Warner Home Video’s Bluray of John Schlesinger‘s Marathon Man looks about as good as a scratch-free 16 mm print projected on my bedroom wall. Some of it sharply rendered, some of it shadowy, much of it grainy and almost splotchy at times. Basically like the projected image when it opened at Leows’ 86th Street on 10.8.76. Nothing to get too excited about but a decent representation of what cinematographer Conrad Hall wanted audiences to see. Except this isn’t good enough for me. When I buy a Bluray of an older film I want the images to look as good as they did at the very first check screening at the film-processing lab plus a little more. I want a Bluray uptick — a version that would surprise its makers and inspire them to say, “Wow, this looks a bit better than I remember!”
I don’t want the 16mm version when I buy a Bluray. Give me a little Bluray sugar or don’t release the Bluray in the first place. I don’t want a Marathon Man that looks artificially prettified or brightened or anything synthetic, mind, but I do want a version that looks cleaner, sharper, more vivid or less raggedy than what was seen by audiences 37 years ago. Yes, the film should be presented within the confines of Hall’s intended visual palette (he wanted it to have a “street” look), but it should also be an improvement of some kind. Hard to say exactly what kind but let me in the room where they do the Bluray mastering and believe me, I’d figure it out.
The Bluray.com review reads as follows: “The film’s natural grain has been preserved without ever becoming overemphasized, even in certain outdoor shots where the production had to rely on natural light, using the era’s far less sensitive film stocks. Colors are somewhat undersaturated, and they always have been.” Wells interjection: In other words portions of this film look mildly shitty by today’s standards. Back to review: “Marathon Man‘s palette is meant to be weak, wan and lifeless, reflective of a society that has lost confidence in itself (which was the essence of the ’70s paranoid thriller). ‘They were always so confident God was on their side,’ Szell says contemptuously when he arrives in America. ‘Now I think they are not so sure.’ The urban decay of New York in the ’70s and the undersaturated colors convey that same message visually.”