Comparison between the Blu-ray by Universal and the German rental VHS by CIC Video.
The Home Video Releases of BACKDRAFT
The fire-brigade action film Backdraft, created in 1991 and offering a remarkable cast with Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay still manages to entertain even today. There's no need to talk about the DTV sequel Backdraft II, which was released in 2019, however. More interesting is the 4K-UHD premiere of the original, which was released on 23 May 2019. The Blu-ray didn't look good for HD standards at the time it was released and the DVDs naturally don't win a beauty award here either. Both with regard to the picture quality and the DTS-7.1-X mix, a clear recommendation for the new 4K disc can be given to interested parties.
Unfortunately, the film has been a problematic case for the picture format since DVD times. The first edition was in 2.00:1 (and 4:3 letterboxed as well as generally a quality nightmare), later editions were all in 2.35:1. The Blu-ray and 4K-UHD are also in 2.35:1 and in the end it should be the picture format that was desired by the director and already present while the film was still in cinemas. But in this case this has its disadvantages. The first VHS rental edition was in 1.33:1 full screen, where the camera was not zoomed in, but the masking was largely open. Thus one could see clearly more picture information at the top and especially at the bottom, which was already covered up on the 2.00:1 retail VHS (with "Original Theatrical Format" advertising on the back of the cover).
Additional values in the full-screen version
In at least two places, this is already very noticeable, because the 2.35:1 version lacks the charred corpse at the bottom of one scene and in another scene the naked breast of Jennifer Jason Leigh is withheld. Since this is an “R”-rated movie and at least there are comparable shots of the corpse from a more distant perspective, a conscious censorship can probably be excluded. Also, a shot of a naked man's buttocks is not visible but since comparable shots in the surrounding area have remained untouched, we can also assume that this is not censorship. Nevertheless, we have finally captured these striking differences for eternity, because a further release of the full-screen version is probably not to be expected.
Interestingly enough, the American Starz channel on Amazon.com, offers a VOD version in 16:9 (or 1.78:1), which is also open matte and even in HD. The Starz version doesn't show as much as the German VHS, but at least the more explicit picture material is shown at the prominent points. For the sake of completeness, we also took a look at the first edition of the DVD in 2.00:1. Its format should correspond to the retail VHS editions, which are also in 2.00:1. The 4K-Blu-ray is not completely identical, but as already mentioned it is also in 2.35:1 and thus unfortunately lacks as much as the Blu-ray (or even a little more, as you can see in the Caps-a-holic comparison linked to at the beginning).
Last but not least, we would like to refer to Terminator 3, for which we have a similar special comparison in our archive and which also delves into more details offered in the full-screen version.
Timecodes are ordered as follows:
Blu-ray / German VHS in PAL
Even the opening credits show with the placement of the names that the VHS usually shows significantly more picture information at the bottom.
33:17 / 34:48
In the shower scene, the Open Matte master has been zoomed in a bit and in the 2.35:1 version of the Blu-ray you can see a lot more on the sides. Nevertheless, it is noticeable that Tim's pubic hair was cut off from the frame more thoroughly in the latter version and Brian's butt is no longer visible.
Here, we have the same scene from the Starz HD master in Open Matte. It is noticeable that here again something is missing on the sides compared to the 2.35:1 variant or the top/bottom of the same image section was zoomed, so that there is no real added value to the scene.
The first DVD edition in 2.00:1, on the other hand, corresponds to the VHS at the top/bottom.
Note: In the case of the more distant shot about 40 seconds earlier, you can also clearly see the butts of both of them in the 2.35:1 variant. Conscious censorship can therefore be excluded in the second picture with William Baldwin's bottom.
64:08-64:38 / 66:57-67:28
When Brian walks aside and Donald looks at the charred corpse, it is completely outside the picture in the 2.35:1 format.
Here's the same scene from the Starz Master. This time, the additional 16:9 image information is clearly worthwhile and the corpse can still be seen sufficiently.
And here the view taken from the first DVD edition in the format 2,00:1, which at least partly reveals what’s to be seen.
Shortly afterwards, the body is also clearly visible in 2.35:1...
64:50-65:38 / 67:41-68:32
...but in the immediately following shots some image information is missing again.
Pictures from the Starz-1,78:1 VOD.
Pictures from the 2,00:1 DVD.
74:06 / 77:21
In the sex scene you can see Jennifer's breast for a moment. At least in the old Open Matte version because the widescreen version hides it.
Still visible in the Starz version...
...already disappeared on the 2.00:1 DVD.
Shortly thereafter we briefly see them in another position (Brian pushes Jennifer away to the side), however, one does not see really much nudity here.
At last, a few more comparing screenshots.
The second scene can also be seen in the high-resolution Caps-a-holic comparison between 4K-UHD and Blu-ray.