A classic children’s film, Chitty is right up there with Mary Poppins, Willy Wonka, Wizard of Oz and the rest. A wonderful story about a hapless inventor (Potts) and his two children who live in a wind-mill filled with thier father's fanciful creations. Upon his children’s behuest, Potts saves a junked racing car destined for the scrap-heap and brings it back to life...and in the process transforms it into a vehicle that charms hearts and stirs imagination with its magic. This is the stuff that a child’s imagination can really grab onto. Is it fantasy or is it real? The wonder is how movies like this seductively blur that line...
Chitty delivers some great acting from Dick Van Dyke (Potts) and even more wonderful music composed by the Sherman Brothers. Chitty is one of those wholesome family films that everyone can enjoy, and while the film is slower-paced and a bit longer that most other similar children’s-genre films, most kids can stay focused and are sad to see those final credits roll up the screen. Having grown up with this movie since my early child hood, and having lived with the WS laserdisc for all my adult years, I’m pleased as punch to finally have Chitty delivered on DVD with such grace and style. MGM is to be praised for (finally) releasing this Classic in proper OAR on DVD with all the trimmings it deserves.
Similar to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Lion King, this Chitty SE DVD comes handsome cardboard sleeve with a flip-open tab held shut by a Velcro sticker. It’s nicely presented and looks very sharp. Once you slide the inner DVD case out of this sleeve, you find a “fold out” cardboard case that houses two discs similar to Universal’s E.T. Beware...the clear plastic clasp that the DVDs “snap” into is made of that more brittle plastic than the usual clam-shell or snapper case...and my copy arrived with some of the plastic DVD clasp-clips broken in transit so disc Two will no longer fasten in place. Given that this is about my only complaint of MGM’s delivery of this new Chitty SE that’s pretty small potatoes.
My favorite aspect of the packaging is the booklet that’s attached as part of the fold-out DVD case. It’s more than 15 pages long and full of colorful pictures with large-font text. This is *exactly* the kind of thing that kids can get into and really spend time with and stimulate their imagination. Add to this that the chapter stops are all clearly marked on the last page (making it a breeze to skip to your favorite song sequence) and this is one fine quality presentation. Thank-you MGM.
I had been made aware that back when Chitty first arrived on DVD on the older P/S-only edition, that THX had certified a 16x9 WS master that MGM had prepared along side the 4x3. I have my suspicions that this new 16x9 2.20 Chitty disc does not make use of that older master which is probably a good thing (there is no THX certification on the disc that I can find). Indeed, the packaging points out the new “high definition” transfer from which this DVD is derived and I suspect that this necessitated a new film-tape exercise. Whatever the case, the results are more than spectacular. To use the vernacular it’s wizard, it’s smashing, it’s *keen*.
The 16x9 anamorphic 2.20 image is breathtaking to behold. MGM has delivered both a 16x9 OAR and 4x3 P/S on the same disc by using a dual-side/dual-layer DVD-18 (sacrificing silk-screen art to provide dual-aspect ratio options). BRAVO MGM. If anyone wants to help educate your novice-viewer friend’s to the benefits of widescreen this is the disc to use (more on why later) so thank MGM for giving you both versions to compare. Chitty is one of those DVDs that really has the look and feel of real film when projected or viewed on a revealing display (a DVD that keeps coming to my mind that gave me the same impression was Hello Dolly, in case that helps you visualize). There are the usual anomalies associated with vintage film...some apparent film-grain, the occasional speckle and artifacts from older composite matte-type special effects etc. But those characteristics would still be visible were we watching a 70mm print at the Egyptian theater so you won’t hear any complaints by me...this is film we’re talking about and Chitty looks just as it should – like a glorious film that has been transferred with great care onto DVD without the image quality being marred with a "digital" signature.
Colors are bold and brilliant, yet natural -- far, far superior to the laserdisc which looks washed-out and muddy by comparison. Black level is solid and deep and gives a rich, three-dimensional look to the image. The apparent film-grain is fine-structure in nature and not exaggerated by any excessive edge sharpening. Finally our WS Chitty has been freed from the scan-line aliasing hell that held it captive on the older laserdisc. MPEG artifacting is apparent in a few solid-color large-field areas like night skies etc...but NO DVD is free from this...I think it’s just about the best that MPEG2 can do given DVD-video bit-rates. And EE zealots be warned...there is the *slightest* touch of vertical-amplitude EE that can *barely* be seen on a few strong horizontal line elements (the beach scene is a good example...with the ocean and mountain against the sky) but even this puritanical videophile wasn’t upset by it and I think that unless one were specifically looking to see it, it would just drift by undetected. We’re talking minimal (though naturally no EE is better than even innocuous minimal-EE, who would deny?).
So I just have to tell you what I find most impressive about the picture quality. It’s the astonishing level of detail...REAL picture detail. The kind that doesn’t hit you like razor-sharp edge-transitions because the film-style of a film like this is characteristically softer in nature, but the detail is there and the more revealing your system is the more impressed you will be. I’m going to coin a phrase so if anyone has first-dibs let me know and I’ll give you credit: I’m going to say that Chitty has excellent “mid-level” detail. What I mean by that in particular is that we all have DVDs that look smashing on close-ups when actors faces are filling the frame. But what happens when those actors step back in the scene and shrink in size? Well, on most DVDs (and all laserdiscs) when those people get smaller, their faces lose all definition at the “mid-level” distance/size. Not on Chitty. Faces maintain clarity and definition even when the frame is capturing 20 dancers on the set. That’s what helps make this transfer feel so “film like” and not like typical video.
This is especially important for a movie like Chitty (here’s where I tie into where I mentioned earlier that this is a great disc to show off the virtue of WS OAR). Most big-budget movies in the 1960’s were composed to be viewed large-scale on a cinema screen. The filming and visual composition were not catering to an eventual broadcast on TV or home-video release. These movies were made as MOVIES. Once this thought enters your mind you’ll immediately understand what I’m saying after just a few minutes of watching Chitty. The entire frame canvas is used to severe effect...important visual information is taking place across the entire width of the frame (ie, the director isn’t shooting to make the movie “safe” for P/S television). And it’s not just about making full use of that wide camera angle...it’s also about you watching a *big* image. Actors are only brought up close to fill the screen when it’s part of an intentional design for emotional impact. By and large the effect is more like watching characters from afar—you see their entire bodies walking in and out of rooms, you see several characters at the same time engaging in conversation verses the more typical “back and forth close-up” approach of many modern films. Dance numbers are also choreographed to reflect this large-scale presentation...you see whole hoards of dancers milling about on screen at once...as if you were attending a live theater show allowing you to look around the stage and choose to focus on whatever dancer you cared to scrutinize.
For these reasons especially, the excellent mid-level detail preserved on this DVD is of particular importance...it allows the emotion and facial expressions of the actors to be conveyed even when they recede into the “mid level” of the film-frame. Special thanks goes to MGM because someone behind the compressionist/mastering wheel chose not do to follow the usual (for all the studios) approach of filtering out fine-level detail to make compression an easier job...nor do I see what appears to be any “digital” signature from too much digital noise reduction. BRAVO MGM.
Picture: 5 / 5
The English 5.1 score is excellent considering the vintage of this film. Sounds are realistic and make good use of the front soundstage width. Surround use is minimal for the most part, excepting the opening scene which places the sounds of the race cars all around you (very convincingly), however I’m not going to be critical about the lack of wiz-bang surround use because it seems as though MGM has done an admirable job of preserving the historic multi-channel sound mix on this DVD – much like my impression listening to the 5.1 mix on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty DVD...I kept remarking to myself how “authentic” the 5.1 mix on Chitty comes across. Nice Job.
Bass is deep and well defined. Musical numbers sound lush and full and don’t sound “thin” or tinny. The laserdisc LPCM had a problem with the children’s voices being difficult to hear at times without raising the volume (which made the rest of the movie too loud)...not so with this DVD. All those wonderful moments where the gang burst into the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” theme song inspire as never before. Truly Scrumptious’ “Doll on a Music Box” aria sails forth with magical purity and makes great use of the front soundstage with one set of music-box chimes emanating from the left speaker and another set of chimes from the right with Truly’s voice centered between them. Just wonderful. Big-Bang musical numbers like “Toot Sweets” impress with a rich and warm orchestral sound that really compliments grand scale of those performances. I’ve heard other reports that this Chitty SE makes use of the same 5.1 DD mix on the previous P/S-only disc, so if you compromised your OAR principles and purchased that copy already (Bad HTF member...BAD!) then you’ve got an idea what this sounds like.
I haven’t had a chance to do a critical comparison with the LPCM audio on the laser yet, but so far my first impression is that the general character of the sound is improved with the 5.1 DD mix on this DVD. When I get a chance to do a serious A/B comparison I’ll post back here with an update.
Spanish and French are offered in 2.0 encoded DD (stereo) and Portuguese is offered in 2.0 DD mono. The fidelity of these tracks is clearly inferior to the 5.1 English so folks should only make use of them if necessary, but I’m glad that MGM bothered to include them as French and Spanish speaking young-children obviously can’t make realistic use of subtitles.
Sound: 4.5/ 5
Extras Extras Extras. I know some folks have been whining about a relative lack of extras on this DVD. But you know what? One could always argue that “more” could be added no matter how comprehensive an SE tries to be, so I’m going to take a glass-is-more-than-half-full approach here and be thankful for what we’ve got. Works for me.
First let me talk about Subtitles. We’ve got a plethora of subtitle options in the same languages for which there are audio options (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese) which is impressive. I make mention of this for two reasons:
- [*]There are folks who are hearing impaired and the subtitle feature of DVD is one of its most powerful features to make movies accessible to a wide group of people which is seldom utilized so effectively.[*]MGM has done a cool “sing along” feature using the subtitle feature. Basically, there are two English subtitle tracks: One is the usual no-frills subtitle and the other (the sing-along feature) only appears during song sequences. As the songs are being sung the color of the font changes on the subtitle text so you can “follow the bouncing ball” to sing along if you don’t have the lyrics memorized. I think it’s cool and I think it’s something that kids....and a few adults (cough cough me cough cough) will enjoy.
We also get a sort of “promo” featurette titled “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Musical Sneak Peek” which showcases snippets from a Chitty stage performance (who knew?). Curiously, and refreshingly, this promo is free from any spoken dialog and is all image/music based. I found it enjoyable to watch despite my initial “I like the movie I don’t need a stage-musical” reaction. The promo is 4x3 encoded 1.33:1 with 2.0 stereo DD (not encoded for ProLogic playback) and the audio sounds impressive.
Ok, I liked the “Remembering Chitty” documentary/interview with Dick Van Dyke. Would it have been even cooler to have had the two kids from the movie part of the interview? Sure. Am I mailing my Chitty DVD back to MGM all bent-up in a snit over what “could have been”? No.
Really cool is the “A Fantasmagorical Motorcar” featurette. Ever wondered what happened to the actual (one of several) Chitty motorcars? Ever wished you had it? Wonder if it got lost in some back-lot junk pile or ended up in the hands of an ardent admirer? Find out the answer here. And before I die, I *will* have a ride in that car. I get chills just thinking about it...
There is an original D.V.D. (tired of typing Dick Van Dyke) interview, a vintage featurette with the two Kids from the movie (very cool) and a “Ditchling Tinkerer” short about an eccentric inventor upon which the movie character of Potts is modeled. These are real archival bits of work...and I’m amazed that MGM managed to dig them up given history of this film. All are mono audio and 4x3 full-frame and look like heavily faded/aged 16mm film stock. But they’re cool and I’m glad to have them.
Most impressive of all is a very comprehensive collection of actual-original Sherman Borther’s song demos recorded before the making of the film. Almost every song in the film is represented here...the demo sessions are representative of how the Sherman Brothers envisioned the musical content of the film before production. Chitty aficionados will find the differences between the before/after interesting to contemplate. All the demos I sampled were 2.0 DD stereo encoded and were of superb sound quality.
I don’t know about you...but as far as I’m concerned I place much more value on historic materials like this over newly produced “looking back” documentaries any day. Not that I mind a here-and-now produced documentary from time to time (the D.V.D. interview is a nice example) but first and foremost I enjoy genuinely historical content like what MGM has delivered here on this DVD. BRAVO.
A veritable children’s classic finally makes its way to you on DVD the way God intended....16x9 OAR with picture and sound about as good as is possible given the limitations of our DVD format. Don’t expect to see or hear any improvements until HD-DVD rolls our way. MGM has, in my humble opinion, supplied collectors with a healthy supply of extras garnering a boni-fide “SE” status, much of which I found to be substantive and of real interest. And look...they even gave you a P/S option so you can show your HT-challenged friends exactly how much picture gets cut off when they watch their favorite movies with their TV filled.
I’m sending out a big “Thank-you” to MGM and telling the rest of you to place your pre-order now if you haven’t already. What more could I ask for? Well...let’s just say that the world will be a better place when they give the same DVD treatment to Secret of N.I.M.H.
MGM’s new Chitty Chitty Bang Bang SE DVD in two words: