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Old boy
A UK region 2 DVD review of MARTIN: 2-DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION by Slarek
 
"You may come and go, but you will not take people from the city.
If I hear of it, a single time, I will destroy you without salvation."
Tada Cuda to his cousin Martin

 

As a long-time devotee of the vampire movie, I live in a somewhat delusional state, waiting in vain for a modern film that will challenge conventions and redefine the genre in thrilling new ways. It never happens. It's hardly surprising when you think about it. Stretching genre conventions is a risky business, and if you take it too far you risk declassifying the film as a genre work at all – if your vampire walks around in the sunlight, feasts exclusively on lettuce and dies young of bronchial pneumonia then sorry, but he's no vampire and this is no vampire movie. It's precisely this disregard for the basic rules that saw multi-genre twaddle like Van Helsing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen make a mockery of their vampire component by pilfering the bits they liked and disregarding the rest.

There's certainly no harm in working within the confines of genre convention. Just two years ago Swedish director Tomas Alfredson created a thrillingly fresh and original vampire movie in Let the Right One In [Låt den rätte komma in] without deviating at all from the basic genre conventions. Conversely, it's the rigid adhesion to tried and tested formula that makes the recent crop of youth-orientated vampire themed TV series feel so shallow and samey.

The real difficulty for any would-be innovator is that back in the 70s and early 80s there were a number of films that really did turn the genre on its head, revisionist works that rethought the classic vampire tale for a modern age and re-shaped it for a new and more media-aware generation of viewers. And they did it with such energy and imagination that the films themselves left the filmmakers that followed with little opportunity to do likewise on anything like the same level.

Perhaps the most radical departure from the genre norm was George Romero's 1977 Martin, a bold, intelligent and brilliantly executed inversion of the traditional vampire story, one that reinvented the vampire as a deluded serial killer and a symbol of troubled and alienated youth. But hang on, I'm in danger of repeating myself here. I've been a passionate fan of the film for many years, and have already said pretty much all I need to say on my review of Arrow's previous DVD release of the film, which you can read here.

This new 2-disc Collector's Edition, it should be pointed out, is Arrow's third DVD release of the film. It's definitely the most comprehensive version date and does put right right the most serious wrong of the previous release, but it's worth noting that if you have Arrow's 2003 single disc version and their 2006 2-disc Special Edition then you'll already own most of the features included here. Most, but not all.

If you're also a long-term fan of the film or have made your way through my review of the previous release, you'll be aware that the 1.33:1 picture was there cropped to a damaging and claustrophobic 16:9. The film was shot on 16mm in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the action was carefully arranged within that frame, and the resulting crop completely buggered up cinematographer Michael Gornick's compositional work and even removed key action from the picture area (there are some comparison screen grabs in my previous review that clearly illustrate the problem). That same version has been included here for idiots who don't care about framing but just want something that fills up their LCD screen, but thankfully you now have the option to watch the film as it was intended to be seen, in the 1.33:1 ratio of the 2003 release.

The majority of the extras have been ported over from the previous versions, with one notable exception that's targeted specifically, I suspect, at devotees of Romero and Martin in particular. The packaging is also likely to be a draw for fans, and is typical of Arrow's recent attention to detail on this score, and impressive enough for me to fork out for the release disc despite having the review DVDs at my disposal.

sound and vision

I've already covered the framing issue above and in my previous review, and though you can argue that including both versions here allows viewers to choose which one they prefer, the film was shot 1.33:1 and was always intended to be seen that way, so as far as I'm concerned if you prefer the 16:9 crop then you don't deserve to own the disc in the first place.

But there's more to it than that. The 16:9 transfer on the previous disc was also fuzzy on detail, its colours muddy and its shadow detail sacrificed to black level solidity. The bad news for cropped picture fans is that the widescreen transfer here appears to be the very same one from the previous release – sit them side-by-side and there's no discernable difference. Ah well, another reason not to watch that version.

The 1.33:1 transfer, fortunately, is a considerable improvement all round, having a nicely balanced contrast range, well judged brightness, more pleasing colour rendition and crisper detail. At first glance it looks to be a dead ringer for the standard-setting transfer on Anchor Bay's 2000 US release, but closer examination suggests this has been sourced from Arrow's 2003 single-disc version, evidenced by the blue tinge to the black levels in some scenes. What has been addressed is the cranked up brightness and weak contrast of the earlier disc – here it's about right, which also makes the blue-blacks a lot less obvious. While the best transfer yet on any UK DVD release, the ten-year-old discontinued Anchor Bay disc remains the winner.

The 2000 Anchor Bay US release
The Arrow 2003 release
The Arrow 2006 Special Edition
The widescreen version on Arrow's 2010 Collector's Edition
The 1.33:1 version on Arrow's 2010 Collector's Edition

As with the previous release, you can choose between Dolby 2.0 and Dolby 5.1 surround tracks, but essentially this is a mono track that's been pumped through an AC3 encoder rather than remixed. Both tracks are clear and free of noise.

extra features

Commentary
This is the same commentary that graced the 2-disc Special Edition, featuring Romero, make-up and effects man Tom Savini, producer Richard Rubenstein, composer Donald Rubenstein (Richard's brother), and cinematographer Michael Gornick. I've covered this in more detail in the earlier review, but will restate here that it's an excellent commentary and was the only persuasive reason for buying that earlier release. The rest of the extras are all on disc 2.

Italian version (Wampyr) (81:36)
The only disc-based extra not drawn from previous releases is the Italian version of the main feature, and while you might logically suspect this is just the film we all know and love but dubbed into Italian, that's only part of the story. It's also been quite dramatically re-edited, with about ten minutes of footage removed and whole scenes shuffled about the timeline in a manner that seems almost calculated to bemuse anyone familiar with Romero's original cut. The film now opens with Martin and Cuda waiting for a train (although the brief interlude when Martin eyes up a potential victim in the station toilet has been given a chop), the opening train compartment assault coming later and briefly recycled as a flashback during the attack on the house. There are a fair few other examples for anyone who has the time and patience to list them, but perhaps the most keenly felt loss is the phone-in reaction to Martin's absence from the radio talk show that accompanied the end credits of the original cut, which here have been replaced by music.

Ah yes, the music. The unsettling minimalist score that was so much part of the original cut's texture has been replaced by one by Argento regulars Goblin, and frankly you can keep it. I know the group have their devoted followers, and I'll happily admit that their best work is extraordinary and that their score for Suspiria may well rank as one of the astonishing marriages of imagery and music ever committed to celluloid. But they also specialise in the sort of blandly generic prog-rock that drove my younger self to musical despair, and it's that annoying, faceless, middle-of-the-road Goblin whose music graces the Italian cut of Martin, which together with the dub makes one of the most individualistic vampire movies sound like just another formulaic 70s Italian horror cheapie. It's also cropped to 16:9 and has undergone an NTSC to PAL conversion, and a couple of shots appear to have been rescued from low band video. But for all that the cut is still a most welcome inclusion, a rare chance to see how a favourite film can be transformed through alterations to the structure and soundtrack, and a useful reminder of how important both elements are to what makes the film work as well as it does.

Making Martin: A Recounting (9:30)
Even at under ten minutes in length, this constituted the bulk of the extra features on the second disc of Arrow's previous Special Edition release. It remains insubstantial and is still letterboxed rather than anamorphically enhanced, but is worth a look if you're new to the film.

Documentary on George A. Romero (23:31)
Catchy title, huh? That's because there is no actual title or end credits on this po-faced German documentary on Romero, which was shot on the set of Dawn of the Dead but also covers Night of the Living Dead and Martin. Interesting for the footage of Romero at work, and the director himself is interviewed at some length, though his words are drowned out by a German translation which is then converted back into English via (optional) subtitles.

TV and Radio Spots
The same TV Spot (0:31) you'll find on Arrow's previous single-disc release and the Radio Spots (0:26 and 0:56) you'll find on both.

Martin – US Trailer (2:33)
The same one you'll find on both of the previous releases.

Stills Gallery (1:25)
A rolling version of the collection from previous discs, but reproduced at a reasonable size.

Also included with the release disc are exchangeable covers, a double-sided movie poster reproduction, postcards and a booklet, none of which I'm presently in a position to comment on.

summary

If you've bought neither of the previous releases or were hoodwinked by the last one, then this is the DVD set you've been waiting for, if only for the chance to watch the film at decent quality in its correct aspect ratio again. The recycling of past extras is disappointing, but the addition of the Italian cut and the non-disc extras do tend to compensate. The 16:9 transfer is the same travesty as before, but the 1.33:1 print is a considerable improvement on both previous releases, and in the absence of the US Anchor Bay release is the real selling point of this Collector's Edition. The film comes highly recommended, and for finally getting it just about right, the DVD gets the thumbs-up too.

Martin

US 1977
91 mins
director
George A. Romero
starring
John Amplas
Lincoln Maazel
Christine Forrest
Elyane Nadeau
Tom Savini

DVD details
region 2
video
1.33:1 OAR
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles
English on Italian version only
extras
Filmmakers' commentary
Wampyr: Italian version of the film
Retrospective featurette
George Romero documentary
Radio spots
Theatrical trailer
Stills gallery
distributor
Arrow Films
release date
28 June 2010
review posted
4 July 2010

relared review
Martin [UK and US DVD comparison review]
Night of the Living Dead
Dawn of the Dead

See all of Slarek's reviews