noise of the feet hitting the floor before he does. After that Hercules puts his hand on Androcles' shoulder and again you hear the tapping sound before the hand actually hits the shoulder. As someone who's done tons of Fan Dubs, this is quite obvious to me.




The Film Detective release wins hands down in regards to the resolution and that's about it. The colours are all wrong. The image is distorted as they crammed the super widescreen image, making everything look squished. And there are obvious issues with audio being out of sync even if the clarity and loudness are good. 

The Italian TV broadcast wins overall in terms of clarity, sharpness and details of the image even if the image is cropped all around, having less information than the there two versions, and the colours, though beautiful, are not as vivid as the Retromedia version. 

The Retromedia DVD is too dark and at times overly saturated, 
the image is very soft, and the audio is fairly weak and it has many scratches and 'pops' but in terms of accuracy, in regards to colour, screen information and 'film look', it beats the Blu-ray hands down. 

So, in closing, the new Blu-ray is very disappointing. The orange tint present throughout ruins it. And the out-of-sync audio issues are annoying. I'm not familiar with The Film Detective but looking at this release, one has to ask: did anyone there actually saw the movie prior to this release? 

4 out of 10. 



3 comments:

Luv chocolate said...

I'm like to get a copy of the Italian TV broadcast.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this comparison.

I think I know exactly what happened with the stretched aspect ratio on the Blu-ray... to get the 2.20:1 aspect ratio the disc has, they stretched the 2.35:1 image vertically.

Because some perhaps clueless people were involved in this disc, they assumed that since it says "Super Technirama 70" in the credits, it must have an aspect ratio of 2.20:1, since that's the aspect ratio for 70mm, right? The problem is that despite the "Super Technirama 70" in the credits, there doesn't seem to be any indication that this film actually played in 70mm anywhere, US or Europe, and the US prints certainly were not 70mm, just regular 35mm Cinemascope-compatible prints with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio (or 2.4:1, depending on how recent the SMPTE guidelines you're using are).

The orange reds and green shadows seems to be an overall colorspace error, since it's consistent for the whole film.

PEPLUM TV said...

Yes, the vertical is messed up. They used to do that decades ago and it was understandable back then but not in 2021.