Phenomena appears in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. The Dolby Vision presentation became fairly appealing.
Sharpness usually looked good. Some interiors could feel a bit soft, but the slightly ill-defined moments didn’t seem too off, so the film mostly felt accurate.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. With a nice layer of grain, noise reduction didn’t appear to turn into a problem, and print flaws remained absent.
Colors opted for a natural palette and mostly seemed strong. For the most part, the tones looked well-rendered, and the disc’s HDR added a bit of punch to the hues.
Blacks seemed dark and deep, while shadows largely appeared smooth. Some low-light shots could come across as a tad dense, but those failed to become an issue.
HDR delivered extra power to whites and contrast. Honestly, this was a better image than I expected for an Italian horror flick from the mid-1980s.
The “Italian version” of the film came with two separate DTS-HD MA 5.1 mixes. One offers solely Italian dialogue, while the other provides a mix of English and Italian.
Given that Phenomena comes from an Italian crew and screened for Italian audiences, one might assume that the Italian soundtrack would become the way to go. However, the actors here delivered their lines in English, so that felt like the most appropriate mix.
Why does the 4K include an English/Italian hybrid? Because only Italian audio exists for scenes exclusive to the Italian cut. This means the dual-language version mainly brings us English dialogue with only a few minutes of Italian.
The mix favored music and spread the score/songs across the five channels in a somewhat clumsy manner. This meant the music spread around the room in a way that lacked great separation.
Effects also popped in an awkward manner that made them a bit distracting. In the end, the soundfield felt clumsily integrated.
Audio quality showed its age, with music that tended to sound somewhat harsh and trebly. The score and songs didn’t demonstrate much low-end and often came across as oddly rough – especially the pop/rock tunes we got.
Effects came with similar issues, as they tended to seem somewhat shrill. Distortion didn’t become a serious concern, but these elements seemed rougher than anticipated.
Dialogue also became a problem, as speech demonstrated bouts of edginess and never felt especially natural. Even for its era, the 5.1 audio seemed subpar.
Three editions of Phenomena appear here. On Disc One, we get the original Italian version (1:55:14), while Disc Two provides both an International Cut (1:50:03) and Creepers (1:23:05), the retitled US release.
How do these differ? We view the 115-minute Italian cut as the standard, and the “International” version simply delivers minor edits. It basically trims insubstantial bits here and there, so it remains largely similar to the Italian rendition. Oddly, a lot of the cuts come from only a few frames here and there.
With a much shorter running time, obviously Creepers provides substantial differences from the other two. Given that it loses more than 32 minutes from the Italian version, one can expect wholesale omissions.
Given that I find the 115-minute cut to seem slow and tedious, Creepers theoretically could work better for me. Nonetheless, it so drastically alters the director’s original vision that I can’t endorse it.
Two audio commentaries appear, and the first comes from film historian Troy Howarth alongside the 115-minute Italian version. He provides a running, screen-specific look at story and characters, the work of writer/director Dario Argento, other cast and crew, music, production notes and his view of the film.
A veteran of the format, Howarth delivers a good chat. While I might like a little more about the actual shoot, he still covers a lot of useful topics, and I appreciate the fact he tells us what he doesn’t like about the film since so many of these tracks reflect nothing but praise.
To accompany the “International Version”, we get a commentary from film historians Derek Botelho and David Del Valle. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific view of Argento’s work, cast and crew, various production domains, genre topics and their thoughts about the film.
Expect a decent but not enthralling commentary here. Botelho and Del Valle touch on a reasonable number of subjects and offer some worthwhile notes, but they don’t give us a substantial expansion of Howarth’s track, so this one can feel a bit redundant.
One contrast: while Howarth praises the performance from Donald Pleasence, Botelho and Del Valle seem much less positive about his work.
Also note that Del Valle confidently claims the creators of Poltergeist with theft, as a scene in Phenomena’s third act resembles one from the other film. However, since Poltergeist shot three years before Phenomena, Del Valle gets it backward.
On Disc One, a 2017 documentary entitled Of Flies and Maggots spans two hours, 13 seconds. It brings notes from writer/director Dario Argento, writer Franco Ferrini, executive producer Angelo Iacono, special optical effects designer Luigi Cozzi, cinematographer Romano Albani, special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, makeup artist Pierantonio Mecacci, underwater camera operator Gianlorenzo Battaglia, assistant director Michele Soavi, composers Claudio Simonetti and Simon Boswell. and actors Daria Nicolodi, Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta, and Fiorenza Tessari.
“Flies” looks at the project’s roots and development, research, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, photography, various effects, makeup and costumes, the use of insects and animals on the shoot, and music.
With two hours at its disposal, “Flies” receives plenty of room to explore the production, and it does so well. We get a nice view of the film’s creation via this detailed program.
A music video for the song “Jennifer” by Claudio Simonetti comes next. The tune itself feels awfully reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme and the footage looks terrible, but the inclusion of unique footage of Jennifer Connelly makes it intriguing.
Disc One ends with “Promotional Materials”. This domain includes two trailers - one Italian, one international and a Japanese pressbook. The latter covers 13 screens and becomes a cool addition even if I can’t read the Japanese text.
As we shift to Disc Two, The Three Sarcophagi provides a 31-minute, two-second “visual essay”. Arrow producer Michael Mackenzie becomes the sole participant here.
Mackenzie compares the various cuts of the film and also gives us info about the English/Italian “hybrid mix” that accompanies the 115-minute Italian version. He gives us good insights about these issues, especially when we see direct contrasts between the different iterations.
Alongside this disc’s “International Version”, we find an Alternate 2.0 Mix. As described here, it “features a slightly different mix compared to the default presentation of the International version, consisting of unique music cues, more prominent foley and extended effects”.
Will most viewers care about that? Probably not, but diehard Phenomena buffs may enjoy it.
Finally, Disc Two’s “Promotional Materials” concludes the set. It includes a US trailer and two US radio spots.
Because it presents the first lead role for Jennifer Connelly and it comes from a famous director, Phenomena boasts some historical value. Unfortunately, the end product gives us a silly and barely coherent mix of genres that never works. The 4K UHD comes with generally positive picture and a nice collection of bonus materials, but audio seems iffy. Fans will enjoy this solid package, but I admit the movie leaves me cold.