A New Unicorn: Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn in Print and on Film

Paul R. Potts

In 2011, Peter S. Beagle reached a legal settlement with Granada Media. You can no longer buy the remastered DVD through the Conlan Press web site, but you can now get it through all the usual sources. The 25th anniversary DVD edition is a considerable upgrade, and Beagle gets royalties on this edition! The audio is improved, although there are still some noticeable flaws, probably due to issues with the master tape.

There is also a 2015 Blu-Ray, which I haven’t seen. In recent years software has become available that can fix this kind of tape speed issue, but I don’t know if the Blu-Ray soundtrack has had the pitch problems fixed. As usual, the Amazon reviews of the various versions are all mixed together, so if you go to Amazon for information, be sure to look for reviews that mention exactly which DVD or Blu-ray they are reviewing.

One of my daughter Veronica’s favorite movies is The Last Unicorn, so for a bedtime story on Sunday I read the first three chapters of the book. I’m not sure she realizes that the story with the “icorn” on the cover is the same as the story of the movie on the DVD, but I tried to copy the voice of the butterfly. Quite a few lines are unchanged, since the novel is short and the movie is a relatively straightforward adaptation.

In one of those odd coincidences that seem to happen to me more and more often, the next morning I found that you can now buy a remastered copy of the movie on DVD, and if you buy this one, Peter S. Beagle will actually receive royalties. (Granada media has sold nearly a million copies of the movie without paying Peter a penny in royalties). You can buy a copy through the Conlan Press web site here.

I’ve ordered a copy signed and personalized for Veronica. It’s a great movie, animated beautifully in much the same style as the 1977 animated Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit. It is especially notable for some really inspired voice work. The minor characters steal the show: Christopher Lee plays the embittered King Haggard, Brother Theodore plays a half-crazed (OK, fully crazed) Ruhk, and in my favorite scene, René Auberjonois plays a talking skeleton who is fooled into drinking a nonexistent bottle of wine — and enjoying it immensely! The main characters are somewhat colorless by comparison, but still pretty decent, especially Alan Arkin as the nervous Schmendrick the Magician (“the last of the red-hot swamis!”)

The previous DVD edition was a piece of pan-and-scan hack work. The video was fuzzy, with a lot of background noise and poor contrast, and the audio transfer was downright bad. If you don’t know much about audio, you might not notice exactly what is wrong, but you will definitely notice that some of the songs in particular sound bad. The dynamic range is poor, the frequency range is truncated, there’s no stereo imaging to speak of, and in some songs there is even very noticeable wow and flutter together with audible drop-outs, as if the sound was dubbed from a worn cassette tape. This makes it sound as if Mia Farrow couldn’t stay on pitch, and as if lead singer of America recorded his parts drunk. I don’t think either of these things are true, so I’m really looking forward to a release with a better audio track. Support Peter S. Beagle and order a copy today!

Ann Arbor, Michigan
February 6, 2007

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