Blu-ray Disc reviews by Barrie Maxwell and Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits
|Gone with the Wind: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
1939 (2009) - MGM (Warner Bros.)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 17th, 2009
Also available on DVD
Since the beginning of the DVD era 12 years ago, Warner Bros. has released Gone with the Wind (GWTW) three times, and this third effort - on Blu-ray this time (though also available on DVD) - is the charm. Given how often the film has been reviewed and its history written about, I'm not going to attempt to offer further discourse on it as any such effort is likely to be redundant and serve only to take up space.
Film Rating: A+
Video (1-20): 20
Audio (1-20): 17
I'll simply point out that the film itself of course is merely one of the best that Hollywood ever made and one that stretched almost to the breaking point the resources and skill of producer David O. Selznick who essentially devoted over three years of his life to the project. Selznick's efforts have been thoroughly documented on both page and screen over the years, creating a large resource of material from which the new Blu-ray edition has benefited immensely.
I'll mention further that, beyond Selznick's massive contribution, the film is a magnificent tribute to the talent of Vivien Leigh whose finest work it contains and for which she won the Academy Award (one of eight overall that the film won) for her portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara whose story the film essentially is.
The film has been officially re-released more often and more successfully than any film made and has created a vast legion of fans around the world who like nothing better than to gather for GWTW-related events. In addition to fans, four actors who were in the film that still remain alive are themselves kept busy by virtue of the demand for their presence at such events. Ann Rutherford who played Scarlett's younger sister Careen is the most visible of the four, but the others include Cammie King (Bonnie Blue Butler), Patrick Curtis (Baby Beau Wilkes), and Mickey Kuhn (older Beau Wilkes). Olivia De Havilland is of course also still alive, but at age 93 and living in France as she does, no longer travels to the events.
And finally, it's worth noting that GWTW has probably had more interesting production sagas associated with it than any other film too. The extensive search for the perfect Scarlett that Selznick undertook has had films made of it alone. The casting of Rhett Butler too was a matter of contention as the popular sentiment was for Clark Gable as the ideal choice, yet he was under contract to MGM which was not particularly inclined to loan him out at first. Nor was the film's direction straight-forward as George Cukor found himself on the outside after doing much of the initial shooting but eventually running afoul of Selznick, with Victor Fleming taking over only to require spelling by Sam Wood for a short period of time due to exhaustion. Then there was the issue of whether Clark Gable would be able to utter the word “damn” as part of his final line of dialogue - a matter that went back and forth between Selznick and the Hays Office over several months before the use of the word was approved. It was the first time it was used in a Hollywood film since the tightening up of the Production Code in 1934 and it would not be used again until 1941 in How Green Was My Valley.
Those who want to know more about the almost-four-hour-long GWTW need look no further than the two-hour 1988 documentary narrated by Christopher Plummer (The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind). Included in this latest Blu-ray release, it's a model of its kind and although over 20 years old now, has the benefit of participation by many involved in the original film who are no longer with us.
So what of Warners' Gone with the Wind Blu-ray Ultimate Collector's Edition? In a word, it's magnificent. It comes packaged in an attractive velvet-trimmed case containing a fold-out digipak that holds two Blu-ray discs and one double-sided standard DVD. There are a number of very useful additions including a 7½" x 11" 54-page hard cover book filled with stills, poster reproductions, and production shots; copies of a number of Selznick's communications concerning the film's production issues; a reproduction of the souvenir booklet available to filmgoers (for 25¢) at the time of the film's original release; reproductions of 10 of the watercolour sketches prepared by art director William Cameron Menzies; and a CD of music from the film's soundtrack.
The Blu-ray presentation of the film is contained on the first disc complete with overture, intermission, and entr'acte music. Based on a new 8K-based remastering, the full frame presentation is correctly framed and the film looks the best it ever has to my eyes and I've seen many of the theatrical reissues and all the home video ones - VHS, laserdisc, and DVD included. Gone are issues of colour fidelity and image detail that some complained of on past DVD versions. The colour saturation is superb and accurate to the smallest detail. Black levels are lustrously deep and whites are now really white. Skin tones also look correct now. The image is exceedingly clean and detail is equally impressive whether one looks at background objects or examines textures in close-up shots. There is a mild level of grain that has been correctly retained and there is absolutely no indication of digital manipulation, edge effects, or any other related distraction.
Warners has included the film's original mono track, but front and centre is a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that manages to retain the spirit of the original sound while adding a degree of robustness to it that fits hand in glove with the vibrant picture. Dialogue is clean and clear, firmly rooted in the centre, and free of background hiss or distortion. Some very modest use of the surrounds has been employed to accentuate the uplifting sweep of Max Steiner's glorious score. The film's few Civil War scenes also benefit from judicious use of the surrounds.
Among the set's numerous extras, perhaps the most essential is a marathon 4-hour audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Delivered in a pleasant but authoritative manner, it delves into every aspect of the production one could ask for including the differences between the film and its book source. It's simply a model of what a top-notch audio commentary should be. The second Blu-ray disc contains the bulk of the supplements, all in standard definition. All those from the previous DVD box set have been carried over, including the lengthy making-of documentary mentioned above; on-camera reflections from Olivia De Havilland; lengthy profiles of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh; short portraits of numerous supporting players; several newsreels; a trailer gallery; etc. New to the Blu-ray release are 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year, in which Kenneth Branagh narrates a 68-minute chronicle of 1939's many riches; Gone with the Wind: The Legend Lives On, a new 33-minute documentary that explores the continuing fascination with the film; and Movieola: The Scarlett O'Hara War, a 1980 TV movie starring Tony Curtis as Selznick. The 1939 documentary is the best of these, but the other two are worth one's time. All this tops out at almost 20 hours worth of material, but just in case you still feel unfulfilled, Warners has included (in standard definition on a separate DVD) the excellent, entire 6-hour, 3-part documentary on MGM called MGM: When the Lion Roars, narrated by Patrick Stewart. It's a program that Warners has previously made available as a stand-alone release.
In a span of but two months, we've received three startlingly fine Blu-ray efforts on classic titles from Warner Bros. - The Wizard of Oz, North by Northwest, and now Gone with the Wind. Is Gone with the Wind the best of them? Maybe, but it doesn't really matter. All three are superb and everyone will have their own criteria for their own opinion as to which might be some slight bit better than the others. All I know is that, along with Blu-rays of The Wizard of Oz and North by Northwest, Gone with the Wind in its latest Blu-ray version should be on the shelf of anyone who professes to be in the least bit a classic film enthusiast and aspires to be able to enjoy such films in the best possible presentation. Those interested in the film should be aware that various stripped-down versions have been available at several retailers in Region 1 and beyond. But Gone with the Wind is one film that begs for an Ultimate Collector's Edition that has real value. Warner Bros. has delivered and the Blu-ray box set has my highest possible recommendation!
2009 (2009) - Universal
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 17th, 2009
Also available on DVD
Film Rating: C
Video (1-20): 15
Audio (1-20): 15
A few years back, coupled with a long-term viral marketing campaign, an obscure character from a cult British television show took the world by storm with his mockumentary, Borat. Submerging himself the character, Sasha Baron Cohen went out into America as Borat, placing himself into situations likely to create conflict, and let those around him provide the humor. Now he tries it again with the supernova-gay and superficial Austrian fashionista, Brüno.
|When Brüno's Velcro suit brings down the Milan fashion show, he suddenly finds himself without his hit show, without his boyfriend, and on the way to L.A., with his plain-looking, smitten assistant's assistant, to try and make it big in the America.
Brüno was shot in a variety of high definition video formats, mostly handheld, so it's almost impossible to pigeonhole the general look and feel. In general, Brüno looks like low-end HD video (the kind that the better consumer HD camcorders deliver) that's been graded and treated with the 'Filmlook' plug-in. Honestly, basically everything that anyone could find objectionable about HD video is present here at some point - including black crush, ringing, digital noise and blooming - but all of it is part of the original master. There's decent detail, and a slightly smooth look that's characteristic more of trying to achieve uniformity between a dozen different camcorders than any post-processing to make the Blu-ray release. As far as the audio goes, Brüno was shot all on location, with very little ADR even possible, so anyone looking to be wowed by the sound here should look somewhere else. Music is good, dialog is mostly clear, and that's where it begins and ends... and is really all it needs to be.
I guess when your entire movie is a documentary, the "making-of" stuff kinda falls by the wayside. In its place here is a Picture-in-Picture commentary that's actually a second encode of the movie, so no profile 1.1 player is required. Sasha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles often pause the film to tell stories, which all too often end with "...and then we dove into the waiting getaway car and ran like hell." Honestly, this is the best part of revisiting the film on Blu-ray, and it's a rare opportunity to see Baron Cohen out of character. Next up, the disc offers a bunch of deleted sequences, including the infamous LaToya Jackson scene (where Brüno scores Michael's phone number), a number of extended scenes exclusive to the Blu-ray, and a collection of failed "sex-tape" sequence attempts. Finally, there's an interview with Lloyd Robinson, the talent agent that Brüno takes for a ride in the movie. He's really a good sport about the whole thing, and for anyone whose thought about trying to make it in Hollywood, he's refreshingly honest about how the whole thing works. And hey, if you can't trust a guy who helped make Van Damme's Kickboxer a reality, who can you trust? Finally, there's Universal's new BD-Live ticker that delivers news about Universal releases and upcoming BD-Live events, as well as trailers and a Digital Copy disc.
Brüno is a film that lives and dies on shock value, and it makes every effort to one-up what Borat accomplished two years prior. While the creators clearly see deep meaning and character moments in the film, in the end it mostly comes off as an episodic study in outrageousness that occasionally remembers it's supposed to be telling a story. Brüno is so superficial, and so outrageously offensive to everyone (gay, straight, bi or otherwise), that virtually no one can sympathize with him, and even the final scenes and ending theme song aren't enough to make you forget the previous 80 minutes. Perhaps someday we'll look back on this as Sasha Baron Cohen's Mallrats - a film that tried really hard, took a dive with the critics, but became a cult classic with fans over time. In the meantime, Brüno works best when it's seen with a group of friends, preferably a little drunk and for the first time. As such, it's hard for me to recommend as anything more than a rental.