Monday, 7 April 2014

The Asphyx

After spotting apparent photographic anomalies that occur at the point of a subject's death, two scientists embark on a journey to capture the mystical being responsible (dubbed the 'asphyx') that theoretically captures the escaping soul.  Their aim is to ultimately prevent death itself - if they can stop the asphyx from taking away an individual's soul then it could be the case that the individual themselves could attain immortality.

A leisurely paced UK production from around 1973, The Asphyx was directed by veteran camera operator Peter Newbrook.  It's not considered a classic but it is surely a carefully crafted and eloquent production that does explore some interesting concepts.  I think what holds this one back from more widespread appeal is the lack of dynamism - Newbrook hardly takes things forward with energetic zeal.  However, it's an exquisitely shot piece of work with some dark moments that can yield rewards for the patient viewer.  The beauty of the film should come as no surprise when you realise that its cinematographer, Freddie Young, won several Oscars for his work.
I'd only ever seen the UK 86 minute 'theatrical' version of this film - it had been widely available on VHS and DVD for years but old reviews dangled a carrot suggesting that the longer 99 minute US version was a better way to view the film.  Odeon Entertainment have in recent years released a two-disc DVD containing the extended version but that has since been bettered: a welcome entry into home video was Redemption's Blu-ray, which contains both versions of the film.  The standard cut is fully mastered (from the negative I believe) in HD and looks stunning.  Fully scoped (as shot in Todd-AO) the detail is amazing for a film of this vintage, and really shows what can be done with older stuff.  The longer cut is featured as an extra (and has to be accessed, as such, from the bonus menu).  This cut is taken from an inferior source mastered in standard definition.  Redemption could have done the lazy thing and just included this as is, but they've retained the HD footage where possible and inserted the extra material where it should be, meaning you're still watching the bulk of the film in HD if you choose to watch the longer version.  I don't mind this, because the periodic quality shift reveals exactly what they decided to remove, presumably in the name of brevity.  There is also a slight ratio shift from 2.39:1 to what must have been the only thing available for the extra material, 1.85:1 approximately, although this is 'window boxed' to prevent too much of a visible jolt for the viewer.  Personally I think the excised material is of some value as there is greater exposition on some of the themes explored, plus additional characterisation.

Other extras include some trailers and a photo gallery, but really this remains an invaluable acquisition because this disc means we can choose whether to watch the shorter or longer cuts completely (in the former case) or mostly (in the latter) in full HD.  If you like the film, or have a fondness for Hammer-era horror, the Redemption Blu will sit comfortably on your shelf.  The gorgeous presentation of the HD transfer enhances one's appreciation without a doubt.

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