I've just acquired the R2 Release and given Disk 1 an initial playing. I've owned the R1 Release for some time, and I think it goes without saying that Malcolm in the Middle is a superb series from start to finish and much loved by many. I therefore submit this review for those interested in the technical quality of this Release compared to the previous R1 "NTSC" set sold in the US.
Firstly, I discovered that the picture format on the R2 disks is actually 720 x 480 at 30fps. R2 is normally formatted for PAL compatibility, which would require 720 x 576 at 25fps (576i 50Hz). What we have here is the same picture format as the R1 release, which is intended for the NTSC standard. Both Releases are interlaced (480i 60hz). The menus and navigation are almost identical to the R1 Release.
I quickly noticed a problem with a juddering effect on panning scenes, where the motion appears to be rather jerky. On investigation, this looks to be due to the source material having been de-interlaced and then re-interlaced. This results in a bigger, so less fluid movement between each frame, as well as every fourth frame being shown twice in a five-frame set; all contributing to the effect, which personally, I find quite distracting. The R1 Release does not suffer this problem. It also suggests this R2 transfer is from another video source rather than from the original film.
Also to note are the average bit rates on the R2 Release Disk 1, which are significantly lower than the R1 set. I thought this might be to make space on the dual-layer disk for the Original Pilot, which is not on the R1 set, but curiously, less than 7Gb of the available 8.5Gb is actually used.
The early episodes do seem to exhibit quite a bit of grain and noise. This was also apparent on the R1 Release so I suspect the source material is to blame, but in my view, it is made worse by higher compression here. Things do improve, however, once past the first few episodes.
There is another, more serious flaw with this R2 transfer. An example can be seen on Disk 3, in episode "Smunday", where there are several low-light scenes in Lois' bedroom. Sadly, shadow detail is crushed to oblivion and blacks are rendered as purple and blue! This is tehnically pretty poor. The R1 Release is streets ahead in comparison with decent solid blacks and good shadow detail.
On the positive side, this R2 Release (excluding the Extended Pilot) does indeed have the 16:9 aspect ratio, whereas the R1 Release is all 4:3, as originally shown on TV. I have compared the picture areas and can confirm that the 16:9 framing has been achieved without cropping the top and bottom of the original picture. I did read somewhere that the original format was 16:9 on 35mm film, so this is a definite plus for widescreen viewing.
Overall, a little disappointing. Even though the 16:9 aspect looks great, the technical flaws are, in my opinion, unforgivable.
Sadly, I think we will have to wait a long time for a decent 1080p Blu ray transfer from the original film at 24fps; now that would be something...
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