Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Film Year: 1981
U.S. Rating: PG
Canadian Rating: G
Film Length: 127 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Pan & Scan
Audio: English DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1, French & Spanish Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Layer Change: 1h09m39s
Release Date: January 13, 2004
So here it comes; one of the most celebrated musicals of the 1980s is finally coming to DVD in a special edition to replace that old standard release on the shelf…well, sort of. Here we’ll find many people at odds having to make a choice, and a choice I know many people will hate to make. I find it funny that my last post on Home Theater Forum had me quoting I will no longer review 4:3 pan and scan titles of widescreen films. Yet, here I go again. I did request this title before I put up that post so I’m still safe for those of you who are watching. I have always been a widescreen enthusiast and I was disappointed to see the Annie: Special Anniversary Edition press release not list a widescreen option. Why? I have no idea and plan to find out.
I’d like to know how special of an edition this is to only receive a cropped version as the new alternative to the previously released 2.35:1 release in 2000? It is only half a special edition to me. The reason why I say this is because this release has a fabulous new DTS 5.1 surround soundtrack that delivers better than any other release so far. So now you have to make a choice: do you want to keep watching your widescreen version and have a mediocre Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack, or would you watch the pan-and-scan version with a wide music soundstage with very good clarity and dynamics on the DTS 5.1 surround option, giving this musical something to finally sing about?
This isn’t a very fair situation us consumers have been put in. As a widescreen and consumer advocate, I’m not shy in being up front with this. Not a good move, Columbia. All widescreen elements would have had to be destroyed for anyone to justify this 4:3 release. Am I bitter about it? Yeah! Many mass consumers of DVD understand widescreen now and are appreciating it more. Videophiles and early adopters of DVD take pleasure in seeing films in their original aspect ratio. It is well known that this group is growing greater all of the time. I also consider myself to be an audiophile, so naturally I’ll want to listen to the DTS soundtrack, especially because this is a musical. I will end up resorting to this release because of that reason. Is this a test, Columbia? Give consumers 4:3, but slap on DTS and see if they will buy and then record the stats? Seems like the likely scenario since DTS is only released on Superbit titles. Although I think all titles should be considered to have a DTS option with the original aspect ratio of the feature and pool the features to a second disc. To me, a DVDs main goal should be to present the feature in the best presentation possible. All else comes next.
Now I got that out of the way, let me tell you a little about the film. Annie is based on a Broadway Play that was based on a comic strip from the Chicago Tribune named Little Orphan Annie, who’s name was taken from an 1885 poem by James Whitcomb Riley. The comic, created by Harold Grey, was originally titled Little Orphan Otto, but was changed to a girl on the August 5th strip in 1924. The strip even went on to be one of radio’s first juvenile serial dramas in 1930. After a long run in many types of media, the story was brought to Broadway when Martin Charnin, the lyricist and director of “Broadway Annie” bought a Little Orphan Annie book for his friend as a Christmas present. After thinking about making a musical about it and taking it to musician Charles Strouse and writer Thomas Meehan (and hating the idea), Annie was made within 14 months but didn’t go to Broadway until 4 years later because no producer would accept it. It wasn’t until Broadway’s Mike Nichols saw it in a small run and loved it and he presented it on a New York stage. It was an immediate hit!
It was decided a film was to be made and Director John Huston took the job. The story takes place in 1932. Annie is one of many girls slaving in an orphanage under the mean Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett), an alcoholic and a single woman who runs the place by herself. The girls all love her to the point they want to run away. Annie is always on a quest to do so, and one day she gets an opportunity to leave the orphanage and live with billionaire Oliver Warbuck’s (Albert Finney) for a week as a publicity stunt. Harold Grey’s conservative political views shine through Warbuck revealing his love for money, power, and capitalism. Warbuck doesn’t believe he can ever love a child, but Annie proves him otherwise as he becomes determined to help Annie achieve her goal. Money and power becomes less an object to him and the climax of the film will test his love for her.
This film also stars Tim Curry as the mischievous Rooster, and Ann Reinking as Grace Farrell, the official secretary to Warbucks. Annie is a cheery film and a remembered one. Its message is a simple one of love and consideration for others, and the balance of people and wealth. It is aptly placed during the time Franklin Roosevelt would apply “The New Deal” - to restore pride and wealth back to the American people.
Video Quality? /
Originally photographed in 2.35:1, it was decided this “Special Anniversary Edition” is only worthy of a full frame pan-and-scan 1.33:1 image. Upon the first opening shots I clearly felt this was no better than watching a VHS tape. The dark scene was full of grain and dirt specs and was soft in focus. The whole film follows suit. It lacks good detail and has no depth for a flat looking presentation. There is a slight pink tone to the image, with a frequent emphasis on red. The colour of the film looks very much like a release in the 1960s, which is unique for this ’80s flick. Black level is very deep, but some scenes it is very undefined and lacks any shadow detail. The use of edge enhancement is mostly noticeable on the opening titles and outdoor scenes. This is a disappointing release in the area of picture quality.
Audio Quality? /
The music score is where this soundtrack shines! Featuring a new 5.1 audio mix for the first time, Annie has never sounded better before! There are both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 encodings on this disc. Both deliver a remix that has a wide music soundstage with relatively good depth. Music is stretched beyond the borders of Left and Right Front speakers even into the surrounds (that are used primarily for the music soundstage expansion). Big band instruments are clear and dynamic offering great low frequency with drums and a good level of high frequency that isn’t bright sounding like the rest of the soundtrack.
Dialogue is always intelligible but it’s strained and can be sibilant. Often people sound like they are speaking into a can, and the ADR is not integrated well at all. There is a forward nature to the voices that sound detached from their faces despite syncing up with lips pretty good. The vocals sung are even more detached sounding from their faces, but this is just the nature of a musical. Vocals are recorded about 65% phantom L/R and about 35% hard centre.
Sound effects are very limited in dynamics. Most sounds are monaural (centre channel only), but there are some instances where sound effects do pan from one channel to the next but with awkward success. One instance is when one of Mr. Warbuck’s maids is running into the scene. Even though her footsteps and on screen actions are coming from the right side of the screen, her dialogue as she runs is kept firmly in the centre channel not following the rest of her movement. There are also at least two instances of some sound effects coming from left channel when the action is on the right side of the screen. The sound effects in the film from something simple like Sandy’s barking to the “bigger effect” of an exploding bomb sound very dated and thin. Not much has been done to add a little more space in sounds to scenes. The scene with Annie and Warbuck in the pool is a great example. Here they are in a pool and their voices are reverberating everywhere, yet all the reverb and dialogue only comes from the center channel. Despite these few gripes, the music soundtrack is excellent and must be checked out for this reason alone. The disc allows one to toggle through the audio options, and the DTS soundtrack is preferred for its “musical” and “airy” feeling that seems missing from the Dolby Digital version. The DTS encoding is more resolving of low frequency in the main channels and the high frequencies can be a little brighter sounding. LFE output on both versions was unnoticeable from my listening position. This soundtrack is noticeably superior to the 2000 DVD release.
Special Features? /
There are a few special features on this disc along with a few surprises that are worth noting. There are two sections in the special features page that are widescreen enhanced!. This is very surprising considering this is a 4:3 release! I get a disappointing feeling that the movie got such horrible treatment in the video department and the special features look much better. In almost every case these features show clips from the movie, and most movie clips are presented in their original 2.35:1 scope and is widescreen enhanced. These clips actually look a world better in quality than the feature presentation. There is less grain and better resolution, most likely pulled from the master of the 2000 release. After seeing these few short clips it is evident of how much picture information is lost in a pan-and-scan viewing of a 2.35:1 film.
Anyways, the first feature is titled My Hollywood Adventure with Aileen Quinn (12m03s). Aileen Quinn shows herself twenty years later and discusses about the days in the making of Annie. When she was eight years old she was in the Broadway Show of Annie, and when it was announced a film was to be made over eight thousand girls auditioned for the role. After Director John Huston overlooked the screen tests of the three remaining girls it was evident that Quinn would receive the role. This featurette also tells a little about the filming locations; the estate in New Jersey for the Warbuck estate and then filming in California. Overall this is an interesting little featurette. The only thing I take issue with is the audio quality around Quinn’s voice. There is a constant whirring sound like a spinning disc or like crickets that is in the source and is a little annoying during the time she speaks.
Up next is the Activities page! There are three activities on this page. The first two are 4:3 and the last one is 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen, and all are DD2.0 stereo. I found the first feature to be the most interesting. Since I love trivia (and I seem to be full of useless, but interesting facts), I now have more party trivia to talk about thanks to The Age of Annie trivia feature. Over a period of about 10 minutes you can find out things that happened during Annie’s era such as why there were poor an rich people living in the same area in New York, and that the Empire State Building took only two years to build. Did you know that because of the poor conditions after the stock market crashed the orphanages filled up because parents were leaving to find work beyond the city’s boarders? Did you know Dupont used to make the most luxurious cars in the world before they made paint? Find out more here!
The next activity is the Sing Along With Annie where you (if you feel talented enough when there is no one around you) can sing the words to three songs in the film: Maybe, Tomorrow, and It’s The Hard Knock Life. This feature takes you to the moment in the film when the song is sung and you have the choice to either sing along with Annie or choose to not have the lyrics play. Forgot the words? That is ok! The lyrics are at the bottom of the screen with the ever-so-dependable bouncing ball ready to cue you on each word.
Lastly, there is the Act Along With Annie feature. Narrated by Quinn, three different scenes are presented here. In the film, Annie found it necessary to “act” while she was trying to get herself out of a situation. One example is the way she got Sandy from being thrown in the pound. Quinn gives pointers on how to act just like Annie as you watch the clip in the film. Then it is ACTION! time and it’s your turn to speak her words as the scene continues. The dialogue is subtitled at the bottom of the screen so you can respond to the people as they talk to you. This will test your acting skills, but beware! you may find yourself acting in front of a mirror if you play with this feature too much. Then you’ll have some explaining to do if you get caught.
Also included on this disc is Musical Performance by PLAY - It’s The Hard Knock Life. This is a teeny-bop version of the Annie song by four girls who look like they’ve come straight out of the ‘80s in fashion. The hair! The clothes! The make-up! Girls, you have it all wrong!! If the music industry (and thus fashion industry) trend is to go back to ‘80s style it’s wayyy to early to do this! I’m still throwing out ‘80s stuff hiding in closets in the house. The ‘80s are too recent and the styles are laughed at right now and not embraced like some of the new trends in ‘60s and ‘70s wear. I’m not ready to go dancing in Tech-Noir so let’s keep to the current fashion trend. Speaking of trends, what’s up with Columbia and not supplying theatrical trailers of the feature on the disc? Annie, like many other discs I’ve encountered, have theatrical trailers on them but not for the feature. There are no DVD-ROM features either.
As a gift from CTHE’s national partners, you will receive up to $50 in coupons inside of the chapter sleeve holder (and the promo for “Play’s” record has to be cut from the sleeve) to various places like Days Inn and LegoLand, California.
As you already know, I’m disappointed about the lack of a high-quality widescreen presentation. The DTS 5.1 encoding is awesome and should not be missed for this musical. The special features aren’t bad but they aren’t as extensive as one would think considering the amount of marketing dollars put into this release. Actually, I’m not even sure what kind of Anniversary this disc is celebrating anyways…the 20th Anniversary was missed two years ago…so is it more accurate to say this is a Birthday Edition? So once again you have a choice…the old widescreen and DD2.0 version, or the new full frame with DTS 5.1 version. Since this appears to be the final release for a while, there isn’t always a tomorrow for a better-loved release. But if we all speak-up loud enough, we may soon be singing ‘maybe’…?