Who? AKA The Man with the Steel Mask AKA Roboman (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (4th June 2019).
The Film

Adapted from the novel by famed science fiction writer Algis Budrys, Who? is a fascinating cold-war thriller / sci-fi hybrid. Elliott Gould (Little Murders, California Split) is an FBI agent trying to determine the true identity of a top US physicist who was horrifically injured in a car accident in East Berlin. The scientist is returned to the West encased in a metal mask and body-suit, reconstructed via cybernetic surgery. Is the man behind the metal mask who he claims to be, or is he a Soviet dupe trained to infiltrate US security?

Who?, from director Jack Gold (The Reckoning, The National Health), is one of the most unusual and affecting science fiction thrillers of the 1970s – not least because of the extraordinary performance by Joseph Bova as the masked enigma at the heart of the story.

Video

Solid, enjoyable sci-fi drama about human identity is intelligent and talky but there's a couple of action scenes that break up the deliberate pace. Well acted by all, especially the two leads with Bova getting the nod due to his ability to create a distinct character with emotional depth despite being in a mask throughout.

Technically and visually the film is mostly undistinguished and it's obvious that it was made on a small budget. The flashbacks to East Germany / Russia are cheap looking and set in a couple of rooms for instance. Still, a good film and well worth seeing for those who like to think.

A visually fairly undistinguished film with a warm but rather drab general appearance. The film makers seem to have deliberately chosen a grainy, down beat look perhaps to emphasise the grim cold war aspects of the plot and the drab settings.

Colours are well defined with an emphasis on blues, browns and greys. Grain is heavy throughout although obviously brighter scenes set in daylight fair better. It's a very film like presentation and typically for Powerhouse Films there is a high bitrate.

The US discs from Scorpion are reputed to have a fair amount of damage and signs of age but the version here, although most likely from the same master, is free of such distractions. Some nice restoration and cleanup have obviously been done and it's very welcome.

On the whole the image isn't impressive but that has little to do with Powerhouse Films or the topnotch encode job of Fidelity in Motion (David MacKenzie) which keeps the grain field even and free from distracting clumps or digital splats. I think that the original film was shot in a drab way and the original elements may have suffered over the years.

In any case, the presentation could probably not be bettered; it's just the way the film looks. Black levels are mostly fine with decent shadow detail but I did notice more than usual signs of crush, which are - again - most likely down to production methods. Contrast is carefully handled keeping the image fairly subdued. The brief farm sequences are generally the exception to the above being livelier and brighter; probably to reinforce Martino's sense of freedom and peace.


1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.85:1 / 93:14

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

A solid unremarkable image gets the same on audio. It would seem that the limited nature of this track is both typical and unusual at the same time. Most mono tracks I've heard from this era are usually notch up on what we have here but it gets the job. The track on the US BD is reported to have some hiss and this seems to have been minimised by Powerhouse Films. Subtitles are clear and comprehensive.

Extras

Audio commentary with director Jack Gold and film historian Tony Sloman (2010)

A thorough track that covers all aspects of the film with an emphasis on the nuts and bolts of filming, the cast, the script etc. Listenable and very professional if not the most dynamic track I've heard. Ported over from the Scorpion DVD and BD.

"The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) Interview with Jack Gold: Interviewed by Norman Swallow and Alan Lawson on 27 February 1990" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (92:50)

Gold is a film maker with whom I was generally aware of but the only other films of his I'd seen were The Reckoning (1969), The National Health (1973) and The Medusa Touch (1977); the latter more than three decades ago. An erudite, thoughtful individual this was a fascinating three way interview with oodles of interesting information. This BEHP are invaluable.

"Selected Scenes Commentary with Elliott Gould" featurette (21:06)

Gould is a softly spoken but engaging speaker with plenty to say albeit only a digest of the film; he discusses his time on the film, the cast actions scenes etc. Ported over from the Scorpion DVD; I wish a full commentary track could've been done with the actor.

"The Megaton Mind: An Interview with Edward Grover" featurette (25:30)

Another port from the US discs; Grover is chatty and discusses his time on the film remembering it with fondness.

"The Man Behind the Mask: Kim Newman on Algis Budrys" featurette (20:19)

The usual engrossing, fascinating discussion with the kind of contextual DVD / BD interviews. Newman always has masses to say and I learned a great deal from this piece having never heard of Budry's before and only peripherally of the film itself. A new piece exclusive to this disc.

Who? Image Gallery: Posters and Book Covers (11 images)

A nice collection of HD scans.

36-page liner notes booklet with a new essay by Phelim O’Neill, an archival interview with director Jack Gold, a look at Algis Budrys’ source novel, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits

The usual stunning booklet that adds hugely to the appreciation of the film. O'Neill's essay is especially enlightening.

Overall

An intellectually intriguing if minor film gets the deluxe treatment and although it's not the most visually engaging film in the genre it's a solid if unremarkable master given the deluxe treatment. Powerhouse have done it proud by porting over the extras from the old Scorpion discs and digging out some other juicy material. Picture and sound are as good as can be considering the source, production methods and intentions of the film makers.

The Film: B Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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