The Criterion Collection presents Michelangelo Antonioniís Red Desert in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The standard definition transfer found here isnít bad but I found it fairly erratic. The opening is very problematic, filled with edge halos and a lot of noise, possibly an issue with the transfer having trouble rendering the filmís grain. Screen grabs donít really capture it but in motion itís noticeable. The transfer then looks a little better after the opening but then on and off throughout the transfer can become a little soft, splotchy, and still contains a fair amount of noticeable edge-enhancement. As a whole detail is so-so and it just never looks as sharp as it could. As noted elsewhere in the forums on this site and other film/DVD/Blu-ray sites and in the Blu-ray review here the colour scheme differs when compared to the BFI release, but I canít say I had an issue with it and I thought the colour presentation was one of the stronger aspects of this edition.
The print is in excellent shape but has a few big blemishes, including a vertical yellow line that appears midway through and a black splotch during a final sequence, though the darkness of the sequence in question actually hides it so itís barely noticeable.
When scoring I was stuck between a 6 and 7 but eventually settled on the former: I canít say itís terrible and there are moments where itís strong, but there were enough issues that it left me fairly underwhelmed. 6/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The DVD edition (and Blu-ray edition) comes with a few short, though intriguing supplements.
First Criterion has ported over the audio commentary that appeared on the BFI release, which features film scholar David Forgacs. Itís very scholarly and it can be dry, but it does manage to still offer a fascinating analysis of the filmís themes of alienation and adaptation, mixed in with anecdotes, and talk of the compositions and the filmís editing. He of course talks about Antonioniís use of colour and how he would paint the setting to get the look he was going for, which included not only painting man made items but painting vegetation, including one shot where he painted trees a white, only to film the scene and have the trees turn out black, which led to the sequence being abandoned. He offers some historical context about the industrialization of Italy, including the health and environmental concerns that come with it, along with the unsafe working conditions. He also covers Antonioniís work with Vitti and talks about some of her other work, but surprisingly doesnít say much about Richard Harris, only briefly mentioning Harrisí annoyance with Antonioni, which led him to leaving the film. He does make some comments about the transfer as well, but since this was originally made for the BFI disc, it should be kept in mind he is referring to that one. In all itís a worthy track, certainly worth listening to, offering an excellent look into at the film.
Moving to the supplements section we first get a 12-minute interview with Michelangelo Antonioni, recorded for the French television program Les ťcrans de la ville in 1964. In it he mentions how he came up with the idea and the themes he was trying to present in the film, specifically adapting to the modern world. He makes sure to mention he has nothing against the modern world, praising progress, and then he moves on to the use of colour, and states no painter has influenced him for this film. He also talks about Vitti, her roles in previous films (LíAvventura and LíEclisse,) how he sees actors and even mentions the critical reception of his work. Short but good, though it covers a lot of material thatís already mentioned in the commentary track.
The following interview is one from 1990 with Monica Vitti. Running only 9-minutes and filmed for the French television program Cinťma cinťmas, she briefly chats about first meeting and Antonioni and their work together, and then goes into great detail about LíAvventura and the grueling process that went into getting it made. Itís unfortunately brief and rushed (and I suspect edited down) but itís at least wonderful getting an interview of any sort with the actress.
The next feature is an interesting one, a collection of Dailies presented in both black-and-white as well as colour, included to ďshow the precision of Antonioniís framing and the direction of actors.Ē It runs 28-minutes, and 75% of it is material taken from the ďShackĒ sequence. Itís basically made of multiple takes and tests (I assume) all unedited with no cutting. Colour and B&W material is put together seamlessly in Criterionís presentation. Seeing some of the sequences in black and white and then comparing them to the similar colour ones from the film makes for an intriguing activity, making one see just how important Antonioniís use of colour in the film is, the lack of the reds being the most striking element. Iím also positive thereís a deleted bit in here, involving Vitti on the phone. Iíve seen the film a few times (having just revisited it on both the Blu-ray and this DVD) and I do not recall this scene in the film at all. The DVD presents the footage in widescreen but itís non-anamorphic, window-boxed all around. The Blu-ray on the other hand has the image fill out the screen. Why this is the case is unknown to me but itís a little disappointing since the quality of them on the Blu-ray were quite good. The dailies play with no audio and have been divided into 6 chapters.
Next are a couple of short films made by Antonioni in the 40ís. First is the 11-minute Gente dell po, which is a non-fiction short that follows a barge going down the Po river, Antonioniís camera meeting the people that live along it as it passes. Itís a beautiful piece, and Antonioniís compositions are rather striking. The presentation is fine but there are slight subtitle problems, where they display before any dialogue is spoken, similar to the Blu-ray. A bit annoying but not horrific.
The next short film is N.U., another short documentary by Antonioni, this one about sanitation department in Rome. This one has very little voice over narration and really just films the workers as they go through their daily routine. Again itís a beautifully composed piece and a great inclusion. The presentation is fine enough but annoyingly the distribution company that owns the film, Cinecitta Luce, has their logo pasted in the top right corner.
The disc then closes with a rather bizarre 4-minute theatrical trailer. It begins with the filmís Golden Lion win, and then goes down an odd route. I canít say I got any sort of ďneurotic woman alienated by her industrialized surroundingsĒ feel from the trailer, instead getting a ďsex rompĒ sort of feel from it. Odd.
The release then concludes with rather thick booklet, first opening with an excellent analytical essay on the film by Mark Le Fanu, followed by one of the best inclusions in this edition, a reprint of an interview between Jean-Luc Godard and Antonioni, which focuses primarily on the use of colour in the film, that originally appeared in the November 1964 edition of Cahiers du cinema. The booklet then concludes with a couple of short notes about the short films included on the disc. Another fantastic booklet from Criterion.
In the end an excellent number of supplements, the short films being an incredibly nice addition. 8/10