Renowned cinematographer Owen Roizman (THE EXORCIST; THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE; NETWORK) has openly called director William Friedkin’s new Blu-ray transfer of the Roizman-shot THE FRENCH CONNECTION “atroscious”, “emasculated” and “horrifying.” According to Roizman:
“Billy [Friedkin] for some reason decided to do this on his own. I wasn’t consulted. I was appalled by it. I don’t know what Billy was thinking. It’s not the film that I shot, and I certainly want to wash my hands of having had anything to do with this transfer, which I feel is atrocious.”
He then added:
“It would be a travesty to see The Exorcist [which Roizman also shot] transferred in this fashion.”
According to Leonard Norwitz at DVDBeaver:
Friedkin wanted a new look for his film for this Blu-ray release. He doesn’t go so far as to say that this the look he always wanted but never was able to achieve… Think of it as something like the color we see on Fox’s Five Star DVD, then desaturate it some and make it cooler, and you have some idea of how this new video looks. Pretty much gone is the noise inherent in the dark scenes like the club Doyle and Russo visit in the beginning of the movie, but don’t expect all that grain to magically disappear – which is a good thing, considering it was intentional to start with. Of course, the usual benefits of Blu-ray – dimensionality and resolution still pertain. But keep in mind this was never a high-resolution film to begin with. Friedkin insists this is better than his movie has ever looked, and once you accept its alternating film stocks, tight and heavy film grain, high and moderate contrast as all being in keeping its faux-documentary look, you’ll be just fine.
Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere had this to say about the new Blu-ray:
I don’t care if this makes me sound unhip — it’s awful, a rip-off, a desecration and a five-alarm burn. The original film (i.e., the version that played in theatres in ’71 and which was captured for the 2005 standard DVD) is plenty gritty and muddy-looking on its own without Friedkin futzing around. Please, I’m telling you — don’t buy this friggin’ thing. Unless you’re a purist monk it’ll just piss you off. Trust me on this one.
Added: Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant over at DVDTalk.com observes:
Fox’s new Blu-ray of The French Connection is already raising a controversy on the web, for William Friedkin’s personally supervised transfer. The original movie had a purposely ugly look; release prints were slimy, grainy and colorless. (I can see the Fox people in 1971 approving any mess that came from Deluxe as ready for the screen: “Looks terrible! Good Work! Ship it!”) The previous DVD release worked digital magic to bring out all the color and detail in Owen Roizman’s cinematography, reducing the grain and boosting the colors to the point where some of the mid-winter scenes looked downright cheerful.
In a new HD featurette, , Friedkin demonstrates his revisionist rationale. He wanted to mute the colors and retain a lot more grain, yet not lose the sharpness of Roizman’s images. To that end he had his colorist create an element that oversaturated and de-focused the color. This smeary color image was very lightly superimposed over a B&W rendering of the film, resulting in a sharp, grainy movie with pastel colors. Because the colors are de-focused, they don’t stay strictly “within the lines” of objects. Gene Hackman is as sharp as a tack, but his red Santa Claus suit bleeds softly all around him. Blacks clog up at night with almost a hi-con look. New York appears cold and inhospitable. It’s an interesting effect that indeed achieves Friedkin’s stated goal of creating a degraded color image. And he makes no bones about stating that it’ll stay that way because that’s the way he likes it!