XenForo Template A Star Is Born (1954) Release Date: June 22, 2010 Studio: Warner Brothers Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Warner Digibook Year: 1954 Rating: PG Running Time: 2:56:00 MSRP: $34.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.55:1 Standard definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 2.0, Spanish 1.0, Portuguese 2.0 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish Variable The Feature: 5/5 Popular film star Norman Maine (James Mason) nearly makes a fool of himself in front of millions of people when he shows up drunk at a televised Hollywood benefit. Forcing his way on stage despite the efforts of his studio's publicist, the person whose act Maine interrupts winds up being the one to save his reputation. By incorporating him into her song and dance routine, Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) leaves the public none the wiser to Maine's self-destructive, but all too familiar, tendencies. After sleeping it off, Maine goes on the search for Esther, eventually catching up with her at a jazz club in the wee small hours. She and her band mates are unwinding with an informal jam session that becomes the perfect showcase for her singing talent. Though Maine has sought her out from a mixture of gratitude and physical attraction, the discovery of a talent so undeniable puts him on a different tack. By the end of the night he's challenged her to quit the band and go after something more -- real stardom, which he can help facilitate. Afraid, but enlivened by her new self-awareness, she decides to make the leap. But unfortunately by the next day Maine has stood her up, whisked away by his studio to a job overseas. But Esther remains undeterred. It wasn't Maine's promise to help that was the key, it was him helping her see the nature of both her capabilities and desires. Even if she's just making ends meet with two-bit production jobs and waiting tables at a burger joint, they're steps on the way to fulfilling her dream. Indeed it's one of those two-bit jobs that helps Maine find her after he's returned to the States. And true to his original promise he helps her get on contract with Niles Studio, though the big break they've been hoping for doesn't come until later, when Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford), the head of the studio, is faced with finding a new star for a musical or shutting down the whole production. Through some clever intervention, Maine helps Niles discover Esther (now named Vicki Lester) for himself, and with that one opportunity her stardom is all but assured. By contrast, Maine's career is all but dead. Years of alcoholism-fueled unreliability have damaged his reputation to the point the studio won't take anymore chances on him. Without at least some semblance of a career, Maine falls deeper into old habits - habits that had more or less come under control through his relationship and marriage to Vicki. But now with such an obvious imbalance between their careers, it becomes the catalyst for some of his most self-destructive episodes. It will test the limits of their relationship and ultimately affect the direction of Vicki's career. Though becoming a star has been everything she dreamed of, remaining one will mean making some difficult choices. George Cukor's "A Star Is Born" caught me off guard. Though it had the surface trappings of a studio musical (Judy Garland, Technicolor film processing, CinemaScope film format), past the title cards it defied my expectations. For a studio film from the 1950s, much less a Technicolor musical, I was not expecting it to have such naturalistic qualities. There is no better example of this than the opening sequence at the Shrine Auditorium. All of the music in the scene is sourced from the acts taking place on stage, the takes tend to be on the longer side, and the cinematography - including the selected angle of view, degree and type of camera movement and instances of lens flare - lends itself to a more documentary tone. Though the aesthetic isn't maintained through the film's entirety, little touches remain, in particular how all the musical numbers happen "logically" (as described in the attached commemorative booklet), whether it's Esther's rehearsal sessions or her watching the premiere of her musical. All of these touches of realism would be interesting on their own, but ultimately they serve to augment one thing - the candid depiction of Hollywood's star-making (and star-breaking) abilities, making this one of the most bittersweet musicals I've ever seen. If it weren't for the existence of the film "Once" (with which it has more than a few commonalities) it would certainly be the only one of it's kind I've seen. Much has already been said about the film being a showcase for Garland's talents. Indeed, it presents her at an incomparable stage in both singing and acting. There are many moments to choose from, but my favorites are the late night jazz club sequence and the heartbreaking monologue that precedes the final act. The latter will resonate deeply with people who have seen loved ones suffer from addiction, fully capturing the dichotomy of love and resentment that comes with being their support system. Of course the painful irony in light of Garland's own personal struggles will not go unnoticed. It would also be remiss not to mention Mason, whose portrayal of Maine gives substance to all that Esther feels for him; he is at turns charming, infuriating and utterly heartbreaking. It's just a shame that the film went through such extensive studio edits, shortened from 181 minutes to 151, in the attempt to generate more ticket sales (a move that ultimately backfired). Fortunately in 1983, thanks to restorationist and historian Ronald Haver, the film was put back closer to its original state, giving the public another chance to enjoy Cukor's vision through a nationwide, theatrical re-release. Though its debut on Blu-ray is a less significant affair, it does provide an opportunity for another generation to experience the greatness of the film for the first time. Video Quality: 4.5/5 The film is accurately framed at 2.55:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. There are a handful of notable issues with the image, but all of them appear inherent to the source material, specifically the results of the then fairly new CinemaScope format. Those familiar with its end product will find familiar the optical distortion and softness resulting from the lenses used at the time. The other issue worth noting is a glowing effect during Vicki's acceptance speech (edge enhancement ain't got nothin' on this). Given the extensive restoration and recovery work on the film, I'm more curious about the cause than a critique. And really, in light of the film's age and restoration history, there is little, if anything, to complain about. Colors are excellent, particularly Technicolor reds, and show amazing depth and fidelity. Though not always the deepest (I'm assuming because of the film stock), black levels are stable and contrast displays the full range of values with no obvious signs of clipping or compression. A healthy and visible grain structure also indicates the absence of excessive noise reduction measures. Likewise the absence of edge ringing or halos vindicate the transfer from unnecessary digital sharpening. Overall its an impressive looking image for a film past its 55th year. Audio Quality: 4/5 There is limited use of the rear surround channels in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, though the front soundstage is sufficiently expansive to keep up with the scope of the film. Effects and dialogue tend to be anchored around the center channel, though there is some occasional localization of both voices and ambient sounds. Though LFE is absent, the track exhibits nice fullness in the bottom registers and fine details in the upper, qualities put on display with practically every musical number. In particular, Garland's vocals sound suitably rich and substantial. I noticed some fluctuations in volume a few times, but the issues didn't happen often enough to become a distraction. Special Features: 4.5/5 The set of extras (housed on a single-layer DVD) focuses on alternate and deleted scenes and archival promotional pieces, giving viewers a good sense of the film's extensive production and marketing efforts. Though the 40-page commemorative booklet provides the bulk of the historical information, voice-over narration in the majority of the disc-based extras provides some helpful context. Introduction: In addition to teasing the contents of the disc, the introduction provides a brief historical overview of the film and highlights scenes that used Warner Brothers studio locations and facilities. "The Man That Got Away" Deleted Scenes (22:23, SD): Cukor shot the pivotal sequence 27 times over three days with different lighting schemes and wardrobe combinations before finally settling on the moodier, one-take version used in the film. Shown here are the "pink blouse" (5:12) and several of the "brown dress" takes, specifically take one (4:50), takes four and five in a side-by-side comparison (4:24), takes six and seven in a side-by-side comparison (4:12), and finally the medium close-ups (3:45). While the scenes illustrate Cukor's perfectionist nature, it also offers a glimpse of Garland's unwavering talent and energy. Alternate Takes (8:37, SD): As clarification, these are not takes that Cukor assembled and then abandoned, but first-time assemblies of outtake footage to show what might have been. Here's What I'm Here For (2:35) Lose That Long Face (4:57): Trinidad Coconut Oil Shampoo (1:25): Combined with an early playback recording and the final soundtrack. Norman Maine's Finale (2:14): Combined with an orchestration of "The Man That Got Away" "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street" Outtake (:58): A scene where Esther's character in the movie-within-the-movie must fill in for her mother. Film Effects Reel (:54, SD): Outtakes from the opening sequence that used footage from the Hollywood premiere of "The Robe." A Report by Jack L. Warner (6:22, SD): Archival, promotional short film constructed to highlight the studio's top theatrical productions includes several clips from the film. Though it apparently included clips from other films, the piece is not shown in its entirety. "Huge Premiere Hails A Star Is Born" Newsreel Montage (7:52, SD): News footage shot on black-and-white 16mm film covers the movie's premiere, highlighting who attended and including speeches given by Jack Warner and Garland. A Star Is Born Premiere in CinemaScope (2:05, SD) Brief look at the premiere in a different film format. Pantages Premiere Television Special (29:48, SD): Archival kinescope of the live nationwide telecast of the premiere consists mostly of announcer George Fisher interviewing attendees outside of the theater. Not surprisingly, little has changed about these kinds of events and celebrity-oriented programs. A Star Is Bored (7:12, SD): Looney Tunes cartoon starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, in which Daffy is hired as Bugs's stunt double. Audio Vault: Audio-only outtakes. Oliver on the phone with the director discussing Norman (1:25) Norman and Esther on the roof the Hotel Lancaster (3:55) Lux Radio Theater Broadcast (58:21): Radio drama, produced in 1942 by Cecil B. DeMille, tells the tale with Garland and Walter Pidgeon in the lead roles. Judy Garland Promotional (3:00): Columnist Louella Parsons interviews Garland about the film. Recording Sessions "Born In A Trunk" Rehearsal (9:05) "Someone At Last" Rehearsal (10:34) "Someone At Last" Extended Playback (7:16) "My Melancholy Baby" (7:06) "Black Bottom" (1:48) "Swanee" (4:57) Trailers A Star Is Born  (2:47, SD): 1.33:1 A Star Is Born  (3:53, SD): Matted widescreen. A Star Is Born  (3:46, SD): 1.33:1 Collectible Book: The nicely produced book-that-is-the-packaging includes cast and crew biographies and numerous archival photographs. Recap The Feature: 5/5 Video Quality: 4.5/5 Audio Quality: 4/5 Special Features: 4.5/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5 Warner brothers turns in an impressive video transfer and a great lossless audio track for an undeniable masterwork for both its director and stars. The special features package offers a healthy variety of archival materials, giving collectors some valuable glimpses behind the scenes.