2015-02-10

Making sense of Dawn Of The Dead Film Elements / Transfers / DVD & Blu-ray Releases

Last update: 8:25 PM, July 11, 2016 (UTC-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada).

You're interested in why Dawn Of The Dead looks the way it looks on DVD and Blu-ray? Here are some of my findings. In the first part I'll describe film elements. In the second part I'll describe transfers and in the third part I'll make a list of the most common DVD / Blu-ray releases and let you know from which transfer they were made as well as giving details about them. But first, I'll give you some basic information about film and digitizing film. This post will be update as I gather more information and add new releases to the list.

Before going further, I recommend you have a look at this Kodak Optical Workflow chart to get a better understanding at some terminologies I'm going to use down the line.


The optimal source to digitize is the OCN (Original Camera Negative) as every time you create a copy in the analog world you loose quality. Actually, It is the "Cut Negative" in the above Kodak Workflow chart that will be digitized as it's the assembly of the OCN.
I would also point out that an Interpositive has 2 layers of grain, one from the OCN and one from the Interpositive itself. An Internegative has 3 layers of grain, one from the OCN, one from the Interpositive and one from the Internegative itself. Same thing goes for a Release Print / Projection Print which has 4 layers of grain since they're next in the chain.

One more technical and quite important thing to know / understand is that film elements can either be digitized using a process called "telecine" or by a process called "pin-registered scan". A telecine is a transfer done in realtime and limited to 1920x1080. A pin-registered scan can take up to 30 sec. to scan one frame and will generate images with a resolution up to 2K (2048x1556) or 4K (4096x3112). The quality of scanned images is quite superior to those of a telecine, therefore a telecine is quite cheaper than a pin-registered scan. Telecine have a bigger grain structure than pin-registered scan.


As I'm writing this, I know of two elements for sure. A 35mm CRI of the Extended Cut. (source: back of the 1996 Elite / Anchor Bay laserdisc, EE3296) and a Interpositive of the European Cut. (source: back of the 2005 CVC - Alan Young Pictures DVD, YDS02S797)
CRI stands for Color Reversal Intermediate. It’s not a print stock. It was a special film stock used for making internegatives. The purpose of this was to avoid the extra step of making an interpositive so that an internegative could be made directly from the camera negative. Most CRI prints are on Eastmancolor, sometimes a later process such as SP or LPP but often on plain old Eastman, though it can also be Agfa-Gevaert or Fuji. This process was used mostly between 1968 and 1987 so later prints made from a CRI haven't faded much yet. It still has no bearing on fade resistance and is often confusing. Sometimes prints made from a CRI are grainier than those using other intermediates. The internegatives on CRI were reputed to fade quite badly.
(source: http://www.paulivester.com/films/filmstock/guide.htm)

First and foremost, Dawn of the Dead was shot using two different types of films with an intended release aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
It was shot on;

- Full Aperture 1.33:1 (4096 x 3112)
- Academy 1.37:1 (3654 x 2664)



Full Aperture
Academy



--FILM ELEMENTS--

Extended Cut Film Element:

EX01 - 35mm CRI.
Anchor Bay consider this element to be problematic. It has weird artifacts which looks like optically formed gaffe of the film not laying totally flat when the print was struck. It also has a lot of print damage. (source: back of the 1996 Elite / Anchor Bay laserdisc, EE3296).

Theatrical Cut Elements:

I never heard of any Theatrical Cut element yet.

European Cut Film Element:

EU01 - No information yet. French DVDs made from this element which seems different from EU02 as dust & scratches appears at different places.

EU02 - 35mm Interpositive. (source: back of the 2005 CVC - Alan Young Pictures DVD, YDS02S797)


--TRANSFERS--

Extended Cut Transfers:

A1 - 1996 Elite Transfer = EX01
Approved by Michael Gornick. (source: back of the 1996 Elite / Anchor Bay / Video Treasure VHS, SV10006). Here are some photos of the 5 x D2 tapes containing the 35mm CRI transfer used for the CAV Elite LD release. Set, Close-up (source: Vini Bancalari of Elite Entertainment)

A2 - 2004 Anchor Bay Transfer, 1920x1080 (Divimax) = EX01
Telecine at Crest National, US.
Baked in automatic "temporal frame average filtering" used to remove dust & scratch on the Theatrical Cut scenes portion of the Extended Cut which results in frame ghosting.
Baked in "edges enhancement filtering".

A3 - 2014 Happinet Transfer = EX01

Theatrical Cut Transfers:

No transfers were made for the Theatrical Cut. Every Theatrical Cut releases on the market are made by trimming an Extended Cut transfer. I can find many instances of Extended Cut frames hiding here and there in virtually every Theatrical Cut releases listed below.


European Cut Transfers:

C1 - Old French Transfer = EU01
Probably 25 fps. Lots of debris.

C2 - 2004 Anchor Bay Transfer, 1920x1080 (Divimax) = EU02
Framed differently compared to the C1 Transfer. C1 vs C2.
Some scenes use lower quality source on this transfer.
Telecine on a Cintel DSX by Italian company LVR Video, Rome. (source: end of credit of the European Cut on the 2013 Happinet Blu-ray.)
This transfer has LVR Video's noise signature from the Telecine. Example here.

C3 - 2016 Alan Young Pictures, 4K (pin-registered) = EU02
4K scan (pin-registered) and restoration done at LVR Video, Rome


--RELEASES--

Extended Cut DVD / Blu-ray Releases:

- 1997 Anchor Bay Collector's Edition DVD (US) = A1
Slightly cold color.

- 1999 BMG Distribution DVD (UK) = A1
Slightly cold color. This DVD runs at 25 fps but keeps the original speed of the movie due to the nature of it's NTSC to PAL conversion.

- 2003 BMG Distribution DVD (UK) = A1
Slightly cold color. This DVD runs at 25 fps but keeps the original speed of the movie due to the nature of it's NTSC to PAL conversion.

- 2004 Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition DVD (US) = A2
Warm color. The Extended Cut scenes don't have that temporal frame average filtering the Theatrical Cut scenes have.

- 2010 Arrow Video 3 Disc Set BD/DVD Combo (UK) = A2
Warm color. This DVD runs at 25 fps but keeps the original speed of the movie due to the nature of it's NTSC to PAL conversion.

- 2013 Happinet 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Box (Japan) = A3
Natural color, wrong black levels, blown out highlights, moiré artifacts.

- 2014 XT Video / NSM Records Blu-ray (Austria) = A3
Using the same encode as the 2013 Happinet 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Box (Japan)


Theatrical Cut DVD / Blu-ray Releases:

- 1999 Anchor Bay Anniversary Edition DVD (US) = A1
Neutral and natural color, wrong black levels.
Anchor Bay forgot to remove some shots from the "dock scene" while creating this Theatrical Cut release from the "A1 transfer" (Extended Cut).

- 2004 Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition DVD (US) = A2
Warm color.

- 2007 Anchor Bay Blu-ray (US) = A2
Has an extra pass of automatic dust & scratch repair on top of the A2 transfer.
Really warm color, wrong black levels.
Some shots are reframed to remove some black edges on the left of the frame inherent to the "A2" transfer.

- 2010 Arrow Video 3 Disc Set BD/DVD Combo (UK) = A2
Warm color, wrong black levels.
3 frames from the Extended Cut (helicopter landing at the docks) are visible in between the basement scene and the dock scene.

- 2010 Umbrella Untertainment Blu-ray (Australia) = A2
Same encode as the 2010 Arrow Video 3 Disc Set BD/DVD Combo (UK).

- 2011 NSM Records Blu-ray (Austria) = A2
Same as the 2007 Anchor Bay Blu-ray (US) but badly encoded.

- 2013 Happinet 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Box (Japan) = A3
Natural colors, wrong black levels, blown out highlights, moiré artifacts.

- 2014 XT Video / NSM Records Blu-ray (Austria) = A3
Same encode as the 2013 Happinet 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Box (Japan).


European Cut DVD / Blu-ray Releases:

- 2002 GCTHV Édition Collector DVD (France) = C1
Neutral and natural colors.
This DVD runs at 25 fps. Due to the nature of his NTSC to PAL conversion, the duration is a little shorter, 114 mins. instead of 119 mins. which means the pitch of the entire audio is higher, which means the Goblin soundtrack plays faster and dialog can sound "chipmunk-like".

- 2004 Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition DVD (US) = C2
Colors not as natural as the 2002 GCTHV release but not as warm as 2004 Anchor Bay's Theatrical & Extended Cut.

- 2009 Distribution SPHE Blu-ray (France) = C2
Has an extra pass of automatic dust & scratch repair on top of the C2 transfer.
Colors not as natural as the 2002 GCTHV release but not as warm as 2004 Anchor Bay's Theatrical & Extended Cut.

- 2010 Arrow Video 3 Disc Set BD/DVD Combo (UK) = C2
Colors not as natural as the 2002 GCTHV release but not as warm as 2004 Anchor Bay's Theatrical & Extended Cut.
This DVD runs at 25 fps but keeps the original speed of the movie due to the nature of it's NTSC to PAL conversion.

- 2011 NSM Records Blu-ray (Austria) = C2
Same as the 2009 Distribution SPHE Blu-ray (France) but slightly zoomed in and badly encoded.

- 2013 Happinet 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Box (Japan) = C2
Doesn't have the extra automatic dust & scratch repair pass the 2009 Distribution SPHE Blu-ray has.
Colors not as natural as the 2002 GCTHV release but not as warm as 2004 Anchor Bay's Theatrical & Extended Cut.

- 2014 XT Video / NSM Records Blu-ray (Austria) = C2
Same encode as the 2013 Happinet 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Box (Japan).

- 2016 Midnight Factory Blu-ray / UHD Blu-ray (Italy) = C3



--INTERESTING FACTS--

After some investigation, I believe that virtually every DVDs / Blu-rays releases for the Extended Cut and the Theatrical Cut are derived from that same 35mm CRI print (EX01). I can find the same artifacts as seen on the picture below on every DVDs and Blu-rays of the Extended and Theatrical Cut releases I've looked at so far. Since those artifacts are not in any European Cut releases, they're unlikely inherent to the Original Camera Negative, so knowing that confirms that those artifacts are the "signature" of a print, THE "signature" of THAT particular 35mm CRI print which virtually every DVDs / Blu-rays releases for the Extended and Theatrical Cut are derived from.

Moiré artifact inherent to the "EX01 Print"
(source: 2007 Anchor Bay Blu-ray, N3008)

These print artifacts are easier to notice on Blu-rays, especially on the releases using the "A3 transfer" but still, I can notice them even on the first 1997 Anchor Bay DVD (DV10325). These artifacts are less noticeable on releases made from the "A2 transfer" as Anchor Bay used temporal frame average filtering in order to get rid of most of the dust & scratch extrinsic to the "EX01 print".

Temporal frame average filtering used to get rid of the dust & 
scratch on the "A2 transfer" results in ghosting artifacts.
(source: 2010 Arrow Video Blu-ray, FCD414)

Since there's no frame to average with before the first frame of a shot and there's no frame to average with after the last frame of a shot and because the way they configured the temporal frame average filter, the first and last frame of any shots from the "A2 transfer" are 0% averaged revealing all dust & scratch, moiré artifacts as well as grain structure extrinsic to the "EX01 print". This temporal frame average filtering appears to be baked in the "A2 transfer" as I can see this in every release made from it.

"Unprocessed" first frame of this shot revealing dust & scratch 
inherent to the "EX01 Print". 
(source: 2010 Arrow Video Blu-ray, FCD414)

As Anchor Bay felt they didn't screwed up enough yet, they even added one more pass of dust busting which I'm glad Arrow Video didn't made for their Blu-ray release. This extra automatic dust & scratch repair pass by Anchor Bay not only got rid of some of the remaining dust & scratch left by the previous temporal frame average filtering, it also got rid of specular highlights as can be seen in this link, look at Stephen's belt for example. Same things goes for the 2009 Distribution SPHE Blu-ray (France) European Cut release, the French Blu-ray releases do have an extra
automatic dust & scratch repair pass the 2013 Happinet 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Box (Japan) European Cut release doesn't have.


--CONCLUSION--

So, regardless of the 3 different cuts, which release looks the best?

As you just learned, every Blu-ray releases of Dawn of the Dead including the 3 different cuts of the film have been made from only 2 sources.

1 - 35mm CRI for all Extended Cut and Theatrical Cut on DVD and Blu-ray.
2 - 35mm Inperpositive for the European Cut on Blu-ray.

The thing is, the 35mm CRI is a lot more shitty as a source than the 35mm Interpositive. The 35mm CRI is softer than the Interpositive and has these artifacts all over the place. So, unless they find a better source or they go back to the Original Camera Negative, the Extended Cut as well as the Theatrical Cut of Dawn of the Dead will never look as good as the European Cut especially that it's getting the 4K treatment as we speak.

People usually prefer releases made from the A2 Transfer like 2007 Anchor Bay's Theatrical Cut or the 2010 Arrow Video's Theatrical Cut even more but that's because they prefer Romero's version but remember, we're talking regardless of the 3 different cuts here. So, as a digital colorist, I just can't stand the color grading that was made to the A2 transfer. I like natural color rendering, especially when restoring a movie such as Dawn of the Dead so this is why, in my opinion, the best release, regardless of the 3 different cuts is the European Cut released on Blu-ray by Happinet back in 2013. It is available as a single Blu-ray with catalog number (BBXF-2062) or in a Boxed Set along the 2 other cuts of the film with catalog number (BBXF-9409). Apart from the noise from the LVR Video telecine, the C2 transfer has no digital processing, no denoise, no sharpen, it has proper black level, natural colors, I mean, grey clouds are grey ya know... not brown.

And why the Japanese European Cut release over the French European Cut release? As mentioned earlier, the French release has an extra pass of automatic dust & scratch repair the Japanese counterpart doesn't have. When comparing them, look at the zombie's right shoulder, it's moving. This is the result of temporal frame averaging in order to remove dust & scratches.

Japan-2013_Happinet (BBXF-2062)
France-2009_Distribution Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (934916)

Basically, I prefer the release that has the more natural color grading and that offers the more details. I'm not into pink skies, are you?

Better Color grading
Japan-2013_Happinet (BBXF-2062) - European Cut
UK-2010_Arrow Video (FCD414) - Theatrical Cut

Better details
Japan-2013_Happinet (BBXF-2062) - European Cut
UK-2010_Arrow Video (FCD414) - Theatrical Cut