Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Great Eiger Sanction DVD Dispute!

A lot of people have contacted me over the last 6 months or so regarding the DVD release of The Eiger Sanction. I have also seen that it is a matter of discussion on other Eastwood related sites where the question has attempted to be addressed. The dispute is over the film's frame ratio, and while people have addressed it, many have not explained it to any 'relevant' degree. Firstly, The Eiger Sanction (Universal 1975) is a wonderful looking film. Sadly the real problem is that the large proportion of DVD releases (while in Widescreen 2.35:1), (Panavision), (Scope) or whatever you choose to call it, has remained simply 'Letterboxed' in a 4:3 full frame. Which presents a very big problem.

To explain further, most (all) films shot in this ratio today are subsequently released on DVD in Anamorphic form, or more commonly known as 16:9 enhanced. Enhanced for widescreen, 16:9 TVs. This means that the film image is actually squeezed, as real film would be in cinemas. In the cinema, it would be the projector lens that opens the film out to it Widescreen splendour. This same format is applied to the DVD and instead, the Widescreen setting on the TV does the exact same job. It 'opens the image' and preserves the clarity.

A Letterboxed Widescreen image contained in a full 4:3 frame, creates a very poor effect on Widescreen TV's. Basically you are left with 3 choices:

1) Preserving the image on TV by watching it in a 4:3 setting:
The downside of this option is that you will be watching the film with its Black bars not only at the top and bottom, but also at the sides of the TV screen, the actual image therefore is very small.
2) Selecting widescreen on your TV:
BUT, this will distort the image, you'll eliminate the Black side bars, but you will be squeezing the image down, and making the entire image look 'squashed', not a good option.
3) You can 'blow up' the image from 4:3.

Remember this way you are preserving the frame image, you can enlarge it to 14:9 or even 16:9. 16:9 will be the best way to view the DVD from the Letterboxed image, but this will now cause a secondary problem. Like a still photograph, whenever an image is enlarged, you are likely to expose more grain. So the film viewed this way is going to look pretty poor overall.
Of course, this could have been made so much easier if the DVD had been released properly in the correct format to begin with. This would solve all problems, unless of course, you still owned a standard 4:3 frame TV set..
For too long, The Eiger Sanction has been very badly neglected by the studio. Towards the end of 2009 another Eastwood Universal Box Set was produced in the U.K.
Looking into it closer, I found that The Eiger Sanction was finally re-mastered in its full 16:9 glory! Call me cautious, but I checked it out further on Amazon, read a few reviews.. Yes, someone had even stated, 'at least the Eiger is in 16:9...' Fantastic.
Even my dearest said, I'll add it as a stocking filler for Christmas - Wonderful! (See Below)

Above: Clint Eastwood The Collection - Play Misty For Me/Joe Kidd/Two Mules For Sister Sarah/Coogan's Bluff/The Beguiled/The Eiger Sanction/High Plains Drifter/Breezy

Come the morning of the 25th, the first thing I reached for was The Eiger Sanction, simply in order to admire its visual beauty. I take in the box details (under side of box)...Yes, there it is 16:9 enhanced!
I take out the case...Yes, there it is 16:9 enhanced!
I take out that little mirrored platter and lay it gently into the lap of my DVD player.
I press PLAY, and there before me....
is that bloody 4:3 Letterboxed version once again!
What the Hell?
Naturally at this point I was completely outraged, this was now quite unacceptable!
Looking at the box further I noticed that The Beguiled is detailed as Full Screen Letterboxed!!! What? I put that disc in and it turns out to be 16:9 Anamorphic!?!?
I'm now quite lost, silent in fact - I'm reduced to shaking my head slowly in a state of confusion?

I left it a month or so, so I could gather myself before I started to make contact with Universal. In between time, I researched this a little more and finally found out that the Universal France DVD was actually 16:9. I explained this all in a detailed email to Universal.
A month passed, nothing.
So I sent the same email, again and again. Until one morning I found an email waiting for me explaining that the U.S. version was actually 16:9. (I had explained that my player was multi regional). I wasn't entirely happy at first, because my research on the DVD had also informed me that the U.S version of the DVD was also just Letterboxed. But I remained patient. A week or so later I had a 'box set' arrive from Universal U.S.A American Icon Collection (Below).

I am pleased to report (to my knowledge) this version of The Eiger Sanction and Universal's French release, are the only versions to contain the 16:9 version of the film. It took a long time, but I was adamant on this occasion. I had been fooled too many times, as I knew a lot of the fans had. There was no explanation offered by Universal, even after I had asked repeatedly. They simply didn't reply. If anything is to be learnt from this, I suppose it's to never give up and persist with your complaint. I just felt the time had come and that this particular consumer finally deserved a little more.

I hope this explanation has helped throw some light on a very long and often overlooked point of concern.

~The Clint Eastwood Archive~


David M. said...

Thanks for clearing that up. I'll be returning to my local Best Buy tomorrow to pick up the American Icon Collection expressly to get the anamorphic Eiger Sanction(for $11.99!). I know this means they'll all come out in Blu-Ray now, but that's okay too.

David M. said...

Thanks for clearing that up. I'll be returning to my local Best Buy tomorrow to pick up the American Icon Collection expressly to get the anamorphic Eiger Sanction(for $11.99!). I know this means they'll all come out in Blu-Ray now, but that's okay too.