Robert Altmanís Short Cuts receives a Blu-ray upgrade from the Criterion Collection and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a brand new 4K restoration taken from a scan of the Super 35mm original camera negative.
The presentation does look surprisingly different from the original Criterion DVD, though Iíd say the differences are all improvements. The DVD looks to lean more on the red side of things colour-wise, and thatís less the case here, the colours looking a bit more natural with a better balance in saturation levels and contrast, while black levels look rich and deep, crushing not being a real concern. Detail levels are, for the most part, also much better in both close-up and long shots, improving textures and depth considerably over the DVD; there are a few softer shots, though these looks to be source related. As one would expect (or at least hope) the Blu-ray also improves over the DVDís compression, which, even for the format, was a bit weak. It looks far more filmic thanks to the better compression, and film grain is rendered cleanly and naturally. The source materials are also in very good shape and any restoration work seems to have cleaned up all blemishes, which is also an improvement over the DVD.
Itís a sharp improvement in all areas in comparison to the DVD and Criterion now delivers a more natural and clean presentation. Very much worth the upgrade for this area alone. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion offers the same audio options as the DVD, though they are presented in DTS-HD MA this time around: a 2.0 surround track and 5.1 surround track, which was apparently made for 70mm screenings. The sound design of the film does have a lot going on and it does take advantage of the surround environment. The opening sequenceófeaturing helicopters flying over the city spraying insecticide to take out a certain type of fruit flyógets things started off nicely with helicopters zooming by the audience overhead. The rest of the film has a few other stand out moments in use of surrounds, but a lot of the activity is really placing the audience in the middle of the scene, surrounding the viewer with ambient sounds, talking, traffic, music in a club, and so on.
Of the two I did prefer the 5.1 surround track. The 2.0 track is fine but I almost felt it was overdoing some of the surround effects at times. The 5.1 track offers a more subtle experience with nice direction and splits, while also making good use of the lower frequency, especially in those club scenes.
Like a lot of Altmanís films there are scenes where characters talk over one another or we pick up multiple group conversations at once, but it doesnít sound muddled and itís not hard to pick up the dialogue weíre supposed to hear. Fidelity is excellent and range is fairly wide, and the mix doesnít drown out any of the important things. Itís also free of damage and distortion.
I liked the mix of the 5.1 track but ultimately both sound fine and it will come down to personal preference in the end. Either suit the film. 8/10
Criterion carries over most, though not all of the features from their previous editions. With each iteration of Criterionís Short Cuts edition features get lost. On LaserDisc there were a number of features that didnít make it over to their original DVD edition for starters: there were two alternate audio tracks for the documentary Luck, Trust, and Ketchup, one featuring Michael Wilmington, the other featuring Pauline Kael; and there was actually an option to watch the individual stories on their own (which Iím still surprised wasnít carried over to the DVD since seamless branching would have made that soooo much easier). There were also various text notes, including text featuring Raymond Carverís short stories that influenced the film.
That latter feature did make it over to the original DVD release back in 2004, but as an actual book. The 2008 edition, which was a repackaging of that original DVD (no new transfer), unfortunately dropped the book. And now this edition, still missing the book, actually drops another feature, a BBC documentary that was on both previous DVD editions (the new DVD edition being simultaneously released along with this Blu-ray is also missing it).
Though itís disappointing to know that there is still material missing (the book was a really big loss I would say) there is still some solid material to be found.
Wisely Criterion has decided to release this as a two-disc set to allow the film to breathe on its own disc, the only feature on this disc being an isolated score track presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. The remaining supplements can be found on the second dual-layer disc, starting with two deleted scenes and an alternate take. The deleted scenes are mostly quick at 68-seconds and 38-seconds each. The first deleted scene features Robbinsí character complaining to Stoweís about how she isnít helping him quit smoking with her smoking, and the other features footage of Archer, in clown garb, entertaining kids at a party. The alternate take is the scene between Murphy, MacDowell, and Lovett where MacDowell asks to see her sonís birthday cake. For a 3-hour film Iíd be surprised if this is all there is (especially since it sounds like there was a lot of improvisation) but itís interesting to see. Iím curious, though, as to why the footage was cut.
Music demos presents a selection of demos for music in the film, including ďTo Hell with Love,Ē ďI Donít Know You,Ē and ďFull Moon.Ē ďAboutĒ notes are also included to explain how the music came to be created for the film. The demos are simply presented as audio-only features and play over a background image similar to the menu. Though theyíre sung by Annie Ross in the film the songs here are performed by Mac Rebennack.
The big supplement on here is the next one, the documentary Luck, Trust and Ketchup, a roughly 90-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film that covers every aspect of it, from the moment Altman started reading Carver's stories to the final moment of the shoot. It's fairly in-depth and it's a treat to watch Altman work, especially when he has to work with kids (I get the sense he finds it frustrating). It manages to get interviews with just about all of the cast, and Altman also shares a lot about the film and on moving Carverís type of stories and characters to L.A. The more interesting aspects, though, may be the behind-the-scenes moments where we see improvisation come into play. This is one of the features that has been available consistently since the LaserDisc edition, so chances are youíve already seen it, but it is a fairly observant making-of feature.
Criterion next devotes a section to the filmís marketing. Criterion points out in a text introduction how Fine Line/New Line were unsure on how to market the film and you get a taste of that through the material. Advertising Campaigns presents about 62 or so concept posters, most of which focus on the filmís urban setting and the cast. There are also a series of trailers and TV spots. The teaser trailer just focuses on the cast while the theatrical trailer gives a better idea as to what the film is. The TV spots are a bit scattershot, with a couple trying to sell the film as some whacky soap opera.
Also from the old DVD is the 57-minute, 1992 PBS documentary on Raymond Carver, To Write and Keep Kind. Through interviews with various friends and colleagues, as well as with his widow, Tess Gallagher, and son, Vance Carver, we get a fairly intimate portrait of the man, from his early days as a struggling writer to his short-lived success before his death from cancer in 1988. Along the way we learn about his various struggles, primarily his fight with alcoholism, and also learn about the influences on his stories thanks to people in his life: Carver would either use stories others told him (a few other writers admit you had to be careful what you said around him) or he would base characters on them. A few archival interviews with Carver are also thrown in here and we also get a narrator that reads passages from some of his work, occasionally connecting his writing to certain periods in his life. Put together on video itís mostly talking-heads, but the makers still try to keep it visually interesting with edits to photos and other settings. Despite the somewhat stale nature itís a good introduction to the author.
Further aiding in helping one get to know the author, Criterion next carries over an audio interview with Raymond Carver. Recorded in 1983 with Kay Bonetti for the American Audio Prose Library, Carver and Bonetti talk about his past year and his struggles with alcohol before getting into detail about his thoughts on writing, his work and his inspirations, and how he feels on talking about his work. Itís obviously a truncated interview but it nicely expands on things that were mentioned in the previous documentary, of course giving more of a first-hand view on things.
The disc supplements then close with a 2004 interview between Altman and actor Tim Robbins called Reflections on Short Cuts. The 29-minute segment features the two recalling how the film came together after The Player, the first film they worked together on (though the features on The Player Blu-ray point out that Robbins was actually cast in this film first). The two come off as old friends and really do get lost in the conversation, talking about the atmosphere on set with Robbins also talking about certain moments he really liked in the film, even asking how Altman staged certain sequences. They also bring up criticisms brought up against him from fans of Carverís work, who said the film didnít represent the authorís stories all that well. Altman argues that he was more interested in capturing the essence, and felt he accomplished based on the input from Carverís widow, Tess Gallagher. With some other stories about influences and a short talk about other films Altman admires itís an incredibly entertaining and insightful conversation.
The same essay by Michael Wilmington found on the previous Criterion releases of the film is yet again available here in the included insert. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, the book of Carver stories that influenced the film is still not available. Also missing from the previous DVD editions is an episode from a BBC program called Moving Pictures, which looked at how one of Carverís stories was adapted for the film. It was a decent feature so Iím sad to see it go (Iím guessing Criterion was unable to renew the rights).
So, yes, there is a lot of material missing, some of it actually really good: I liked the idea of watching the individual stories on their own, which was a feature on the LaserDisc, and the inclusion of the collection of short stories on the original DVD was also a superb addition (Iím also still disappointed the scholarly features from the LaserDisc never made it over). It also seems very odd not to carry over a contribution from Pauline Kael. Still, despite the fairly obvious downgrade feature-wise, Criterion still provides some terrific material. 8/10