A Tale of Two Transfers: Spartacus vs Psycho

Universal Pictures NZ is soon to release on Blu-ray 50th anniversary editions of two of the studio’s genre greats: Psycho and Spartacus.

Alfred Hitchcock’s groundbreaking serial killer classic initially will be sold through only JB Hi-Fi stores, from September 1, but will widen to other retailers from December 1.

The Gladiator of its era, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, is being dusted off for HD on October 6.

It’s the uncut, three-hour, 1991 restoration but the news apparently isn’t all good: in the US, critics have praised the Blu-ray for improving on the 2006 HD-DVD release, being cleaner, sharper and boasting better colour saturation, but complained of Universal trying to digitally scrub up an old master rather than commission a new transfer.

“Digital manipulation is evident with some loss of high frequency details,” The Digital Bits’ Barrie Maxwell observed. “Nothing but a proper new transfer is acceptable.”

And on Home Theater Forum, archivist Robert Harris pans not only Spartacus’ treatment but also that of 20th Century Fox’s The Longest Day and the just-released Patton.

Happily, Psycho appears to have fared much better, with Blu-ray.com awarding the transfer four out of five stars, describing it as “strong” with good fine-object detail, and pleasing clarity and contrast levels.

“What impresses the most, however, is the colour-scheme; the deep blacks, variety of grays and gentle whites look superb. This being said, there are a couple of minor issues that could have been addressed.

“For example, mild edge-enhancement occasionally pops up, and viewers with larger than 50-inch screens will likely notice it.

“Additionally, there are traces of minor noise corrections, which sensitive viewers will most likely notice as well. I also spotted a few tiny flecks popping up here and there.”

Home Cinema Choice had no such misgivings and dubbed the transfer “spectacular” and “beautifully nuanced”.

Also highly recommended are the extras, which are all SD but include a 95-minute documentary and a commentary by Stephen Rebello, who wrote the book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.

Meanwhile, for more on Universal’s HD mastering strategy, see this Digital Bits insight.

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