Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 8/14/98
Anniversary Tribute Edition - 1968 (1998) Columbia
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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