Black Narcissus (UK Import)
recommendation: Tier 2.0
An early Technicolor classic from 1947, ITV released this movie as a region-free British BD on June 23, 2008. The 100-minute main feature is encoded in VC-1 on a BD-25. BDInfo reveals the average video bitrate to be 20.99 Mbps. Black Narcissus
won the Oscar for Jack Cardiff's stunning cinematography in 1947. The transfer is a complete revelation of a very worthy movie, and surpasses my wildest fantasies of how it was going to look in high-definition. Needless to say, this is the definitive version of Black Narcissus, and utterly humiliates prior dvds in every way imaginable for visual superiority.
To allay any fears, the VC-1 encode handles almost all frames excellently, with the shortest glimpses of artifacting in a couple of shots. Video-bitrates, while somewhat low in average, show sustained peaks in the thirties and forties when needed. The only moment that might be questionable comes late in the movie, when the camera pans up to watch the fog rise up and swallow the convent on the mountain. That is when a small but noticeable shot of noise appears. Other than that, grain is nicely reproduced and looks appropriate for the era and film stock used. Superbly shot and lighted, the grain never intrudes and rarely makes its presence obvious.
It is highly doubtful any level of digital noise-reduction was used in the transfer. The slight lack of detail in close-ups can be explained by the soft-focus lighting employed to highlight the nuns' faces. Notice the differences in level of detail between close-ups of the men and the women. Each gender is filmed completely differently, particularly the nuns. A very small amount of ringing on occasion results from the original photography and film elements, and has always been present in the film. Only the most obsessed viewers will be able to distinguish it from normal viewing distances anyway. The entire transfer is as unprocessed by unnecessary filters as a modern Blu-ray can be today.
The wonderful Technicolor production produces marvelous colors in each and every minute of the film. Lush, living greens are mixed with vibrant splashes of pink and red, in a manner that would stand out even if the film had been released yesterday to theaters. A shot in the middle of the film solely focuses on the delicate flowers the nuns have been growing. It was akin to a living garden appearing in my room, as they looked so real one could reach out and pick them. There is an appreciable dimension and depth to the image, that truly deserves a spot in tier one somewhere. When the film flashes back to one of the sisters fishing, the sparkling water of the lake is simply awesome to behold. One can almost feel the sun shining down on it. Contrast is nearly perfect, with inky blacks frequently being tested and proven worthy of demo-quality. A slight, slight amount of blooming occurs where a few details in the nuns' habits get washed out. Flesh tones are remarkably natural in look, from the paler skin of the British nuns, to the darker-shaded skin of the native Hindus. This transfer is not the over-driven, pumped-up contrast of so many modern films.
I am grateful such a powerful piece of cinema has been faithfully preserved on Blu-ray. As I was watching it, my mind kept making the natural comparison for picture quality to A Passage To India
on Blu-ray. Another fine example of film-making in itself, while obviously different due to the differing ages involved, is highly reminiscent of the video quality seen on Black Narcissus
. Many similarities are shared between the two films, to a certain degree.
At times thoughts of tier one danced in my mind for placement, but a few camera tricks that have not aged well and some brief indications of age-related wear force me to recommend the top of tier two. The matte paintings that serve as the image's background when the camera peeks off the cliff, stick out to the modern viewer. While it no doubt inspired awe in 1947, the effect now looks dated at best. Print damage is kept to a bare minimum, and the film element looks in very good condition, but the occasional white speck does pop up. Related to the age of the film, a minor amount of registration errors in the first reel produce a touch of color-fringing. The problem is seen on brightly-colored reds the most, very early in the movie. There is also slight wavering in luminosity, again in the first reel only. These problems are minor in magnitude though and only prevent the disc from a ranking in tier one.
BDInfo scan (courtesy of hastic plank):https://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...4#post14918914