Blu-ray Review The Conversation Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Todd Erwin, Nov 5, 2011.

  1. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed The Conversation between The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, a small, almost independent, film about a surveillance expert, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), and the mystery surrounding a conversation between a young man and woman (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) he has been hired to record. Although often forgotten, The Conversation still ranks as one of Coppola’s best films.
     
     

    The Conversation


    Studio: Lionsgate

    US DVD Release Date: October 25, 2011
    Original Release Year: 1974
    Rated: PG
    Running Time: 113 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
    Audio:  English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono)
    Subtitles: English, English (SDH), Spanish

    An Important Note About This Release: Loading issues were found on this title when played back on a Panasonic BD60 Blu-ray player with current firmware. Disc load times from insertion to main menu averaged around 2 minutes, while movie load times (from the point of selecting Play Movie to when the movie actually began playing) where as long as 5 minutes. These issues were non-existent when played back on a Sony PlayStation 3 Slim. Both Panasonic and Lionsgate were apparently unaware of this issue when this reviewer contacted their respective Blu-ray Customer Support departments, with Panasonic indicating that “some Blu-ray CD’s take a long time to load” and Lionsgate saying that they would investigate the issue.

    Movie: 4.5 out of 5
    Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation opens with an aerial shot of San Francisco’s Union Square, setting the tone of eavesdropping in this 1974 mystery thriller. Gene Hackman plays the paranoid and very private Harry Caul, who lives behind a triple-locked door to his apartment, uses payphones for out-going calls, and sees his work as only a job, claiming no responsibility for whatever he uncovers. At least, that’s until he becomes obsessed with the recording made in Union Square, fearing that harm may come to the young couple if the tapes are turned over to the man who hired him (an uncredited cameo by Robert Duvall).

    The film does not follow convention, where the audience would expect the focus to be on the young couple and the mystery surrounding the recording. Instead, the focus is entirely on Caul, as we eavesdrop on his private life. Early on, we see Caul getting upset with a neighbor that has slipped a bottle of wine inside his apartment to wish him a happy birthday (getting past the three deadbolts and alarm system), meet his secretive girlfriend (Terri Garr) who desperately wants to know more about him and ultimately leaves him, and how he keeps his co-workers at an arm’s length even in sharing some of the technology Caul invented.

    Legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch heightens the sense of paranoia and voyeurism by purposely distorting portions of the recording and repeating those sequences without the audience growing tired of them, keeping that mystery in the backs of our minds. Director of Photography Bill Butler shot most of this film (replacing original DP Haskell Wexler) as if it were photographed by an automated security camera, keeping the frame static, allowing action to move out of frame and slowly catching up with the action moments later.

    In addition to Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest, the film also features a very young Harrison Ford (hot off of George Lucas’ American Graffiti) as “The Director’s” personal assistant, a role that was expanded when Coppola was impressed with what Ford brought to the (originally minor) character. The Conversation is much closer to the types of films Coppola envisioned making at American Zoetrope than the more commercially successful Godfather films.

    Video: 4 out of 5
    The 1080p transfer on this disc (using the AVC codec) approximates the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio, opening it up slightly to 1.78:1. The style of the photography may cause casual viewers to believe that this could have been a better transfer, but The Conversation is a perfect example of 1970s independent film making at its finest. Many of the soft and/or grainy images are intentional, and the transfer allows Blu-ray to do what it does best - replicate how the film would look in a theater. Colors are consistent, as are black levels, and detail is excellent. In the wrong hands, this catalog title could have been a disaster.

    Audio: 4 out of 5
    Viewers have a choice of listening to the film’s original mono soundtrack or a recently remixed 5.1 track created by the film’s original sound designer Walter Murch. Both are in DTS-HD Master Audio, and sound great. The mono track has been cleaned up, mostly free of hiss and pops, with clear dialogue. The 5.1 track has a bit more punch to it, with deeper bass, and a wider front soundstage with David Shire’s score emanating from the front left and right channels. Surrounds are used almost exclusively for ambiance, as there are no gimmicky discreet effects to be found. Although front-heavy, it is a faithful 5.1 re-interpretation of the film’s original mono mix.

    Special Features: 4 out of 5
    There are a lot of extras to be found on this disc, some new to this release, all of outstanding quality, and all presented in high definition.

    Audio Commentary With Director Francis Ford Coppola: Coppola speaks lovingly of this film, covering the history behind it, how the success of The Godfather and Paramount’s desire for a sequel gave him the leverage to get this film made, working with Gene Hackman and Harrison Ford, the problems he encountered on set, etc. This is a very informative track.

    Audio Commentary With Editor and Sound Designer Walter Murch: Murch’s commentary is more technical in nature, focusing, obviously, on the editing and sound design of the film. This is also a very informative track.

    Close-Up on “The Conversation” (8:39): This is a vintage 16mm documentary on the making of the film produced prior to the film’s release. Documentaries like this one used to air as filler on local late night television.

    Cindy Williams Screen Test (5:02): Interestingly, this screen test has the young actress reading for the part of Harry Caul’s girlfriend, eventually played by Terri Garr.

    Harrison Ford Screen Test (6:45): Like the Cindy Williams screen test, Harrison Ford is seen here reading for the part that was eventually given to Frederic Forrest.

    No Cigar (2:26): Coppola discusses how the main character, played by his uncle, may have been the inspiration for Harry Caul, as we see in one of Coppola’s early student films.

    Harry Caul’s San Francisco - Here and Now (3:43): This is an interesting look at the locations used in the film, how they appeared in the film, and how they look today.

    David Shire Interviewed By Francis Ford Coppola (10:57): Shire and Coppola (who is off screen) reminisce on the making of the film and the importance of music, as Shire plays parts of the score on piano. Shire also tells a very funny story about a screening of the film with co-producer Fred Roos, Walter Murch, Coppola, and himself after a big dinner of pasta and wine, in which they all fell asleep after the first 20 minutes of the film.

    Archival Gene Hackman Interview (4:04): This is a rough camera take of an on-set interview with Hackman during the shooting of the film.

    Script Dictations From Francis Ford Coppola (49:23): Coppola dictated most of this screenplay into a tape recorder, and excerpts from those recording are included here.

    Theatrical Trailer (2:50): This is a very typical 1970s style trailer.

    Overall: 3.5 out of 5
    Loading issues aside (which knock my score down ½ point), this is a great disc for an often forgotten classic from the 1970s, with great picture, sound, and extras to please any fan or film student. It also makes a great companion piece to Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State, where Hackman plays a much older version of a character that could easily be Harry Caul.
     
  2. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    On sale this week for $8.99 at Southern California Fry's Electronics locations!!
     
  3. ReggieW

    ReggieW Screenwriter

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    Thanks.
    I've pretty much given up on weekly sales from Fry's because everything "good" (especially catalog titles) is usally gone by shortly after noon on Friday....I usually have to work Friday mornings, so can't make it there early enough. I remember going there two Saturdays ago (the Burbank location) and they literally had no stock on ANY of the items I wanted.
     
  4. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    This is one of my favorite films, and my father's favorite Coppola film. There are some amazing images and sounds in the film, some great, muted performances, and a great piano score by David Shire. There's a palpable sense of paranoia hanging over even the casual scenes. The commentaries come from the earlier DVD release - and I remember that Murch's commentary includes an explanation of one of the biggest mysteries of the movie, in a way that makes complete sense.

    Enemy of the State actually uses a photo of Gene Hackman from this film as an ID for his character Brill in that film.

    Before the end of the year, I'll have this on my shelf.

    I have to agree about the Fry's sales also. Their biggest advertised deals regularly are only provided in very limited numbers so that you have to be the first one in the store to get them. Three years ago, they advertised the Spiderman Blu-ray 3-pack for around $29.99 on Black Friday, at a time when it was selling for quite a bit more. A friend of mine got there around 930am to pick it up, and found those Blus had been picked clean in the wee hours, since the store opened before dawn - meaning that if he wanted to enjoy that deal, he'd have to get on line at around midnight and then run to that section of the store as soon as the floodgates opened to grab a copy. And he'd have to hope that three or four people in the line in front of him weren't running there for the same thing - it would be more than possible to wait all night, run inside with the stampede, and still find out that the 3-4 copies are still already gone within the first 30 seconds. So I don't trust Fry's for those sales - I figure that's their way of getting customers into the store.
     
  5. ReggieW

    ReggieW Screenwriter

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    Yeah. I was in the Burbank area last night and decided to stop in about 8pm last night thinking "maybe I'll get lucky." Lo and behold, they were completely out of the Conversation and the Crow. I got a rain check for the Conversation, but I doubt I'll be returning there before an online retailer offers it for the same price Fry's was offering it at (considering its a Liongate release, I'm thinking very soon). I instead headed to Barnes & Noble at the Americana in Glendale to take advantage of the Criterion sale---and man did I! I think this was the frist time I EVER saw every single Criterion Blu-ray in stock in the store. So anyone in the LA area looking for a well stocked store for the Criterion sale, the Glendale Americana is your ticket.
     
  6. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    Yeah, this is one of the few catalog titles in this last quarter of the year that I'm kind of anxious to see again, but considering I only got one viewing out of the original release in all the years I owned it, I can't in good conscience lay out too much on an upgrade- especially knowing how fast the prices fall on Lionsgate titles.
    At $25 msrp, this will be available for around $12.50 retail before you know it. Maybe not before the end of the year, but probably not too soon after.
    I'm just going to have to bide my time on this one.
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Just to chime in, finally got to take a look at this, and Todd's comments are dead on.

    The Conversation is a film that holds up perfectly, and is a beautiful Blu-ray.

    RAH
     
  8. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    This is the type of film I wish I could come across again for the first time. I never tire of The Conversation. IMO it is the best film F.F. Coppola ever made. No offense to his others, I'm just a sucker for the 70's paranoia thrillers. I recall when I came across this film I was really digging into the films of the 1970's and films like KLUTE, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, NETWORK and the like I still feel today's films can't compete with them. When I had finally heard of The Conversation I think it had just been released on DVD and I was amazed by the film. Everyone is so great in the movie, down to the smallest part. Teri Garr is one of the coolest untapped talents. She owns every scene she is in for Scorsese's After Hours!

    The Conversation is a film that if you've never seen it, the less you know about the film, the more you may love it. I wish I could see it again for the first time. The best I can do is not watch it for years and I always come back surprised. I love the way the blu looks, to me it is dazzling in all it's grain filled 70's glory. I was drooling watching some of the night time street shots of the glowing street lights etc. This film is a MASTERPIECE!
     
  9. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    Well, that was quick.
    B&N.com now has this for $14.99. If you are a member, there is no minimum to get free shipping plus anyone can use the coupon code B3P8E4D to get an extra 10% off. Was content to wait till it hit $12.50, but $13.50 (plus tax) is close enough assuage my conscience.
    BTW, the code takes 10% off everything in the order, not just one item, can be used multiple times, and expires Wednesday 11/9
     
  10. Tina_H_V

    Tina_H_V Supporting Actor

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    I was fortunate, actually, to find this one at the Fry's in my area over the weekend on sale for $8.99--and it was the penultimate copy remaining on the shelf. All the other copies I picked up there at the time--even Julie and Julia for $6.99--were abundant in comparison.
    Under the tree this one goes next month!!!! May I be watching this one on a new 1080p HDTV very soon!!!!!!
     
  11. Michel_Hafner

    Michel_Hafner Supporting Actor

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    What I'm seeing on the stills is a flawed transfer with electronic noise/artifacts distorting the grain. Not fit for a purchase in my books.
     
  12. Sky Captain

    Sky Captain Second Unit

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    Why is Paramount not releasing this movie on Blu-Ray by themselves?
     
  13. Jeff Newcomb

    Jeff Newcomb Second Unit

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    It's a very good transfer.
    Paramount does not have the rights. They reverted to Coppola's American Zoetrope who licensed it to Lionsgate.
     
  14. Michel_Hafner

    Michel_Hafner Supporting Actor

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    Then where are the artifacts coming from?
     
  15. Sky Captain

    Sky Captain Second Unit

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    So that means that the Paramount logo won't be seen at the beginning, then.
     
  16. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    According to the packaging of the Lionsgate release the film is still owned by Paramount Pictures, they just licensed the film to Lionsgate. The film still opens with the Paramount Gul + Western logo.
     
  17. Mark Edward Heuck

    Mark Edward Heuck Screenwriter

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    What I have pieced together is that Paramount already had made a licensing deal for many catalog titles with Lionsgate for Blu-Ray release a few years back, since they were primarily focused on handling newer stuff. (That huge WB deal this year indicates that is still their mindset) While this was going on, Zoetrope Studios had already opened conversation with Lionsgate on their own to handle the release of TETRO. So the likely scenario is that, with Paramount's blessing, Lionsgate took on the release of APOCALYPSE NOW, HEARTS OF DARKNESS, and THE CONVERSATION, and at the same time, agreed to release TETRO and reissue ONE FROM THE HEART, in order to make it a huge Coppola promotion.
     
  18. Mike_Richardson

    Mike_Richardson Supporting Actor

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    Zoetrope made their own distribution agreement with Lionsgate -- had nothing to do with Paramount since Zoetrope controls their own catalog. http://investors.lionsgate.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=62796&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1451905&highlight= As you can see from the press release, "Paramount" doesn't appear once because they don't own the rights to any of these films. Coppola does.
    Zoetrope owns THE CONVERSATION just as they do APOCALYPSE NOW and the other films in the Zoetrope library. Whether or not the Paramount logo still appears at the start of the film (or any of these films) is irrelevant (and the IMDB is incorrect -- they didn't have to license it from Paramount because Coppola owns the film). The theatrical release of Apocalypse Now Redux, for example, went out through Miramax because Zoetrope controls it -- they didn't have to license these from Paramount because Coppola owns his Zoetrope catalog.
     
  19. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    On April 16, 2012, Panasonic released a firmware update (v2.64) for the BD60 that effectively resolves the loading issues found with most Lionsgate titles.
     

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