Posted December 07 2004 - 06:07 AM
|RunTime:||139 minutes |
|Aspect Ratio:||16x9 encoded 1.66:1 |
|Audio:||5.1 DD English Enhanced Home Theater Mix, 2.0 DD English Enhanced Home Theater Mix, 2.0 DD English Theatrical "Stereo" Mix, 5.1 DD French & Spanish |
|SpecialFeatures:||2-disc special edition with Feature Commentary (with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Bill Sherman, Karen Dotrice ("Jane") and more), Pop-up Facts, Song-Selection, Deleted Song, Magical Reunion (Bill Sherman, Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews), "The Cat That Looked at a King" Short, Musical Journey with Bill Sherman, Making-of featurette, Scene "Deconstruction", World-premiere historic footage, Theatrical Trailers (!!!), Make-up test, Image galleries, and more... |
|ReleaseDate:||December 14, 2004|
In addition to being such a marvelous film, and this DVD (overall) being such a terriffic presentation, the special-feature content on this disc is phenomenal. Those of you who already own Mary Poppins (regardless of what format) will want to upgrade for the special feature content alone. I want to send out a special thank-you to Disney to all of those who worked on this DVD project, restored the picture, and researched and prepared the wealth of bonus features contained on this 2-disc SE. Efforts like this reward the collector and casual consumer alike, and honor the rich heratige of this film and all the artists who worked on it forty years ago. I look forward to seeing more Disney classics beautifully restored and presented with the outstanding value of bonus material as you've provided on this set.
Mary Poppins is one of Walt Disney's crowning jewels. The film is almost without fault. From the dreamy, impressionistic matte-painted scenery to the technical beauty of the special effects to the whimsical trimming surrounding its serious heart-felt themes, the film is executed with excellence. It's perfectly cast: Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins), Dick Van Dyke (Bert), David Tomlinson (father), Glynis Johns (mother) and the children all exemplify their characters to quintessential perfection. The film is edited with craft; direction, filming, special effects, scenery, and writing all coalesce wonderfully, and the original-music written for the film by the Bill and Richard Sherman is not only charming and beautiful on its own, but each musical number exactly suits the character and scene for which it is set and integrates into the film beautifully. Rarely do all such facets of film-artistry come together in so melodious a fashion. Mary Poppins is one of the all-time family classic films, and I hope that it continues to leave its indelible affect on future generations as it did me when I first saw it as a young child.
Mary Poppins blends together a harmonious chorus of fantasy, magic, imagination, and real-world themes in a way that entertains with unpretentious joy while sharing a message about the value of family love. Young children can enjoy Mary Poppins as an imaginative world that effortlessly transports them away. Older children and adults can appreciate the way this modern-day fairy tale (what it is, in my opinion) weaves into that world a very touching story about a broken family made whole. The Banks family is introduced to us with a father and mother who are distracted with their own lives and unable to reach out to their children until a series of events, brought about in part by this mystical nanny Mary Poppins, opens their eyes to the importance and priority of connecting with their children in a genuine experience of love. This focus is strongest on the transformation of Mr. Banks (played impeccably by David Tomlinson) who is presented to us at the beginnig of the film singing a ballad filled with his own pride and sense of self-accomplishment. As experiences wear on, his world is challenged, and when finally stripped of all the trappings that for so long have defined for him the measure of his success and self-worth, he becomes able to see his family for the gift that they really are and, for perhaps the first time, reaches out to his wife and children with a love that flows freely from the heart. I know for me personally (and I'm sure for many of you), the closing scene of this film (the kite scene) never fails to elicit some tears.
Earnest Rister III shares his own comments of this marvelous film:
| On the old soundtrack CD for Mary Poppins that was released in the late 80's, composers Richard M and Robert B. Sherman spoke about "Feed the Birds" and related a powerful anecdote, which I will excerpt for you here: |
RICHARD M. SHERMAN: ...[T]uppence signifies little. Hardly anything. And feeding the birds meant giving to the people that need. And in this particular case it was the Banks’ children - they needed their father and mother’s attention, their love. They didn’t just have to be provided for, they had to be loved, and paid attention to.
ROBERT B. SHERMAN: Well, Walt loved this sentiment and he felt it so deeply. And Fridays, after work, he’d usually invite us into his office, and we’d sit around --
RICHARD: -- we’d talk about things that were going on at the studio --
ROBERT: -- y’know, worldy matters. Then he’d look over to Dick...and he’d say...”Play it.”
RICHARD: Yeah - and I knew what he wanted. And...sometimes he wouldn’t even say anything. He’d just look out of the window and get a little misty-eyed, and we’d - uh - play it - and it was just wonderful because sometimes - uh - he could say so much just by a look or by a silence, and - uh - we knew -- what he was saying. After Walt passed away, there were many a Friday afternoon that’d I’d go over to his office while the office was still his in there -- and play it for him.”
Mary Poppins says much about Walt Disney as both an artist and as a man. The most intelligent critique ever made about Mary Poppins was written by Leonard Maltin in his book The Disney Films. Disney's Mary Poppins, he wrote, was the ultimate Disney film because it seems to sum up Disney's entire body of work. This is exactly right, both in terms of technical craft, and in terms of personal thematics. Walt marshalled every tool, every trick, every technique at his disposal to make the film, but he also spoke from his heart, and watching the film today, one can check off the many achievements of Disney as an entertainer, and as an artist, as they are all here.
Poignant story that mixes sadness and darkness with cheer and hope? Check. Use of music to relate the theme and advance the plot? Check. Combination live-action and animation? Check. Ground-breaking visual effects? Check. Sequences with absolutely no dialogue, using only visual effects, animation, and music? Check. Stern fathers humanized by the forces of fantasy? Check. Disneyland-style audio-animatronics? Check. You want a 60's-era robot bird? Check.
If someone were to ask me to pick one film to represent the filmmaker that was Walt Disney, that film would unquestionably be Mary Poppins.
Looking at Disney's filmography, if you were living in the early 60's, then you probably wouldn't have been able to see Poppins coming. What's not commonly known among general audiences is that after WWII effectively killed the 1st Golden Age of Animation at Disney, Walt himself began spending less and less time on the films that bore his name, and more and more time on diversifying the Disney brand, first with live action films, then with television and the Disneyland theme park. With each passing year the spectrum of Disney entertainment grew, and the film department was left more and more to their own devices. 1959 had been a particularly cruel year to Walt Disney, as three personal films all failed at the box office (Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Third Man on the Mountain, and Sleeping Beauty). By the early 60's, it took special projects or special circumstances or special problems for Walt to get personally involved in tackling a film, as his attention was divided among so many entities. The Sword in the Stone, in particular, was a film Walt had very little input on, and if I may suggest a criticism, it showed.
Mary Poppins, though, was special. The Disney Brothers had both tried for several years to persuade P. L. Travers to allow them to make a movie based on her books, and the wary author had always turned them down. She finally relented, and Walt took a personal interest in guiding this film to the screen. For the first time in many years, Walt Disney personally oversaw an entire film project from inception to completion, using the same detail and rigor he had brought to his film classics of the 30's and early 40's.
In fact, because there is so much glass work and model work and stop motion and hand drawn animation in the film, Mary Poppins plays like one of Walt's great animated features. The film is not a work of realism -- like Walt's animated classics, the film has a look of whimsical naturalism, even impressionism. My favorite moment of the film is the long, lonely walk made by David Tomlinson from his home on Cherry Tree Lane to the Bank which has employed him for several years. The entire walk is nothing but impressionistic matte paintings - with no attempt to ape reality. Instead, the glass shots are evocative and stylized, just like an animated film. While not the same techniques used in animation, the fundamental creative ideas here are the same as they would be had Poppins been hand drawn and inked.
Poppins, in a way, was "live-action animation". The film even begins with the classic cartoon gag from Dumbo with a character seated on a cloud, while his or her belongings begin to sink through the cloud to the world below.
For this reason, I've often chafed at criticisms from those who carp on certain aspects of the film for not being utterly faithful to reality -- especially Dick Van Dyke's accent. Dick Van Dyke gives one of the most joyful, warm, and exuberant performances I've ever seen in a film. His accent doesn't need to be flawless, it only needs to be as suggestive as the stylized glass mattes, as borderline cartoonish as his take on his other role in the film, the elder Mr. Dawes. Complaining about Van Dyke's accent in Mary Poppins is like complaining that the Lion is walking on two legs in The Wizard of Oz.
I could go on for pages, but there is one area of Mary Poppins I would like to take this opportunity to highlight because it is never mentioned, and that is the film's brilliant screenplay by Bill walsh and Don DaGradi. The film is full of terrific throwaway lines of comic dialogue -- from the batty Mrs. Banks who has learned her husband has not committed suicide ("Oh, George! You didn't jump in the river! How sensible of you!"), to the frustrated Mr. Banks delivering non-sensical advice to his wife ("Winnifred, never confuse efficiency with a liver complaint."), to the servants who have a gift for creative insults ("...that face of hers...would stop a coal barge.") to the dry Ms. Poppins herself, as she is nagged by Jane and Michael about their adventure in the chalk drawings ("Now, not another word or I shall have to summon the policeman.") People comment often and frequently about the music and performances and visual effects in Mary Poppins. Its time the film's marvelous Oscar-nominated screenplay received its due.
Poppins was Walt Disney's last great movie. He made other good movies before his death, some of them very good, but two years after the release of the film, Walt had passed. I return you to the anecdote I began with, of the Sherman Bros. playing "Feed the Birds" for him in his office, and Walt misting up every time he heard the song.
Poppins is a film of technical wizardry and great music, great acting, terrific writing and brilliant choreography, and yet what I take away from the film each time I watch it is the palpable warmth and love contained within. The film has a sincerity to it that is never strident, never overstated, never pedantic. The film states that it doesn't take very much effort to make your children feel loved, and it expresses that with great joy. If Walt Disney had only made this one film, his legacy in film history would be assured -- for producing the greatest family film ever made.
-- Ernest Rister
This movie means so much to me personally. I can't even count the hours I spent as a young child playing my LP album and looking at the pictures in the fold-out booklet. After more than thirty years, to have the chance to see this film projected in my own living room with the wealth of special-feature content included on this 2-disc DVD set is a privilege for which I’m extremely grateful.
|Reviewing Philosphy Clarified...|
Given some of the inevitable controversy that will surround this DVD presentation (or at least my review of it), I think its timely to present a clearly defined philosophy for how I "judge" picture and sound quality. I often find that disagreements about how a DVD looks or sounds stem more from the premises from which individuals approach these concepts and less about how the DVD literally looks or sounds. While diversity may be a good thing in many walks of life, when it comes to the philosophies that guide the presentation of the art of film, we should have some shared understanding among the film collectors and content providers alike.
I think we need to start by agreeing that a DVD should replicate for the home-viewer, as faithfully as possible, the [theatrical] picture and sound experience as intended by the original artist(s).
Although it may not be fashionable to think in these terms, it's important to establish that this concept of faithful-to-the-source/the artist’s intensions
should be the goal of a consumer-delivery format, and not merely what "looks best" given the particular tastes of the individual viewer or DVD producer.
During mastering and playback, this philosophy manifests itself with a "less is more" approach to avoid unnecessarily altering the image or sound. While accepted in audiophile circles, this leave-the-signal-alone philosophy runs contrary to the general culture of modern mixing/mastering for “commodity” recordings where many recording engineers brag that they have a digital workstation with dials "that go to eleven
". This is why we see so many DVDs processed with too much filtering and DNR to remove “grain” with distracting edge-ringing to enhance “sharpness”. This is why we hear soundtracks that are dull and stripped of their high-end and resolution to remove “hiss” with remixed elements that destroy the integrity of historic directional dialog and mix all the vocal tracks to the center channel. Had these technicians simply left the signals in their original state and just taken a long lunch instead, the end consumer would have experienced something beautiful, and faithful to the original work of art.
Case in point: Curious as to why a particular DVD title looked so filtered, non-filmlike, and lacking in resolution on my display, I once spoke with (respected) studio person responsible for DVD mastering who explained to me that the DVD “utilized a pristine, newly restored print that looked stunning at the Egyptian Theater” and then in the next breath continued “of course we had to apply a lot of filtering to remove the grain for the DVD”. I hope that I’m not the only HTF member who sees the irony in this logic...
I view film as art, and I review a DVD according to how faithfully, or transparently (to use a good audiophile term) it replicates that art in accordance with the intentions of those responsible for creating it. Whether a DVD looks grainy or whether a soundtrack has audible hiss is not the issue; it’s whether that DVD has electronic/digital artifacts (EE, DNR, excessive HF filtering, compression noise etc.) that mar the experience that the director intended me to see. Being realistic, technology offers us new options when transferring older films to DVD that did not necessarily exist when the content was originally produced, and there may be times that can be argued that modifying the presentation in some way for DVD may be justified. Such changes need to be exercised with caution, and if any changes are
made to the presentation (such as remixing an older mono film for 5.1 or digitally cleaning up matte lines from optical special effects), those changes need to enhance
the intentions of the original artists, not work against them.
The "Home-Theater" experience is an ever-evolving paradigm that has been gaining momentum ever since the first Disco-Vision disc rolled off the press and was watched on an uncalibrated 4x3 480-interlaced NTSC television. Displays will improved in quality, decrease in cost, and it won’t be long before many of you who think you are quite happy with your standard or hi-definition TV will find yourself watching movies on a 100-inch 1080-progressive display where many of the subtle artifacts you used to hear other people complain about become all too apparent. Home-video will soon become the principle delivery method for what used to be the art of “film”, so the corporate culture that governs mastering practices will have a larger and larger effect on the films with which we come in contact. Its time for the studios learn how to honor their films as “art” and develop home-video mastering philosophies that support this understanding. The artists, consumers, and films, will all benefit.
Thank-you for listening...
Overall, the image of this new 16x9 (FINALLY!) DVD is beautiful
with a few minor caveats that deserve to be mentioned.
Let’s start with the positive, shall we?
I’ve grown up watching Mary Poppins in every available format (35mm projection, broadcast television, VHS, Laserdisc, 4x3 DVD, and now this latest DVD installment), and to date this is the best image presentation I have encountered. Gone is the plague of print damage that has marred past video incarnations. Gone is the chroma noise and crawl that was ever-present on the former laserdiscs and DVD. And most impressively though controversial, gone are the dust and matting anomalies that betrayed many of the effects-sequences (and there are many) in all former presentations. These special-effects-artifacts were a serious source for distraction; they drew attention away from the desired illusions by emphasizing the optical mechanics used to create them. For this reason, despite the deviation from the original film presentation, I personally view this modification as an enhancement
to the image in that it (arguably) serves the intent
of the original artists to convey a visual illusion. This is my subjective evaluation (felt the same way about Sleeping Beauty), and I’m sure there will be purists who disagree and object to such digital clean-up as altering the look and feel of the film in such a way that harms its historical integrity as a work of art. Such a point is also valid, and I encourage mature and diplomatic discussion along these points in this thread.
From what I’ve been told, the same Lowry Digital folks who so stunningly digitally cleaned up Singing in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis were also responsible for bringing this new-life to Mary Poppins, and while not quite up to the level of the “stunning” results achieved with those two Warner Brothers titles, the image of this new Mary Poppins reveals a kind of purity you’d associate with those DVDs.
Black level is solid and colors are nicely saturated (though not overly-so...I think the "bloom" of Mr. Bank's red smoking jacket is in the film print) and come across more vividly than both the Archive Edition Laserdisc set and the most recent Laserdisc/non-anamorphic R1 DVD release. Image detail is also the best in regards to any previous video version I’ve privy to view, though I’m still tempted to say that the image has the typical “Disney Filtered” look (more on that later). MPEG compression seems admirably accomplished and though I found instances of MPEG macro-blocking in a few backgrounds (the blue sky in “Jolly Holiday”) on occasion, it didn’t give cause for alarm. Grayscale seems smooth and even and color gradients seem smooth as well. I didn’t find any instances of posturization or color-banding (other than the few backgrounds) so if its there it didn’t pull me out of the “viewing experience” with my 106-inch screen (Gosh I just love typing that...my 106-inch screen...). Did I mention that this new presentation is 16x9 anamorphic?
Before I share some of my “concerns” let me reiterate that, overall, the image looks beautiful
. Keep that context as you read my more critical remarks...
Firstly, contrast--it just never seems like the image gets bright
enough, though it may very well be correct. The former DVD and non-archive laserdisc look the same way; it feels like every scene was shot on an overcast day and I keep waiting for the clouds to part and the sun to shine. I know it's supposed to look like "London" but even the indoor scenes that are brightly lit still have a character that feels a little on the dark side. While I hardly suggest that the archive edition laserdisc is a reference point for concluding what the 35mm film presentation should have looked like, I find it interesting that the archive LD looks much brighter (though it looks a little "pumped" and it probably too bright), and day-time scenes look like the sun is shining. Those of you with a better memory or knowledge of the intended 35mm film presentation in this regard please share your insights. I wouldn't have wanted the DVD producer to artifically brighten the image to suit my tastes...I'm more interested in clarifying that this is indeed the intended look of the film.
Next up: Flesh tones. Like with the brightness of the image, I can’t help but get this nagging feeling that something’s "off" with the color spectrum. I’m not talking about color saturation here...I’m talking about tint and hue. Flesh tones look decidedly green/orange and many faces look overly-brown as a result. This same anomaly existed to some degree on both the archive LD and former DVD/LD but the “green thing” seems a little stronger here. It makes me wonder if the color-timing technician bothered to pull out a historic print or checked with someone who worked on the film to confirm the color balance was correct. Curiously, these “off” flesh tones were also color issues that I couldn’t help but be bothered by when watching the Vault releases of Pollyanna and Parent Trap (original). And even more
curious...the bonus material on both of those discs contains clips of the film that appear to have gorgeous
color that feels properly balanced. The bonus material on the Mary Poppins DVD also has a few movie clips that, while far from perfect, appear to have more natural flesh-tones as well. Food for thought...my suspicion is that the bonus material has incurred less “processing” and more accurately reflects the source elements in these cases whereas the feature film has been digitally altered for better or for worse. Just a theory.
Despite being more detailed than the previous video versions you’ve seen, the image leaves me with the impression that it has been slightly filtered. In the bonus material, there are a few shots from the film that look notably clearer, though some of them appear to be taken from film sources other than the finished feature so I don’t want to make any hard judgments here...just pointing out what I see. The image also has present some low-level EE that was visible at times from my 1.6 screen-width distance though not distracting...which isn’t problematic in itself though it does suggest that this new Mary Poppins DVD did not escape Buena Vista’s usual “filter and boost” routine. The image reminds me a bit of Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland...both gorgeous to look at but on a large wide-angle viewing system just a tad
soft on the high-end with a touch of ringing on the occasional hard edge if you look closely.
Not quite practically perfect...but you deserve to know how this image looks within a 30-degree viewing angle. Those with smaller viewing angles as with conventional TV viewing distance/image-size ratios may find the image to look pleasingly sharp. When I back up to about 2 screen-widths away the image starts to “snap” so I imagine that most viewers will not find any fault in the perception of detail in the picture.
As RAH stated in another thread:
| Disney Home Video has produced some beautiful DVD versions of their classic film features. In most cases they've changed the overall look. Much of the early animation no longer has the hand painted look and Disney "dust" that have been part of the image through the years. |
Once again, with Mary Poppins, the film no longer looks precisely as it did forty years ago. Which in this case is a positive attribute.
Mary Poppins is now clean and clear and sharper than I recall it being, with more detail...
but the major point is that the matte lines from the sodium vapor process, which surrounded live objects in scenes shared with animation, are substantially reduced or gone.
The overall image and the new effect is beautiful.
Just to make sure the cinephile has something to lose sleep over, the folks at Disney have altered the aspect ratio of Mary Poppins on every video medium I’ve encountered. The Archive Edition laserdisc appears to be around 1.7:1, the later laserdisc/non-anamorphic DVD looked like a true 1.85:1 presentation, and the new 16x9 DVD is 1.66:1 pillarboxed. It is worth noting that each of these versions shows more and less picture information than each other one and
of them seems to reveal the full film-frame of image content. Here’s a summary of each medium as deduced from my projection screen: