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Monday, 19 November 2012

When Reviews Go Bad: Opinions, Commentary And Getting Things Wrong!

Hello Everyone.

It's been a while since I last posted, and for that, I apologise. However, my usual readers will know that this is par-for-the-course with me, I'm afraid. Life just gets too crazy at times, for me to be able to blog on a regular basis.

Anyway, today's post is about an issue that has recently occurred, over an Amazon Review I posted, or rather, a cheeky, and ever-so-slightly naughty 1-Star Amazon Review, for an item that isn't out yet.

I'm sure most of my readers are aware of the behemoth that is Amazon. Like Google, it's now part of the international psyche of the would in which we all live. Likewise, those of you who use Amazon even vaguely regularly, know about the Amazon Review System, whereby you can rate an item and review it. Many people review their purchases, but I'm sure that there are just as many who don't. Anyway, that's by-the-by.

As you know, I've written a few recent blog-entries about a UK company called Arrow. Now, Arrow is a major UK DVD and Blu-Ray film company. They release hundreds of titles each year, and - for the most part - I like their product. I don't have a problem with Arrow, the whole company. I have, however, had a problem with a small division within Arrow, also called "Arrow", who release the cult horror and exploitation films, in their distinctive white Amaray cases and sleeves. For those who don't know who I mean, their products look like this. For the sake of clarity, all future references to "Arrow" in this article, are solely to the cult horror and exploitation label, and not to any other part of the same company.

About three months ago, Arrow announed they were going to release ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS (1979, Lucio Fulci). The film is also known as ZOMBI, and ZOMBIE 2, depending in which country you happen to reside. Anyone who follows the world of cult horror and exploitation films will be aware that Blue Underground released this same film on Blu-Ray, in a spankingly gorgeous edition, in October 2011. So when Arrow announced that they were going to do a UK release, also on Blu-Ray, it was met with trepidation by some people. The Arrow Fanboys came out on Amazon UK, and posted a few 5-Star reviews, praising the as-yet-unreleased Blu-Ray to the high-heavens. As they always do. Me being the deviant little git I sometimes can be, decided to post a 1-Star review. My review can be read here.

Now, you will see that following my "review", there are about 67 comments. My review, was really me having a bit of a swipe at Arrow, because I was genuinely skeptical that they would not pull-off a decent release. I mean, the Blue Underground release was pretty-much perfect. Unless you watched their 2-Disc Special Edition Blu-Ray on a cinema-sized screen, then the image and sound were, in my view, almost perfect. A few people did claim that some parts of Auretta Gay's face looked "waxy", and some scenes had an overly-grainy, slightly processed look - whatever the hell that means - but I personally felt these were just nit-pickers. I really couldn't see how Arrow - a company that I feel doesn't exactly have the greatest of track-records - best this. Could they? Would they? Well, if you look back through my posts, you will see that I've been very critical of their past problems.

The fact that when their Blu-Ray announcement was shortly followed with an Amazon UK pre-release listing, including the artwork that they planned to use on the Blu-Ray Steelbook of this infamous horror classic (as shown here), meant that my review began to seem a little bit vitriolic.

In my view, the artwork looks like a six-year-old had been given some crayons, and asked to illustrate the film's themes. This comment raised many laughs both on Amazon UK and on another internet forum I post on. Some even claimed that my comment was an insult to six-year-olds, as they probably would have done an even better job, than what was being shown as the final artwork from Arrow. (I couldn't help but agree with them!)

The artwork cemented my opinion. I really couldn't see how Arrow would get anywhere near as good a release as Blue Underground's edition. In fact, I was actually suspecting that Arrow would simply port-over all or most of the content from BU's edition, and then add-in their own artwork and brochure, before sticking-on an exhorbitant price-tag, like Arrow usually do. (£29-99 for a two-disc Blu-Ray Steelbook?! What the hell!)

Well, over the past month or so, there's been a lot of discussion as to what the final release was going to look like. What really stuck in my caw (sorry if you're not from the UK - a bit of a British colloquialism there) was the fact that a rumour began to get posted around. The rumour, allegedly from Arrow (though this was never confirmed or denied by anyone) was that Arrow were going to go back to the Original Camera Negative, and do a new, 2K scan, then a complete frame-by-frame restoration. The rumour then said, that this was what Blue Underground had NOT done.

Umm, beg your pardon, Arrow?! What's this then...? (Posted on YouTube on 22nd August 2011)

And just to add insult to injury, what's this that BU say on the back sleeve of their Blu-Ray?

Blue Underground is proud to present ZOMBIE in a new 2K High Definition transfer from the original uncut and uncensored camera negative. Each flesh-eating frame has been lovingly restored to skull-rotting perfection under the supervision of Cinematographer Sergio Salvati (THE BEYOND). Now fully-loaded with hours of brand new Extras, this is the Ultimate Edition of ZOMBIE!

If BU were lying, would they not be leaving themselves open to a law-suit? Would such lies, if they were lies, not result in them being in breach of the US equivalent of the UK Trade Descriptions Act? I think the answer is "yes"!

So, why was Arrow, allegedly slagging off their rivals, by suggesting that BU had not done what they had promised? Why was Arrow claiming, (if it was Arrow that were claiming this in the first place, and not just some bell-end on the Internet messing everyone about), that their work was going to be infinitely better? Wasn't this the same company whose extensive care and restoration work on releases like THE BEYOND, DEEP RED (aka PROFONDO ROSSO) and TENEBRAE had resulted in less than stellar results; in faults; in prints that were significantly worse-looking than those releases from the likes of Anchor Bay or Blue Underground? I think the answer, once again, is "yes"!

Had Arrow resorted to slagging off their rivals, to try and increase sales, and to try and make-up for previous problems? Was this the kind of grubby tactic that Arrow had had to resort too, in order to make money?

Well, at this stage, it's all extremely unclear. No one from Arrow has said they did or did not make those accusations up. No one has claimed whether they were speaking on behalf of Arrow or not, for those allegations. And, to my knowledge, BU hasn't threatened any lawsuits on Arrow or any one on the Internet about these rumours and allegations... yet!

It now seems that in spite of those rumours, Arrow HAS gone back to the original camera negative, and undertaken a brand-new, 2K scan, plus a complete frame-by-frame restoration of the film, and all in London, and all under one roof, by one man, for Arrow. In fact, it would seem that a gentleman by the name of James White, who has done work with Eureka/Masters Of Cinema (the UK equivalent of Criterion), is the name of the restorer.

His pedigree is very good, including doing restoration works on films like TOKYO STORY (1953, Yasujiro Ozu) and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer), so it's not to be sniffed at by any means. Even if his reputation proceeds him, early-reviews are saying that the Arrow edition of ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS is supposedly excellent, possibly better than BU's edition. Now, Arrow's release doesn't get released to the public at large, until Monday 3rd December, having been put-back twice already, (another Arrow issue that they need to get sorted), so the proof will be in the pudding, as the saying goes. However, the Steelbook has fallen to 50% of its Recommended Retail Price - £14-99 instead of £29-99. Whether that's due to an aggressive price-war on Amazon's part, or simply Arrow being overly ambitious in what they felt they could charge, I don't know. Still, we will see what happens on 3rd December, and go from there.

The point I wanted to make, in this article, is that even with the best will in the world, people can get things wrong.

I can get things wrong.

Sometimes, what starts out as a bit of fun, a bit of a personal sideswipe against a company, can eventually turn into the total opposite of what it should be. I've been labelled as being a "slanderer" on another Forum, but the idiot that made that claim clearly doesn't know the difference between a review, commentary, or opinion let alone the legal definition of what slander entails. But I can see why that line between fact, opinion, commentary and slander can get very, very easily blurred. If my 1-Star Review loses Arrow sales, is my opinion slanderous? Is it commentary? At what point does a review cease being opinion, and start being slanderous (or, for that matter, libellous)?

Arrow may well have actually done a good job on this release, and if they can get it right another couple of times, then I may well start to buy their product again. However, there's no smoke without fire. There are plenty of people out there on the Internet, who don't like people slating a company with a lousy track-record, because they feel, you should always look on the positive side of things. There are many people, who think it's unfair of people like me, who think that what I wrote on Amazon UK, was both: a) wrong, and b) breaches the purpose of Amazon reviews in the first place.

That's a fair enough statement, and I can live with that. But, in my defence, my 1-Star Review was never intended to be anything more than a small joke. However, the joke's backfired on me, and to be fair, I can only blame myself. Likewise, all the Arrow Fanboy's who post 5-Star Reviews do Arrow no favours either. Until a product is released, and in the hands of the customer, Amazon should not let people post any reviews beforehand. Likewise, Amazon should also stop clumping reviews for the same product (e.g. a film, CD or book) altogether, as they may be connected, but they are not the same. A review of a DVD version of a film will not be the same as a review of a Blu-Ray of the same film. They are both films, but they are both very different products. Just as a hardback book and a paperback book are different entities also. The story may be identical, but the reviews can be significantly different.

Anyway, never trust the Internet. It can come back and bite you hard in the arse. See you back here soon!

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