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Dead Again | Film & Blu-ray Review

Film: A

I had first heard about Dead Again during the promotional campaign of Jordan Peel's Us. After Get Out, I was dying with anticipation, excited for what the filmmaker would bring to the horror genre in his second outing. And thus, I was on the lookout for any article or interview of the director/writer, trying to find clues that would help me process and analyze Us once I watched it. In one of those articles, he gave a list of films which he said influenced him while coming up with the story for Us. I was pretty suprised I had never heard of Dead Again before given my hard inclination for suspense films. Needless to say, I was disappointed to find out there was no blu-ray release of the film (that was back in 2019). I quickly went through the available releases, with the only high-definition option being streaming (I try to avoid streaming as much as possible given how it compromises the content's technical quality due to the heavy compression). I swallowed the hard pill and bought it off iTunes since they are usually the least worst when it comes to streaming. My parents were helping me move at the time and thus they were visiting me then. Shortly after the move we decided to watch it. Unfortunately, I passed out halfway through due to exhaustion. I asked them their opinion of the film afterwards and they gave a pretty positive reaction saying they enjoyed it quite a bit. I did not get a chance to watch it again until now, but ever since then it kept regularly coming back to my mind. And now, finally, it has received its official blu-ray debut thanks to Imprint.

In the late 1940s in L.A., a composer, Roman, is accused and sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Margaret. Right before his execution, a reporter who seems to be familiar with him asks him if he really murdered her. Roman manages to sneak a sharp pair of scissors into his sleeve, and as he walks to be executed he raises the scissors to stab his wife who is standing a short distance away from him. In present day, a woman wakes up screaming in an orphanage, with us realizing the preceding scene was just a nightmare. The trouble is this woman has no idea who she is or where she is, and further amplifying her worries, she strongly resembles Roman's murdered wife, Margaret, from her nightmeare. She can't speak, and given her amnesia, Mike Church, a private detective, is brought over to help find her identity and any of her relatives. The trouble is, Mike resembles Roman from the mysterious woman's nightmare. Further complicating matters, there is a strong attraction between both of them just as they realize the events from the woman's nightmare did happen in reality that many years ago. Is fate somehow bringing them together again or is it all just a coincidence? And if they are indeed re-living their past selves in the present again, is Roman destined to murder her again?

Director/actor Kenneth Branagh, who plays Mike Church/Roman in the film, brings with him a classic Hollywood style that mixes neo-noir, mystery, romance, suspense, and surrealism with a dash of gothic horror and even some humor together. That is a lot of genres packed together in a single film, but the mixture works, surprisingly, quite well. It is somewhat impressive how effortlessly it all seems while watching the film, with everything from the style, acting, score, camera work, cinematography, etc., achieving very entertaining results. It is a type of classic Hollywood cinema in the vein of Hitchcock where its main concern is to entertain rather than bring some sort of political, or other controversial topic, to the surface. Don't get me wrong, I definitely enjoy those sort of thematic films also (i.e. the aforementioned Us and Get Out) but it is also becoming almost painfully obvious that cinema, and just the media in general, is oversaturated with those kinds of topics right now, with a lot of them being more stressful than they are entertaining. It also does not help that most people are couped up at home during the current pandemic, constantly reading and hearing about conflict due to most of their available contact to the outside world being media and entertainment. While those topics are important and I definitely do not dismiss them, I also think there is a time and place to discuss them. And sometimes we, the audience, would like to simply kick back and enjoy something rather than be constantly reminded of real-life conflict. And that is another reason why I think Dead Again has aged pretty well, and now it actually seems quite underrated.

Regardless of the fact that Dead Again does not try to focus on controversial topics does not diminish its overall quality. Like mentioned above, the filmmakers achieved excellent results in practically all areas of the film. Kenneth Branagh uses the camera quite eccentrically. The movemnets are atypical and quirky, but they compliment everything else quite well. The cinematography is also unique, mixing gothic settings with the warmer and more inviting atmosphere of southern California. And it is impressive how well the story uses both of them at the same time while keeping everything feeling harmonious and coherent. Branagh and Emma Thompson bring their A-game for their characters, creating some very nice chemistry between them, both for their characters in the 1940s as well as their present ones. Emma Thompson carries most of it here given how a lot of the story revolves around her mysterious identity and "past-self". She is great, nimbly and easily jumping from frightned, to romantic, confused, and brave. The score is also very noteworthy, injecting very healthy doses of suspense, romance, and energy while staying quite classy, and, in the vein of the rest of the film, sounding like a throwback to the scores of classic hollywood suspense films from the 40s and 50s composed by the likes of Bernard Herrmann.

It is hard to get much into the story, and character development, without giving away spoilers since so much of them revolves around a mystery. Suffice it to say they are very satisfying. I suspect more seasoned viewers will at least be able to make some accurate predictions (I sort of guessed a reveal about two-thirds of the way through), but even then, the film is good and unique in so many different areas that it hardly dimishes one's enjoyment and entertainment while watching it. There are definitely some Hitchcock overtones, but the film uses them at such an abstract level that at no point during the film did I find anything specific that was borrowed directly from any of Hitchcock's films. Afterwards, you can sort of start building the parallels, but thankfully they are far apart away from each other to the point that it is hardly obvious. If anything, it makes it even more satisying seeing how the film uses those borrowed xelements but turns them on their head to keep everything fresh and feeling new despite its more classic style.

Pretty easy to spot the improvements of the blu-ray over the DVD. But look at the facial features and the tree in the background. Also look at the top of canopy structure on the top left. The pattern is gone on the DVD but on the blu-ray you can clearly see it.

Picture: 4 / 5

Dead Again get its blu-ray debut thanks to Imprint. The release is for the Australian market, but at least as of right now, it is easily avaible through online retailers in the U.S.

While definitely an upgrade from anything DVD can offer, it is also quite obvious that this release uses the same master used for the DVD release. Thankfully, there is little-to-no digital manipulation seen onscreen, unlike various DVD masters from that era. Perhaps its biggest drawback is the lack of high fine-detail on screen. To be specific, there is some pretty decent fine detail on screen. Delineation on the signs around the streets of L.A., textures on clothing, objects around an important antique shop, hair, etc., all get a nice boost in definition that is worthy of the format. However, it is also obvious that a new master would provide substantial improvements on all those. Same with the film grain. It is on display but it is not very refined and it has that chunky quality that you would normally see on moderately used 35mm prints used for theater projections. Despite that, the picture still looks, thankfully, very filmic (note my comment about how it looks like a 35mm print). Even if fine detail and film grain are not the best on the format, they are still quite satisfying and I'm almost tempted to say, fitting for the film. Honestly, I almost felt like I was watching this on an actual 35mm print, which only amplified that classic Hollywood style which the film goes for.

Look at the light pattern of the desk lamp, and at the bottom on either side, the grooves of the zipper. They are gone on the DVD but preserved on the blu-ray. Also notice the improvement in detail on Pete's face.

There is some mild print damage throughout but nothing that ruins the presentations. Compression is fine overall, with only a few areas of shadow detail exhibiting mild macrocblocking and iffy gamma on a handful of scenes. In terms of compression, the rest is pretty decent and it looks good in motion. The whole transfer has a slight hint of fadedness to it, with colors taking a small hit, but, it is very easy to forget while watching the film, and it still looks good enough that the unusual, but still excellent, elements of the cinematography comes through pretty well. There are only a few small stability issues obvious in the opening, but they are quickly ameliorated. Contrast is pretty stable throughout with healthy doses of highlight detail in both bright objects and darker areas, with only minor crush and clipping.

While it is obvious the master used is older, and there are various, but thankfully small, drawbacks throughout due to that, they never amount, at least in my opinion, to anything that would make the picture look bad overall. On the contrary, I think it looks quite good. And, thanks to the minimal digital processing, the picture is still satisfying, looking very filmic, balanced, and authentic to its source.

Notice the pattern of the sign at the top middle. It prettu much disappears on the DVD, but you can easily see it on the blu-ray. Also, the crisper outline of the round lights, as well as the sharper detail on the building to the left.

Audio: 4 / 5

The disc comes with a losless DTS-HD MA 5.1 and PCM stereo mixes. My current understanding is the 5.1 mix was originally created for the DVD, and the stereo track is the original mix. I watched the film with the 5.1 option and I was pretty happy with the results. Clarity is pretty decent throughout, with voices, music, and effects sounding good, with very little evidence of age. Dynamic range is broad, keeping things exciting and never monotone. The score is especially effective, immediately drawing your eyes to the screen thanks to its energetic quality which is used in the opening sequence. Surrounds are not used a lot, but they are effective during the nightmares and the various lightning that happens in quite a few scenes. Otherwise, they are used for milder atmospheric effects (like chatter during a party) and the music. The low end is also commendable. You will not feel your seat shaking much, but, it supports the music and few actions sequences with enough oomph that it still sounds, and feels, authoritative. Upmixed with DTS Neural:X, the heights do come alive with the music and lightning, providing more immersive results. Directionality is decent but given the small amount of action on screen, the results are as expected. Overall, it is quite good; not demo material but definitely not a slouch either.

This shot is a little out of focus which reduces the jump in fine detail, but even then, notice the more defined blood pattern as well as the sharper light reflections on the left side.

Bonus Features: 2.75 / 5

This release comes with a limited-edition slipcover showcasing the artwork of the originsl poster (which I have to admit looks pretty gorgeous). The disc comes low on extras but the few that are there are substantial:

The only new extra is the visual essay, created in 2020, which is the only extra I had time to checkout. I found it very compelling, placing the film in its context in time, and comparing it to the films it draws inspiration from, from many decades ago, as well as comparing it to the film industry nowadays. It just made the film seem even more unique and better, highlighting the sad fact that the medium-budget Hollywood genre of films is almost dead, with the only few new ones existing solely on streaming services.

Overall: Recommended

I do wish the film had gotten a new restoration as I'm sure it would look stunning. However, it is almost a small miracle that it got a blu-ray release at all, and thankfully it is quite a decent one. The picture shows signs of age and minor defects but on the whole it is still good, very filmic, and satisfying. Likewise with the audio, not demo material but a pretty solid mix nonethless which makes great use of the platform. Extras are quite good and not just fluff even if they are on the low side in terms of quantity. Overall, the film is a small gem, unusual but excellent and very entertaining, made even more unique by its style, place in time, and scope and size which seem pretty much extinct nowadays. While not a perfect transfer, it does do the film justice, and with all that combined I give it a pretty solid recommendation.

Additional Screenshot Comparisons:

This is a non-cropped comparison. Less obvious since it is not 'zoomed-in'. But if you zoom in you can notice the finer detial on the lights, faces, and other objects.

Another non-cropped comparison. Notice how the nun's face is a little more round and less squeezed. The blu-ray seems to fix a slight vertical squeeze of the picture present on the DVD (notice how the sides on the DVD have a small black border not on the blu-ray?).

Another non-cropped comparison. You can see the small black borders on either side of the DVD better here.

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NOTE: The screenshots above were taken in a PC in the png format.

Review Equipment:

Display: LG OLED77C9 TV | 7.1.4 Sound: Denon AVR-X4700H, Sony Stereo (used as an amplifier), Klipsch: RP-440C (center), RP-250F x 2 (fronts), RP-150M x 4 (surrounds), RP-140SA x 4 (ceiling heights), R-10SW (subwoofer) | 4K Disc Players: Oppo UDP-203 (Region Free & Dolby Vision), Panasonic DP-UB820 | Streaming Players: Apple TV 4K, 2019 Nvidia Shield TV Pro | Video-Game Systems: Xbox Series X, PS5 with PSVR, Valve Index VR, PC: Custom Built PC (ROG MAXIMUS XI HERO, NVIDIA Geforce RTX 3080 Ti, Intel Core i9-9900K Processor, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD) | Remotes: Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control with Hub and iPad App