Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Fox Cinema Archives' manufactured-on-demand DVD-R of The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), released outside the U.S. and better known simply as Sodom and Gomorrah, is an abomination.
The label, as cinephiles well know, is maddeningly inconsistent. You'd think there would be some concern on their part in not wanting to be known as a fourth-rate enterprise releasing junk at premium prices, but as the loud complaints of consumers has so far fallen on deaf ears they just don't seem to care. Some of Fox's mostly pre-widescreen era titles look stupendously good though not always, and even some of their widescreen movies are properly transferred. But, for movie fans, it's been a frustrating crapshoot, and this ambitious Euro-Biblical epic comes up snake eyes.
Rather than create a new high-definition transfer, one that could be utilized not only for a marginal MOD release such as this but also for free and cable television release, home video (including Blu-ray), and digital download in the U.S. and other markets in which Fox holds rights, instead they've fallen back on a transfer at least 20 years old, perhaps significantly older. Its greatest sin is that it pans-and-scans the film, shot for 1.85:1 widescreen but apparently shot "hard-matte," leaving panning-and-scanning as the only option to fit the image onto 4:3 television monitors.
What's that you say? That nobody watches movies or anything else on old cathode-ray tube sets any more than Nintendo releases new games in 8-bit NES systems?
Some would argue better to have Sodom and Gomorrah in this bastardized release than not at all but I say, "Not at all." This release does the film no favors. It's ruinous to Robert Aldrich's direction, Alfio Contini's cinematography and in splicing actors' faces off the viewable image seriously damages the performances of the film's fine cast: Stewart Granger, Anouk Aimée, Pier Angeli, Stanley Baker among them. The work of emerging filmmaker Sergio Leone, one of the film's second unit directors, can no longer be fully appreciated, nor production designer Ken Adams's sets, nor title designer Maurice Binder's prologue, which is partly squeezed with a strange white border caging in that entire sequence.
Fox's home video division really needs to rethink its marketing strategy. Another bit of conventional wisdom, probably true, is that the bean-counters at Fox will see only that a title like Sodom and Gomorrah doesn't sell and will be loathe to try releasing it again, and especially not on Blu-ray where it really belongs. They'll look only at the sales figures, not the obvious-to-all-but-them reasons why titles like this are so thoroughly rejected by consumers, film fans who for their $19.98 expect a release compatible with 2014 home video technologies, not those of 1985.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.