"Beware of the Blob!" One of the great cult classics, The Blob melds '50s schlock sci-fi and teen delinquency pics even as it transcends these genres with strong performances and ingenious special effects. Made outside of Hollywood by a maverick film distributor, a crew experienced in religious and educational shorts, and a collection of theatrical talent from Philadelphia and New York, The Blobd helped launch the careers of superstud Steve McQueen and composer Burt Bacharach.
The Criterion Collection presents the cult favourite The Blob in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a single-layer disc, enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Going through a lot of older titles from the company lately I’ve been stunned at how poor some of them are, remembering them to be far better or at least finding them more mediocre now. The Blob is one where I found it to be the exact opposite: it looks far better than I remember. Despite this release only being single-layer (though since the film is only 82-minutes maybe a second layer wasn’t entirely necessary) it looks great upscaled, making me believe a Blu-ray edition could be amazing if Criterion ever decided to go that route with the film.
The print is in rather incredible shape with very few marks or blemishes to be found, not bad for a film made outside of the system on a non-existent budget, though I’m sure its cult status and success lead to the film being preserved better than others of its type. You can make out film grain even though it’s been toned down for the DVD transfer, but it actually comes off looking okay. Sharpness and detail vary but overall they’re strong and it looks like the weaker moments have to do with how the film was shot; it looks as though a soft focus is used regularly, possibly to make Steve McQueen look far younger than he actually is. There’s some pixilation in places, mild ringing, and jagged edges are noticeable on the squiggly lines that appear during the opening sequence, but these issues are minimal and the transfer is otherwise its clean.
If there’s one other area I think the transfer is weak in it’s the colour presentation, which looks a little oversaturated with skin tones on the more pinkish side. Blacks are okay, but can either look a bit boosted in places or look crushed. But overall this 12 year old transfer has held up rather well and is still the best way I’ve seen the film.
While video has held up well the Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track sounds substantially worse than I remember. Its first issue is the volume level, which is far too low. This leads to having to crank the volume up but this ends up leading to its short comings becoming even more noticeable. Whenever dialogue and music is present there’s obvious distortion and noise, which comes off as a crackling sound. The lack of fidelity or any sort of power also makes matters worse. Dialogue can still be made out, again as long as you crank the volume, but it’s a fairly irritating presentation.
Criterion released this film previously on laserdisc but it only had a couple of supplements: a trailer for this film and a trailer for the 1988 remake. The 1988 remake trailer didn’t make it on here but they have added some new material.
There are two rather good audio commentaries on this disc. The first has producer Jack H. Harris and film historian Bruce Eder. The dominant member of the track is unfortunately Harris. Like almost all Criterion tracks they have been recorded separately and then edited together. Harris covers the history of the production and how it came to life, starting with his desire to make a horror film after seeing The Thing to the actual funding of it and his surprise of Paramount actually picking it up. Sometimes I found he droned on but it was still an informative bit.
Bruce Eder, whose contributions I always welcome to commentaries, only appears on the first track a few times, which I found very disappointing. It sounds as though he had listened to the other recordings first, because he is referring to the other commentary participants all throughout. For the most part he offers his own insight into the film but not much else, which I found fairly disappointing.
The second track features the director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., or “Shorty” as he says he is nicknamed and also features actor Robert Fields, who plays Tony in the film. Yeaworth is the dominant one in the track and he offers some fairly interesting points as well (some of it repetitive from the other track) like the story how they came up with the title, which they wanted to sound just corny enough in the hopes comics or the press would make fun of it and end up unwittingly promoting it. I also found it interesting that the production company made religious films before this and this was the first endeavor in main stream films. Fields appears here and there and he actually spends his time commenting on working with Steve McQueen. Everyone else also mentions McQueen (either how great he was or what a pain he was, so I guess it depends on how you were dealing with him) but Fields focuses more on him, only once in a while commenting on himself, like his original distaste for the film.
A complaint I usually had with Criterion’s group commentaries, specifically the one they did for their DVD of Sid & Nancy, was that there were too many people for the track and that I was sure good stuff got lost during the editing. Criterion was smart enough to spread all these comments over two commentary tracks so I feel we get most of the information. Each track, while not great, offers a lot of info and never has a dead spot.
Another extra is a section called "BLOB-abilia!" This section is a collection of stills showing some Blob collectibles. There are production photos, plus photos of the sets and models used for sequences involving the blob moving about. There is even a photo of collector Wes Shank with the blob model (which is the very last one). There are even posters, some original and a few for re-releases, either domestic or over-seas (I thought the one from Germany with a pumped up Steve McQueen was good for a laugh).
The other extras are basically standards. You get a rather campy theatrical trailer, which manages not to give away the whole film and then you get an insert featuring an essay by Bruce Kawin going over the details of the film in explicit detail, though you can't help but wonder if he's looking too deeply into. Judging from the commentary, the filmmakers weren't really trying to say much except teens are good and important as well as giving the audience a good scare.
Criterion has also stuck in a movie poster. I was hoping it would be a recreation of the original poster but it's actually just a blown up image of Criterion's cover art for this disc. I like the cover but I think it would have been better if it was a reprint of an original poster, which has been used as the insert’s cover art.
There's still some things I would have liked to see on the disc, though, which is what mostly left me disappointed about this disc. There were obviously some scenes cut out (like an extended sequence of the doctor being devoured) and an inclusion, other than photos, would have been nice. As well, there wasn't really anything on this disc about the Blob song by Burt Bacharach. I'll be honest, I get a kick out of this song and I was hoping for something more on it, but at best it’s only mentioned a few times in the commentary tracks.
But having said that both commentaries are great and offer a great deal of information about the film’s production. I wish we got more about other areas of the film (like that catchy song) and maybe more about its place in film history, a void Eder only fills briefly in his commentary, but what we do get is worth going through.
The audio is awful and the supplements maybe leave a little to be desired but the video presentation is great, holding up well all these years later. In this regard it’s still the best presentation of the film I know of. I’m not sure how the rights issues are and whether it’s possible Criterion might be able to revisit the film on Blu-ray, but for those looking into picking the film up this release is still a good one.