MARTIN

Region 2 (UK) Edition  -  Reviewed by Matt West

Director:  George Romero

Starring:  John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini

THE FILM

I was going to star this review with a brief synopsis, but instead I refer you to these song lyrics:

Martin is a boy with problems
Martin has a family history
Martin has too many nightmares
He lives in a fantasy
There's a danger that he'll take too far
His morbid curiosity

OK, so maybe that’s cheating. But that Marc Almond / Soft Cell song pretty much sums up the film!

As one can gather from the very good trailer on disc two, Martin is a chap who looks late-teens, early twenties but insists he’s eighty-four years old. Oh and he’s also pretty sure he’s a vampire. He’s not a conventional vampire – he injects the ladies he stalks and renders them unconscious while he sips on their open veins. He also likes to roll around naked with them, but each to their own. He’s got no problem with garlic, or crucifixes, although daylight does bother him a bit. He’s either a vampire, or a student.

The film is said to have challenged the normal conventions and preconceptions of a vampire film and I’m not sure this is the case at all. It’s not particularly challenging. In fact the only challenge is sitting through it to the rather lacklustre and hurried ending.

That’s not to say it’s a bad film. Some of the set-pieces are superb and, while Romero hadn’t yet collaborated with Argento at this stage, I think the influence is already very evident. Some lovely coverage of every scene in minute detail really makes a difference to the rather point-and-click direction of Night of the Living Dead and his later films. In fact one would be hard pushed to recognise this as the work of Romero. The sequence where Martin invades a woman’s home while her husband is away is a superb fifteen minute sequence, played out extremely convincingly by the cast, but let down by some abysmal pre-recorded music. Romero has a gift for directing action, but it’s the bits in-between he’s never mastered. Dawn of the Dead has great set-pieces but the film as a whole is very patchy indeed.

I don’t mean to deliberately compare the two, but Dawn of the Dead was by far the more successful film and Martin was technically the more impressive of the two. Both were made within the same two year period. Romero’s most recent film, Land of the Dead, shows that the director has really lost his passion for the work.

THE DVD

So what about the DVD? Well Arrow have coughed up some pretty standard fayre here. One can’t expect miracles with a thirty year-old 16mm film, but they’ve certainly made it look as good as it can, albeit with a 16:9 - but seemingly mis-framed – transfer. Was this film actually made in widescreen format? The bitrate frequently maxes out and maintains an average of 8Mb/sec.

There are no subtitles on this release. Tut-tut, Arrow, not very impressive. At the very least subtitle your main feature if not the extras as well.

The audio is gloriously un-Anchor-Bay-style Dolby Digital 2.0 mono 224kbps and is more than satisfactory. The upmix to 5.1 is pitiful and a shameful inclusion on the disc. I tried it and compared it and found it very hard to distinguish any difference between the two! The upmix is at 448kbps.
The menus are animated in an exceptionally lazy and embarrassing way. Perhaps static menus would’ve been better? It looked like a Powerpoint animation!

THE EXTRAS

I actually couldn’t stop laughing when I put Disc Two in the player: more on that in a moment!

Sticking with sound we have an “exclusive” commentary with George Romero, Tom “Will do a commentary for a Dairylea slice” Savini, Director of Photography Michael Gornick and composer Donald Rubinstein. It’s a lively affair, but irritatingly provided as LPCM at 768kbps and nearly blew my speakers. It’s loud. REALLY LOUD! Someone at Arrow needs to look into this. Savini is surprisingly quiet and instead Rubinstein and Gornick seem to guide Romero through what is actually a very interesting, warm and friendly commentary.

Note that this is not the same commentary that was on the original American Anchor Bay DVD (the one with the purple, red and yellow cover. That commentary was by Romero, star John Amplas and Tom Savini.

So, why is disc two so funny?

Well because there’s nothing on it! Or at least nothing which couldn’t have been made to fit on the first disc with a bit of tweaking. When the original film print’s in the condition it is, little can be gained from a having high bitrate, so why not drop the 5.1 upmix and lob the extras on there?

We have Making Martin, which is a whacking great nine minutes in length. However, it more than gets the point and relevant information across so it’s at least a quality nine minutes.

And that’s it really – except for trailers, radio spots and a photo gallery – but they’re hardly “special” features any more and more “standard” these days. That’s genuinely all that is on disc two.

Of some note is that the “flashback” footage which is monochrome in the film is presented in colour in the trailer.

This is the second time Arrow has released Martin in the UK. The 2003 edition featured a grotty-looking twenty-four minute Romero documentary (which covered most of his early films), and various trailers and TV spots. That presentation was in 4:3 format. Comparing the two reveals that the old version is very poor indeed, with grey black levels. The new transfer is much darker - if anything, rather too dark. The new transfer crops picture information from the top and bottom of the image (see example, below).

SUMMARY

On the whole the package is a worthy purchase, however if the price could’ve been slashed by Ł3.00 and the second disc dropped it would be an even better purchase. Martin is a good, interesting film presented well with minor flaws – but certainly not Romero’s best.


 

DVD reviewed: March 2006

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