Film Length: 196 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – DTS 5.1; English, Spanish, and French – Dolby Digital 5.1
“The list is an absolute good. The list is life.”
It has been said that truth is usually stranger than fiction. In similar fashion, sometimes films based on actual events are much more powerful, engaging, and memorable than movies depicting fictitious events and characters. Such films can stir the heart, stimulate the mind, and when done correctly, can almost make it seem to the viewer as if he/she is looking through a window to the past. Acclaimed director Steven Spielberg’s Schindler's List, a heart-wrenching, passionate account of one of the most cold, brutal, and inhumane periods in recorded history, is just such a film.
While Schindler’s List may not be Spielberg's best known, or most popular, work among all demographics, it is arguably his most important and personal film. Shot almost entirely in stark black-and-white, this film is the account of one man, named Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who endeavored to rescue as many Polish Jews as he could from the Nazi powers bent on systematically wiping them off the face of the Earth. Interestingly, however, Mr. Schindler did not start off as such a humanitarian….
It turns out that before Oskar Schindler was known as a hero, he was the man who knew the right people, especially in the black market. In addition, he was a man that placed himself in the good graces of SS officers to further his own interests, and sampled freely of the finer things in life, like beautiful women, quality suits, and expensive liquors. Further, Oskar possessed the business acumen to recognize a good moneymaking opportunity when he saw one. As such, he seized the opportunity to reduce his labor costs by hiring Jewish laborers from German concentration camps and paying them a pittance to work in a factory he had established. Since he supported the Nazi party (at least on the surface), specifically the influential officers, the powers that be were more than happy to help him get this factory up and running.
Interestingly, although Schindler was shrewd at recognizing opportunities, he knew almost nothing about managing the day-to-day operations of a business. Schindler’s arena was presentation, and creating a certain image, not the management of financial resources. As such, he ended up hiring a Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), to handle the finances and operational side of things. Stern was also tasked with searching Krakow to find Jews willing to work in the factory. As it turns out, many of them were glad to accept work in the factory, hoping that working there will make them “essential workers”, and thus increase their chances of survival.
Thankfully, Spielberg treats the complex relationship that develops between Oskar Schindler and Itzhak Stern with a great deal of respect by allowing the understanding that develops between them to come about slowly. Commendably, Spielberg also refrains from shying away from the more unsavory aspects of Oskar Schindler’s character. Specifically, as he starts up the factory, it is clear that Mr. Schindler’s intent is use the Jewish workers as a means to make himself a lot of money. At this point, they are just a means to an end. However, as the Second World War drags on, Schindler eventually becomes sickened by the plight of these people, and his focus shifts to helping them survive. As such, he starts using his wealth and position within society to help as many Jews as he can escape enslavement, torture, and death at the hands of their German captors, at no small risk to himself.
In terms of its authentic treatment of the period, Schindler's List offers what are arguably the most thoroughly accurate and realistic depictions of World War II from the perspective of the Jews who lived through this barbaric time. By being so true to these people and events, Steven Spielberg has created a piece of art that gives viewers a taste of the human suffering that was rampant during the War. It is also worth noting that this film was shot on many of the actual locations where that the events depicted in it took place, including Oskar Schindler’s factory. This level of care by Mr. Spielberg and company is not only admirable, but it also helps make the film that much more powerful. By the way, I must once again say bravo to Mr. Spielberg for not soft-soaping the indignities suffered by the Jewish people, and for not downplaying Mr. Schindler’s character flaws!!!
However, as you might expect, it takes more than historical accuracy to create such a cinematic masterpiece. To this end, Schindler's List is almost universally beloved because in addition to being true to its subject matter, it is a wonderfully acted, superbly directed film, and probably more emotionally involving than anything else Mr. Spielberg has ever done. Indeed, everyone on the production seemed to be determined to creating a special film, from actors Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley, who turned in remarkable performances in the lead roles; to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s wonderful black-and-white photography; to the lovely music by John Williams, the guru of movie scores. Basically, all of these individuals pooled their talents to create one of the most riveting motion pictures ever made.
Although the word masterpiece does not even begin to do this film justice, I think that is exactly what Schindler's List is: an absolute masterpiece in every sense of the world! Despite the fact that it dredges up painful memories and images of one of history’s most horrifying periods, it also manages to exhibit the best qualities of human behavior, namely selfless generosity and courage in the face of great evil. For all of these reasons, the celebrated Schindler’s List, which was nominated for an mind-boggling 12 Oscars®, and took home 7, including Best Picture and Best Director, is a movie that everyone should watch at least once.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
I must admit that hearing Schindler’s List would be placed on a single DVD, along with four separate 5.1 channel audio tracks, gave me cause for concern. Happily, though, Universal avoided any compression problems by placing part of the three-hour film on the flip side of the disc. As such, Janusz Kaminski’s superb black-and-white photography is rendered dazzlingly.
More specifically, this transfer is brimming with detail, thanks to deep, rich blacks and a well-balanced contrast. As a result, shadow detail is also very good, giving the image a sense of three-dimensionality. Shades of gray were delicately reproduced as well, and if you have already seen the film, you may remember that there is also a very selective use of color. With this in mind, colors looked just fine, perfectly saturated without any bleed or banding, keeping the focus on their emotional impact, which is where it should be.
Given the prestige of this title, I am also not surprised that the source print is immaculate, with nary a spot to be seen. Occasionally, however, a minute amount of edge enhancement is evident, but it never reaches a level I would consider even mildly distracting. Of course, there is a moderate amount of film grain visible, but most Spielberg films contain this, and I think it actually adds character to the film by making it look appropriate to the period it is trying to represent.
Quite simply, this is a spectacular visual presentation of a marvelous film! After such a long wait for this film to make it to the DVD format, I (and probably many others) would have been more than a little angry if this film did not look as good as it does. Kudos to Universal for making sure that this highly anticipated title received the red-carpet treatment it so richly deserves!!!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Most of the audio information in Schindler’s List is relayed to the audience through the front channels, and the sounds of both speech and war sound pretty darn good in either DTS or Dolby Digital! Dialogue is particularly well rendered, as it is presented without hissing, sibilance, or other distractions.
During the more intense sequences, or louder passages in the score, the soundstage opens up to reveal a tangible sense of space and depth. At these times, an even frequency response and smooth, natural panning allows the listener to feel almost as if they are in the Jewish ghetto being rounded up by German troops, to give one example. In the case of music reproduction, the majority of John Williams’ beautiful score is isolated in the front of the listening space, although it never fails to invoke the emotion appropriate to what is happening on-screen.
The .1 channel also makes it presence known here and there, especially during chapter 3 on the second side of the disc. In this sequence, the subwoofer’s low rumble reinforces the sickening sound of Auschwitz’s crematoriums. The LFE channel also gives noticeable impact to the Germans’ gunfire throughout the film, and heightens the tension during the final raid on the Jewish ghetto by Nazi soldiers.
In the final analysis, whether you prefer Dolby Digital or DTS, both handle the dynamic nature of the source material adeptly, though in my opinion the DTS track has a slightly more defined low end, and a more tangible sense of space. Once again, good job Universal!
NOTE: The bonus features are all located on Side B of the disc!!!
Voices From the List
Running almost 80 minutes, this fascinating featurette includes excerpts of videotaped testimonials given by some of the people on “Schindler’s List”. Over the course of this featurette, these individuals relate their personal experiences with Oskar Schindler, the horrific treatment they suffered at the hands of the Nazis, and in some cases, personal experiences with the head of the Plaszow concentration camp, Amon Goeth. More disturbingly, these individuals described the atmosphere of hatred the Jewish people endured both right before and during World War II.
Although this is the only extra of real substance on the disc, I really did not have a problem with that, as this is their story (the Jews Oskar Schindler helped survive). Indeed, although I was initially disappointed not to hear much from the actors or filmmakers, I ultimately came to the conclusion that this documentary suits the film much better. It is especially interesting to see how some of these people’s stories ended up in the final film! At once intimate and heart-wrenching, this documentary had me in tears a couple of times, and I cannot be accused of being the most emotional person in the world. This is a very powerful, well-done piece, and is certainly worth watching!!!
The Shoah Foundation Story (with Steven Spielberg)
This 12-minute piece offers a touching behind-the-scenes look at the wonderful work done by the Shoah foundation, which aims to help eliminate hatred and prejudice. In addition to conducting videotaped testimonials from Holocaust survivors, the foundation has produced several award winning films, and a wealth of educational materials, based upon the testimonials.
Cast and Filmmakers: Bios and Film Highlights
Brief biographies and film highlights are included for:
--- Steven Spielberg--- John Williams
--- Liam Neeson--- Michael Kahn’
--- Ben Kingsley--- Janusz Kaminski
--- Ralph Fiennes--- Thomas Keneally
--- Caroline Goodall--- Steven Zaillian
--- Jonathan Sagalle--- Gerald R. Molen
--- Embeth Davidtz--- Branko Lustig
About Oskar Schindler
Several pages of text chronicle the life of a man who started out as a suave profiteer, but later became a brave humanitarian who risked his own life to save a great many Jews from the concentration camps.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Schindler’s List, arguably Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus, is an incredibly powerful and touching tale of a flawed man who become a great humanitarian amidst the barbarism of World War II. To its credit, the movie is unflinchingly realistic, and does not shy away from depicting the faults of its protagonist, or the way the Jews were treated like animals by the Nazi regime. The movie also features stellar performances, an emotional score by John Williams, and wonderful photography by Janusz Makinski. What more can I say? Though it is tough to watch at times, Schindler’s List is a true masterpiece!
As far as presentation goes, Universal has afforded Schindler’s List with a beautiful anamorphic transfer and several flavors of audio, including DTS! As I mentioned, I was initially worried about the movie being on one disc, as there are four 5.1 channel tracks, and the film itself is over three hours long. Fortunately, however, Universal wisely decided to spread it over both sides of the disc to avoid compression problems, so the film looks great and sounds very good!
Further, although there is not an abundance of extras, the one that is included is both emotional and a good companion to the film. Less importantly (although it may matter more to some), the packaging is really cool – it looks like a book – even though it doesn’t stay closed very well! The only thing I would have liked to see, since I know Spielberg refuses to do commentaries, is retrospective interviews with both him and the actors. To me, that would have been a nice addition.
Nevertheless, this is a very good offering of a simply amazing piece of cinema, and I am quite comfortable giving it my highest recommendation! It has been a long wait, but the highly anticipated debut of Schindler’s List on DVD proves to have been worth it! Highly recommended!!!
March 9th, 2004