I’ve never been more than mildly attracted to Alfred Hitchcock‘s To Catch a Thief, but I’ve been in love with Robert Burks‘ VistaVision photography, which won the 1956 Best Cinematography Oscar, since I was in my mid teens. No film delivers the splendor of the Cote d’Azur with more erotic punctuation, or is better at capturing that hazy-sunlight effect at midday and even the hillside and seaside aromas, which you can easily recollect and almost smell during a viewing.
(l. to r.) The initial ’02 To Catch a Thief release; the ’07 Special Collectors editon, and the ’09 Special Centennial edition.
Which is why I’m about to buy my third DVD of the damn thing today. The latest upgrade is out and I have no choice.
The visual quality of the current Special Centennial edition is said by DVD Beaver’s GaryTooze to offer “a significant improvement over the 2007 edition with a higher bitrate and the rendering of colors is far superior with no hint of boosting as we saw in the  SE.”
The first To Catch a Thief DVD, which came out on 11.5.02, was thought even back then to be somewhere between nothing special and somewhat crappy. It made Burks’ large-format photography look like it was captured on regular 35mm.
Nearly five years later, on 5.8.07, came the To Catch a Thief Special Collectors Edition, which added (or restored) a strong greenish tint to the nighttime rooftop scenes, and looked truly exceptional when played on a Bluray player and shown on a decent-sized high-def screen. I was blown away when I looked at this version on my just-purchased Bluray player and 42″ plasma screen last November. It almost flirts with Bluray quality in certain scenes.
And now — today — comes the To Catch a Thief Centennial Collection version, which reportedly delivers an improvement over the ’07 release and therefore an even more choice experience for guys like myself. The stills I’ve seen indicate color that is slightly less (the greenish rooftop efect is toned down) and more natural looking.
“By placing the film on one disc without any extra the compression has improved and even detail has advanced a notch,” Tooze has written. “The softer palette suits the film very well and it has a warmth that was devoid in the previous editions. Aside from seeing this in Blu-ray, this is fabulous news.”
This is perhaps the most significant divider between serious film lovers and people who just like movies. The former will always buy (not rent) the latest upgrade of this or that movie in order to have the finest rendering in order to simply look at the fucker — i.e., to sink into the visual bath of it and go “aahhh.” And the latter will rent this or that film on Netflix in order to watch the story and savor the emotional-aesthetic ride. They have no upgrade hunger and satisfied with “good enough” in the bitrate department.
In fact, I know a major Manhattan-based film critic who watches films at home on a plain old small-screen TV and a regular-scale DVD player, and doesn’t feel a particular need to upgrade. Imagine!