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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Spanish PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • The Last Script: Remembering Luis Buñuel, a 2008 documentary featuring screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and director Juan Luis Buñuel
  • New interviews with actress Silvia Pinal and filmmaker Arturo Ripstein
  • Theatrical trailer
  • A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Marsha Kinder and an interview with Luis Buñuel from the 1970s

The Exterminating Angel

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By:
1962 | 94 Minutes | Licensor: Video Mercury

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #459
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: December 6, 2016
Review Date: December 1, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

A group of high-society friends are invited to a mansion for dinner and inexplicably find themselves unable to leave in The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador), a daring masterpiece from Luis Buñuel. Made just one year after his international sensation Viridiana, this film, full of eerie, comic absurdity, furthers Buñuel’s wicked takedown of the rituals and dependencies of the frivolous upper classes.


PICTURE

Criterion upgrades their 2-disc DVD edition of Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel to Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. It’s presented at 1080p/24hz.

Criterion is clearly using the same master used for their original DVD edition, which is sourced from a high-definition scan of a 35mm duplicate negative. In many cases Criterion simply presenting the full high-def version of an older master on Blu-ray has worked out fairly well, as evidenced with the recent upgrades of Night Train to Munich and Woman in the Dunes: admittedly those titles are far from perfect but I still found them decent enough. Unfortunately I can’t really say we get even that quality with The Exterminating Angel.

The presentation is weak in a few areas, though its biggest weakness is unquestionably source related: it’s rarely all that sharp, the image overall looking a little soft. There are soft focuses applied during scenes of course, but outside of these scenes details are limited and definition is lacking. There is a haze around things most of the time and fine object detail rarely pops. There are scenes that look a bit sharper compared to the average (and likewise scenes that look far softer), but even at it’s best it lacked a certain crispness.

If the source (a duplicate negative) does play into this then obviously how good it would look would be limited by that, but as long as the digital presentation itself is sharp and up-to-snuff then it wouldn’t be too big of a deal and we’d at least still get something looks like a film (I’m thinking of Criterion’s The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum or, to an extent, Arrow’s The Ox-Bow Incident), but that’s unhappily not the case. The digital presentation is weak and it lends the film a fairly artificial look. Film grain is more prominent here in comparison to the DVD, which is usually a good thing, but it really lacks definition. It looks muddled and a bit blocky, and artifacts are present. Other times it can look a bit better but rarely all the distinct or defined, still muddled. At its worst (which thankfully isn’t often and limited to a handful of exterior shots), I didn’t find it looked that much better than the DVD upscaled. All of this altogether ends up giving the film a more digital look than a natural one. I don’t think it’s a case of a bad encode but rather it’s more of a problem with the original master.

Are there any pluses? Despite my lack in enthusiasm to the overall image it admittedly still looks better than the DVD. Compression is worse on the DVD when it’s upscaled and despite any reservations I have here that aspect is still far better managed on the Blu-ray (as one would hope!) and some details, like hair or other textures, do manage to pop even if the image still isn’t as sharp as I would have expected. The picture also benefits from no longer being picture-boxed (black bars going around the whole frame, a technique Criterion used to offset overscan in CRT televisions) like it was on the DVD. Some more clean-up work has also gone into this, with a number of the larger scratches that remained on the old DVD now gone, but the finer scratches and smaller marks still appear. Pulsing that was present on the DVD is also gone.

Still, the upgrades over the DVD are, in the end, fairly limited. It’s a disappointing image.

6/10

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.

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AUDIO

This edition does offer at least one fairly decent upgrade over the previous DVD: its audio. The DVD’s Dolby Digital soundtrack was very weak and full of problems. Dialogue was distorted and the background noise—consisting of scratches, crackle, and hiss—were heavy and very audible. Criterion has been able to improve the lossless linear PCM 1.0 presentation here noticeably, if still marginally. The background noise has been reduced quite a bit and the annoying crackle has been lessened. There can still be an audible hiss, and it can get louder, but it is still nowhere near what was on the DVD.

Voices, though, still come off a little distorted and edgy and I can’t say I noticed much of an improvement here. I still suspect it’s a limitation of the source. As it is, though, even if problems still exist I do appreciate the effort that went into improving it.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion carries everything over from the previous DVD, deciding not to take the opportunity to supply new features, like a commentary or something. I went through these again after initially going through them on the DVD. Since my opinions haven’t really changed I copied most of this over from the original DVD review.

The big feature is the 97-minute documentary The Last Script: Remebering Luis Buñuel, which follows Juan Luis Buñuel and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere as they travel around the world, visiting spots where Luis Buñuel had visited and had served for inspiration. I had mixed feelings about this documentary and even at this point I’m not sure if I liked it. It really is just the two traveling to these locations and sharing anecdotes with each other or with others who knew the director, some of it interesting, some of it not. And while its intent is to possibly show how Buñuel was influenced through his travels I never really got that. It also quickly breezes through his films, jumping through his Mexican films in a matter of minutes, devoting little time to each, even The Exterminating Angel (though, as a nice bonus, they do pay a quick visit to the house where the film was shot). Viridiana, interestingly, probably gets more time in this documentary. There’s some good material on here, some good anecdotes including some interesting stuff about Dali and other friends of Buñuel, but overall I was let down by it. Others may be fine with it, but I think I was hoping for something concentrating a little heavier on the film and really didn't get that here, and didn't even get all that eye-opening of a look at the filmmaker.

Thankfully the next couple interviews worked a little better for me. A 10-minute interview with actress Silvia Pinal is maybe the best supplement on here, where she talks about working with Buñuel and on this film. She admits she still doesn’t understand it, but gives an idea as to what was possibly going through Buñuel’s head while making it. She shares stories about the rather brutal shoot, like how performers were covered with honey and dirt, and also talks about Buñuel’s amusement by some of the symbols people saw in the film (the bear representing Communism for example).

Filmmaker Arturo Ripstein also shows up here, and recalls being allowed to visit the set of The Exterminating Angel. Buñuel appears to have taught him most everything he knows about filmmaking and the director talks about Buñuel and his rather cruel handling of the actors on the set. A good pair of interviews offering some insight into Buñuel and the film. It runs 15-minutes.

A theatrical trailer closes off the on-disc supplements.

Criterion includes a 36-page booklet—same as the DVD edition—containing an essay by Marsha Kinder, along with an excerpt from an interview between Buñuel and film critics Jose de la Colina and Tomas Perez Turrent (this interview has been spread out between a number of Criterion’s Buñuel releases). Again this interview makes for a great read with Buñuel getting into his intentions for the film, suggesting it to be something of a Robinson Crusoe sort of tale. He even offers that a lot of it was made up on the go (the film’s constant repetition wasn’t actually planned) and provides rather simple explanations for everything that happens.

Like the DVD, the features on the whole are fine but not all that fulfilling. The booklet at least offers some decent analysis of the film, but a commentary would have still been a nice addition, maybe in place of the documentary.

6/10

CLOSING

Criterion offers a fairly weak upgrade, though it’s admittedly still an upgrade. The audio is better here but the video presentation leaves a lot open to improvement. I wish Criterion waited for a new restoration to become available.


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