Appellate Judge Tom Becker wishes Lionsgate would give this bit of Ireland back to the Irish—or just give it a great release.
John Huston's final masterpiece…
…salvaged by Lionsgate.
Back in November 2009, Lionsgate released a long-awaited DVD of John Huston's The Dead. It was far from the joyous event that it should have been for fans of the film. In addition to the usual inadequacies found on too many Lionsgate releases—workmanlike transfer, lousy box art, bare bones—this release was absent 10 minutes of the film. As I reported in my Nov. 2 review:
"From around eight minutes in to the 18-minute mark is just gone. Character introductions, bits of business that will factor into the story later—approximately 12.5 percent of the film—just not there. There's just a huge jump that eliminates about a dozen key scenes. It's like if you went to the movies and the projectionist just decided not to show Reel 2, you know, because he wanted to get home early.
"Mind you, there's no reason for this chunk of film to be gone. This isn't an exploitation film with a shadowy history that's played under a variety of names, with different versions having different lengths. At best—and this is just speculation—this might have been the print used when The Dead was shown on commercial television somewhere, the 10 minutes lopped off to fit the film in a 90-minute slot. Whatever the case, it is absolutely disgraceful that Lionsgate would release the film like this. It's beyond careless. Needless to say, particularly since it happens so early on, it renders the film unwatchable, destroying Huston's meticulous rhythm and pacing."
As word got out, Lionsgate's response was admirably swift: the company recalled the incomplete discs and promised to reissue a new version the week of Nov. 23. That date came and went, with no re-release in sight, and frankly, I didn't think that was a terrible thing: throwing together a new release in less than three weeks suggested another slap-dash job. I was really hoping—and this is that "kid at Christmas" part of me—that the folks at Lionsgate would make up for the egregious earlier release by giving the second pass the royal treatment, the kind of special edition that this film deserves.
Alas and alack, 'tis not to be.
The same box cover that's been decried from one end of cyberspace to the next is still on display. If nothing else, you'd think they'd change it to distinguish this redux from the shortened original release. The same incorrect but, in fairness, not odious, 1.78 framing—as opposed to the 1.85 original aspect ratio—is here too. The pre-film "Also from Lionsgate" trailers are the same, including the one for the Dirty Dancing 20th Anniversary disc—which was released May 8, 2009. The transfer seems to be about the same as well…not terrible, but somewhat to the left of "crisp," with blacks in particular looking a bit dull and grainy, and the whole thing looking murky in spots. We again get a bare boneser; you'd think they'd at least have picked up the trailer, and in a perfect world, gotten the rights to add John Huston and the Dubliners as a bonus, but they didn't. It's really just the same release as before, only with the missing scenes replaced. Oddly, they're not even promoting this as a new release; it's seems that they're just going to slip this into stores and try to forget the whole, ugly, chopped-version ever happened.
But the complete film is here, and that in itself makes this worth picking up. Huston's film is beautiful, delicate, and profoundly moving. Anyone who's seen it naturally thinks to the haunting, final 20 minutes, but there is a wealth of wonderful moments and exceptional performances. Helena Carroll's poignant reminiscence about a long-dead tenor and Cathleen Delaney's elderly Aunt Julia singing "Arrayed for the Bridal" while Huston's camera peeks about the house are among the stand-out moments.
Lionsgate promised to re-release the film in its entirety, and they did. You'd think that after the hubbub of the inexplicably cut edition, they'd try to go the extra mile, but that didn't happen. Is this film worthy of the kind of "special edition" they gave to Dirty Dancing? Absolutely. Maybe someday, Lionsgate or some other company will give us this film with a remastered transfer and a few bells and whistles, but for now, we can make do with this release. Just make sure you check the run time on the back of the case: 83 minutes is correct, 73 minutes means you're getting the cut version.
When all is said and done, The Dead, in its complete, 83-minute form, cannot be considered guilty.
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