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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/14/98



Oliver!
30th Anniversary Tribute Edition - 1968 (1998) Columbia TriStar

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: A
A rousing and engaging musical adaptation of the Dickens classic. Best Picture in 1968 and deservedly so. The performances, songs and art direction all shine. They certainly don't make them like this anymore.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B-
Audio remixed quite tastefully for 5.1, a terrific print with some grain (not inappropriate for a film of this age), a fantastic 16x9 transfer, and adequate (if sparse) extras.

Overall Rating: A-
This classic has been lovingly restored and remastered for DVD. Whether you're a fan of musicals, classic films or just film in general, this is a gem. If you're in any way inclined to it, it's worth the price. And trust me… your kids will enjoy it too.

Specs and Features

153 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-layered, dual-sided (flipper - film continues on side B at Intermission break), Amaray keep case packaging, "making-of" featurette, photo gallery w/18 pix, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (32 chapters - 16 per side), languages: English (DD 5.1), French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Close Captioned

Review

A young orphan boy named Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) finds himself adrift in the slums of 19th century London in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic novel. Living in perpetual servitude in an English workhouse/orphanage, young Oliver makes the mistake of asking for more gruel at dinner one evening. This outrages Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe), the workhouse master, and soon Oliver finds himself a boy for sale. Purchased for a paltry sum by a mortician and his family, Oliver is treated cruelly, but quickly escapes, and makes the forty mile trek to London. His first day there, Oliver runs into a wily young pickpocket nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild), who admits Oliver into a secret society - a hidden den of young thieves, led by the wizened and crafty Fagan (Ron Moody). Oliver is welcomed by these castaways, schooled in the art of pickpocketing, and told that if he works hard, he can one day become as good as Bill Sikes, a cold-hearted and mean-spirited professional thief, whom the young boys admire. Oliver is soon befriended by Sikes' girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis), a kind-hearted barmaid who has resigned herself to the life she lives, but who quickly decides that young Oliver deserves better.

Way back when I was in grade school, we had a tradition. Every year, the last day before summer vacation was a 'fun' day, where the whole school got together in the gym for food, fun and games. The teachers brought in a projector and screen, and showed Tom Sawyer (1973), and Oliver! It was always the same two films every year, but we just didn't care - they were great films and it was tradition. More importantly, it was just plain fun. But I hadn't seen this film since then - some twenty years. Almost as soon as I placed this DVD in my player and started it spinning, I remembered how much I had liked it back then. All of the characters and songs were familiar - I found that I even knew the words to some of them. In short, rediscovering this film on DVD was a terrific thrill.

Although none of the actors won Oscars in 1968 (all the awards were for the production, including a Best Director nod for Sir Carol Reed), the performances are first rate. Oliver! couldn't have been cast better. Young Mark Lester (as the title character) has a rosy-cheeked likability that causes you to immediately empathize with him, not to mention that he's got an angel's voice. Jack Wild is equally good as the mischievous Dodger. Shani Wallis (Nancy) was a newcomer when she took this role, according to the featurette, and she's wonderful. But it's Ron Moody, as Fagan, who really shines here. He's hilarious - his scraggly mustache and beard, rumpled coat and hat, and shifty eyes that give the impression that he's always thinking three moves ahead. He scurries and darts among the shadows like a ragged version of the Black Spy from Mad Magazine's Spy vs. Spy comics. We first see his character as he emerges from the shadows of a craggy hole in a dirty brick wall, amid cloud of steam, and begins sizing up young Oliver for his nefarious schemes - an entirely appropriate character introduction. He then launches into a comical musical number (one of my favorites - Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two), introducing Oliver to the profitable life of a thief. His other big musical number (Be Back Soon) is equally entertaining. Make no mistake - Moody really steals the show.

The DVD version of Oliver! is really very well done. The film has been completely restored and remastered. It is presented here letterboxed to preserve its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. The print itself is very good, with great contrast, full, deep color, and only slight grain (typical of many films of this age). The sound has been remixed for Dolby Digital 5.1, but nothing inappropriate is done with the surround channels, which are mostly used in crowd scenes to give a sense of bustling atmosphere to the streets of London. The sound is also very clear, allowing the musical numbers to have the full intended effect. The disc also has a few extras, which are accessible from either side, including a theatrical trailer, a short but interesting featurette produced during the making of the film, and a gallery of 18 production photos and theatrical posters (not much, but better than nothing I imagine).

Some have complained that this disc is a flipper, and that Columbia TriStar has yet to release a dual-layered title. This is true to be sure, but that fact doesn't trouble me here. Oliver! was originally presented in theaters with a three minute Overture, an Intermission, another brief musical Entr'acte to open the second half, and even Exit Music. This is how it was shown in theaters - with time to ease in and out of each half the film, and time to stretch one's legs. The film is split onto two sides naturally at the Intermission break, and it works just fine. Not to mention the fact that, by splitting the film in such a way, the compressionists at Sony's DVD Center were able to maximize the video bit rate, really allowing the film's Technicolor splendor to be preserved.

Bottom line

Oliver! looks and sounds terrific on DVD. While the extras are nothing spectacular, the image and sound quality definitely makes up the difference. I'm not a huge fan of musical cinema, but I do have a few that I enjoy (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz and The Music Man among them). Oliver! is definitely my sentimental favorite. It holds up extremely well, there's plenty of humor, and it's completely entertaining. The direction, set design and performances are all first-rate. And I'd just bet that you'll recognize at least two of the songs. Definitely recommended.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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