Blurays of black-and-white films of 1940s can look wonderful — Out of the Past, Laura, the 2008 Casablanca Bluray (i.e., not the horribly grainstormed 70th anniversary version), Criterion’s Red River, TCM’s Only Angels Have Wings (okay, late ’30s), Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Alas, the new Big Sleep Bluray is nowhere near as handsome or satisfying as any of these.
This latest version of Howard Hawks‘ 1946 noir looks okay but not significantly better, in my opinion, than any TCM broadcast version or how the 16-year-old, 480p Warner Home Video DVD looked when you played it on your 700-pound 32″ Sony flatscreen. I wanted my Bluray “bump” and this puppy didn’t give it up. I was watching it like Peggy Lee….”Is that all there is, my friend?”
The Big Sleep Bluray (which streets on 2.23) is sourced from a wetgate fine-grain master, which is indistinguishable from the original camera negative, I’m told. A restoration guy tells me it’s “a new scan, properly color-timed…you may not like the dark aspects and the shadows but this is what The Big Sleep looks like. It’s a noir. And every review so far has been a rave. I’ve seen excellent prints of The Big Sleep and this, to my eyes, looks absolutely glorious.”
No — it’s not glorious. It’s just..well, pretty good. It doesn’t look remastered to me at all. Detailed but not that detailed. Some shots look excellent but they’re in the minority. Yes, it’s delivering greater density and tonal improvements and textural detail to some extent but it certainly doesn’t have that reharvested look. It doesn’t deliver anything close to the crisp, satiny textures of that wonderful Out Of The Past Bluray. A lot of it is very handsome but it generally feels too dark and muddy and curiously shadowed. I felt as if a layer of scrim or gauze was hanging over it at times.
I wanted a kind of candy-like feeling, a feeling of sparkly silver nitrate, that feeling you get when an old film looks significantly better and all bumped up and dandified. But it didn’t happen. The Big Sleep Bluray delivers a slightly enhanced image, yes. I love the shot when Humphrey Bogart leaves Geiger’s book store and looks up as it starts to thunder as he makes his way to the Acme book store, where Dorothy Malone is the proprietor. But why do other portions seem to be covered in this odd shadowy murk?
When Elisha Cook, Jr.‘s Jonesy drinks the poison I was saying to myself, “This is exactly the same visual experience I had when I watched it on TV in the ’70s.” Well, a little better but not that much.
It’s not bad as far as it goes, but like Edward G. Robinson‘s Johnny Rocco I wanted “more.” I wanted a silvery-snap-wow feeling, and I got that only a few times. Disappointing.
I wasn’t that knocked out by the new Key Largo Bluray either. What a bummer. I wanted to sprout angel wings and fly among the silver-nitrate clouds in heaven, but both Blurays left me high and dry.