The Third Man (StudioCanal Collection) Blu-ray Review

It appears that you can’t keep a good black-market opportunist like Harry Lime down, at least on Blu-ray.

Two years ago when the Criterion company entered the Blu-ray market, one of the first titles released was Carol Reed’s 1949 masterpiece The Third Man. As one would expect from the company, the results were pretty damn spectacular in all departments. The audio and video presentations were excellent (given the film’s age and the shape of the print) and the supplemental material was vast and informative. Despite being released in other formats time and again, this was the mandatory ownership for Third Man fans.

Unfortunately, another thing that one can expect from Criterion is having a title go out of print pretty quickly, which is exactly what happened to The Third Man. Losing the distribution rights after only a year has made the title as scarce and wanted by collectors as Harry Lime was by the Viennese authorities. Despite its scarcity, you can still nab a copy online fairly easy from the likes of eBay. The rub? You better be willing to shell out up to $60-80 (or more) for it.

An economical alternative to paying premium prices has made itself known in the form of a new “StudioCanal Collection” Blu-ray edition from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. People may be having a tough time deciding on which edition to choose with the StudioCanal version including its own exclusive supplements. While I refer you to my 2008 Blu-ray review of The Third Man: Criterion Collection for my thoughts on the movie itself, the following comparisons should hopefully help you decide on how to get Harry Lime into your Blu-ray life.

High-Def Presentation

In comparison to the Criterion edition, the Lionsgate/StudioCanal edition is a pretty big step backward in terms of picture and sound quality (both are 1080p/AVC encodes, aspect ratio 1.33:1). The Criterion sports a transfer that has strong black levels, sharp picture details, a fine layer of film grain throughout and solid contrast levels. Lionsgate’s release suffers from a reduced level of contrast that makes the film look a bit dim, rendering many of the film’s dark and shadowy locations a murky mess. And thanks to some heaping amounts of Digital Noise Reduction, a fair amount of the film’s grain has been scrubbed away along with picture detail. As if those weren’t enough to make one opt for the pricier Criterion disc, the print used on the Lionsgate/StudioCanal appears to have even more print damage.

Faring not much better is the 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio Monaural sound. Fortunately, StudioCanal did not see fit to give the sixty-year old film a 5.1 remix. But the DTS HD Master Audio track does the film’s mono audio source no great favors. Whereas the Criterion’s 1.0 LPCM audio did a solid job conveying the dialogue, music and sound effects, the StudioCanal version’s audio is shrill, somewhat flat and often tinny. It’s clear enough for a Netflix rental, but not to own. Speaking of sound, is it really necessary for the StudioCanal main menu music to be so damn loud? It’s not even the music from the film!

Beyond the Feature

While the Criterion edition wins (yet again) with its vast amount of supplements, the StudioCanal edition does have a couple of exclusive extras that are worthwhile. The only extras that appear on both the Criterion and Lionsgate/StudioCanal editions are the 1951 radio broadcast “A Ticket to Tangiers“, the American trailer and an Alternate Opening featuring Joseph Cotten’s narration.

This edition’s exclusive supplements include:

Audio Commentary with Guy Hamilton, Simon Callow and Angela Allen – A strong commentary track by the assistant director of The Third Man (who would go on to helm several James Bond classics), Welles’ biographer and the film’s 2nd Unit Script Supervisor. It’s fascinating stuff worthy of inclusion on the Criterion edition.

Interactive Tour of Vienna – Fourteen short segments bring viewers to various parts of Vienna, where Dr. Brigitte Timmerman provides information on the location, what part it played in the film as well as a comparison of the location then and now. The segments are presented in very pleasing 1080i High Definition.

Two Theatrical Trailers – “He’ll put you in a dither with his Zither!”. Enough said.

Guardian National Film Theater Audio Interviews with Joseph Cotten and Graham Greene – I don’t recall seeing this extra on the Criterion. Whether it was or not, it is well worth a listen.

Interview and Zither Performance by Cornelia Mayer – If you’re into the Zither, and haven’t been put in a dither by the two trailers, check out this brief performance and interview.

I guess we should consider ourselves very lucky to have any version of The Third Man available to us in high definition, let alone backed by decent supplemental materials. But if you are fortunate enough to be able to choose between the Lionsgate/StudioCanal and Criterion Blu-ray editions, definitely go for the latter. It’s worth every penny. If you are budgeting your Blu-ray spending and want a copy of the film no matter what, then pick up the Lionsgate/StudioCanal disc. Just keep in mind that the presentation of the film is not the best it can be (which is putting it mildly).

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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