Easter Egg: In the Special Features Menu, step up past the Audio Commentary and a pair of dark 'eyes' should appear in the upper left corner. Press Enter, and (2:37) of trims in non-anamorphic widescreen of fog effects set to John Carpenter's music will play.
Was it worth the wait? Absolutely! John Carpenter's legion of fans won't be disappointed by this outstanding release, heavily improving upon the original Special Edition laserdisc from New Line in 1995.
While the widescreen laser transfer presented the film in glorious 2.35:1 Panavision and was cutting edge for the time, it just doesn't match up to the digital transfer technology in use today. In place of obvious video noise, less colour depth, and high contrast between muddy blacks and hot whites, MGM's new anamorphic transfer glistens with sharp detail.
Director Carpenter and Cinematographer Cundey maintained an exceptional professional relationship, based to some degree on a mutual respect for composing high-quality images in the natural scope that widescreen formats embrace; perhaps more so than in "Halloween" does Carpenter's visual acumen blossom in capturing the beauty of a remote coastal town, and the constant sense of isolation via extraordinary landscapes, vistas, and shimmering ocean shots. The simplicity of Cundey's lighting - necessitated somewhat by budgetary limits, yet inspirational nonetheless - blends natural/existing lighting with stylized atmospheric effects, yet the results maintain a balance of rich colours and/or saturated hues, and eerie deep blacks and somber blues. MGM's release includes a Full Screen transfer of the film on Side B, and while also newly transferred, it clearly reveals the immense loss of visual information when a Panavision ratio is severely cropped for the boob tube.
The DVD offers a pleasing Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, where reprocessed sound effects and Carpenter's mono music tracks (more prominent than in the original mono mix) are well balanced, and loud stabs are reserved for their appropriate shocks. Carpenter's music offers some nice bass, and the theme and suspense cues - original analogue recordings - seep from the surround speakers without distortion or hiss. (Unique to the laserdisc, however, is an isolated mono score track. Some of the previously unreleased music subsequently appeared on an expanded true-stereo CD release from Silva Screen America in 2000, which also includes a vintage six-minute radio interview with Jamie Lee Curtis.)
MGM/UA's DVD contains many extras, including a new documentary - "never seen before" because, well, it's NEW and made exclusively for this release. Silly hype notwithstanding, the doc should be viewed before tackling the audio commentary track with Carpenter and Debra Hill because, while some minor information is repeated, the doc acts as a concise intro and visual alternative to watching the film a second time (making a nice buffer between viewings), and adds the perspectives of cinematographer Dean Cundey, production designer/editor Tommy Lee Wallace, and actors Adrienne Barbeau and Janet Leigh.
The new doc covers Hill and Carpenter's meteoric "Halloween" success, and the genesis of "The Fog" screenplay from the couple's 1977 visit to Stonehenge, England. Casting, working with John Houseman, special effects, locations, and visual approaches are main highlights, although Carpenter's explanation of the film's re-shooting, re-editing and re-scoring - efforts which improved the film - are arguably the most compelling; when a film doesn't work, the choices are to cry in a dark room, or stand up and fix the problem; the latter of which the entire crew addressed with admiration.
Though Jamie Lee Curtis wasn't involved in the new doc, clips from a vintage, in-house Q&A session for Avco-Embassy's publicity division are used, and the DVD includes the complete program, which features youthful and brash appearances by Curtis, Carpenter, Hill, Barbeau, and Janet Leigh. Titled "Fear In Film: Inside The Fog," produced by Mick Garris.
As fans know, John Carpenter's commentaries are generally bland. Alone or with Debra Hill, their approach is often to state the obvious - regarding shots, onscreen action - and to presume viewers/listeners have not seen the entire film. An exception remains the track recorded for the Criterion laser release of "Halloween," where Jamie Lee Curtis bubbles with anecdotes and rushing enthusiasm, and balances the more dry observations from the other two. "The Fog" commentary, recorded for the 1995 laserdisc, elaborates on key production details, and while thoroughly relaxed, the occasional gaps and noting the painful obvious make for a less-than perfect journey through the film's history. The commentary, English 5.1 remix, and original English/French mono tracks with optional English/ French/Spanish Subtitles appear on both widescreen (side A) and full screen (side B) versions.
The New Line laserdisc included a montage of special effects trims set to Carpenter's music, followed by a series of outtakes. For the DVD release, the trims appear as an Easter Egg, whereas the outtakes are accessible from the Special Features menu. Consisting of a few humorous foul-ups and all-around silliness, the outtakes montage is a minor bonus, though like the trims, the footage appears in non-anamorphic widescreen.
A Storyboard comparison synchronizes production drawings to the brutal murders of two sailors on a drifting trawler as the Fog begins to approach Antonio Bay, with the former at the screen top, and the widescreen film filling the screen's bottom half.
Publicity materials include a scratchy but watchable trailer (and unusually long), two theatrical teasers, and three TV spots. All are full screen and cropped from former widescreen elements, and while the trailer is the sharpest, the teasers and TV spots are from very old 3/4" dubs with poor colour and dirt. The trailer and TV spots were previously included on the laserdisc.
The DVD's photo and still galleries include behind-the-scenes and publicity stills of cast and crew, plus a brief gallery of posters and minor memorabilia (apparently a bumper sticker, window card, and coffee-stained cover of the script).
The colour booklet includes a brief intro from Carpenter, and various production facts and quotations presented in a somewhat over-zealous manor.
Ineptly updated & remade in 2005.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan