Artificial Eye’s New UK Chaplin Blu-rays Reviewed
- Artificial Eye, the current UK licensees of Charlie Chaplin’s feature films, have released them in new editions
- Here’s the lowdown on their 11 discs – the third set in little over a decade
The rights to manufacture and distribute home video and theatrical versions of Chaplin’s family-controlled 1918–1957 output change hands every few years. In the UK it’s now Artificial Eye’s turn, as reported earlier. Though I’m focusing on the Blu-rays, each film has also been released on DVD with identical contents.
First out of the gate, from August 2015 onwards, were The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940). Later on Artificial Eye’s release slate were A Woman of Paris (1923); Limelight (1952); A King in New York (1957); Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and, most exciting of all, The Chaplin Revue (1959), which marked its first appearance in HD anywhere. The remaining five First National shorts also appear in HD, though three of them are split off onto two other discs in the collection.
As expected, these discs replicate the transfers and, for the most part, the extras of the previous round of Chaplin releases from Park Circus, then-UK rights holders. Almost all said extras were originally produced for 2003’s definitive mk2/Warner set. However, there are some significant differences to the Park Circus issues. For starters, AE committed to releasing all of them in HD and as a boxed collection; PC managed only the latter, for their DVDs. AE’s features themselves are all transferred at higher bitrates than those on the PC Blu-rays. As well as providing a minutely discernible uptick in video quality, they’ve eliminated mastering errors inherent in some of the previous editions. Lastly, the most obvious difference is that all of the new Blu-rays are on single discs. The seven Blu-rays PC got around to releasing were 2-disc affairs: each vanilla (extras free) disc was paired with its equivalent DVD, containing the extras.
There is a happy anomaly unique to these discs that’s very unlikely ever to be repeated elsewhere: A King in New York is the original, non-‘Daddy’ version! Presumably the wrong master was used by mistake, so it runs at 109:57, as opposed to Daddy’s later-preferred 104:35 cut. The last time the longer version appeared on any disc, let alone in HD, was back in 2000.
The completist Chaplin collector might also like to know that the AEs contain a couple of unique extras. The Gold Rush features the Chaplin ABC (2009, 34:09) clips compilation, a frenetic, ingenious mashup up of some of these films’ finest moments. They’re set to Chaplin’s music and are arranged, via intertitles, into alphabetical themes: A is for Animal, B is for Bed, C is for Clown, etc. It’s all highly entertaining and clearly a lot of time went into its making. Until now it’s only appeared on a handful of German Chaplin discs, which is a shame. Meanwhile, Modern Times includes a 2003 Cannes Festival trailer (2:17), produced to celebrate it being chosen as that year’s closing film. Incidentally, you can see some rare footage of Chaplin accepting an award at the 1971 Cannes Festival, here.
It’s impossible to review these discs properly without placing them in the context of Chaplin’s much reissued back catalogue: they are, after all the third new set of his features in little over a decade and very similar to what’s gone before. However, the bottom line is: are these worth buying? Absolutely. If you’ve collected the previous Blu-rays get ’em on eBay quickly and clear your shelf space for these much-improved versions. That comes with the caveat that the one major omission from AE’s discs is the restored ‘original’ 1925 version of The Gold Rush. Here you only get the shorter (and vastly inferior) ‘Daddy’ version, Chaplin’s narrated, scored and recut 1942 reissue. Sadly the only way to get the original in HD is still the region A-locked US Criterion Blu-ray.
DVD buyers: if you have the previous Park Circus box set, there’s little reason to worry. AE’s set, though perfectly creditable, offers very little that’s new and in some ways still falls short of the aforementioned mk2/Warner set. If you don’t own either of those, AE’s DVDs are a great place for you to finally jump in and find out just why ol’ Charlie is so often lauded as one of the finest filmmakers of all time. If you’re really only interested in one or two of these films, by all means get them individually. Otherwise, I’d suggest springing for AE’s The Charlie Chaplin Collection 11-disc box set, released in December 2015, and pick them all in one fell swoop. The perfect Christmas present at any time of year!
For a detailed breakdown of the full specs of Artificial Eye’s new Chaplin releases and to compare them to any previous editions, see the excellent DVDCompare site. You really should also check out the (ahem) indispensable Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide.