Phenomena: Limited Edition

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jan 13, 2017
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Phenomena: Limited Edition

Director

Dario Argento

Release Date(s)

1985 (November 15, 2016)

Studio(s)

Titanus Distribuzione/New Line Cinema/Warner Bros (Synapse Films)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A
  • Overall Grade: A+

Review

Phenomena is one of the more curious entries in Dario Argento’s filmography. It was one of his first steps away from making straight giallo, and while it definitely retains that element, it’s more fantastic than exploitative. Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) is a young girl who is sent to school in the Swiss countryside. While there, she begins sleepwalking at night and witnesses a murder. This leads her to meeting a local entomologist (Donald Pleasance), who begins to realize that Jennifer has a psychic bond with insects. Meanwhile, the murders inch closer and closer to Jennifer as she uses her psychic abilities to track the killer down.

The story itself is pretty odd, as its content doesn’t mix together very well. There’s the usual over-the-top, Argento-styled carnage, with really disgusting moments particularly for people who are afraid of bugs, but the film also tries to maintain a sort of fairy tale atmosphere with compelling moments and imagery. Connelly, here in an early role, is beautiful and haunting as a young outsider, trapped in a different world and looking for a way out. The film’s music is also good, including a score from Goblin, as well as tracks from Bill Wyman, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, and others. Ultimately though, Phenomena is more interesting than it is good, with positive aspects but a lack of cohesiveness as a singular piece.

Synapse Films’ release of the film on Blu-ray features three different cuts: the 110 minute International version, the 116 minute English/Italian Hybrid version, and the 83 minute U.S. version entitled Creepers. All three have been painstakingly restored and attenuated in-house by Don May Jr., Vincent Pereira, Jerry Chandler, David Block, Michael Felsher, and others.

Available on Disc One is the 116 minute version, sourced from a previous HD master that unfortunately had some DNR baked into it that couldn’t be corrected. However, this version was personally-approved by Argento and cinematographer Romano Albani, so it’s authoritative in that sense. The noise removal isn’t totally egregious, as much of the film’s fine detail is still abundantly on display. What little grain that is present is mostly even throughout. The color palette is also quite bold but different than the other versions in minor ways, such as some of the blue being taken out in places. Strong blacks and excellent overall brightness and contrast are also apparent. The presentation is clean and stable, with a strong encode, and is free of any major film artifacts. The 83 minute version of the film is also on this disc, but more on that in a minute.

Disc Two features the 110 minute version of the film. This is sourced from a different HD master that didn’t have the heavy DNR pass applied to it. It’s much more organic and natural in appearance, with a healthier grain structure and higher levels of fine detail. Blacks are also deep, with excellent brightness and contrast. The color palette is more accurate to how most viewers are accustomed to seeing it. It too is a very stable presentation, with wonderful depth, a strong encode, and next to no noticeable film artifacts visible. This different master was also used to create the 83 minute version found on Disc One, utilizing a heavily-damaged 35mm print from the Warner Bros. vault as a guide in its reconstruction. Since it comes from the same source, all of the previous (110 minute) quality comments apply. (Note that minor shots were borrowed from each source and incorporated into whichever version needed them.)

The soundtrack for each version of the film also has different characteristics, so the same care and attention was applied. Beginning with the 116 minute version, two tracks are included. The main track is English 2.0 DTS-HD, with Italian inserts to cover any footage that wasn’t originally shot in English or overdubbed). It features good dialogue reproduction with nice depth, although the overdubbing is still obvious. The music and sound effects are also strong, with widely spaced ambient activity. The other track is the original Italian 2.0 DTS-HD mix. It’s of similar quality, but the music has much more depth and is a tad bit louder. Ambient activity is also more prominent. For the 110 minute version, there are also two tracks available: English 2.0 DTS-HD and English 2.0 DTS-HD with alternate audio. The first track has excellent dialogue reproduction, although it’s a bit echoey, while everything else is just as good as the previous tracks. The alternate 2.0 track is a curiosity, as many of the sound effects and music tracks are different or extended. The overall mix is quieter and the dialogue is more aggressively centered, but the music and sound effects are more pronounced too. For the 83 minute version, there’s only an English 2.0 DTS-HD track available. It’s fairly similar to the 110 minute version, with strong music and excellent dialogue reproduction, as well as some good ambient moments. All of the tracks are clean and clear, with no noticeable instances of heavy hiss or crackle. As far as subtitles are concerned, they come in English for the 110 minute version and are automatic for the Italian inserts (but can be turned off if needed). They also come in English SDH for the 116 minute and 83 minute versions.

116 MINUTE ENGLISH/ITALIAN HYBRID VERSION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/A/A+
110 MINUTE INTERNATIONAL VERSION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/A+/A+
83 MINUTE U.S. VERSION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/A+/A+

If three different versions of the film aren’t enough for you, there’s also some nice extras here that are worth your time. On Disc Two, there’s an audio commentary with author Derek Botelho and film historian David Del Valle; the vintage Dario Argento’s World of Horror documentary directed by Michael Soavi; a brief vintage interview with songwriter and composer Andi Sex Gang; theatrical trailers for both Phenomena and Creepers; and 2 radio spots for Creepers. The package also includes a CD soundtrack of the Goblin score, including bonus tracks; a Synapse Films product catalogue booklet; and a 20-page booklet with technical notes on Synapse Films’ extensive restoration work by Vincent Pereira and Don May, Jr., as well as separate liner notes on the film itself by authors Michael Gingold and Gary Hertz. All of this material is housed in Steelbook packaging.

While some of us may not be big fans of Phenomena, as compared to Dario Argento’s other work, there’s no way in Hell that you can’t at least appreciate this film, especially with all of the restoration work that’s been done here. Synapse Films is doing some remarkable work resurrecting these films (see also their Tenebrae release), restoring them to not just their former glory, but all-new glory as well. It should go without saying, but this Blu-ray release is definitely recommended and a major must-own for your collection.

- Tim Salmons

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