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Ultra HD : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: October 3rd, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1973

Don't Look Now - Criterion Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

The classic occult chiller that makes Venice one of the scariest places on Earth gets the 4K UHD treatment from Criterion just in time for Halloween, and though the disc isn't a dazzler, the Dolby Vision HDR transfer faithfully renders director Nicolas Roeg's atmospheric adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier story and ups its creepy quotient. Don't Look Now examines the after-effects of a child's tragic death on the marriage of her parents (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) and how a psychic's vision transforms them both. If you're a fan, you'll want to upgrade. Highly Recommended.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie mesmerize as a married couple on an extended trip to Venice following a family tragedy. While in that elegantly decaying city, they have a series of inexplicable, terrifying, and increasingly dangerous experiences. A masterpiece from Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now, adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier, is a brilliantly disturbing tale of the supernatural, as renowned for its innovative editing and haunting cinematography as for its naturalistic eroticism and its unforgettable climax and denouement—one of the great endings in horror history.

4K UHD + BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Anthony Richmond, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
  • Conversation between editor Graeme Clifford and film writer and historian Bobbie O’Steen
  • “Don't Look Now”: Looking Back, a short documentary from 2002 featuring Clifford, Richmond, and director Nicolas Roeg
  • “Don't Look Now”: Death in Venice, a 2006 interview with composer Pino Donaggio
  • Program on the writing and making of the film, featuring interviews with Richmond, actors Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, and coscreenwriter Allan Scott
  • Program on Roeg’s style, featuring interviews with filmmakers Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh
  • Q&A with Roeg from 2003 at London’s Ciné Lumière
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic David Thompson

    Cover by Fred Davis

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
PLUS: An essay by film critic David Thompson
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p HEVC/H.265
Length:
110
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
English uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Subtitles/Captions:
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Special Features:
PLUS: An essay by film critic David Thompson
Release Date:
October 3rd, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Don't ask me why, but when I was 10 years old, my parents took me to see Don't Look Now, director Nicolas Roeg's now-classic exercise in emotional and supernatural horror. And, boy, did it open my eyes! I'm sure it was the first R-rated film I'd ever seen and I'm doubly sure my parents had no clue about the film's adult content, graphic violence, and eerie presentation when we all settled into our seats to watch the creepy story unfold. The occult always fascinated my mother and she also admired Daphne du Maurier, author of the romantic mystery Rebecca and short story upon which Don't Look Now is based. I'm sure she expected Don't Look Now would deliver the same kind of elegant Hitchcockian suspense as Rebecca, but she was dead wrong, and I can only imagine how she must have squirmed and berated herself during the explicit sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, as well as the brutal and shocking climax. To say her naïve and impressionable son received an education that day is an understatement! The movie etched many indelible images into my brain and over the course of the next five decades they would occasionally - and quite vividly - haunt me.

When I watched Don't Look Now for the first time since that initial viewing back in 2015 upon its Blu-ray debut, I was more than a bit surprised that my mature perspective and jaded attitude didn't alter my pre-pubescent perception of the film one whit. The visceral reactions I felt as a child only seemed to intensify and even though I remembered the plot and a surprising amount of minor details, I found this spine-chilling paranormal tale even more unnerving, intriguing, and ultimately devastating, because now - as a husband and father - I could really relate to it. Though overshadowed for years by such iconic thrillers as Diabolique and Psycho, Roeg's brilliantly mounted, flawlessly executed motion picture easily equals them and stands as one of cinema's most artistic and captivating suspense films.

A great deal happens over the movie's circuitous course, but the story is almost simplistic. In the opening scene, Christine, the young daughter of John and Laura Baxter (Sutherland and Christie) frolics with her brother in the park outside their English country home while their parents relax indoors. The girl wears a bright red rain slicker even though it's sunny outside and when she tries to retrieve a ball she inadvertently threw into the pond, she drowns. Just before the tragedy occurs, John has a startling premonition, but can't save his daughter in time. Christine's death shatters the family and months later John and Laura retreat to Venice, where John oversees the restoration of a church and he and Laura try to put the past behind them and reconnect.

One day at lunch, the couple attracts the attention of two spinsterish sisters, one of whom is blind yet possesses what the psychics call a "second sight." She tells Laura not to be sad, because she's seen Christine sitting between them and laughing. Buoyed by this revelation, Laura begins to find peace. John, however, doesn't believe in such mumbo-jumbo and his daughter's death continues to haunt and torment him. He even sees a little figure cloaked in red occasionally skulking in the shadows and doorways of remote Venice alleys. Could it somehow be Christine? When Laura visits the sisters again, the psychic tells her John also has the gift - and curse - of second sight, but either consciously or subconsciously rejects it. She also believes a great and imminent danger stalks John while he's in Venice and advises the couple to flee the city as soon as possible. Bizarre occurrences seem to validate the medium's prophecy, but will John and Laura heed the warning?

At its core, beneath the metaphysical shadings, frightening episodes, and palpable sense of foreboding, Don't Look Now is a richly layered portrait of grief and its impact on marriage. Trapped in their own private hells, wracked with guilt, and plagued by depression, John and Laura do their best to get through each day. Bits of anger and resentment seep through cracks in their armor and an overwhelming desire to forget consumes them, yet through it all they try to hang on to and nurture the love that both binds them and rips them apart. Do they cling to Christine's memory or let her go? And how do they ease the pain and heal after such a horrific, life-altering experience?

Plot, of course, is important to any film, and the narrative twists and turns of Don't Look Now certainly grab our attention and heighten the movie's power, yet without its brilliant and innovative construction, dazzling editing, and myriad subtle touches that can only be properly digested and appreciated during repeat viewings, Don't Look Now never would be regarded with such respect and reverence. Roeg masterfully flashes forward and backward, manipulating time to create a dream-like (or nightmarish?) sense of confusion and unease. As John says early on, "Nothing is as it seems," and Roeg abides by that simple statement, employing quick yet significant cuts to startle, titillate, and tease us and expertly using sound and the macabre atmosphere of Venice's underbelly to create an aura of anxiety and dread.

Best of all, he drains his palette of the color red, only to inject jarring splashes of the vibrant, highly significant hue in key frames so it instantly attracts our gaze. Roeg, like many of the finest directors, bends the rules of filmmaking to satisfy his vision and craft a true work of art, and with Don't Look Now he fully flexes his creative muscle. The result is a fascinating and exhilarating viewing experience from start to finish and one that continues to hold us in its grasp long after the impact of the unforgettable climax has faded.

Sutherland and Christie make an odd couple, but they create fantastic chemistry, achieving an easy familiarity with each other that makes their screen marriage utterly believable. Their controversial sex scene - so raw and intimate it spawned a persistent legend they actually copulated on camera - cements their bond, so even when tensions creep into their relationship, we never doubt their love. Both actors appear disarmingly natural even under the stressful circumstances and their astute portrayals really draw us into their desperate, claustrophobic world. The rest of the cast is largely unknown, which makes them creepily credible as well.

Beautifully shot, expertly edited, superbly acted, oozing with atmosphere, and directed with boundless style and an incisive sense of purpose, Don't Look Now is a mesmerizing and haunting motion picture that's so much more than a taut supernatural thriller. Sure, it's scary as hell, but it also brims with artistry, warmth, and humanity, elements that make the movie more engrossing and powerful. In many ways, Roeg crafts a rogue film, filled with innovation and arresting images that stick in our brains long after the lights come up. Without a doubt, Don't Look Now is one of his finest works and one of the all-time great suspense films.

Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Don't Look Now arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard Criterion case. A 16-panel fold-out booklet that features an essay by film writer David Thompson, cast and crew listings, transfer notes, and a few color scene shots is tucked inside the front cover and the 2015 Blu-ray disc that contains the feature and all the supplements is tucked underneath the 4K UHD disc. Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision HDR and audio is LPCM mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with sound effects immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

Criterion has sourced a new transfer of Don't Look Now for its 4K UHD release. According to the liner notes, "Undertaken by STUDIOCANAL, at Silver Salt Restoration in London and approved by director of photography Anthony Richmond, this digital master was created from the 35 mm original camera negative and scanned in 4K resolution." The result is a very pleasing 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision HDR that bests its 1080p counterpart, but not by as wide a margin as I had expected and hoped. The image is definitely darker and richer, the colors are brighter and bolder, blacks are denser, costume fabrics and patterns are more vivid, and overall clarity is enhanced. Those are all big positives, but they come with some drawbacks. Don't Look Now has always sported a heavy grain structure and some low-lit snippets here are all but consumed by the snowy texture. The shots may faithfully honor Richmond's cinematography, but the heightened resolution makes them downright ugly. Shadow delineation occasionally suffers as well, with a bit more crush creeping into the nocturnal segments filmed in Venice's notoriously dim and dank alleyways.

The enhanced color spectrum of Dolby Vision absolutely adds visceral jolts that grab and focus attention at key moments. Fans of Don't Look Now will know immediately that I'm talking about the color red, which bursts forth with unmatched brilliance. Christine's signature red rain slicker, the red designs on the white ball she throws into the pond, the bleeding red dye on one of John's slides, John's red scarf, and of course the red coat cloaking the diminutive figure that skulks in the blackness of Venice's underbelly at night all punctuate the frame, even in tiny doses. The verdant greens of the English landscape are also gorgeously lush and some other isolated hues sparingly perk up the picture without overwhelming the movie's predominantly drab palette.

Background details and the textures of aged Venice exteriors and church interiors are more distinct, flesh tones appear natural and remain stable throughout, and sharp close-ups highlight Sutherland's bushy mustache and curly locks, Christie's silky skin, and the horrific visage that will haunt your dreams at the film's climax. (The crispness of that frightening close-up alone almost makes me want to revert to standard Blu-ray for all subsequent viewings of Don't Look Now.) Like the Blu-ray, no nicks, marks, or scratches dot the pristine source material or break the hypnotic spell Roeg painstakingly weaves.

Fans of the film will certainly want to upgrade, but they should keep their expectations in check. Don't Look Now is a murky, dense film and 4K UHD inflates those elements, possibly a bit more than some viewers might like. This is not a splashy, wow-factor presentation; it's a very faithful, warts-and-all rendering, and some of the grittiness on display contributes to the creepy, unsettling nature of this classic supernatural exercise.

For a review of the video quality of Criterion's 2015 Blu-ray, click here.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The same LPCM mono track from the 2015 Blu-ray supplies the audio for the 4K UHD presentation. Some noticeable distortion occasionally creeps into the lossless LPCM mono track, most notably when bass frequencies predominate, but otherwise the mix, which was "remastered from the 35 mm magnetic track," outputs clear, precise sound with plenty of nuance and shading. Venice is rife with aural accents, such as trickling water, footsteps clicking and echoing against concrete walkways, fluttering pigeons, and creaking wood, and all of them come across with a pleasing crispness that lends the film a marvelously creepy ambience. A wide dynamic scale provides the track with some essential breathing room and excellent fidelity and tonal depth help Pino Donaggio's haunting themes fill the room. Dialogue can be a tad problematic at times, especially if spoken in hushed or mumbled tones, but for the most part it's easy to comprehend and no hiss, pops, crackles, or other age-related imperfections could be detected. Sound is an essential aspect of this atmospheric thriller, and though this track isn't perfect, it's highly immersive and quite memorable.

Special Features

Ranking:

All the supplements are housed on Criterion's 2015 Blu-ray, which is included in this set.

  • Featurette: "Don't Look Now: Looking Back" (HD, 19 minutes) - In this absorbing 2002 piece, director Nicolas Roeg discusses the "sense of randomness" that defines the film, and how the "nothing is what it seems" premise makes the tale all the more intriguing. In addition, Roeg, editor Graeme Clifford, and cinematographer Anthony Richmond talk about the difficulties of shooting in Venice, serendipitous casting, recurring images of water and glass, and innovative editing of the controversial sex scene, which, Roeg claims, wasn't inserted for titillation. Clifford recalls how Roeg was active in the editing process, made innovative choices, and told him Don't Look Now was "an exercise in film grammar." Comments from Sutherland and Christie would have been nice, but thankfully they both share their memories and impressions in a subsequent featurette.

  • Featurette: "Death in Venice" (HD, 17 minutes) - One of my favorite film composers, Pino Donaggio, recounts his strange progression from successful Italian singer to writing motion picture scores in this enlightening 2006 featurette. Donaggio admits he never thought about composing for the movies, but the opportunity fell into his lap, and Roeg's belief, encouragement, and advice about musical stylings and tone helped him forge a successful career. Donaggio recalls how Roeg specifically wanted a non-traditional score and how his Venetian background helped him set the appropriate mood and enhance the city's scarier aspects. He also remembers how Don't Look Now paved the way for him to write music for director Brian de Palma, for whom he has composed scores for CarrieDressed to KillBlow Out, and Body Double.

  • Featurette: "Something Interesting" (HD, 30 minutes) - Interviews with Sutherland, Christie, Richmond, and co-writer Allan Scott comprise this fascinating collection of insightful reminiscences about the film. We learn two directors worked on Don't Look Now prior to Roeg, and Scott explains how he and fellow writer Chris Bryant beefed up Daphne Du Maurier's short story into a feature-length tale. Christie and Sutherland lavishly praise each other's talents - as well as those of Roeg - and Sutherland amusingly chronicles the clinical shooting of what turns out to be a highly erotic and controversial sex scene. Sutherland also recalls how he did his own stunts in the harrowing scaffolding scene and classifies Don't Look Now as a horror movie only because of the "grief, loss, and incredible sadness" that pervade the picture.

  • Featurette: "Nicolas Roeg: Enigma of Film" (HD, 14 minutes) - Directors Steven Soderbergh and Danny Boyle express their immense admiration for Roeg in this insightful tribute, recorded in 2014. Soderbergh cites Roeg for his "bravery" and how he's not bound by chronology or logic, while Boyle praises Roeg's use of the zoom lens and his enviable grasp of time in all its myriad forms on screen. Both men also relate their own films to those of Roeg, discuss how he inspired them, and point out some instances in which they copied - or should I say paid homage to - him. 

  • Graeme Clifford and Bobbie O'Steen (HD, 43 minutes) - The editor of Don't Look Now sits down with film writer and historian Bobbie O'Steen for a lengthy yet always interesting chat about the movie's composition and the fascinating, subtle choices that enhance mood, alter perception, and create an aura of mystery and unease. Clifford recalls how he became involved in the project, discusses his relationship with Roeg, outlines his editing technique, and dissects several intriguing sequences, including the lovemaking scene and climax. Clifford is quite articulate and affable and this 2014 interview ranks as one of the disc's highlights.

  • Nicolas Roeg at Ciné Lumière (HD, 48 minutes) - After a screening of Don't Look Now in 2003, Roeg sat down with film writer Paul Ryan for an interview, followed by a Q&A session with the audience. Among other things, Roeg expresses his aversion to rehearsing and storyboarding, classifies editing as a form of rewriting, attempts to explain the elements of time in his films, and talks about how he injects a sense of mystery and dread into a beautiful setting, such as Venice. He also recalls a letter he received from Du Maurier lauding the adaptation of her short story, as well as his experiences making such films as Walkabout and PerformanceThough Roeg goes off on a few too many tangents and tends to ramble a bit, his remarks are generally quite interesting and well worth one's time.

  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3 minutes) - The film's appropriately unsettling original preview certainly piques one's interest in this fascinating supernatural tale.

Final Thoughts

Don't Look Now hasn't lost its power to shock, chill, and fascinate, and all the visceral reactions it engenders are more intense in 4K UHD. As Roeg's film hurtles toward its indelible and horrific climax, I constantly ask myself, "Why am I watching this?" and tell myself "This is the last time!" Yet despite my rants, I'm forever drawn back to this hypnotic, impeccably mounted, brilliantly acted, and utterly eerie movie that reveals something new every time I see it. Criterion's new Dolby Vision HDR transfer is a subtle but very distinct upgrade from the 2015 Blu-ray that fans will appreciate if they keep their expectations in check. Highly Recommended.

Order your copy of The Criterion Collection's Don't Look Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray