Geoff reviews Shout! Factory’s new US Blu-ray of Walter Hill’s blistering bayou thriller
I’ve previously reviewed Second Sight’s UK Blu-ray of Southern Comfort which you can find here, and my thoughts on the movie while looking at Shout! Factory’s new US Blu-ray have not changed: it’s a gritty, uncompromising look at men under fire, and for all of the obvious metaphorical ties with the Vietnam conflict, underneath there’s a classical tale of sheer bloody-minded survival, which director Walter Hill has repeated several times over the years to varying effect. But this one’s a keeper.
Shout! present the film on both a region A-locked Blu-ray platter and a region 1 DVD with their traditional double sided cover; original poster art on one side, half-decent new art on the other.
What’s immediately obvious from the first few seconds is that this is a different 1080p transfer to the UK release because the telecine wobble is much more pronounced. What was a noticeable unsteadiness is now a full-on shimmy as the credits dance about on the screen, and the aspect ratio has been changed to 1.78 from the original theatrical 1.85 seen on the UK transfer. Unfortunately this has not been done by opening up the mattes, but by cropping the sides of the image slightly. It mightn’t seem like a big deal, yet upon comparison it makes the compositions a hair too tight; the shot of the men over the graves at 54:00 almost has a classical widescreen feel to it in 1.85, but looks more cramped in 1.78. That shot is also a good indicator of the telecine wobble in the Shout! edition, because it just doesn’t want to stay still.
It’s not all bad though, as the colour is more nuanced on the Shout! transfer. The primaries are bolder, seen in the more vibrant greens of the swamp vegetation and the men’s uniforms, and the opening scene now has a cold, overcast tinge, indicating that it’s taking place in early morning – though the skin tones can’t quite shake off an orangey sheen in either edition. The blacks are deeper than the UK version, but they come at the expense of crushing some detail in the shadows. Fine detail is on a par with the UK transfer, that is to say it’s generally quite good, however it’s adversely affected by several opticals which are sprinkled throughout the show.
There’s a constant buzz of grain on this AVC encode which occasionally devolves into noisy artefacting during the busiest moments full of smoke and haze. Like the UK version, this US edition has come from a grubby source with regular splotches of dirt littering the image (though the specks and marks are in different places on each transfer). Shout’s website proclaims this to be a ‘NEW High Definition Transfer’, but it looks like an old transfer of an old IP to me, much like their grotty ‘new’ transfer of John Carpenter’s The Fog.
As for the audio side of things, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (representing the original mono mix) is just as flat and constrained as the PCM 2.0 audio on the UK Blu-ray. Gunshots often sound weak (which may be deliberate, as the sound effects for the Cajuns’ rifles are big and booming compared to the muted slaps of the troops’ M16s) and the dialogue is clean enough. Ry Cooder’s music has a bit of modest low end, but like the rest of the mix it lacks clarity in the upper registers. Still, it’s free of any glaring artefacts and it’s transparent to the source, so it’s about as good as we’re going to get.
In terms of extras Shout! has produced a new 27-minute documentary, and the theatrical trailer and a stills gallery are also included. (Curiously, the cover mentions ‘Outtakes’ but there’s nothing like that here.) The documentary features an impressive set of newly-recorded talking heads, including Walter Hill, writer/producer David Giler, and actors Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Lewis Smith and Peter Coyote. As I mentioned in my previous review of the film, Hill has long rebuffed the notion that Southern Comfort is a metaphor for the Vietnam conflict, and both he and Giler say the same again here, whereas others like Carradine applaud them for producing such an accurate allegory! Hill also reiterates the point that he tends to tell the same story over and over, which I don’t think many people would argue with. The participants also talk about the strong influence of the Western genre on Hill’s work and how gruelling the swamp shoot was. It’s hardly revelatory stuff, but it’s a decent enough piece. (The 44-minute interview with Walter Hill on Second Sight’s UK version has not been included here.)
Shout! Factory has come up with another solid catalogue release with their US Blu-ray of Southern Comfort. Walter Hill’s film is as bruising as ever and it’s ably served by this disc, with grungy AV quality that’s somewhat appropriate for the dirtied-down nature of the movie, and the documentary is worth a watch. Would I recommend it over the UK edition? It’s a tough decision because each release has its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of video quality, while the audio is a draw and the extras are exclusive to each version. Ah, just get both.
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum