The Long Good Friday (Arrow Films Restoration) Review
The film was previously reviewed by our own Mike Sutton for the Anchor Bay DVD HERE so I won't go on at length about it, only to reiterate that it's one of the best gangster films ever made. The story is a wonderful piece of slow burning tension and isn't afraid to mix laughs with the violence, the acting is roundly excellent with Bob Hoskins' beleaguered boss the highlight, and Francis Monkman's music score is an idiosyncratic gem. John Mackenzie's lyrical direction and Phil Méheux's classy camera work brings it all together in a way that belies the troubled production of the film, and it ultimately foretells the rampant greed that was to characterise Britain under Thatcher's yoke. Heck, it's not only a crime classic but it's also a classic of British cinema in general, and it fully deserves the treatment that Arrow Films has lavished upon it for this new Blu-ray release.
Initially released as a limited edition Blu-ray + DVD steelbook with a collector's booklet (unavailable for this review sample), it will be followed up by a more elaborate boxed set version that pairs The Long Good Friday with Mona Lisa, another of Hoskins' finest works. The boxed set will also include a hardback book and an exclusive bonus disc which features Apaches, John Mackenzie's notorious 1977 public information short about kids larking about on a farm, plus more extras for the main film. Arrow have supplied Blu-rays of the movie disc and the bonus disc for review. The platters are LOCKED to region B.
Arrow have restored the movie from the ground up, utilising the original camera negative under the watchful guidance of Phil Méheux. Arrow's restorer-in-chief James White and the good people at Deluxe scanned the movie at 2K on their Arriscan (which has a 3K sensor for the purposes of oversampling the image to render finer grain and to suppress aliasing) and then proceeded to digitally remove dirt, scratches and film instability. The results are quite simply stupendous. Presented in the original 1.85 aspect, the level of detail is mesmerising on this 1080p AVC encode. It allows the quality of Méheux's photography to shine through, like the filtration that's often used on Helen Mirren to give her that classical gauzy look. The image is awash with an authentic patina of fine grain that isn't hampered by poor compression, nor is the detail hindered by overzealous sharpening.
Colour rendition is superb, with primaries looking beautifully saturated but not at the expense of amping up skin tones which display a wide array of variation, and thankfully the palette has not been skewed towards more modern tastes, i.e. blue skies still look like blue skies. (The only time the skin tones veer slightly off course is during the abattoir sequence, but that's entirely understandable given the need to time out the overhead fluorescent lighting.) Contrast is controlled brilliantly, with bright highlights, deep blacks and everything in-between. There's a bit of density flutter occasionally and there are a couple of dupey-looking sections where the detail drops off significantly, yet those artefacts are merely minor distractions that serve to remind us that this is film, glorious film. In summation, it's fair to say that you will have never, EVER seen The Long Good Friday look this good before and Arrow's restoration is one for the books. Magnificent stuff.
Purists will be pleased to note that the original mono audio is presented in 24-bit uncompressed PCM 1.0, and it too has been restored from the original mag tracks to remove any clicks, bumps or hiss. It's pleasantly full-bodied, with Monkman's terrific synth score sounding particularly incisive. The dialogue is what it is, some of it isn't of the best fidelity but don't worry, you won't miss a single one of Harold's blackly humourous asides. There's no 5.1 remix which was present on Anchor Bay's prior DVD/Blu-ray releases, although it's no great loss as this isn't some tub-thumping Hollywood blockbuster.
Certain of the extra features are from prior home video releases, such as the audio commentary by Mackenzie (well worth a listen) and the 54-minute Bloody Business documentary about the making of the film. New to this Arrow version is a selection of interviews with key players in the production. We get 8 minutes with writer Barrie Keeffe as he tells us about the origins of the script, 5 minutes with producer Barry Hanson who reminisces about Hoskins, and 3 minutes with Phil Méheux where he explains how he ended up on the show and how much he enjoyed doing the new transfer (because the digital controls gave him more control over the image), accompanied by a split-screen 'before & after' comparison of the remastered feature. There's also a 7-minute comparison of the US and UK versions of the film, the US having had some slight dialogue alterations to tone down the more impenetrable slang terms (though it's nothing as ham-handed as what happened to Get Carter's opening scene). Last up for the main movie disc is two theatrical trailers, one for the US and one for the UK.
As mentioned above, exclusive to the boxed set (which you can order here: Shopping @TheDigitalFix) is Mackenzie's short film Apaches, which appears to have been newly transferred in 1080p HD (27 minutes, 1.33:1, PCM 1.0) from what I presume is the 16mm original and is playable with an introduction by Phil Méheux. It hasn't been restored to the same level as the main movie, as the image fair wobbles about and there's plenty of specks of dirt (mostly white, i.e. negative density), but detail is very strong and fine grain is in abundance. The colour is a touch faded but holds up well. The disc also includes a 27-minute Q&A about The Long Good Friday from 2000 featuring Mackenzie and Hoskins who's on fine form (sadly both men are no longer with us), and more interviews with the makers of the film. We get more insight from messrs Hanson (16 mins), Keeffe (14 mins) and Méheux (17 mins) about their careers in general and further experiences making the movie, plus there are interviews with the first assistant director Simon Hinkly (18 mins) and the assistant art director Carlotta Barrow (6 mins).
Arrow's outstanding restoration of The Long Good Friday has preserved this British gangster classic for the ages and is surely the high water mark for any independent UK distributor - it even puts most studio remasters in the shade. The picture quality is top-notch and is ably supported by remastered mono audio, along with a fine set of extras for the standalone Blu-ray release (plus even more goodies which you'll find in the boxset edition). Very highly recommended.
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