Artificial Eye’s New UK Chaplin Blu-rays Reviewed



  • Artificial Eye, current UK licensees of his feature films, have released them in new editions
  • Here’s the lowdown on the latest discs – the third set in little over a decade

Charlie Chaplin Collection (Artificial Eye) UK DVD and Blu-ray box set ad

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, but Limelight has a second DVD to accommodate the extras.

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 (A Woman of Paris and Modern Times).

As expected, these discs replicate the transfers and, for the most part, the extras of the previous, incomplete 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 clips compilation (2009, 34:09) , 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.

The Chaplin Revue (1959) UK Blu-ray (Artificial Eye)

It’s impossible to discuss 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 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.

The Circus (1928) UK Blu-ray (Artificial Eye)


16 Comments

  1. Benedict Chaplin
    August 31, 20:53 Reply
    I watched the bluray version of the kid the other day uploaded to you tube I assume by artificial eye as an interest raiser and its a version id never sen before certainly containing more replaced scenes than my mk 2 version.
    • Brent Reid
      August 31, 23:05 Reply
      Hi Benedict, You almost certainly watched a public domain upload of the 'original' version of the kid, which usually runs for 65–70 mins. The AE BD is of Charlie's 1971-edited, 53-min version which is the only one the Chaplin kids allow out now.
  2. gregoire
    February 05, 18:45 Reply
    Hi there Writing from France. MK2 blurays are desperatly horrible. They look like DVD quality. Do you recommend the Artificial eye edition ? Thank you
    • Brent Reid
      February 08, 17:01 Reply
      I don't agree, re the mk2 Blu-rays' quality. All official 1918–1957 Chaplin Blu-rays everywhere, except for some of the US Criterions, use the exact same masters. Yes, I recommend the Artificial Eye editions.
  3. Stephen
    March 21, 03:31 Reply
    This might be a silly question, but with the Artificial Eye set, have the films been restored to as good a quality as the MK2/Warner set edition from 2003? I intend on purchasing the Blu-Ray version of the set and want to know if it is worth it. Thank you!
    • Brent Reid
      March 21, 17:28 Reply
      It's not a silly question <em>per se</em>, but if you read the <em>Chaplin Collectors Guides</em>, especially <em>Part 3</em>, you'd see it's already been answered! To put it simply: they're from the same masters, though some of the First National shorts have been improved even further. If I owned no Chaplin discs at all, for definite the first thing I'd pick up would be the AE Blu-ray set, along with the 1925 <em>Gold Rush</em> on DVD or Criterion's Blu-ray.
  4. Frank B.
    June 27, 12:43 Reply
    I watched AE's Blu-ray version of A KING IN NEW YORK last night and was moved to tears: Obviously an excellent HD transfer from the original camera negative, the image was distorted throughout the film by motion artifacts like stuttering and smearing during camera pans (which have nothing to do with 24p BD player output!) and appears to be the only disc affected in this otherwise beautiful collection. I can only hope there'll be a fix for this particular issue, it really made watching this excellent film almost unbearable.
  5. Joe F.
    March 18, 00:05 Reply
    Hi- Love your website! What are the best Chaplin Mk2 UK blu-rays and have they been remastered since their original release? Are they all from the same masters? For example, the MK2 "City Lights" seems to have better contrast than the newer Criterion, in my opinion. But they suffer slightly from the slight ghosting, which Criterion does not have. Also, I noticed in the boxing scene, the MK2 editions have (smartly) removed the wire on Chaplin when he flies across the ring, which I think is great. Do the other blu-ray versions have the wire removed also?
    • Brent Reid
      March 20, 12:16 Reply
      Hi Joe, Part 8 of the Chaplin Collector’s Guide answers your questions. There are two different transfers of City Lights, with Criterion’s being superior and recently restored, but I can’t remember offhand whether the wires are intact or not!
  6. Joe F.
    March 19, 19:24 Reply
    Hi John, thanks so much for getting back. I checked part 8, thanks, but I'm still a little confused and have another question: which do you feel is the best newer Mk2 transfer of City Lights (blu-ray) that is out there? Just trying to find the best update of that one. Really appreciate your help! Joe
    • Brent Reid
      March 19, 20:01 Reply
      Well, I dunno who "John" is, but I'll answer until he shows up! The 'best' transfer of City Lights is the recent restoration, which has so far only been released in Italy (DVD), and the US and France (BD and DVD), but the latter has forced French subs. All other BDs are very good but have the same older transfer. See here: https://caps-a-holic.com/c_list.php?c=2944. Bottom line: get the Criterion if you can play it; if not, get a region-free set-up!
  7. Joe F.
    March 19, 21:11 Reply
    Sorry Brent, I wrote John by mistake. Thanks very much. I have the Criterion, but think I prefer the Mk2 version because I feel like there is better contrast. So I’m just trying to find the best older MK2 transfer that is out. Or the most recent updated transfer of the MK2 transfer. If that makes sense.
    • Brent Reid
      March 20, 12:13 Reply
      That's ok: I've been called a lot worse! The transfers and audio options have different merits and I like alternating between them. Though the restored version with original mono audio is best overall and is the default, I also like watching the older transfer with the 5.1 surround remix and the Image DVD with Carl Davis's re-recorded score. There is no "recent updated transfer" of the older version: all discs, however old or wherever they're from, carry the same one. Just get one that gives you the 5.1 option, if you want it, and avoid the flawed US mk2/warner DVDs.
  8. Joe F.
    March 20, 19:13 Reply
    Thanks very much for your help! Really appreciate it, Brent/John- (Just kidding)! One other question: What do you feel is the best Bluray of The Circus? The Mk2 is okay and the Image one is okay too, but do you feel there is a better, sharper one?
    • Brent Reid
      March 20, 20:08 Reply
      There is no Circus BD from Image, only the still-very good DVD. Every BD currently has exactly the same transfer; here are two: https://caps-a-holic.com/c.php?d1=10139&d2=10138&c=4070. You're making this more complicated than it needs to be: nearly every official BD and DVD worldwide is listed in Parts 7 and 8, and if there are any transfer differences at all, they've been noted. Criterion will doubtless arrange for a new (second) transfer before they release the film, but you're likely to still prefer the results over the current one, as per City Lights. Hope that helps!

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