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Customer Review

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good film, horrible DVD, 6 April 2011
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This review is from: Our Man In Havana [DVD] [2005] (DVD)
Sony have made a pig's ear of this movie (I bought the PAL 2005 edition). They have butchered the picture; there is a significant amount (perhaps 10% of the original width in total) cropped left and right, some from each side, and a tiny sliver cut from the bottom. This is very apparent because they neglected to correct the aspect ratio accordingly, instead simply expanding the picture. The result is that everyone looks slightly (but distinctly) shorter and wider than they should. With actors of the physical shape of Burl Ives and some of the plump Cuban characters this starts to get farcical and detracts from the movie. At first I wondered if I had my specs on crooked or was just imagining that everything had been squished and squashed, or whether maybe Alec Guiness's head really was that weird shape, but then I checked a US NTSC version which hasn't been carelessly cropped and has the correct ratio and I realised what a big difference there is and how it came about.

To add insult to injury, Sony use a hideous copy protection which employs deliberately corrupted sectors that prevents playback on many PCs and even many DVD players including some of Sony's own. To be able to merely watch the DVD I paid for I have to resort to using some fairly dubious techniques that entail breaking the copy protection. For now I've managed to dump the disk content onto hard disk and can watch the movie using a media player that allows me to correct the aspect ratio. This is a ridiculous amount of effort simply to watch a DVD I just paid good money for. Some studios offer 1st class DVDs without complications and others offer 2nd or 3rd rate products locked up like a state secret. I'll be doing my best to avoid paying for Sony media again. Goodbye Sony, Hello Pirate Bay.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Jan 2012 13:37:47 GMT
M. D. Elston says:
Thanks for your comments, much appreciated. I always want to read what people have to say about a DVD release (not just the film, which I can read about anywhere) before buying, and your warnings are sufficient to put me off buying this DVD.
It surprises me that no one else has commented on this -- indeed, on Amazon.com, not a few people have said that this Region 2 release (which was the only one available until the Region 1 release four years later) is an excellent version of the film. And both appear to have been made by Sony from the same master. In my experience, Sony are usually very good about getting their masters right (unlike some other studios, notably MGM and Paramount) and I've never had any problem with their copy protection.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jan 2012 16:34:30 GMT
Thanks for your reply.

Having been able to compare this film side by side both in region 1 and region 2 versions I'm *very* doubtful that the master is the same print: the cropping is different, as is the aspect ratio. PAL and NTSC versions differ in runtime/framerate by definition (25fps vs 23.976fps), and an NTSC disc can be interlaced and/or telecined whereas the picture on PAL is almost invariably progressive. None of these should make the slightest difference to the crop or the aspect ratio. This PAL version really does have a big chunk chopped off the sides, but of course *you can only know this if you can make a direct comparison*, so 99% of people are not going to realise. The Region 1 version I saw was also noticeably darker.

Lots of old cinemascope films had the "fat face" or "the mumps" phenomenon, arising from imperfect anamorphic lenses. Our Man in Havana had a mild case, but is unfortunately exaggerated by cropping and stretching in the PAL disc. If there's one thing you definitely ought not do with a cinemascope picture, it's to stretch it.

Regarding other areas of picture quality: people will have very different experiences depending on their screen. On a standard definition TV set even very low quality pictures can look reasonable. If you view on an HD screen or PC monitor there is no hiding low definition, damaged prints, edge effects, pixellation and other defects which arise from print damage/age or in compression to mpeg.

Copy protection: again this varies from player to player. Most studios offer DVDs which play on every player whose region matches. Sony don't, and in fact are notorious for this. If you google "sony copy protection" you can see the frustration and difficulty they have managed to heap on people who have paid for Sony DVDs, DVD players, even audio CDs. If your playback device doesn't have an issue that is very nice, but it's a mistake to extrapolate from this.

I buy quite a lot of old films on DVD and usually don't go to the trouble of writing a review. When I do it's often because a restoration of an old film has been been done brilliantly well. Sometimes it's because the product is a stinker. I have no great objection to prints showing their age; this is to be expected. But I will write a review if there are multiple disappointing defects, and especially if those defects are completely needless, having been carelessly or deliberately introduced by a studio, showing a disregard for the creative product and for the paying customer.
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