DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Essential Classics: Romances

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    Essential Classics: Romances

    Gone with the Wind (1939)/Casablanca (1942)/Doctor Zhivago (1965)

    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 1939-1965

    Rated: Unrated

    Film Length: Various

    Aspect Ratio: Various

    Subtitles: Various

    Release Date: April 24, 2007

    With "The Essential Classics" collections, Warner Home Video are re-packaging previously released DVD titles from their classic film library into attractively priced "instant collection" box sets. The discs in the box sets are identical to the most recent masterings of the titles at the time of release, but they do not include any discs that were devoted exclusively to extras.

    Since the discs in "The Essential Classics" collections have all been previously released, I will be departing from my usual format of comprehensive reviews, and focusing instead on highlighting the contents of the discs in a more general sense.

    The Films

    Gone with the Wind (1939 - Selznick International Pictures - 238 minutes)

    Directed By: Victor Fleming

    Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel


    Included here are the entire contents of the "Gone with the Wind Two-Disc Special Edition" released on January 31, 2006. The same discs also constituted the first two discs of the "Gone with the Wind Four-Disc Collector's Edition" released on November 9, 2004.

    The two acts of the film are each given their own dual-layered disc, with intermission music concluding the first disc and the entr'acte music kicking off disc two. The only extra feature appearing on these discs is a screen-specific audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Audio tracks include a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix in both the original English and a French dub. The film's original English mono soundtrack is available as a DD 1.0 track, but is listed under the "Special Features" menu rather than the "Languages" menu.

    For a detailed review of the film as well as the disc's audio and Ultra-Resolution video quality, please check out Herb Kane's forum review of the "Gone with the Wind Four-Disc Collector's Edition" by clicking on this link

    Casablanca(1942 - Warner Brothers - 102 minutes)

    Directed By: Michael Curtiz

    Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrada Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson


    Included here is the first disc of the "Casablanca Two-Disc Special Edition", originally released on August 5, 2003. Extras on the disc include an audio commentary by film critic Roger Ebert, an audio commentary by film scholar Rudy Behlmer, a two-minute introduction by Lauren Bacall, and text menus highlighting the cast and crew of the film, the working histories of the film's supporting cast, and the awards received by the film. Finally, an original theatrical and a re-release trailer are included as well as trailers for 'Legendary" Warner titles "The Adventures of Robin Hood", "Yankee Doodle Dandy", and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". For a comprehensive review of the film and an assessment of the outstanding audio and video quality, check out Herb Kane's forum review of the "Casablanca Two-Disc Special Edition" by clicking on this link

    Doctor Zhivago (1965 - MGM - 200 minutes)

    Directed By: David Lean

    Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Ralph Richardson


    Truth be told, I have never been a huge fan of David Lean's "Doctor Zhivago", but I fully acknowledge that there are a lot of people who disagree with me. The epic story of a Russian physician and poet who falls in love with the right woman under all of the wrong circumstances (they are both married and their country is being torn asunder by the Bolshevik revolution) is beautifully written, expertly visualized, and well-acted, but the central relationship between Zhivago (Sharif) and Lara (Christie) just never interests me at any point in the film, robbing it of much of its poignancy. That being said, I certainly do not hate the film, but I find myself only able to admire it from a distance.

    Included here is the first disc of the "Doctor Zhivago" special edition originally released on November 6, 2001. It is a DVD-14 (i.e. a double-sided disc with one dual-layered side and one single-layered side). The movie's first act is included on the first, dual-layered, side which runs approximately two hours, concluding with the intermission music. The film's second act is included on the second, single-layered, side which runs approximately 80 minutes beginning with the entr'acte music. In a nice touch, side two does not make you sit through a Warner logo or FBI warning screen to get to the menu. For some reason, both sides "boot up" to identical menu screens, so if you start the film by just selecting "Play Movie", the only way you will find out if you accidentally put the disc wrong side up is when you see the "Entr'acte" title card instead of the Omar Sharif introduction.

    The 16:9 enhanced video transfer, which frames the image at an aspect ratio just a hair under 2.35:1, features very good contrast and color with exceptional detail even in the darkest parts of the frame. The only marks against the transfer are a halo effect with some shimmering along high contrast edges, and a small amount of jitter in the frame, particularly noticeable in the opening reel. The haloing during the first half of the movie (although strangely, not during the prologue) is very pronounced and may be due to deficiencies in the film element, as it looks different and more severe than normal video edge enhancement. In the film's later reels, there are much less pronounced halos that look no worse than mild video edge enhancement. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offers generally excellent fidelity and particularly shines in its presentation of Maurice Jarre's score. The surrounds are used sparingly, and rarely with split stereo effects, which is not too surprising given that the original theatrical mix likely had mono surrounds.

    Extras include a one minute and 40 second introduction by Omar Sharif on side one consisting mostly of gushing praise for the movie. It plays automatically unless you start the film by selecting "Chapter 1" from the "Scene Selections" menu but is, thankfully, spoiler-free. Spanning both discs are a screen-specific audio commentary by Omar Sharif, Sandra Lean (the director's widow), and Rod Steiger. The track is dominated by Sharif and Lean, who were recorded together, with Steiger's separately recorded comments occuring mostly when his character is on screen. There are numerous silent passages, but lots of interesting information and anecdotes about David Lean and the film's production. Also spanning both discs is a Dolby Digital 5.1 isolated score track which is a great way to appreciate Maurice Jarre's Oscar-winning effort.

    Packaging

    The discs come in a four-disc digipack with artwork on all sides, including behind the clear plastic disc trays, which is housed inside an attractive foil-highlighted case. The discs themselves have exactly the same art silkscreened on them (or not, in the case of the two-sided "Doctor Zhivago") as they did in their previous releases. This can create a mild disconnect when, for instance, the packaging refers to "Casablanca" as "Disc Three" and "Doctor Zhivago" as "Disc Four", but the artwork on the "Casablanca" disc and the menu screen for "Doctor Zhivago" both say "Disc One". Since the authoring of the discs themselves is identical, all menu references to additional features on the non-present bonus discs are also still intact.

    Summary

    This package represents an attractive and economical way of picking up the latest and greatest DVD presentations of these three acknowledged classic romance films if you don't mind foregoing the extras that came on the previously released bonus discs for all three titles. There is some minor confusion caused by the old menus and disc labeling not connecting with the new packaging, but with a manufacturer suggested retail price of under US$31, this set represents an excellent value if you do not already own these films on DVD.

    Regards,
     

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