That 2.2 Bluray.com review of Criterion’s On The Waterfront Bluray (2.19) doesn’t exaggerate. It’s quite beautiful and detailed and appropriately raw and grainy and Hoboken-ish. I’ve never seen it look so robustly film-like. This movie was never intended to look pretty — it’s supposed to look grim and gritty and anti-Hollywood. This is what the Criterion Bluray looks like, and that’s the right way to go.
This is truly the gold standard, the finest version of this 1954 classic ever prepared for home viewing. If you care about this film, you have to buy it.
And yet — I’m sorry but this has to be said — it’s grainy as hell at times, especially in scenes with lots of natural sunlight and or any kind of brightness, really. (The courtroom testimony scene, for example, looks like a bug shitstorm flew in the window.) For better or worse this is a Criterion trait. You can see it on their Twelve Angry Men Bluray also. They always deliver the grain that comes with the natural constitution of any celluloid image, but they always deliver it big-time, and by that I mean in a fairly pronounced, in-your-face way that makes you more aware of the stuff than ever before.
I’ve seen Waterfront in many formats over many years. I’ve seen it via 35mm celluloid projection in theatres and digital projection in a Sony screening room, the 1.85 version on the iPad3, via numerous TV viewings, that 2001 special-edition DVD. And none of them look as grain-covered as the Criterion Bluray does from time to time.
I realize the completed film delivers all this grain on its own and it hasn’t been “added” by Criterion, but in a sense it has been. It’s an undisputed, incontestable fact that grain always looks more vivid and particular on Bluray, and I think — please don’t hate me for this — Criterion should have tastefully DNR’ed On The Waterfront just a little tiny bit in order to balance things out. They should have tweaked it just enough so that the grain would be suppressed to the extent that it wouldn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the film itself, at least to an extent that Marlon Brando wouldn’t look soulfully into Eva Marie Saint‘s eyes and say, “Edie, I’d like to help but there’s nothin’ I can do, and I mean especially with all these bugs which are drivin’ me nuts…almost as much as that conscience stuff.”
All I know is that now and then I’m watching the film and I’m thinking, “Wow, this is a new version, all right…it’s January or February in Hoboken and cold as a witch’s tit, and every now and then Brando appears to be engulfed by hundreds of billions of digital mosquitoes. Saint and Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb too, choking on billions and billions of the little buggers.”
And don’t give me any of that “turn your sharpness down” crap. I did turn it down, way down, and the grain is still intense every so often. Not always, not even frequently, but in this and that scene it’s almost oppressive. I felt as if I was swallowing mosquitoes and at times spitting them out. If you want to watch this movie without this feeling of being in an Egyptian mosquito storm, you’ll have get out your old 32″ analog TV and watch the 2001 DVD, which doesn’t deliver grain to any significant extent.
I want to be clear that I’m not complaining about the Criterion Bluray. I’m saying this is as exacting and particular a rendering of Elia Kazan‘s film as you’ll ever see, and most of it is truly wonderful. But you might want to keep a can of bug spray nearby and spray it around the room every so often. You’ll only need it occasionally so it’s not that bad.