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The Wicker Man: The Final Cut (40th Anniversary) [UK] Blu-ray Review

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The Film

[Rating:4.5/5]

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In this 1973 British horror film from director Robin Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer, devout Christian Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) goes to a remote Scottish Isle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl who vanished mysteriously. Upon his arrival, he finds a close-knit rural community resistant to his investigation and mocking of his beliefs. No one admits to ever knowing the girl he is looking for. Furthermore, the islanders are given to pagan rites and rituals and sexual orgies. Their rites only increase heading into the upcoming May Day festival, leading Sergeant Howie to believe that the girl he is searching for may have been used as a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The search becomes ever more intense, as do the preparations for the festivities, and Howie’s own life may be in danger as well.

With its slow-moving story and lack of any real gore or supernatural phenomenon, The Wicker Man may seem a strange sort of horror film by the standards of today’s viewers. It are these things, however, that make the film so intense and long-lasting. It is, like Kubrick’s The Shining, more a horror of human making than it is of anything supernatural. We realize this even more once we get to the shocking finale that gives the film its name.

The atmosphere of The Wicker Man grows slowly more intense from the beginning top the end, courtesy of Robin Hardy well mannered direction and the cinematography of Harry Waxman. Hardy uses both the strange mannerisms and rituals of the islanders to his advantage, keeping us off-kilter while Waxman sets a visual tone from start to finish that grows ever more frenzied. First its all long, wide shots, then they increasingly become more and more seductive, shaky, and close-up. The island setting helps out tremendously here as well, giving a feeling of isolation, loneliness, and despair.

The Wicker Man is one of those films you need to watch a few times through to have it really sink in, and The Final Cut finally offered up here thanks to the efforts of StudioCanal and Robin Hardy, makes the film even more cohesive in its religious overtones. This is a horror/drama of the finest caliber like they don’t make anymore.

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

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A worldwide search was launched by StudioCanal and Robin Hardy, including a public appeal to fans, as originally reported here on TheaterByte, in order to find film elements that would allow for a complete restoration of The Wicker Man to the full-lengt,  “long version” or “director’s cut” of the film. Finally, 35mm film elements at Harvard Film Archives were found, scanned at 4K, and used to create the first ever full-digital restoration of the film. Known as “The Final Cut” it restores the film to the order and length originally intended by filmmaker Robin Hardy. That being said, this AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement to Blu-ray of The Wicker Man is a brilliant effort on the part of StudioCanal given the provenance of the source of some of the sequences. Those elements taken from the 35mm film elements from the Harvard Film Archives distinctly stand out with a rough appearance, poor contrast and color correction issues. Most of the film, however, looks stunningly clear, crisp, and film-like, with spot on flesh tones and lots of strong textures, and great shadow nuance.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

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The original soundtrack is provided in LPCM 2.0 Mono (48kHz/24-bit) for each version of the film. The audio provides clear dialogue with just the slightest hint of clipping. It’s a little boxy and one can definitely hear some crackle and hiss during the songs, but apart from that it works.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

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StudioCanal has packed this 40th Anniversary release with three versions of the film, the soundtrack, and featurettes and interviews worth sitting through. It makes it worth of the “anniversary” moniker.

The supplements:

Disc 1:

  • The Final Cut
  • Burnt Offering: The Cult of The Wicker Man (1.78:1; SD/PAL; 00:48:19)
  • Worshiping The Wicker Man (1.78:1; 1080i/50; 00:22:37)
  • The Music of The Wicker Man (1.78:1; 1080i/50; 00:15:22)
  • Interview with Robin Hardy (1.78:1; 1080i/50; 00:16:18)
  • Interview with Christopher Lee & Robin Hardy (1979) (1.33:1; SD/PAL; 00:24:50)
  • Restoration Comparison (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:01:53)
  • Trailers (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:01:28)

Disc 2:

  • UK Theatrical Cut
  • Director’s Cut
  • Making Of Audio Commentary (Video)

Disc 3:

  • Soundtrack

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4.5/5]

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The Wicker Man is the kind of horror that gets into your head. Purely psychological, without the gore, supernatural gimmickry, and paper thin plot, this film is long lasting and arguably more disturbing than most other so-called horror films. StudioCanal give it a superb 4K restoration for Blu-ray that horror fans and film aficionados are sure to be pleased with, despite some of the rough edges in the Final Cut.

Additional Screen Captures

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