Hello DOLLY! Studio: FOX Year: 1969 Rated: G Film Length: 148 minutes Aspect Ratio: 16X9 encoded 2.20:1 (box mislabled as 2.35:1) Audio: 4.0 DD English (box mislabled as 2.0), 1.0 DD Spanish/Frendh Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurette, Trailer Release Date: Available Movie... You love it or you hate it. It’s one of my all-time favorite films bar none and Adam (official FOX reviewer at HTF) was kind enough to let me review it so I’m makin’ it real. And what better way to make it real than to have a "Hello Dolly" movie-party and enjoy the film with a group of friends on my friend's awesome projection-equipped home-theater?? “Hasn’t this DVD already come out?” I hear you ask? Why, yes it has. But the parade hasn’t passed by just yet and nobody’s making you read this review if you don’t want to. Story... Not going to waste too much time with what most folks already know. Dolly is a widow with a mission…after years of playing matchmaker she’s set her sights on getting married again and has found the man with the money to make it worth her while. Pulling out all the stops she puts her scheming and conniving to the test…and her manipulative escapades capture romance and adventure for those innocent souls caught up in her wake as she steam-rolls forward to get her man. Classic comedy-romance and those of you who like me grew up watching and loving this film know what a joy-ride this movie can be for those those who “get” it. A veritable bible of rules to live by--an indisputable cannon of truth as revealed through the metaphorical lens of the character of Dolly Levi. Bad? Well, certainly there’s a lot to criticize. But I think most criticisms that folks seem to quote ad-nausium end up falling short only because it’s the very things some folks hate that others enjoy. For instance, on the one hand Barbra Streisand is too young to play the role of the “widow” Dolly. On the other hand, it’s her youthful sense of adventure and energy that makes her characterization of Dolly so much fun and sexually charged. Most of the other leading actors can’t sing…but Walter Matthau’s tuneless droning only serves to amplify the restrained humor of his character and actually improves the “don’t take this too seriously” quality of the songs that he performs. The musical numbers are just far too exuberant and over-the-top and seem to lose sight of the story and characters they are about but it’s exactly this bold, brilliant, and utterly camp-laden extravaganza of sight and sound that is so much fun for Dolly Devotees. See what I mean? But the real magic of this film is how amid all the fun, strife, and banter it can turn on a dime and whisk you from laughs to tears. The reason is that beneath all the frenetic dance scenes, chaotic events, and spirited dialogue, there’s a substance and soul to this story that’s right below the surface just barely hidden from view. And when the moment is right, the distractions get swept back and the heart of this movie shines through and changes everything. Example: As the “How to Dance” scene is winding down in the park the camera pulls back slowly showing Dolly seated quietly on the park bench, isolated from the group, as a silent spectator watching the lives and activities of those around her. This moment reveals a depth and dimension to Dolly previously unknown to us, and it never fails to elicit a tear or two from me as she opens up her locket-photograph and asks her late husband to “giver her away” before the parade passes by. The poignancy of that moment is reason enough to justify watching the movie, faults and all, IMO. Thanks for letting me share (sniff sniff). So think what you will. For me, Hello DOLLY! is a wonderfully campy comedy-musical with a heart of gold. It’s no use Horace, I’ve made your mind. You go your way and I’ll go mine… Picture... Whether viewed on my 16x9 34” ProScan direct-view or my friend’s 96” front-projection system, Dolly is a visual marvel. It’s been a long time in coming, but it’s been worth the wait. From what I understand, Fox utilized a new 65mm interpositive for this DVD that was printed to 70mm and exhibited at the Egyptian Theater not long ago. I know some HTF folks had the privilege of viewing this theatrical projection last year and I’d very much appreciate you contributing your thoughts on the picture quality of this disc in regards to how it replicates the picture quality that you saw. This DVD has absolutely no “video” artifacts whatsoever. No edge enhancement. No compression artifacting. No “crawlie” looking backgrounds during pans from DNR. No scan-line aliasing or any other anomaly originating in the video domain. The only possible caveat is that the picture appears overly soft. After viewing this film critically on the big screen (Sony 10HT), viewing the trailer clips on the disc, and compared side-by-side to the laserdisc on both my direct-view and the projector, I’m under the suspician that the soft look is faithful to the appearance of the film elements and as such are NOT due to electronic hi-frequency filtering (a practice mastering houses often employ to facilitate compression). However, I won’t be 100% satisfied until one of you who saw the projected 70mm presentation chime in and let us know how you think the DVD image compares. Hopefully someone lucky enough to have seen the film print will be able to screen the DVD on a large-scale display system to make the comparison more meaningful. Please post your impressions here to enlighten us all. Color pallet is warm and saturated. The DVD presents color in an extrodinarily natural way…one that is very “film like” with a variety of shades and hues coming through without being “crushed” into a simple pallet of primaries. For instance, Dolly’s red dress at the beginning reveals a host of reds, oranges, and creams that can all be clearly discerned…it’s not just a “red” dress or an “orange” dress. Black level strong and solid. Aside from the usual and expected occasional film-related blemish the print/transfer is pristine. Laserdisc? How does the DVD picture compare??? You Dolly Devotees out there clutching into your 12” platters with that great cover-art might be wondering what I was wondering…how does the DVD compare to the otherwise reference-quality laserdisc from 1996??? Well, sounded like a good enough reason for me to take my Pioneer Elite CLD-99 and hook it up at my buddy’s house to do some projected comparisons… According to my eyes and those of my friends Matt and Raphael the differences/similarities we saw on the big-screen are very much like what I saw comparing the LD/DVD on my 16x9 direct-view: the laserdisc looks astonishingly good for the medium and the DVD improvements are real (and more significant on the big-screen) but the disparity isn’t as dramatic as I would have assumed. Colors are surprisingly similar. I had heard others on the forum who had expressed dissapointment that the laserdisc had better color to their eyes than the DVD. All I can say is that having compared the two scene-by-scene an hour on my direct-view, and then compared several of the same scenes on the projector, the DVD wins on all counts with the laserdisc very close behind. The whole exercise ended up giving me more respect for the laserdisc than I had before as I was expecting the LD to look much poorer than it actualy did--I hadn't anticipated the two two be so close in quality. The 16x9 DVD naturally improved detail/resolution and small-object detail, but due to the soft-focus of this film the increase wasn’t as dramatic as it usually is (when comparing 4x3 lbxed LD to 16x9 DVD). However, the increased number of active scan-lines/pixels capturing the image on the DVD did result in a “dramatic” improvement in one clear way—it removed all evidence of any scan-line aliasing and video “twitter” as the image panned vertically. Now, keep in mind that the comparison wasn’t 100% fair because we were displaying the DVD in progressive scan with proper 3-2 pulldown whereas the laserdisc was being fed (both my direct-view and the projector) as S-video relying on the deinterlacing of the display (and neither my TV nor my friend’s projector performs 3-2 pulldown for film-source material). However, even with faroudja-quality deinterlacing the laserdisc would still have likely exhibited some aliasing in difficult scenes from its 1996 mastering days. Also, I have yet to find a comb-filter (Y/C filter) free from artifacts and so whether using the 3-D digital comb filter in my Pioneer Elite CLD-99 or a 2-D combfilter in your typical display there will be artifacts introduced into the signal that won’t be an issue with component video from DVD. In the case of the 3-D comb filter in my laserdisc player, it contribute to a digital sort of combing during motion pans though it is void of any dot-crawl artifacting. Framing (aspect ratio)... edit 9-1-03: RAH has confirmed that framing differences are within normal matting tolerances. Bear this in mind when reading my comments... edit 9-2-03: Dee has confirmed that via DVI from his BRAVO DVD player (all digital connection) he sees the full "YONKERS" on his plasma display. Good possibility that the framing differences I'm seeing are being affected by the inherent over-scan in the component analog output of my Panny RP91 DVD player... Nothing starts a debate more easily at HTF than controversy about proper aspect ratio. These issues get more muddled as one deals with films that were projected theatrically in multiple aspect ratios, printed on various film-stocks for release, and sometimes cropped from the release print of one aspect ratio to approximate the frame aspect ratio of another for video-release to appease “number junkies” who want to see that historical aspect ratio printed on their box (even it was achieved by cropping an already-cropped image). Whew! Now that I’ve said all that…don’t worry…nothing to controversial with this DVD, but it is worth mentioning that the DVD appears to crop off the left/right of the image slightly in comparison to the laserdisc…and particularly seems to crop more off the left of the frame. Vertical framing appears to be identical on both video incarnations. I do not know which is correct, or more correct, or correct given 65mm source (confirmed by RAH). But I do know that after becoming aware of the slightly cropped left side of the frame, I did find myself noticing image content on the left that seemed to be compromised. For instance, on laserdisc, when the train pull up to the station after the opening credits, if overscan is minimal on your set, the “Y” is visible (or at least partly visible) on the sign on the left side of the screen reading “YONKERS”. On the DVD, the “O” is partly cut off and leaves you with “ONKERS”. I did some freeze-framing on my direct-view as well as on the projector comparing several shots for framing and it seemed that quite a few times on the DVD during dance numbers a dancer on the left would have half of his body cut-off whereas on the laserdisc the framing seemed more comfortable. We’re not talking much folks, and it’s not worth getting your feathers in a ruffle. Just trying to be thorough for those of you out there who lay awake at night contemplating these type of things. I seem to recall RAH stating that 70mm blow-up lost some information on the left of the frame as this was where the 6-track magnetic soundtrack was placed. If this is the case and this Dolly DVD really is mastered from a 60mm print as I suspect, then this may be the reason why. As usual, this is an open invitation for those of you with knowledge on the subject to share! Bottom line on the picture-quality comparison of DVD vs. LD: DVD is better on all counts (color, resolution, image purity etc.) but the laserdisc is surprsingly (at least for me) close behind and is truly a testament to the very best image that laserdisc is capable of producing. Those of you with displays 27” or smaller may not see much (or any) improvement in picture by replacing your laserdisc with the DVD depending on the resolving capability of your set and how closely you sit. But even those of you with 100” screens eager to upgrade to Fox’s new Dolly DVD should not put that laserdisc up on ebay auction just yet (teaser for what’s to come a little farther down)… Picture Rating: If you’re a Dolly fan and you’ve been waiting for an excuse to upgrade to that new 16x9 HDTV or projector…well, your wait is over! Assuming that the picture softness is film-source related and not an artifact of hi-frequency filtering (please provide feedback for those of you who know for sure)the picture on this DVD is a shining example of how to properly digitize analog film. Picture: 5 / 5 Sound... If you’ve been reading my reviews and are thinking “he always gives 5 out of 5 for any DVD that he likes” well fasten your seatbelt and put a lid on that coffee cup. With all due respect to the fantastic folks at FOX who really do seem to care about their films as much as we do, there is something that needs to be said. First for the positive. Consistent with many of their other 1960’s vintage films now available on DVD (ex: Sound of Music), FOX has admirably preserved the historic sound-mix which includes directional dialogue from the 6-track master on our Dolly DVD. BRAVO. While Dolly is not as directional as many big-budget films from this era, we still owe FOX our appreciation for boldly going where other studios fear to tread…a place terrifying to Warner Brothers (just had to say it). I want to thank the folks at FOX for their sensitivity to preserving the historic integrity of the audio mixes of their films by not “remixing” all the sound for “home theater” and arbitrarily dumping all dialogue into the center channel. No re-recorded follies effect either . Thanks. Next up, a caveat: The historic mix, while thankfully preserved here by the powers-that-be, is NOT an audiophile recording (nor was it ever). Vocals are very flat-forward sounding and the orchestra sounds flat as well with little sense of depth. Chrous vocals sound congested at times and there’s a general harshness to the sound when things (Barbra) really get going. These faults are with the source recording and not the fault of this DVD: the audio on the previous laserdisc had the same short-comings as does the CD-soundtrack (which boasts having been remixed from the source audio stems) from the late 1990’s. On the positive, dialogue is relatively clear and musical numbers sound full with good bass extension even if the overall presentation is a bit flat and artifical. So what’s the problem? Seatbelt tight and properly secured?…… Laserdisc: How does the DVD audio compare? I’m not going to tell you that the 2.0 PCM stereo from the laserdisc produces a more satisfying ProLogic experience than the 4.0 DD of the DVD (is that what you were thiking?). In fact, Dolly was an unusual laserdisc in that it was a rare case of the PCM sounding unquestionably inferior to the lossy-compressed 5.1 AC-3 Dolby Digital soundtrack (the 2.0 PCM just sounds muddy and ill-defined to my ears). What’s really, really upsetting to me is how much better the AC-3 Dolby Digital soundtrack on laserdisc sounds compared to the Dolby Digital on the DVD. Most of you who have laserdisc probably don’t have an RF modulator required to get AC-3 Dolby Digital playback from your AC-3 LDs. However, the difference I’ve discovered between the LD/DVD Dolby Digital soundtracks is important to discuss and even those of you without the laserdisc deserve to know about it. I’m hoping that by making this problem known, FOX might take better care not to make the same mistake with future DVD soundtracks. Folks at FOX, please understand this is the attitude in which I’m sharing my criticism and don’t take offense at my comments about the audio on this disc. To put it simply, the Dolby Digital on the DVD has been noise-suppressed to remove hiss from the master tapes which has inadvertently removed all low-level acoustic decay and high-frequency sparkle…basically stripping out all the richness and “life” from the audio recording. Yes I know other review sites have unanimously praised the audio of this DVD. And to put things into perspective, without an A/B comparison most listeners might never know that anything is missing. But I can tell you that when I first played the DVD through my system at home, my very first impression was “hmmm. Sounds like there are no highs…like all the high-frequencies have been muffled.” I noticed this immediately which was what prompted me to shake the dust off the old laserdisc in the first place. Taking the DVD over and playing through my friend’s lexicon system with B&W Nautilus speakers left me (and him) with the same distinct impression “The audio sounds dead.” It’s as if someone’s taken a thin blanket and covered the tweeters of the speakers. Or like when you take a cassette tape that hasn’t been encoded for noise reduction and hit the “Dolby B” button to remove the hiss during playback…you loose all the highs and most of the acoustic detail that makes the music worth listening to in the first place. Both in my system and my friend’s, we took care to synchronize the DVD and LD to do some crafty back-forth audio switching. The first thing to make clear is that the laserdisc AC-3 audio is recorded about 3-6 db higher than the DVD…but don’t let this fool you into thinking that this level change is the source of the “perceived” improvement. Adjusting volume leaves the sound-quality differences unmistakably clear. The best example for comparison is the famous “Hello Dolly!” number near the end of the film. Playing the DVD on its own sounds reasonably satisfying to most folks and you might not notice a problem (though some will as I did). But switching to the laserdisc AC-3 changes that entirely; it’s like someone just pulled the sound into tight focus and added a top-end that previously wasn’t even there. A soundstage that’s not present on the DVD recording suddenly appears on the laserdisc soundtrack as newly revealed acoustic space opens up into a soundfield. On the laserdisc, suddenly musical instruments have decay and atmosphere…instruments sound much more realistic and have timbres and textures that are less artificial. But the most dramatic improvement is in Barbra’s vocal track! Her voice goes from sounding restrained, blanketed, and “dull” on the DVD to suddenly opening up with a richness and texture that’s full of nuance and naturalness. Her voice literally “sings” on the laserdisc AC-3 audio. Whereas the DVD might have sounded satisfying enough before, switching back to it after listing to the LD audio makes it sound like someone just wrapped the speakers in a thin blanket—dull and lifeless by comparison (again, adjusting the volume to compensate for level differences doesn’t change this). The improvement of switching to the LD AC-3 reminds me of when, after having gone swimming, the water in your ears suddenly clears during a conversation a few hours later and you find yourself surprised by how much clearer everything sounds because you had become used to the “dull” sound to the degree that you hadn’t even realized that your ears were filled with fluid. To put it another way, the improvement of the laserdisc AC-3 vs the Dolby Digital on the DVD is more significant than ANY improvement I’ve ever heard with DTS/DD comparisons. Even my Partner (who usually avows not to be able to discern any of these “technical” things I’m always talking about with sound and picture) had NO trouble saying “Wow…Barbra’s voice sound so much clearer on the laserdisc…the music on the laserdisc really does sound better—much clearer”. You do the math. Any negatives with the LD AC-3 audio? Well, because the laserdisc audio preserves the full frequency response and most of the dynamic range of the master recording you hear some tape-hiss from the magnetic tracks. Not a problem for me as IMO that’s like seeing a bit of film-grain in the picture…it’s part of the medium and it’s not cause for criticism. The AC-3 on LD is also a tad bright…but surprisingly I didn’t find the “duller” sound of the DVD any less fatiguing than the LD during loud musical numbers. In fact, it may have been slightly more fatiguing because my ears kept trying to hear detail on the DVD soundtrack that just wasn’t there. In Fox’s defense, I can they were caught in a catch 22…either they run the audio through some sort of noise-suppressor and mildly compromise the fidelity of the primary recording OR leave the mix with all that gorgeous acoustic detail in-tact and run the risk of consumers and reviewers complaining about being able to hear “hiss” on the soundtrack. And that’s a valid concern: just like we have many folks who continue to complain about film-grain because they don’t understand the medium of film, you can just imagine how some folks would launch into whining because of audible tape-hiss on their speakers but who wouldn’t be bothered by the apparent lack of sonic information that comes along with noise-reduction because they're not aware of what they're missing (only those of us with the laserdisc and AC-3 RF demodulators have the opportunity for an A/B comparison). What’s a studio to do and where does the audiophile’s needs fit it? Solution? Why not put two 4.0 soundtracks on the DVD…one with hiss and one without. But seriously, the solution shouldn't be to compromise the integrity/fidelity of the source recording to take out the "hiss" for the DVD audio. This sort of thing falls into the general pool of “educate the consumer/studio”…just like the acceptance/importance of widescreen and preserving film-grain are things that the broader DVD community is slowly but steadily moving towards, hopefully awareness of the integrity of historic audio mixes (which FOX got right) and maintaining faithfulness to the fidelity of those recordings on DVD (which they didn’t) will get “on the radar” of the HT community and studios alike. You can bet that communities like HTF bringing discussions of topics like these out into the open are having an enormous impact at the studios “who care”. Skinny on audio… I need to be honest about the problem with the audio on this otherwise fantastic DVD effort. And to keep things in perspective for all of you now wondering whether or not you should buy the DVD, had I not had the laserdisc AC-3 to compare, my audio-comments would most likely be favorable with just a slight caveat of things sounding a bit dull. But having heard all that actoustic detail and musical-nuance on the AC-3 laserdisc tells me that the master recording had something special that’s been lost on this DVD soundtrack, and my suspicion is that it’s a byproduct of a well-intended effort to apply noise-reduction to remove all evidence of magnetic tape-hiss. Please FOX (and others), take my comments in the spirit in which they are intended…to help make sure that your evolving and generally excellent DVD efforts continue to improve to serve both fan and film alike. And for those of you on the edge of deciding whether or not to purchase this disc, let me assure you that the audio quality of the DVD is still very good, and my disappointment is more a reflection it could have sounded even better (so I'm still Highly Recommending this DVD despite the noise-reduction problem with the audio)... Sound: 3/ 5 Extras... You get the feature trailer (in 16x9 anamorphic, 1.85:1 aspect ratio which was likely its OAR—BRAVO FOX for 16x9 encoding the trailer). We also have a short-but-sweet 4x3 1.33:1 featurette of behind-the-scenes 16mm shorts filmed during the making of the movie which the I and the other guests really enjoyed. Lots of fans were disappointed by the lack of the many extras that were originally announced for this title. If FOX had deemed this title worthy of a 2-disc affair it would have pleased me very much. But for typically less than $15.00, this single-disc packs the right amount of extras given that absolutely no compromise in picture-quality has been made. Consider this a “super bit” Hello Dolly DVD (as far as picture is concerned) with a trailer and a short behind-the-scenes feature thrown in. Feeling better? Good. Conclusion... Despite my criticisms of the audio presentation, most folks will find the soundtrack very satisfying and indeed all 7 of us screening the feature film together on the projection system were able to enjoy the film and the musical numbers without difficulty. A reference image transfer makes this DVD a visual treat…sumptuous colors and a natural, utterly film-like presentation completely free of any “video” artifacts from mastering or compression. If you’re a fan of the movie Hello DOLLY! or are in the mood to enjoy an over-the-top musical camp-fest extrodinare…then put on your Sunday clothes and enjoy it before the parade passes by! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.