Le Cercle Rouge (1970) | 4K Blu-ray Review

Criterion is out with another 4K release, this time with Jean-Pierre Melville’s, antihero-infused Le Cercle Rouge. This comes with a new 4K master and some color timing that may cause some divides here on the internet. So let’s dig into it and see if this is a worthwhile addition to your collection.

If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

Le Cercle Rouge 4K Blu-ray cover art

Tech Specs:

Format(s):UltraHD/4K Blu-ray (BD-100)
Blu-ray (BD-50)
Released By:Criterion
Release Date:March 15th, 2022
Video Format / Codec:4K: H.265 (HEVC)
Resolution:4K: Native 4K, 2160/24p
BR: Full HD, 1080/24p
Digital Intermediate (DI):4K (from negatives, select scenes from interpositive)
High-Dynamic Range (HDR):Dolby Vision (FEL), HDR10
Aspect Ratio:1.85:1
Audio Format(s):French (4K/BR):
LPCM 1.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Subtitles:English, English SDH
Packaging:Dual disc snapcase
Region Coding:4K: Region-free
BR: Region A (locked)

Video Review:

This release comes via a 4K transfer performed by Studio Canal and licensed by Criterion. Before getting to the more controversial part, let’s talk about the picture detail. The transfer was made from the original negatives, but a few scenes were sourced from the next step down the line, which was the interpositive. Normally one might see some differences between the two (with the interpositive being a less refined and grain less well presented) but in this case, there was very little difference scene to scene. The grain structure overall is well defined and organic and it does appear to present with much in the way of blotchiness or clumping. The grain itself is moderate and certainly will be noticeable, but I never found it distracting. Beneath that grain is a good amount of fine detail and refinement in the way of imperfections on skin, textures on clothing and environment details, the slight  wispiness of cigarette smoke and more. Overall this is a nicely detailed transfer and well managed on its journey to disc.

On the dynamic range front, this release does come with Dolby Vision on board and overall it did a nice job of managing everything from highlights to shadows. Overall the movie does look a bit darker, and I for one was actually OK with that as it provided a more appropriate mood for the content on the screen. Shadow detail remained mostly present and black were able to get deep and inky without much crush. On the whites and highlights side of things, they certainly did not push them up to overly bright. Again, it did not bother me as I think the overall range felt still natural and more akin to black and white movie presentation than a punched up modern film, but if you are one who likes those eye searing brights, you probably will be disappointed.

On the color grade, this is where things may create some divides. This is definitely a different color grade than we have seen before for this film. The last Studio Canal Blu-ray release was far more blue and a bit desaturated in presentation. This release comes in with a much more yellow/green tonality but without making the film devoid of the bluer tones. In general, I enjoyed this color presentation, and thought the representation of most colors was better than past releases, especially greens and browns. That said, I can also see someone who is used to that bluer color grade finding this one not to their satisfaction. I personally am not old enough to have seen this movie in its original form, and given the various releases and color grades we have had for this, I think this one more comes down to your personal preference. But with that said, the color quality (aside from the tonality) is very good and appropriate for this film. There was little sign of banding or color artifacts present and it made for a solid release.
The included Blu-ray is surprisingly not the old Criterion Blu-ray, but a newly mastered disc using the new transfer and grade. Overall it’s quality is also very good, although the handling of grain and dynamic range is naturally inferior to the 4K disc.

Video Score (4K): 4.3 / 5 (Very Good)

Video Score (BR): 4.0 / 5 (Good)

Audio Review:

For audio, the 4K release gets a French monaural track via linear PCM. It’s a solid track and very appropriate for the vintage of the film. The overall dynamic range of the track was impressive for its age, although I would certainly not put this on to demo my theater system, it made for an enjoyable listening experience. Dialog remained clean and clear and the center channel did a good job of creating at least some semblance of a wider front stage. There was no real sound of major defect or artifacting in the track.

Audio Score (4K/BR): 4.1 / 5 (Very Good)

Special Features and Packaging:

If you own the 2011 Criterion release, you pretty much have everything included here. That said, it’s a nice list of extras, with interviews, featured clips and a focus on Jean-Pierre Melville as a filmmaker. There’s a decent amount to dive into and it is all interesting for a fan of the film, but it really would have been nice to get something new added to the list. All of the extras come on the Blu-ray with nothing making it to the 4K disc.

For packaging, this is pretty standard for Criterion with nice artwork on a higher quality snap case, some interior imagery and some disc art. We also have an included booklet with some essays and more information but it is very similar if not the same as from the older Blu-ray release. But as always, at the price tag, it would have been nice to at least get a slipcover on the initial pressing.

Features Score: 3.7 / 5 (Good)


In general, this is a worthwhile pick-up as it is an improved transfer on detail and dynamics, but I will caveat saying that the color timing is different and may bother some. While the included screenshots on this review are tonemapped for standard dynamic range screens, the process does not much impact the color quality, so if you are not sure, and like the shots presented here, then you will likely enjoy the presentation on the disc. If not, you likely will have to hunt down the older Criterion or Studio Canal Blu-rays. If you already own one of those, I still feel this is a worthwhile upgrade, but it may depend on how much of a fan of the film you are if it is worth the double-dip.

Buy/Upgrade Recommendation: Yes* (if the color grade is of your preference)

If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

Summary and Overall Scores:

Overall I feel like this is a very good release and a potential upgrade for some. While I did not dislike the new color grade, it is a change from past releases and may be a matter of personal preference if this is the version you want to have in your collection.

Experience Score**: 4.1 / 5  (Very Good)

** Experience score does not take into account the quality of the film itself, just the technical presentation, packaging and included features.

If a video version of this review is made, it will be posted here. If you are looking for video versions of my other reviews, please check out the Freshly Tapped Media channel on YouTube.

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