Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Comparing the Color of Two "Halloween" Blu-ray Editions

Whenever there’s a chance to do an apples-to-apples comparison of something related to the art and science of filmmaking, I’ll jump on it.

“Halloween” (1978) has seen approximately 70,000 different home video releases, including multiple iterations on DVD and Blu-ray. I personally own two versions of the movie on Blu-ray: a 2007 release, and a 2013 release, which touts a new HD transfer supervised and approved by the film’s original cinematographer, Dean Cundey.

Rarely do studios use the name of a crewmember to help sell a new pressing of a library film. Intrigued, I wondered exactly how different could the color grading would look, with an apples-to-apples comparison to the 2007 Blu-ray release of the film. I randomly chose frames from the film to compare; I didn’t specifically seek out dramatically different color grades.

Usually when a film-to-digital transfer is completed without the involvement of the original filmmakers, educated guesses (based on the cinematic memory of whoever is behind the controls, the best film prints available, old transfers, etc.) must dictate the exposure and color choices that are required to be made. Color grading (and film-to-digital transfers) are completely subjective; in the end, “what should the film look like?” dictates how saturated, bright or contrasty the movie appears. These are creative decisions.

Even though the discrepancies between the transfers are, at times, inconsistent, the general look and feel of of the 2007 release is much brighter, warmer and saturated. If this 2013 release is truly Cundey’s original vision for the film, he always intended the print to be much darker, cooler and more muted than the 2007 release.

There is no single “correct” way to process and grade a film. Just as a filmmaker chooses the colors and textures of the film’s costumes, the filmmaker chooses the look and feel of the color grade. There are an infinite number of possibilities, and, in a perfect world, new film-to-digital transfers should be supervised by the original filmmakers. As you can see in this comparison, the 2007 “unsupervised” transfer is bright and colorful, which was not the intent of the cinematographer. For some context, take a look at this blog post from Stu Maschwitz, which shows some feature film comparisons of "before creative color grading" and "after creative color grading".

I tried to do more research and hear directly from Cundey himself, but I couldn’t find any interviews with Cundey about his involvement with the 2013 Blu-ray release. At one point, HalloweenMovies.com apparently hosted this photo of Cundey working on the transfer (the link is now dead, and I was unable to find an Internet Archive version).

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