"In the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggeration."
The problem with any new video format is that while there are indeed releases to get excited about, the releases of catalog titles can sometimes be a slow trickle. While Blu-ray weighed in early with a good showing for the works of such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, we are only now getting the first titles from such luminaries as Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock.
The Master of Suspense has made the leap to high def with the Warner Classics release of North by Northwest, and it is actually the perfect inaugural title for his body of work. Psycho may be more iconic and influential, Rear Window and Vertigo may be deeper, but North by Northwest was Hitch and author Ernest Lehmann's attempt to make pure entertainment and the result has been called the "blueprint for the James Bond series" and has been the template for a wide array of movies, including the recent Bourne series. And like those films, they are more enjoyable the better they look and sound.
And holy crackers, North by Northwest is stunning on Blu-ray! The negative was shot in VistaVision, which would feed standard 35 millimeter film horizontally through the camera (like a still photo), and the larger surface area meant a superfine grain structure. On Blu-ray, this means that apart from a few embarrassing rear-projection shots (the Achilles' heel of any Hitch movie), the image is pristine, as finely detailed as 1080p can get with less grain than many recent Hollywood blockbusters, and all without the need for intrusive Digital Noise Reduction. The cool color palette of the film may bear the characteristics of emulsions of 1959 color film stock, but is accurately conveyed, matching in every respect (save, obviously, scope) the theatrical print I saw at the Paris Theatre a few years ago.
Sonically, the 2000 5.1 mix has been presented in Dolby TrueHD; ordinarily I would gripe about the lack of an original monaural track, but the Perspecta-sound stereo elements have apparently been lost and the previous "stereo" mix for the MGM UA laserdisc was a complete disaster, and so this is as legitimate a means of listening to the film as any currently available. The mixing engineers thankfully didn't really go overboard trying to make everything noisier and artificially immersive. As a result, while there are a few flashy moments, including the film's signature crop-duster sequence, for the most part the film's soundtrack is restrained aside from Bernard Herrmann's by-turns intense and explosive score, which has better sound than the Rhino CD of the original soundtrack recording; the isolated score track from the DVD has been retained, still in Dolby Digital 5.1, but here at a higher bitrate.
Speaking of Benny Herrmann, I was listening to the FSM disc of On Dangerous Ground on the way to work today. This disc was released in 2003 as a limited edition of 3,000 copies and it still hasn't sold out, most likely because it was sourced from acetate discs from the University of California at Santa Barbara's Bernard Herrmann collection, which were the only surviving elements. The sound quality ranges from just limited to having very intrusive surface noise, and I can understand why that would be off-putting to listeners. It certainly makes the audiophile in me cringe and hope for a clean new stereo recording of the full score someday.
But even if this dream were to become a reality, I wouldn't want to give up FSM's CD. In addition to showcasing Herrmann 's skill at getting an exacting performance out of an orchestra, it also preserves Virginia Majewski's performances on the viola d'amore for Ida Lupino's character, which are quite beautiful. Herrmann recordings abounded in the 90s, but unfortunately this gem wasn't one that was prominent enough to mount such an expensive project on; hopefully one day Varèse Sarabande or Tribute or Tadlow will tackle this one…
This article by Ophelia Benson is an interesting look at how dogma can make non-believers behave suspiciously like believers. A belief system can change, but the behavior surrounding it may be the same.
Part of the problem is in the question posed by the originating post wherein the author starts out lumping all atheists into an amorphous group before correcting himself, then takes for granted that all atheists are interested in spreading their views. Before you think I'm getting defensive about atheism, I point that Ms. Benson's more incisive commentary mentions that there is, indeed, a movement amongst atheists which does include "getting the word out there." Absence of faith doesn't mean that people aren't as prone to the passions and prejudices of our species, and like all tribal primates, people of like mind do tend to create communities. If the atheists that band together and (anti) proselytize constitute the analog of a sect in religion, then so do the people that don't want to have anything to do with it, they're just not really an organized one (yet).
With the fires of my youth somewhat muted, I am left uncomfortable with the aggressive attacks that Richard Dawkins visits upon religions, not so much because I think he's wrong (I agree with him on most counts) but because I feel that his approach clouds the central issue, and it ends up being a negative — that is to say, reactionary — rather than a non-presence — the product of a skeptical reasoning — which is where I feel it firmly lands as a credo. Of course, part of the problem is that many atheists have deep-routed feelings of betrayal surrounding religion, and as a result are very hostile to it for reasons that have nothing to do with scientific method, and in many ways Dawkins' notoriety allows him to be "entry level atheism," giving you the "facts" to back up the belief system, that is to say, they work as affirmation. Which means, from an atheist perspective, that his books essentially serve the same purpose as a prayerbook, don't they…?
I must be skeptical about skepticism, or I'm just paying lip service to it.
Lest anybody be confused: I am in no way softening my stance on religion or its place in the United States today. I am a firm believer of the separation of church and state and was long before I ever would have called myself an atheist. Religion has no place in our law or public school system. I am only amused at how extremes have a tendency to resemble one another, even if they are on opposite ends of some spectrum.
I agree with Neil Gaiman and Stephen Marche about vampire oversaturation. Yes, I know I did enjoy Let the Right One In, but I'm haven't been this sick of fangs since I was bit by that dog bringing misdelivered mail to its rightful owner.