December 6, 2010
I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey (sorry, couldn’t resist). Back before cell-phones were commonplace, even before the internet and way before things like Facebook and Twitter, teenagers had their own social network; but we just called it the midnight movies. The midnight movies were where we could meet with friends, catch up and plan the rest of the weekend and generally just have a great time. Oh and occasionally, we’d actually watch the movie. No matter how crappy the work-week (and lets be honest most teenage work weeks were crappy), we always knew the king of the midnight movies; ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ was there waiting for us and ready to provide a great escape on a Friday night.
At the risk of turning this Blu-ray review into a public confessional, suffice to say “the glorious results of a misspent youth” is a phrase I understand well. No I never got into character or even really participated in the shout-backs all that much, but that didn’t make the show any less enjoyable. Rocky Horror may not be everyones cup o’ tea, but for this (then) teenager it was an awe-inspiring spectacle. It only dawned on me with this most recent round of viewing, just how timeless the film is. It barely seemed dated to me in the 80’s and early 90’s but now given the rekindled interest pop-culture has for anything vintage and especially vintage horror, it actually seems less dated. Throw in the phenomenon that is Glee and their recent ‘The Rocky Horror Glee Show’ and Rocky seems new all over again.
Plot: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a campy, science-fiction movie with one hell of a rock n’ roll soundtrack, but it was much more. Rocky takes a jab at just about everything and anything, from sexual identities, marriage, politics, middle America and everything in-between, you name it and its probably being lampooned. Nothing is sacred, not even what the film cherishes most, namely rock ‘n roll and science fiction.
The film follows Brad Majors and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) through the eyes of a criminologist, ah you know what, this description is going to sound even weirder than the film and that’s no small feat. Lets just say the film follows a newlywed couple on a strange journey that involves bikers, aliens, transvestites and a man with no neck (not necessarily in that order). There, if you’ve never seen Rocky Horror I haven’t ruined anything and if you have, you hardly need someone elses synopsis of the films plot.
Sound and Image: After spinning up the disc you’re met with a gorgeous (did I just use that word?) opening menu sequence. From the first few notes of ‘Science Fiction Double Feature’ it was obvious the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack had been remastered and re-mixed, it had an analog like quality (that’s a good thing kids, contrary to what you’ve been told) to it. Now I’ve read rumblings from fan-sites that Janet’s vocals during ‘Over at the Frankenstein Place’ were “mistakenly” taken from an alternate audio track or unreleased take and don’t quite sync-up with her lips as the song plays out.
I went back and studied this chapter carefully and maybe its just my own memory, or maybe the overall perceived improvement in sound quality but I didn’t really have a problem with this track. I think I might be able to perceive a slight clipping of the full notes at the end of each line, but this could be due to heavy-handed gating on the mixing board as much as the track itself. i.e. They could have had the right track and applied the wrong amount of gating during the mix. Regardless, again I don’t really see the beef here. Just my two cents, but I don’t see it as nearly the egregious type of error some are making it out to be. Oddly I did find one of those later on but more on that in a bit.
As a matter of fact I really enjoyed the way they seemed to liven up this portion of the film. All five main channels were quite active and panned/balanced correctly in my estimation. Again it could just be my memory but if the desired effect was to make the audience (me) enjoy it, they hit the mark. Minor technical oddities aside, I honestly don’t recall Rocky ever sounding this good. I would rank it among some of the best soundtracks I’ve heard from a major studio, on a 35 year old low-budget title, no less.
On to the video for a moment. The opening title sequences look like they were created yesterday not 35 years ago, but that might actually be a problem. Even though the rest of the film is 1.66:1, the opening ‘Science Fiction’ sequence is letterboxed inside that 1.66:1 frame where previous home video versions weren’t. Several times during the song the bottom lip actually clips the mask and disappears. The goal was, most likely, to move the lips forward in the shot thereby filling “more” of the 1.66:1 frame than before. They probably isolated the lips, created a new black matte background and recreated the title logos and then synced them together. Possibly a worthwhile goal, certainly a less than ideal execution.
Moving on past the minorly botched opening sequence, the contrast between Brad’s black jacket and white shirt was impressive. The source print/negatives were in astounding shape even if they didn’t always use the individual elements correctly as evidenced in the opening sequence. I was enjoying the film so much it was hard to remind myself to stop and take notes. I sat through the entire ‘Time Warp’ sequence almost mesmerized at the quality. It got better, ‘Sweet Transvestite’ almost had us in tears, tears of campy joy that is. We literally laughed out loud during this one.
Rocky never looked or sounded this good and lord knows I’ve seen it many, many times through the years. Speaking of which, I was anxious to try out “The Midnight Experience” with the call-back track, PiP shadow-cast, trivia track and the “Prop Box”. This is where it came off the rails as far as I was concerned. As it turns out, there is no audio call-back track. It’s text only, in a pop-up in the top right corner of the screen, even though the graphics from the laser-disc and presumably 25th anniversary DVD appear, indicating the audio call-back track is included.
Fox Home Video has confirmed that the producer (Lou Adler) preferred that the audio track for the call-backs not be included and they “respected his wishes”. I’m curious as to what Mr. Adler objected to here. The admittedly R rated call-back track has been included in several other home video releases, perhaps a sudden sense of modesty? If that’s the case, his description of Brad (hint, its a little stronger than arsehole) in the liner notes of this edition seem out of place.
So by this point I’m beginning to get the feeling that while the print looks fantastic, the audio elements (that aren’t suspect) sound great and the surround mix is very active and dynamic, this Blu-ray is a bit of a mixed-bag. The bag being mostly good but mixed in with some painfully bad omissions and errors. I’d love to stop here, but there are just a few more minor errors (depending on your point of view) to mention.
A couple of Brad and Janet’s bedroom scenes originally had tint applied to them to mimic the colors shown on the monitor’s that Riff Raff and Magenta were spying on them through. For whatever reason Fox decided to remove the tint, seemingly retuning the scenes to their pre-tinted states. I’m at a loss as to why this was done, perhaps someone at Fox could shed some light on the alterations.
Extras: Aside from the heinous exclusion of the audience participation tracks found on previous home video releases, this 35th anniversary edition Blu-ray does deliver a solid selection of extra features. Just to give you an idea, below is a list of the extra features, we’ll get into some of them in more detail however.
- The Midnight Experience
- Rocky-oke: Sing It!
- Commentary By Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn
- Don’t Dream It, Be It: The Search for the 35th Anniversary Shadowcast, Part I
- An-tic-i-pation: The Search for the 35th Anniversary Shadowcast, Part II
- Mick Rock (A Photographer)
- Mick Rock’s Picture Show (A Gallery)
- Deleted Musical Scenes
- Alternate Credit Ending
- Misprint Ending
- Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show
- Beacon Theater, New York City (10th Anniversary)
- Time Warp Music Video (15th Anniversary VHS Release)
- 35th Anniversary Book
Given the fact that Rocky Horror is very much about the audience participation factor, ultimately its the extras and ‘The Midnight Experience’ I was most looking forward to. Again (horse thoroughly beaten I know) the extras are indeed nice but the omission of the audio version of the call-back track is really disappointing.
There’s also a section on the disc called “Live Extras”, which includes (as of writing) “Can I be Frank?”, “Mick Rock A Photographer”, and the theatrical trailer. These were a bit confusing, as the last two were already on the disc, and “Can I Be Frank?” seemingly just rearranges the Shadowcast auditions in a new way. Anyhoo, I also checked out the deleted musical numbers, it was easy to see why they were deleted.
The shadow cast auditions were easily our favorite extra features, they really were a solid addition to the stable of extras from past home video releases. Watching the auditions with all the kids trying out for the parts of the Shadowcast was a bit surreal. It was as if the show never stopped, and it never really has even if some of us turned our attention elsewhere, for a decade or two.
One nagging thing I’ve yet to figure out involves the U.S. and U.K. versions of the film (both of which are included on the disc). The U.K. release of the film is black & white until the ‘Sweet Transvestite’ number and then color thereafter, also in the U.K. release ‘Superheroes’ (song) appears at the end of the film. This is a bit confusing and honestly leaves me wondering exactly what my movie theater was projecting. I most definitely didn’t see the black & white opening sequence here in the states, but I do remember the full version of ‘Superheroes’ at the end of the film. Perhaps what I saw was an older, expanded print in the theaters. Maybe a rocky aficionado can chime in and clear this up for me.
Overall: A mixed bag indeed, was Rocky Horror always this brilliant or was it just the audience participation that made it seem so? Seeing this gorgeous (there’s that word again) new transfer and hearing the songs in DTS-HD Master Audio made me realize it was both the film itself and the audience participation that was a match made in heaven, er or somewhere else
This release is flawed make no mistake, but it’s also the best transfer and highest quality audio to date, which makes a recommendation a little tougher than with most of my reviews. If you’re a hardcore fan you probably already have your copy by now, it’s the casually interested that I’m more concerned with. Ultimately, I think it’s worth a purchase (it’s available for less than $20 at Amazon) but I very nearly recommended skipping it based on the video errors and call-back track audio omissions alone. This is simply one of those cases where the studio has us bent over the proverbial barrel, perhaps the 40th anniversary Blu-ray will get it right? I don’t want to be overly pessimistic here, warts and all, this still one of my favorite Blu-ray’s to date. It’s just that when you approach perfection, it stings all the more to fall short.
Blu-ray: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (35th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray] (1975)
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Theatrical Release Date: August 14, 1975
Blu-ray Release Date: October 19, 2010
Run Time:100 minutes