Monday, April 1, 2019

A look at the new Blu-ray of the old ''Pet Sematary''

This 4K restoration of the 1989 Pet Sematary adaptation probably looks great in that HDR format.  I wouldn't know.  I don't have a 4K TV; might will one of these days, but that day has yet to arrive.
To entice King fans like me (who already have the 2012 Blu-ray) into a double-dip, there are a couple of new bonus features.  Neither are Earth-shattering, but I enjoyed both.  The first, "Fear and Remembrance," runs 7:14 and is primarily a promo piece for the upcoming remake.  The interviews are with the directors, stars, and producers of that version of the movie, and there's a lot of footage from it; but it's also very much about their memories of the 1989 film, and the way it is presented here made me want to watch the movie again.  And so I did!  (We'll come back to that.)
The second featurette is called "Revisitation."  It runs 9:38, and is an interview with director Mary Lambert about her experiences making the film.  It's thirty years later, and she's turned into an older lady (as have all ladies from 1989); but she's in the mode of one's favorite grandmother or great aunt.  I think she's pretty goddamn adorable, personally.

She's very engaging, as always, and she speaks a bit here about something that interested me greatly: the fact that during the 4K restoration, she was given the opportunity to clean up some of the film's optical effects.  This could have used a before-and-after presentation, because I'm a bit unclear as to what exactly got done.  Lambert seems quite excited by it, though, and is also careful to point out that nothing was actually changed; just improved.
I was intrigued by this, so -- spurred on by both this and the desire "Fear and Remembrance" sparked in me to undertake my own revisitation of the movie -- I decided to try an experiment.  Could I do a literal side-by-side comparison of the 2012 Blu-ray transfer with the 2019 transfer?

You see this sort of thing all the time on sites that specialize in home-video reviews.  I myself am considerably more low-tech than such sites, though, so I wasn't sure.  I do have rips of both Blu-rays, though, so all it took was figuring out whether I had two different media players that would play the .mkv format.  Turns out: yes, I did -- VLC and Windows Media.  I opened both, snapped the 2019 version to the left and the 2012 version to the right, and got something that looked like this:
That's Windows Media on the left; VLC, which sits a bit higher, on the right.
Literally seconds after beginning this, I decided it made sense to relisten to Mary Lambert's commentary track (which was recorded for the 2006 DVD release, if I'm not mistaken).  But I'd not included it on my rip of the 2012 Blu-ray, so I had to play it from the 2019 version ... but could not figure out how to change audio tracks with Windows Media.
That is a boring story, isn't it?  I tell it only as way of explaining why all the screencaps that come after this have the '19 version on the left in VLC and the '12 version on the right in Windows Media.  So lest you think it suspicious that the left side is a bit higher in all but that first screencap, now you know why.  Aren't you glad I am here to tell you these things in such excruciating detail?
Moving on, let's now look at the side-by-side screencaps I took.  This will provoke further commentary, all of which I hope to fuck will be more interesting than the previous two paragraphs!
I'd recommend opening these images in a new tab so as to be able to look at them in greater detail.  This assumes, of course, that you're reading this on a PC; many of you may be on phones or tablets.  I suspect my blogs -- the screencaps component of them, at least -- mostly suck on smaller devices.  If so, sorry about that.

Anyways, here's a reminder: that's the new Blu-ray on the left and the old one on the right.

I now quote Mary Lambert from her appearance in the "Revisitation" featurette, speaking on the subject of the film's 4K HDR restoration: "A few weeks ago, Paramount contacted me and said that they intended to do a restoration of the film and [asked if I was interested] in supervising it.  And of course I was interested in supervising it!  They were gonna go all the way back to the film negative and rescan it into a HDR format.  It definitely goes back in and captures a lot more of that information than previous formats have been able to do; and so the shadows are much softer and the colors are richer in a modulated way than they are in previous digital formats.  And it looks amazing.  What we were also able to do was go back to some of those film opticals and make 'em better, because there was just so much latitude in the image; and even change 'em a little bit.  I mean, you couldn't make edits, and you couldn't put new things in; but the stuff that was there ... it's surprising what you can do with digital manipulation, and it looks great."  We'll try to keep all of that in mind as we proceed.

My eye can definitely detect a slightly more rich approach to the colors in the 2019 scan.

Attention to this image reveals that the optical effects used to make Pascow transparent and ghostly have been -- let's assume I'm using the correct terminology here (I may well not be) -- darkened somewhat.  The effect to my eyes is that Pascow looks more real in the 2019 scan, while also retaining the ghostly transparency.  The intent, I would imagine, is for the effect to call less attention to itself.  Not a major difference; but a difference is certainly there.

Louis's pajamas appear here to almost be a different color.

The browns in the Earth appear to be browner in the new version.

Well ... huh.  This is interesting!  I prefer the 2012 scan in this particular bit of the scene.  The 2019 version looks murkier and less vibrant.  But it also, arguably, looks more ominous and troubled; so it might be the more artistically effective of the two as it impacts the overall story.  Very interesting.

The glow in Church's eyes is obviously quite a bit more yellow in the new scan.  Here, too, I think I prefer the 2012 version.

Has the focus been improved in this scene?  Maybe, maybe not; the discrepancy might be attributable to slight sync issues between the two versions.  After all, I had no way -- no way of which I know, at least -- to auto-sync the two, so I had to use trial and error.  I got amazingly close, too; close enough that when Mary Lambert's commentary audio dropped out on occasion and the audio from the film took over on the '19 version on VLC, the muted '12 version on Windows Media appeared to be perfectly in sync.  However, at some point in the movie this ceased to be the case -- which makes no sense, because I never paused either version prior to that.  I am at a loss to explain how this happened.  Is there some very slight difference in one version?  Does one of those media players playback at a very slightly different speed?  One of the Blu-ray files?  I don't know, but it happened at some point and I was never quite able to get the two version back fully in sync.  So if you notice any slight irregularities of that nature, now you know why.  You're welcome!

You can definitely see more detail in the makeup in the 2019 version, which appears slightly darker but also more vibrant.  Weird, but true.

Oh.  Okay, well ... that's a fairly significant difference in this scene.  Were these optical effects?  I'd have assumed them to be on-set lighting effects, but maybe not.

This may have been -- and I'm referring to the appearance of these moments in the 2019 scan, not to the actual making of the film -- the result of changes in the color grading.  Whatever the case, we've definitely shifted away from the blue tint to a gray one, with the net result being that these brief bits appear almost to be in black and white.
This made me curious: what did these bits look like on the 2006 DVD?  I've got that disc, but I didn't have it ripped onto my PC.  If you're wondering whether my obsessiveness took over and caused me to do so, wonder no more.  It certainly did.  I only took one screencap from it, though, which I present now:
This suggests to me that the 2012 Blu-ray was more or less using the same approach as the 2006 DVD, which in turn suggests that the blueish tint was likely there all along.  In other words, this gray-tinged 2019 version appears to be a step in a different direction.  THAT in turn suggests to me that Mary Lambert may never have much cared for the blue; pure speculation on my part, but I'm not sure how else to rationalize the change.  It's fine by me if it's fine by Mary Lambert, but my personal preference would probably be the original blue.
We now return to comparisons:

I still don't really get what is happening in this moment.

Some of the interior scenes toward the end look too dark in the 2019 version.  Here's one example.

The 2019 version is unacceptably dark here, in my opinion.  A great deal of detail has been sacrificed.  Not sure why.

And there you have it.
My verdict?  I'm surprised to find myself saying this, but I think I've gotta go with the 2012 version.  Yes, the 2019 scan looks superior in most places; but it doesn't look THAT superior, and there are a few places where it looks significantly inferior, including impactful moments with zombie Gage late in the film.  That being the case, I'm forced to conclude that while the 2019 is mostly the better of the two, the 2012 has no adverse impact on the story, whereas the 2019 kind of does.
One big caveat to this: as I mentioned previously, I have no way to watch this in 4K.  It's entirely possible that the HDR format deals with those dark scenes better.  If you've seen the 4K version IN 4K, please do let me know.
Returning briefly to the subject of the "Revisitation" featurette, I'd like to mention that there are some great behind the scenes shots used within it.  I took screencaps of those to add to my archives, and while I'm not going to present them all here, I thought maybe I'd share a handful of them:
Hopefully nobody is going to object on legal grounds to my having done so.

That's producer Richard Rubinstein with Lambert and King.

So that's my look at the new Blu-ray.  All things considered, I'm happy to have bought this new edition.  I'll be even happier about it whenever I upgrade my television to a 4K. I'm sure that by that time, fucking 8K or some shit will be coming down the pike and I'll have to start thinking about upgrading yet again.  That's a problem for future Bryant, though.
And hey, speaking of Pet Sematary, we're less than a week away from the release of the new version.  Presumably I'll have a post about it at some point relatively soon.


  1. How does the film hold up in general? Been a while since I saw it but I remember thinking it was a bit campy in comparison to the book.

    1. I think it holds up pretty well. A little iffy in places, but I think it mostly works as a popcorn flick.

  2. I have to agree with your evaluation. I found most of the '19 screen caps to lack detail and have way too much shadowing than their '12 counterparts. I read this book and watched the film when it came out. I remember not liking the movie nearly as much as the book. But that is per my usual. Books allow us to use our imaginations in a way that movies never will be able to. Anyway, I'm very pleased to see you back in the game. I was starting to get worried by your lack of posting.

    1. Hasn't been a lot of time for blogging lately -- March was rough at work and April is going to be twice as bad. But so it goes!

      I agree, by the way; the book is vastly better than the movie in this case. In most cases, but definitely in this case. I do like it, though. Some of the performances are good, and some of it looks great, and the music is effective. It's got a few good jump scares, and the cats are awesome. It could certainly have been worse.

  3. Yep, work does suck most of the time and gets in the way of real life.

    Speaking of the cats, I loved the pic of SK holding the cat. That one made me giggle quite a bit.

    1. It's a classic, for sure.

      Unrelated to that -- but definitely on the subject of classics -- I just finished watching the first two episodes of the new "Twilight Zone." I thought they were pretty solid; kinda loved one of them, actually. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts if you watch them.

  4. I've heard about the new iteration of Twilight Zone, but haven't watched it yet. Is it streaming somewhere? I have heard people compare Black Mirror to TZ which I find insulting to TZ as I don't think they compare in the least. I know my opinion on that subject is in the minority. I also have not been an admirer of former re-dos of TZ. Except for the movie. I really loved the movie. Time will tell if this new version is a worthy addition. :)

    1. This new one is a CBS All Access show, which is where I watched it.

      At least one of the episodes is currently on YouTube, though (in an official capacity as a promotional thing):

      Lots of naughty language in it, which obviously makes it a bit of a departure from the original series.

      I adore "Black Mirror," but I think it's got its own identity -- comparing it to "The Twilight Zone" is probably useful as shorthand if you're trying to tell someone what "Black Mirror" is, but beyond that, I agree that there's not a huge amount of commonality.

  5. Thanks for the link. I don't subscribe to cable or have the CBS All Access channel on my Roku, so I will definitely watch the video. I'll let you know what I think.

  6. (1) Gotta say, with only a handful of exceptions, the ones on the right look WAY better. Is this a situation where you really need 4K to appreciate what they did? Or did they just darken the shit out of everything? Like these ubiquitous botox-frozen looks, I am simply amazed this sort of "upgrade" happens as often as it does. How do so many convince themselves this stuff looks better?

    I'll give the 4k-theory the benefit of the doubt. But sheesh. Doesn't look so hot here. That 4K blu-ray cover, though, is my favorite of all the Pet Sematary covers. That's the cover to the paperback I first read.

    (1.5) Perry Farrell looks a little more in-focus, I guess, as Zelda, so there's that.

    (2) Mary Lambert had an interesting career from her imdb! Motley Crue, Lionel Ritchie, Madonna, Red Shoe Diaries, The In Crowd, Dark Path, Pet Sematary, crikey. I'm surprised certain elements of our media-academe industrial complex have not seized upon her as the Hitchcock of our times. Give them time, perhaps.

    (3) I love that picture of Miko Hughes with the cat in the yard. All these behind the scenes photos actually. The younger Mary Lambert looks like she should be playing tennis in West Egg or something, slacks on a golf course with Kate Hepburn or something, before Averill Harriman and Alma Mahler drop by for lawn tennis.

    1. (1) There's an answer, I'm sure; but I do not have it. I do like the cover a lot, though. That's about half the reason I bought this!

      (1.5) Trying to summon meningitis-flavored lyrics to the tune of "Been Caught Stealing," and coming up empty.

      (2) Better! SHE never sexually assaulted Tippi Hedren! I assume. (I instantly feel a little bad for even making such a joke. I'm leaving it in to serve as a record of my shame.)

      (3) "I'm SORRY, darling, I simply MUST depart this very afternoon to go and supervise ANOTHER Madonna video! It's MOST taxing!"

  7. I'm the last person yo should ask about visuals, I'm afraid. The best I can tell is that some scenes look brighter, though I don't know if that makes a difference or not. Like I said, the last guy you should ask.

    As for the 2019, it's pretty fascinating. I can say it;s a film I have no problem recommending. It's also like you say, "iffy in spots". Those "iffy" moments keep giving me pause, and leave me wondering how highly it should be rated compared to the earlier film, and the first movie.

    I'm also left wondering, what happens with the re-animated after the closing credits? It's plot elements (I don't know if plot holes is the right word, here) that account for the slow time I'm taking with it, though I can't say it's bad.

    Incidentally, before the film came out, I ran across a fan theory online about the Wendigo from the book.

    Turns out some believe this creature makes a return appearance in another King novel. I dug around, and it seems like this is something semi-serious:

    While I find the idea interesting, I'm willing to take or leave this whole idea, really. Kind of a fun thought, though.



    I almost forgot. I caught a sneak peek at Disney's new live action adaptation of Lady and the Tramp. I was surprised by how I came away not minding it all that much:


    1. You've already seen the new "Pet Sematary"? How'd you manage that? Glad to hear it's good.

    2. It got a sneak peek release in select theaters. I was the recipient of pure dumb luck of the draw on this one.

      Also, yes, I'm aware April first came and went, like, three days too late for that Lady and the Tramp gag to make any sense.

      Oh well, belated April Fools!


    3. I'm an April fool every day, I am sorry to report.

      I don't remember the Wendigo being present in "Tom Gordon." Is that an actual thing? I remember the "God of the Lost," but not any specific mention of the Wendigo.

      Anyways, I just watched the new movie. I'm conflicted. I loved a lot of it, and was 100% onboard right up until the final few minutes, at which point it just sort of deflated for me. I'm at something of a loss to explain that, too; nothing that happens seems out of bounds. Maybe it just needs to sit with me a while.

      Either way, it's a solid adaptation. Maybe not the home run I was hoping for, but a solid base hit.

    4. Like I said, it's a fan theory. The way it goes is people are theorizing that TGOTL is really the Wendigo from "PS" in another guise.

      As I also said, it's just a theory. The one thing it has going for it is, I guess, the new perspective that book gains from seeing it's villain as the same one from a previous book.

      Looked at this way, "TGWLTG" is almost like a pseudo-sequel that also perhaps acts as a dialectical reply and counter-charge at "PS". The "Gordon book becomes the thematic lighter-side book in contrast to "Semetary's" dark tone.

      The theory is interesting, in that regard, at least. Still, it's no big deal to me.

      As for your reactions to the new adaptation, well, now you know how I feel, albeit on a slightly more positive level. I think I can see what the filmmakers wanted to go with. They were hoping it was going the more "edgy and adult" route. I can understand if that's their thinking. The funny thing is I don't know if, while trying to be edgy, they created more problems, or else just came off looking slightly goof-ish.

      It is possible a better compromise would have been to revert back to the book ending, where film Louise kills Ellie and then takes his wife to the burial grounds, and everything follows from there. Still, who knows. I tend not to be as all that worried. On the whole, I can recommend it.


    5. After sleeping on it, I think maybe I like the ending better. I am going to watch the movie a second time at some point this weekend. At worst, it's a recommendation from me, too; just on the fence a bit as to whether it's an enthusiastic one or not.

  8. So, I just finished watching "The Comedian" episode of the new Twilight Zone. I have to say that I think it is the most Twilight Zone-ish of the remake attempts. Odd little story with a bit of a message tacked onto it. I especially loved that they kept the intro/outro visuals and music true to the original. Just updated a bit. Nice very nice. They definitely knocked it out of the ball park. A very well crafted show in my for-what-it's-worth opinion. My only complaint is that it's not on Netflix or Hulu. Thanks for recommending it!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! The more I think about it, the more I like it; it really does seem to capture that essential "Twilight Zone" quality, whatever that is. I'm no expert on the remake series(es) -- or the original, for that matter -- but from what I've seen so far, they do seem to be getting it slightly more right this time than on previous return visits. Except maybe for the movie, which I like quite a bit.

  9. I have a soft spot for the movie. I am not sure how successful it was at the box office because of the tragedy with Vic Morrow and the two children. But I think it's excellent. I remember the series in the 80's and being much younger I remember enjoying it just because it was something Twilight Zone. But now I know it wasn't awesome. I think I only saw one episode of the reboot in the early '00's. It was the sequel to the "It's a good life". I remember digging that they got Cloris Leachman and Bill Mumy (sp?) as well as his daughter for the episode. That wasn't enough to make the show excellent though. This new one is the exception though I think. The finally seem to have gotten it right.

    1. It's been probably ten or twelve years since I last watched the movie -- on HD-DVD, back when that was a thing! -- and my memory of that viewing was of feeling that it had held up quite well. Even the opening segment with Vic Morrow, pretty solid. A lot of people hate the Spielberg segment, but I'm a sucker for that era of his career, so it works for me just fine. And the second two are great (although I'll admit I've not yet seen those episodes so have no comparisons to deal with).

      I saw that movie when it first came out; I was nine, and it scared me half to death. That opening bit with Aykroyd and Brooks; whoo-whee! So in that sense, I'm always going to have a connection to it.

  10. Nice write up, Bryant. I was planning on revisiting this in the near future and I think I’ll go with the 2012 version. I have not seen it in years, but after seeing the 2019 Pet Sematary in theaters last night, I have a new appreciation for the 89 film.

    1. I think the good aspects of the 1989 film are aging remarkably well, and that the less-good aspects are kind of powerless to prevent that. It's one of those movies that I totally get why someone would dislike it; but it seems better to me each time I watch it, despite its problems.

  11. Okay, so, I found this EW interview with King where he shares his own idea of how this new version of "PS" could have gone:

    My own personal take: (shrugs) I can't say I'd have minded, at least.

    If nothing else, King's ending could have included a scene that answers a nagging question of what happens to the re-animated characters. Utilizing King's scenario, the final shot of the film would center on the late Louis, Rachel, and Ellie. They're all watching things with an almost wistful, sad look in their eyes. We see them all turn as a family to go off somewhere. As the sun comes up over the ridge of road, they slowly begin to disintegrate to dust, leaving just a an empty patch of road, with one smoldering house on one side. The End!

    Just a funny thought.


    1. King's proposed ending is interesting. I still haven't decided whether I like the one on the released film; I need to see it a second time.

      I remember coming up with my own hypothetical ending to a movie adaptation a few years back (the last time I reread the novel). Can't remember what it was, though! I think I wrote it down someplace; if I can find it, I'll report back.

      Yours would have been visually striking, for sure.

  12. The problem with digital restoration is that the computer colorers are left to their own devices, and often change how the movies are supposed to look.

    I've always thought that the photography of Pet Sematary was too bright and TV-ish, and I think that's what Mary Lambert was trying to correct here.

    But the digital restorers also added a "blanket yellow tint" to the whole thing, which is something they've been doing to the HD versions for tons of movies, old and new ones, for no clear reason. Google it; here's one example:

    Anyway, the moral of the story is don't throw away your VCRs.

    1. Too late! I threw mine away years ago! Kinda wish I hadn't, just for the nostalgia factor.

      You're probably right about Lambert's intentions. And I think it's mostly fine -- occasionally good, even -- but really hurts in those late scenes with zombie Gage. Some of that stuff is bafflingly dark; why allow that? The improvements are not enough of an improvement to make the loss in those scenes justifiable.

  13. Sorry to get kinda/sorta off topic.

    Thing is, I got this sort of involved review of "Misery" up, for those who are into that sort of thing.

    Just a heads up is all.


    1. Thanks! I'll check it out when I have an opportunity.