Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Johnny California: 4K Roundup

 by JB

How much do I love these 4K discs? How often do I spin these 4K discs?
I will tell you...

... I spin so many of these @#&^%$#!! discs I have just blown out my first 4K player. That’s right, gentle readers, a few days ago my Sony UBP- X800 gave up the ghost, and it’s not even October. Woe is me. What shall I do?

Simple. Move the other 4K player from my bedroom into the great room. Use the spare Blu-Ray player that’s been sitting in a drawer in the guest bedroom as a temporary replacement for the bedroom player, until such time as the main 4K player is repaired.

Just as long as I always have the BEST player in the joint connected to the BEST monitor in the joint.


Do people still get things repaired? It’s been so long since I’ve broken anything, other than promises, hearts all around the world, and my wife’s hopeful spirit, I don’t know what to do. I could take it to the “Geek Squad” at my local Best Buy, but that big blue building is so covered with dust and cobwebs, I fear going in. It’s as if Best Buy's soulless husk is simply resting... waiting for new life to come... after the bankruptcy hearings... when the building will triumphantly reopen as a Spirit Halloween Superstore.

Hooray! I love Halloween superstores. Until then, let's review some recent spins.

War of the Worlds (1953)
When Criterion released WotW a scant three years ago, I thought that would be the final word on this magnificently entertaining film. Boy, was I wrong. The new 4K disc from Paramount looks even better, and contains all of Criterion’s bonus features to boot.

NOTE: When I rave about the picture quality on this new disc (and rave and rave and rave) I am not saying that it looks like our modern notion of exceptional picture quality. Rather, it is the closest approximation I’ve seen to a specific early Technicolor aesthetic. It’s beautiful. I wrote about this aesthetic phenomenon when I wrote about that original Criterion Blu-Ray three short years ago...
“The Technicolor picture on the new disc is amazing. It's got that full, dark, deep, rich color that only early Technicolor had. It reminds me of screen-printed lobby cards from the 1930s and '40s or a kind of fairytale storybook color. It's fantastic. As one of several special features on the disc points out, the special effects were very advanced for 1953. When Paramount stopped making prints in Technicolor and started to make them in Eastmancolor, specifically brighter and brighter prints for television, that began to reveal some of the special-effects magic—specifically the wires on the Martian Death Machines. This led a generation of people to think that the special-effects were sort of quaint in their laughable crudeness. The new restoration on the [4K] disc puts that risible argument to rest because it looks stunning. All of the wires are gone now... One way or another, I prefer my War of the Worlds to be wire free.”

The Ranown Westerns (1957 - 1960)
The kind of pricey boxset that seems purpose-built for the annual Barnes & Noble Criterion Sale, this new 4K collection of the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott western series (Seven Men from Now, The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, & Comanche Station) I am already calling one of the Discs of the Year. The transfers are flawless; the extras are abundant. The films are presented on both 4K Blu-ray and standard Blu-ray discs. Three of the films contain incisive, concise audio commentaries. It’s Christmas in July.

I must admit that these films represented a hole in my knowledge base before I purchased this set. My knowledge of star Randolph Scott was limited to that great line in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, where Cleavon Little chides the recalcitrant townspeople with, “You’d do it for... Randolph Scott,” after which said townspeople sing Scott’s name as if it were a Western anthem.

The films in this boxset present the Western genre stripped of all frills and frippery. I would almost classify these as “Minimalist Westerns” because they present only those elements that are essential to the form. (It is in the same spirit that I often think of Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners as a “Minimalist Sitcom.” Has any entertainment ever wrung more laughs from THREE PEOPLE IN ONE ROOM WITH A CHAIR, A TABLE, AND A WINDOW?)

I love how all five films in the set focus on the well-worn Western trope of “What makes a man a man?” Throughout the films, really bad guys keep insisting that there is some reason or justification for their horribleness. This is a lie. They are horrible men because they do horrible things or cause horrible things to happen through their inaction. Randolph Scott seems to be the only character in the films with a moral compass; it's both a responsibility and a burden. The films keep circling back to this simple existential question, “What do you stand for?” The answer, it turns out, is simple. In the words of the Paul Scofield character in Robert Redford’s Quiz Show, “If you want to be a knight, act like a knight.”

Randolph Scott is our knight.

Another plus to the Ranown Westerns boxset is that each film is short and invites multiple viewings. I’m getting so used to theatrical features lately being three and half f’ing hours long, I'd almost forgotten the pleasures of an 80-minute Western.

Invaders from Mars (1953)
Good God, this disc was a long time coming. The producers estimate that this tricky, difficult transfer took 12 long years to complete. Why? Well, the original film was lensed in Super Cinecolor right before that outfit went bankrupt. Super Cinecolor was not the most impressive color system to begin with. At the last minute, the original film producers added stock footage to beef up the running time, necessitating cutting the original negative. When the producers tried to release the film in England, they added an entire redundant scene to beef up the running time even more and changed the ending to boot. Even at the time of its original release, you could say this film was compromised.

Now, it is 70 years later.

The fact that we still have this film in any form is a miracle. Half of all films made before 1950 no longer exist in any form. (If you really want to cry into your beer, consider that only 14 percent of silent films still exist in any form. We citizens of the Twentieth Century have been piss-poor curators of our own culture.)
Ignite Films has included here as a bonus feature John Sayles’ introduction of the film at the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival. He calls it, “the film that taught us to distrust our parents.” That comment gets to the heart of what made the film so memorable to all the young people who saw it on its original release or caught it later on television. Director/designer William Cameron Menzies has designed the ultimate pre-teen nightmare. All the sets are scaled to look enormous. No one believes you. Your parents seem to have turned on a dime and now actively hate you. You have nowhere to turn. And all of the aliens seem to have zippers running up the backs of their costumes.

Invaders from Mars is a seminal film in the genre; it’s nice having it restored to its former glory. Scott MacQueen, who spearheaded the project, deserves a note of thanks from the generations to come that will continue to enjoy this film.

You can watch the restored trailer here:

As Jimmy Hunt says in the film as he watches the aliens land, “Gee Whiz, there goes my 4K Blu-ray disc player! Darn it.”


  1. I don't know which model of the Sony X800 you had, but make sure the next one support Dolby Vision (the X800M2 did, but not the first version of the model), assuming your tv supports it too.

    I have the Sony X700 and it does support it. It is one of the top rated 4K player out there

  2. Funny you should mention that. The “bedroom” player I referenced is a newer Sony and I believe it sports Dolby Vision. The picture is noticeably better, but I had ascribed the difference to the better monitor I was plugging it into. As with most things in life, there are too many variables.

    1. Not all discs are Dolby Vision (Disney's rarely are), but Kino, Criterion, Arrow and all those boutique labels do put it on their discs. Warner also mostly does Dolby Vision

      You can check blu-ray.com to confirm which disc is what

  3. OOOOOOO War of the Worlds 4k!?! This movie is pretty special to me...its hands down one of the flicks i connected with most at an early age. Sooooo good. Thanks for the review buddy!

  4. I must have these 4k discs......

    btw, I still have the first (oldest) best 4k player, the Oppo UDP 205 as my main player. Sad to say they stopped making these. If I had to replace it now, I'd go fo the Panasonic db-UB9000.

  5. Gah! I bought the Budd Boetticher / Randolph Scott set on DVD a couple years ago because I watched Decision at Sundown and loved it so much. Shoulda waited for the 4k!

  6. Arrow is having a semi-annual 50% off sale at Barnes & Noble (and its own website), which includes its pricey 4K releases. Just saying, worth a look. 😉🤠

  7. To Barnes And Noble I run! (thanks JM)