on May 8, 2011
"From Dusk 'Till Dawn" is not a great film by any means, but it is entertaining...up to a point. The first half of the film is an effective, stylish and creepy noir/suspense film, with director Robert Rodriguez showing uncharacteristic restraint in his film direction. Clooney and (surprisingly) Tarantino are good in their roles, and play off of each other well. Unfortunately, the second half of the film becomes increasingly silly, as Robert Rodriguez succumbs to his fetish for over-the-top action and cartoonish violence, quickly undoing all the creepy suspense that was so carefully built up over the film's first half and settling for a parody-like tone for the rest of the film.
If done right, over-the-top horror film parodies can be very entertaining, as the first two "Evil Dead" films show. However, that sort of tone usually works best in a short feature format (such as the "Tales From The Crypt" television series). If the film is to be feature length, then a good deal of imagination is needed to sustain interest, otherwise a sense of a fatigue sets in. It is this imagination that makes the "Evil Dead" films work, and is what's missing in "From Dusk 'Till Dawn" (endless vampire explosions notwithstanding).
Still, if you're a "B-Movie" horror fan, the film definitely has its moments; besides the two leads, there's a great supporting cast (put together especially for genre fans), fun (albeit goofy) make-up effects, plenty of scantily-clad women, and buckets of fake blood, making the film an acceptable (if padded out) "B" genre film. Overall, a three-star film (out of five).
Regarding the Echo Bridge Blu-Ray release, that is truly a lazy catalog release title, if I've ever seen one. Currently available exclusively at Best Buy stores (but not on Best Buy's online website), I picked this up for ten bucks less than a week ago, and have already decided to get my money back (the Blu-Ray will see a general release in stores on May 3rd).
Presented in the incorrect film aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (from the film's original 1.85:1), the picture quality of the Echo Bridge transfer is a wildly inconsistent mess. A few scenes here and there look very good. However, most of the time the picture quality is soft and murky-looking, giving the film a dull, flat look. Colors tend to look unnatural and overly-saturated. The picture has plenty of digital artifacting and is riddled throughout with edge enhancement, killing off fine background detail. Blacks come off as strong but shapeless, crushing any detail thanks to the transfer's murkiness. I've read by some that DNR was occasionally an issue with the transfer; personally, I didn't see it, but I think we can all agree that even if DNR has been used, it is the least of problems for Echo Bridge's Blu-Ray release of "From Dusk 'Till Dawn".
As a result of the good reviews I've read online, I decided to order online the Canadian Blu-Ray release of "From Dusk 'Till Dawn" from Alliance. Now, I must confess that I'm not very big on importing Canadian Blu-Ray's, and I've heard fairly crummy things about Canadian distributer Alliance's Blu-Ray releases. Well, after a side-by-side comparison, there is simply no contest: in every respect, the Alliance Blu-Ray release is superior to the Echo Bridge U.S. release.
The picture of the Alliance disc is sharp throughout, without any of the murkiness and softness that plagues the Echo Bridge Blu-Ray. Colors pop but maintain a natural look, blacks are strong without being crushing, and neither DNR or edge enhancement are anywhere to be found. Regarding the audio, both the Echo Bridge and Alliance versions contain a DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix. My initial (and rather quick) comparison did not find much difference between the Alliance and Echo Bridge releases. However, a second, deeper comparison revealed there was indeed a difference between the two soundtracks, and once again, Alliance came out ahead. Surround was more expansive throughout with stronger panning effects, and bass was definitely more present. In fact, about the only thing the two releases have in common is a complete lack of extras.
Overall, while the Alliance transfer is not quite demo quality, it is a vast improvement over the Echo Bridge release, and a commendable hi-def transfer for a catalog title (In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the Alliance transfer of "From Dusk 'Till Dawn" even trumps Lionsgate's recent U.S. Blu-Ray releases of the "Scream" trilogy, which were all flat-looking and had far too much edge enhancement for my tastes). Only the complete lack of extras prevents me from giving the Alliance Blu-Ray release a four-star review.
So, to sum up: for casual and hardcore fans, skip the U.S. Echo Bridge release and pick up the Canadian Alliance Blu-Ray, which can be had right here on Amazon.com for roughly the same price (or slightly more). Of course, true fans will also need to pick-up (or hang on to) the Miramax two-disc DVD set, with all of its top-notch bonus features, including the feature length making-of doc, "Full Tilt Boogie", audio commentary with Rodriguez and Tarantino, deleted scenes and outtakes, a special effects doc and more (I do not recommend that DVD set for casual fans, as the picture is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen).
Maybe someday the fabulous bonus features from the two-disc DVD "From Dusk 'Till Dawn" release will finally be married to a worthy film presentation, such as this Alliance Blu-Ray. For now, fans of "From Dusk 'Till Dawn" can only hope.