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    James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Warner

    Nov 19 2013 07:20 PM | Ken_McAlinden in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Iconic actor James Dean's short filmography consists of three films, two released after his tragic death in September of 1955, and all released over a year and a half period between March of 1955 and October of 1956. In 2005, Warner Bros compiled his collected cinematic works into a 6 DVD box set called The Complete James Dean that seemed to cover things quite thoroughly. For this seven disc Ultimate Collector's Edition, Warner not only upgrades the film presentations to Blu-ray high definition, but adds three SD DVDs filled with additional supplemental content and bundles it together in deluxe packaging inclusive of some physical extras.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Warner Brothers
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1, 2.55:1
    • Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
    • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Other
    • Rating: G, PG, PG-13
    • Run Time: 1 Hr. 57 Min.(East of Eden), 1 Hr. 51 Min. (Rebel Without a Cause), 3 Hr. 21 Min. (Giant)
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type: Deluxe Numbered and Limited Box Set
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 11/05/2013
    • MSRP: $99.98

    The Production Rating: 4.5/5

    East of Eden (1955 - PG - 117 Minutes)

    Directed by: Elia Kazan

    Starring: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, Richard Davalos, Burl Ives

    East of Eden adapts approximately the last third of John Steinbeck's novel of the same name, telling the story of Cal Trask (Dean), the troubled young son of a father, Adam (Massey), from whom he is consistently thwarted in his bids for his father's affection in World War I era Salinas, California.

    In James Dean's tragically truncated film career, all three of his films were made for iconic Directors. Elia Kazan's East of Eden was Dean's first feature performance and is my personal favorite. It holds up well not just because of Dean's mesmerizing performance as the conflicted Cal Trask, but also because of consistently great supporting work from actors such as Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, and Jo Van Fleet. As a director, Kazan had a knack for drawing nuances out of actors, and would carefully cast actors in parts large or small for maximum effect. Kazan also wisely chose to focus on the novel's final act rather than try to capture its epic multi-generational scope in a single feature film. The family conflict at its center is the stuff of classic drama and more than enough to fill a feature length film.
    Rebel Without a Cause (1955 - PG-13 - 111 Minutes)

    Directed by: Nicholas Ray

    Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Corey Allen, William Hopper, Edward Platt

    Rebel Without a Cause finds Dean in a contemporary (for 1955) setting playing Jim Stark, another troubled teen sliding towards juvenile delinquency as he lashes out at the world in frustration due to a dysfunctional family and lack of acceptance at his new school.

    Despite and maybe because of its at the time contemporary setting, Rebel Without a Cause plays a bit more dated than East of Eden. That being said, it certainly plays better today than most entries in the juvenile delinquent genre from the 1950s. An early scene where Dean's character Jim has an explosive outburst at his squabbling parents suggests that the melodrama may be headed over the top, but Director Nicholas Ray retroactively earns this indulgence as the film plays out. Honest to goodness teenagers Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo play kids with their own set of hangups and function well with Dean as they form a kind of surrogate family as the film progresses.

    Giant (1956 - G - 201 Minutes)

    Directed by: George Stevens

    Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper

    Giant, adapts Edna Ferber's controversial novel about a Texas cattle rancher named "Bick" Benedict (Hudson), who marries strong-willed eastern debutant Leslie (Taylor). The film tracks their relationship for nearly three decades as they contend with family travails, social upheaval, and a rivalry with a former ranch hand named Jett Rink (Dean) who strikes it rich when an oil well comes in on his modest piece of property in the middle of Bick's ranch.

    Where Elia Kazan severely truncated John Steinbeck's epic novel East of Eden, slimming the multi-generational story down to a relatively brief period of time. George Stevens embraced the multi-decade scope of Edna Ferber's Giant with both arms. The film proved to be both a box office and critical success, culling 10 Oscar nominations including a win for Stevens as Best Director. It remains an impressive achievement to this day, but in retrospect, Stevens may have bitten off more than he could chew. The film loses quite a bit of dramatic momentum when it jumps ahead in time for its second act, introducing the audience to several new characters (or at least ones that were infants when they were introduced earlier). Stopping the film in its tracks in this way gives audience members a chance to contemplate the creaky social issues soap opera elements of the story which is not a good thing. A conclusion that shifts the focus back to the core relationship of Bick and Leslie with a touch of humor and ambiguity helps to set things aright by the end, though.
    James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition Playlist


    Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA

    All three films are presented with 1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfers in their original theatrical aspect ratios. For East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, this is a very wide 2.55:1. For Giant, this is a side-matted 1.66:1.

    Subtle improvements are noticeable across the board from previous DVD releases of all three films, but not the kind of dramatic improvements one might hope for considering the upgrade to high definition. Limitations in the single strip color stocks of the time and poor condition of the original negatives (which likely could not have been used at all were it not for modern digital restoration tools) for the earliest two films leave grain a little heavier and the overall image a touch softer than ideal, although consistent with films of their era. That being said, better rendering of the grain structure results in a mild improvement to sharpness for ...Eden and ...Cause. Contrast is handled expertly in the digital video domain, which is especially critical for East of Eden due to Kazan's technique of strategically lighting so that sections of the CinemaScope frame are in near total darkness during key dramatic sequences.

    Of the three films, Giant demonstrates the most marked visual improvement over its DVD predecessor. Unfortunately, due to inherent limitations in the way the film's negative was assembled, huge portions of the film consist of soft and artifact-heavy dupe footage. Opticals, inclusive of crossfades, are rendered on an inferior dupe stock that is not only substantially softer than the standard footage in the film, but frequently exhibits pronounced "Mackie Lines", giving a bright glowing "aura" to areas of high contrast. In an effort to create more seamless opticals, the lab used the dupe footage for entire shots extending from the first hard cut before the optical until the first hard cut after it. Director George Stevens was fond of both long takes and crossfades, resulting in whole scenes exhibiting the "dupey" artifacts.

    Audio Rating: 3.5/5

    East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause are presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks derived from their original multi-track stereo soundtracks. They feature a decent stereo spread across the front three channels with only modest and occasional activity in the surrounds. The soundtrack for Rebel Without a Cause reportedly had to be assembled from the magnetic tracks of release prints, but sounds remarkably good, all things considered.

    Giant features a DTS-HD MA 2.0 presentation of the same 2.0 stereo track that was created for the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD release. It sounds like re-processed mono with more harm than good coming of the efforts, especially with respect to Dmitri Tiomkin's score. It is not by any means an unlistenable disaster, but it is unlikely to please fans of either stereo tracks or original mono tracks.

    Special Features: 4.5/5

    The short version is that all of the substantial video based extras are carried over from the two-disc special edition DVDs from 2005. Premiering on this set is an interview featurette called Dennis Hopper: Memories from the Warner Lot that appears on the Rebel Without a Cause Blu-ray. Incremental from the 2005 Complete James Dean box set of the 2-Disc Special Editions are three new documentaries presented on their own SD DVDS:
    • James Dean - Sense Memories
    • James Dean - Forever Young
    • George Stevens - A Filmmakers' Journey
    All three of these DVD documentaries are previously released and available separately.

    A complete list of special features is provided below under headings corresponding to the disc on which they can be found. All extras are presented in 4:3 standard definition video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio unless otherwise indicated.


    East of Eden (Blu-ray)

    Commentary by Richard Schickel is a better than average effort from film critic and historian Schickel. While he does lapse into narrative descriptions of on screen action from time to time, he more often is providing interesting facts and anecdotes about the film's production and a critical analysis of the film and key sequences.

    Forever James Dean (59:50) Is a 1988 biographical documentary written and directed by Ara Chekmayan with narration by Bob Gunton. It is presented from a video source with noticeable tape noise. Contents include reminiscences of those who new Dean, reactions to his premature death in an automobile accident, how his life and death have been commemorated, his early years in Indiana and California, the loss of his Mother when he was nine years old. his return to Indiana to live with his Aunt and Uncle, his high school years, his college years at UCLA, his move to New York and early TV and stage work, his casting in East of Eden by Elia Kazan, the production of East of Eden, his affection for Pier Angeli, the production of Rebel Without a Cause, his enthusiasm for car racing, and the production of Giant. On-screen comments are provided by Friend of Dean and Writer-Producer William Bast, Childhood Friend Bob Roth, Writer-Producer Frank Worth, Actor Jack Grinnage, Former Actress Steffi Sidney, Actress Julie Harris, Drama Teacher Adeline Nall, Classmate Rex Bright, Classmate Bob Roth, Classmate Bob Pulley, Sculptor Kenneth Kendall, actor Frank Mazzola, actress Beverley Long, Actor Corey Allen, and Stunt Supervisor/Automotive Designer George Barris.

    East of Eden: Art in Search of Life (19:31) is a very efficient and informative featurette that looks at both the John Steinbeck novel and Kazan film. On-screen comments are provided by San Jose State University Center for Steinbeck Studies director Susan Schillinglaw, Steinbeck’s son Tom Steinbeck, director Elia Kazan, Bast, Harris, and actor Lonny Chapman.

    Screen Tests (6:20) Features Dean and Richard Davalos performing a scene from the movie (that did not make the final cut). A more produced version of this sequence also appears as a deleted scene (listed below). This is an interesting alternative version of the scene as it changed quite a bit from the time of this test to the sinal scripted version.

    Wardrobe Tests are color camera tests that may be fascinating for super-fans of the film and the art of mid-50s color filmmaking, but coulf prove a bit tedious for the average viewer.
    • Richard Davalos (3:26)
    • James Dean and Richard Davalos (3:57)
    • James Dean, Richard Davalos, and Julie Harris (2:20)
    • James Dean and Lois Smith (3:08)
    • Lois Smith (2:55)
    • James Dean and Jo Van Fleet (:40)
    • Jo Van Fleet (4:20)
    • Costumes and Production Design (1:38)
    Deleted Scenes (19:14) Includes versions of two scenes cut from the movie. The first is the same Cal/Aaron scene that was used in the previously mentioned Screen Tests feature. The second is a part planning discussion between Dean's Cal and Julie Harris' Abra.

    3/9/1955 NYC Premiere (14:41) is an interesting historical promotional artifact. It features host/master of ceremonies Martin Block interviewing various luminaries of the era as they enter the premiere.

    Theatrical Trailer (16:9 enhanced - 2:53)


    Rebel Without a Cause (Blu-ray)

    Commentary by Douglas L. Rathgeb, author of The Making of Rebel Without A Cause. While subject to a few dead spots, Rathgeb's commentary is chock full of well researched information on the film, its production, and the people who made it.

    James Dean Remembered (1:06:22) is a 1974 biographical documentary produced by Jack Haley Jr. And hosted by Peter Lawford. It focuses primarily on Dean's professional life, and while it does not carry the depth of other documentaries in this set. Its real value is that it includes interview segments from participants who do not appear in many of the others. Among them are Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo as well as an eclectic bunch including Sammy Davis Jr., Steve Allen, and composer and friend of Dean Leonard Rosenman

    Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents (36:30) is a newer documentary created for the 2005 DVD release. This is a nice companion piece to the Rathgeb commentary, although there is a good deal of overlap. On camera comments are provided by Rathgeb, Bast, Screenwriter Stewart Stern, Natalie Wood stand-in Faye Nuell, Beverly Long, Frank Mazzola, Corey Allen, Jack Grinnage, Dennis Hopper and Steffi Sidney

    Dennis Hopper: Memories from the Warner Lot (1080p HD - 10:31) is a newly produced featurette in which Hopper reflects on his time at Warner Bros. In his late teens.

    Screen Tests (Black and White - 6:27) Feature Dean, Wood, and Mineo working through a scene followed by some silent footage of them goofing off together and playing with cigarettes

    Wardrobe Tests (Black and White - 5:05) features Dean and some fellow young actors modeling their wardrobe

    Black and White Deleted Scenes Without Sound is a collection of trims from the film from the first week of production before it was changed to color.
    • Kids Exit the Planetarium (2:42)
    • Gang Outside the Planetarium (1:12)
    • Gang Outside the Planetarium (Alternate Angle) (2:40)
    • Plato Gets on the Bus (3:00)
    • Kids Run Down the Ramp (:54)
    Color Deleted Scenes Without Sound is more deleted footage, this time in (faded) color. The most interesting is the last which shows a possible alternate fate for Plato.
    • Kids Drive up to School (1:36)
    • Kids Walk up to School (:56)
    • Kids Leave School (:31)
    • Jim Sees Judy (:55)
    • Kids Leave the Planetarium Auditorium (3:03)
    • Jim Hustled into Precinct (:50)
    • Gang Attacks Plato (:49)
    • Gang Attacks Man (1:42)
    • Cops Arrive at Planetarium (:57)
    • Parents Arrive at the Planetarium (1:20)
    • Plato Falls from the Planetarium Come (Alternate Ending) (:35)
    Behind the Cameras (Black and White) are excerpts from promotional segments created by Warner Bros and hosted by actor Gig Young. They were created to air after television screenings of Warner films in order to plug upcoming theatrical releases. The segments include some interesting behind the scenes footage of the production of the film.
    • Natalie Wood (7:57) includes staged interviews with Producer David Weisbart and Wood.
    • Jim Backus (5:47) includes staged interviews with Warner Executive Walter McEwen and Backus
    • James Dean (7:44) Includes a similar (and occasionally identical) segment with McEwen followed by an interview with Dean visiting from the set of Giant in which he ominously discusses car racing and highway safety
    Theatrical Trailer (16:9 enhanced - 2:25)

    Giant (Blu-ray)

    Introduction by George Stevens Jr. (:56) is a brief welcome greeting from Stevens, the son of the film's Director, that was originally recorded for a mid-90s video release of the film.

    Audio Commentary by Film Critic Stephen Farber, Screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and George Stevens Jr. is a track, dominated by Stevens that manages to sustain itself with interesting facts, anecdotes, and behind the scenes information for the film's entire running time. There are only a handful of dead spots, and all three participants distinguish themselves on this lengthy track.

    George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him (4:3 - 45:40) is an appreciation of the Director from a cadre of other filmmakers who are interviewed for the featurette including Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Rouben Mamoulian, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Alan J. Pakula, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, and Fred Zinnemann

    Giant (Special Features SD DVD)

    This is the exact same disc from 2003 that was included with the Giant 2-disc Special Edition. The printed artwork on the disc includes an image of Elizabeth Taylor instead of Dean, but the disc contents are otherwise identical.

    Memories of Giant (51:39) gives a number of interview participants a chance to reminisce about the film's production and working with the iconic director. Interview participants include Stevens Jr., Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Earl Holliman, and Rock Hudson

    Return to Giant (55:11) offers a broader group of perspectives from a broader group of interview participants. Quite a bit of time is spent discussing the location shooting in Texas. Hosted by Musician Don Henley, it features on-camera comments from Stevens Jr., The University of Texas' Don Graham, Earl Holliman, Rock Hudson, Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Dallas Morning News writer Bryan Woolley, Presidio County Judge Jake Brisbin, Local Extras Darlyne Freeman, Clay Evans, Lucy Garcia, Bill Christopher, Fran Bennett, Monte Hale, Bob Hinkle and Bettie Jo White Spitler, caterer Wally Cech, and Dan Molina, the child of a local crew member.

    New York Premiere Telecast (28:53) is similar to the New York premiere TV footage feature on East of Eden. In this case, hosts Jane Meadows and Chill Wills interview a variety of luminaries passing by their microphones on the way to the film's east coast premiere screening.

    Hollywood Premiere (16:9 enhanced - 4:21) shows a much less comprehensive clips from outside of the west coast premiere of the film.

    Giant Stars are Off to Texas (:38) is a brief black and white Pathe news clip of a farewell party for the cast including Taylor, Hudson, and Dean before heading to location shooting in Texas.

    Stills is a collection of 54 on-set, and publicity stills relating to the film.

    Documents is a collection of 32 images of production documents relating to the film.

    Behind the Camera: On-Location in Marfa, Texas (5:58) is another Gig Young hosted segment, this one focusing on the Texas locations and sets of Giant

    Behind the Cameras: A Visit with Dimitri Tiomkin (6:34) features Gig Young conducting a staged interview with composer Tiomkin

    Trailers
    • 1956 "Book" Trailer (1:33)
    • Original 1956 Trailer (3:45)
    • 1963 Reissue Trailer (2:30)
    • 1971 Reissue Trailer (3:03)
    A Giant Undertaking is a series of text based screens on the film and the people who made it. They are of little interest to anyone who has viewed the documentaries. They is broken down into six different sections selectable separately from the disc menu:
    • The Giant Behind "Giant" offers biographic notes on director George Stevens
    • The Wrath of Texas. The Eyes of Hollywood is a quote from Stevens indicating that the movie will not steer clear of the controversial elements of the book
    • Casting is a quote from Stevens about his casting philosopht for Giant
    • Finding Reata is a quote from Stevens about finding a place to shoot given the controversy surrounding the story
    • In Good Hands is a quote from Rock Hudson about his reaction to being cast and working with George Stevens
    • Marfa, Texas is a quote from James Dean about his research for his role and resulting fondness for Texas and Texans
    George Stevens Filmography is a text-screen listing of George Stevens films and the awards they have received in reverse chronological order.

    Awards is a text-screen list of awards and recognitions Giant has received over the years.

    Cast & Crew is a text screen list of key Giant cast and crew members


    American Masters: James Dean: Sense Memories (SD DVD) (16:9 - 53:42)

    This biographical documentary from the PBS American Masters series has a lot of overlap with the documentaries on the East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause discs, but includes better audio and video quality and less dated production values (especially music). On camera comments are provided by Mark Rydell, Martin Landau, Eli Wallach, William Bast, Eartha Kitt, Lois Smith, Frank Mazzola, Dennis Stock, Stewart Stern, Budd Schulberg, Corey Allen, George Stevens Jr., Bob Shirley, Marfa, TX resident Marcos Peña, and Robert Hinkle

    James Dean: Forever Young (SD DVD) (16:9 - 1:27:42)

    James Dean: Forever Young is a 2005 documentary film from Director Michael Sheridan with narration by Martin Sheen. It distinguishes itself from other special features on this collection by eschewing talking head interviews and including a lot of rare archival footage. This includes kinescopes of Dean's TV appearances that show him during his formative years as a professional actor in New York. This is a very welcome inclusion in the set.

    George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (SD DVD) (1:51:30)

    George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey is a 1984 documentary from George Stevens Jr. that pays tribute to the career of his father, Director George Stevens. It focus on his professional life (which is more than interesting enough to fill 112 minutes), with little delving into his life outside of filmmaking. This is the same DVD that was previously released separately in 2004. It is presented with available subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. A text biography of Stevens is also available from the disc menu.

    Physical Extras

    Enclosed within the deluxe packaging for this set are some physical extras, including:

    40 Page Commemorative Book which includes some short textual information and nicely reproduced photographs

    Three Mini Reproductions of the Original Theatrical Movie Posters folded in an envelope enclosed in the box

    Eight Behind the Scenes Photos in the same emvelope (but unfolded) as the replica posters

    Five Replicas of Original Production Documents from films in the set, also enclosed in the same envelope as the replica posters and photos.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5

    The James Dean Ultimate Collection Blu-ray set upgrades all three films to high definition with modest audio and video benefits compared to their 2005 SD DVD releases in the case of East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause, and a more dramatic video upgrade in the case of Giant, which is unfortunately still plagued with film artifacts inherent to its negative. All substantial extras are carried over from the 2005 DVDs, with a previously unavailable Dennis Hopper interview present as a notable addition to the Rebel Without a Cause disc. In addition to the film supplements, the disc includes three SD DVDs with documentaries, two on James Dean, and one on Director George Stevens.

    The collection is a no-brainer recommended purchase for fans of the actor who do not own any of the previously released DVD Two-Disc Special Editions, but for super fans who most likely already own the 2005 DVDs and documentaries on Dean and Stevens, it is not as easy of a recommendation due to the modest visual benefits (which become more significant the larger the display on which the viewer watches the films), and lack of any must-have new special features.

    Reviewed by: Ken_McAlinden
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