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HTF DVD REVIEW: Columbia Pictures: The Best Picture Collection


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#1 of 64 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 15 2008 - 09:39 AM

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Studio: Sony/Columbia

Years: 1934-1982

Rated: Various, See Individual Titles

Running Times: Various, See Individual Titles

Aspect Ratios: See Individual Titles

Languages: See Individual Titles

Subtitles: See Individual Titles


The Program

Between 1934 and 1982, films made by Columbia Pictures won a remarkable eleven Academy Awards for Best Picture. Sony has now collected all eleven of those films in a new box set called Columbia Pictures: The Best Picture Collection. The films included in this set are:

It Happened One Night (1934), directed by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert (Not rated, 105 minutes)

Colbert plays a runaway heiress who meets up with reporter Gable on a bus trip in this romantic comedy, which won five Academy Awards.

You Can’t Take it With You (1938), directed by Frank Capra and starring Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore and James Stewart (Not rated, 126 minutes)

This is a film adaptation of the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play about a wildly eccentric family.

All the King’s Men (1949), directed by Robert Rossen and starring Broderick Crawford, Joanne Dru, Mercedes McCambridge and John Ireland (Not rated, 109 minutes)

This adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is based upon the career of the famous but corrupt populist politician, Huey Long. Crawford (Best Actor) and McCambridge (Best Supporting Actress) also won Oscars for their performances.

From Here to Eternity (1953), directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra (Not rated, 122 minutes)

This is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by James Jones about life on an Army base in Hawaii around the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The film won eight Academy Awards, including a Best Supporting Actor award for Sinatra, whose career was revived by his performance.

On the Waterfront ((1954), directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb (Not rated, 108 minutes)

A searing account of labor union corruption on the docks of New York, this film features Brando and Steiger in one of the most famous and iconic scenes in the history of Hollywood movies.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), directed by David Lean and starring William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa (PG, 167 minutes)

Indisputably one of the finest World War II films ever made, this movie was awarded seven Oscars, including one for its screenplay. The screenplay was written by two blacklisted screenwriters, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, so the screen credit was given to Pierre Boulle, who wrote the novel upon which the film is based. Boulle, who spoke no English, actually had no involvement in the screenplay.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962), starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains and Omar Sharif (PG, 226 minutes)

This is one of the great films of the 20th Century. It tells the story of the enigmatic British Army officer who, during World War I, fought with Arab rebels against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. It took home seven Academy Awards.

A Man for All Seasons (1966), directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Wendy Hiller and Orson Welles (G, 120 minutes)

Based upon a play by Robert Bolt, this riveting drama portrays the terrible price paid by Sir Thomas More when he refused to endorse King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

Oliver! (1968), directed by Carol Reed and starring Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Mark Lester and Jack Wild (G, 153 minutes)

This bouncy musical is based upon the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist.” The film won five Academy Awards.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), directed by Robert Benton and starring Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Jane Alexander (PG, 104 minutes)

This is a compelling drama about a divorcing couple and their battle for custody of their son. The film is fine, but it inexplicably won the Oscar for Best Picture over the more deserving Apocalypse Now.

Gandhi (1982), directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills and Martin Sheen (PG, 191 minutes)

This is an old-fashioned, epic biopic about the famed non-violent protestor who was largely responsible for bringing about India’s independence from Great Britain. The film won eight Academy Awards.

The Video

It Happened One Night

The 1.33:1 black and white transfer is a slight improvement over the 1999 DVD. The occasional speckles which were visible in the old transfer have been removed. A moderate amount of film grain has been retained. The opening credits are windowboxed, after which the remainder of the film is shown full-screen.

You Can’t Take it With You

The black and white transfer is properly framed at 1.33:1. It is a solid transfer, with a sharp image and a moderate level of film grain. I was unable to compare this with the 2003 DVD, but it appears to be newly remastered.

All the King’s Men

This is a gorgeous full-screen transfer, accurately framed at 1.33:1. The transfer is so clean that this black and white film looks like it could have been made this year.

From Here to Eternity

The 1.33:1 black and white transfer is solid and clean, with a moderate level of film grain. This appears to be a new transfer, but I was unable to make a direct comparison to either the 2001 DVD or the 2003 Superbit DVD.

On the Waterfront

Compared to the 2001 DVD, this transfer has somewhat more film grain and the overall picture is decidedly darker. It is framed at 1.37:1. Many viewers may find the prior release to be preferable, as more detail is visible during the indoor scenes.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Compared with the DVD which was released in 2000, this color transfer is a slight but noticeable improvement. The heavy film grain in the opening shots has been reduced, but without sacrificing any picture detail. Minor speckling which was visible on the previous release has been cleaned up. The image is sharp and the colors are stable throughout. The film is accurately framed at 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Lawrence of Arabia

The 2.20:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is excellent. The image is sharp and stable, the colors are vivid and accurate, and the majestic sweep of the film is retained. The picture is only marginally less sharp than the Superbit DVD which has been discontinued. The feature is spread out over two discs, with the intermission occurring approximately twenty-four minutes into Disc Two.

A Man for All Seasons

This transfer is identical to the DVD which was released last year. The film grain is a bit on the heavy side, but the image is sharp and the colors are solid. The film is framed at 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Oliver!

This is a very nice fresh transfer and a definite improvement over the 1998 DVD, which was a flipper and was not anamorphic widescreen. The image is sharp and the colors are solid. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen framing appears to be accurate.

Kramer vs. Kramer

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is quite pleasing. The image is sharp throughout, with a moderate level of film grain and solid, accurate colors. I do not have the 2001 DVD for comparison, but this clearly is a new transfer.

Gandhi

This 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer appears to be identical to the two-disc collector’s edition which was released last year. The picture is sharp and stable, exhibiting a moderate level of film grain.

The Audio

It Happened One Night

Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese

The mono soundtrack is in fine shape, with no distortion or other anomalies.

You Can’t Take it With You

Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese

The mono soundtrack is as clean as one could hope for. This is a dialogue-driven film, and every word comes through loud and clear.

All the King’s Men

Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, French

The mono audio is in excellent shape and effectively complements the pristine video transfer.

From Here to Eternity

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (mono), French
Subtitles: English, French

Purists will undoubtedly want to stick with the original mono soundtrack, which is in very good shape. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a bit louder and generates some ambient sound. Both soundtracks sound fine to me, so the choice is a matter of personal preference.

On the Waterfront

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (mono), French
Subtitles: English, French

Once again we have a re-engineered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but the mono soundtrack is in very good shape for those who prefer to hear this as it originally sounded.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (mono), French
Subtitles: English, French

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack works well here, creating some good effects during the scenes which take place in the jungle. The original mono soundtrack is in fine shape and should satisfy those who prefer it.

Lawrence of Arabia

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Surround)
Subtitles: English, Portuguese, Japanese

Maurice Jarre’s musical score is one of the classics, and the two soundtracks available on this DVD both do an excellent job of reproducing the score. Both the Overture and the Entr’acte have been retained. The dialogue is clear and intelligible in both versions.

A Man for All Seasons

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (mono), French
Subtitles: English, French, Portuguese

This is a dialogue-driven film, and there is no compelling reason for the re-engineered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. However, both soundtracks convey the dialogue in a clear and intelligible manner.

Oliver!

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), Portuguese (Stereo)
Subtitles: English, Portuguese, Japanese

This musical includes some memorable numbers, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack provides excellent separation and clarity. Viewers will be happy to know that the DVD includes both the Overture and the Entr’acte.

Kramer vs. Kramer

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (mono), French
Subtitles: English, French

This is another original mono soundtrack which has been re-engineered into Dolby Digital 5.1. Both soundtracks are in fine shape, so take your pick.

Gandhi

Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Surround), Portuguese (Dolby Surround), Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent and effectively conveys the scope and drama of Gandhi’s remarkable life.

The Supplements

It Happened One Night

The extras include a commentary by Frank Capra, Jr.; a featurette entitled “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers”; a photo gallery of vintage advertising; the Lux Radio broadcast of “It Happened One Night” with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert; and the film’s trailer.

You Can’t Take it With You

The supplements are a commentary by Frank Capra, Jr. and Cathrine Kellison, and a featurette entitled “Frank Capra, Jr. Remembers.”

All the King’s Men

This title includes no extras.

From Here to Eternity

This disc includes a commentary by Tim Zinnemann (the son of the director) and Al Sargent; a “making of” featurette; and a featurette about Fred Zinnemann entitled “As I See It.”

On the Waterfront

This DVD includes an interview with director Elia Kazan; a commentary track by Richard Schickel and Jeff Young; and a featurette entitled “Contender: Mastering the Method” in which Rod Steiger talks about working with Marlon Brando.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

This two-disc DVD contains essentially the same content as the two-disc set which was released in 2000. The extras include a “making of” documentary; a featurette, “Rise and Fall of a Jungle Giant”; an “appreciation” by filmmaker John Milius; and a short film introduced by William Holden.

Lawrence of Arabia

The supplements on this two-disc set include a “making of” documentary; a featurette entitled “A Conversation with Steven Spielberg”; four original featurettes about the film and the historical T.E. Lawrence; newsreel footage of the New York premiere; and material about the film’s advertising campaigns.

A Man for All Seasons

The only extra is a featurette, “The Life of Saint Thomas More.”

Oliver!

This DVD contains a significant number of extras. Included is an interactive map of London with footage of neighborhoods as they appear today; interviews with Mark Lester and Ron Moody; a Charles Dickens timeline; and a few interactive quizzes. The more adventurous viewers may want to try out the dance instruction and sing-along featurettes.

Kramer vs. Kramer

The sole extra here is a “making of” featurette.

Gandhi

This two-disc DVD appears to include all of the extras which were included in the 2007 collector’s edition. There is a commentary by Richard Attenborough; vintage newsreel footage; several featurettes about the film’s design; a featurette about the life of Gandhi; a featurette about the Englishwoman, Madeleine Slade; featurettes about the making of the film; an interview with Ben Kingsley; interviews with Attenborough about the casting of the film and the musical score; a photo montage of lobby cards; and a photo montage of the life of Gandhi.

The Packaging

The eleven films in this collection are spread out over fourteen discs. However, there is both good and bad to the packaging. The fourteen discs are encased in a cloth-bound album which fits into a cloth-bound slipcase. The best part about the packaging is that it is space-saving; the slipcase measures 8 inches high by 7 ½ inches deep by 1 ¾ inches wide. Essentially, eleven films fit into a case which takes up about as much room as three standard DVD keepcases. The album includes full-color reproductions of the original film posters, a listing of all Academy Awards won by each film, and thumbnail still photographs.

However, there is a downside. The downside, which many will consider significant, is that the discs are held in cardboard sleeves. The problem here is not as egregious as with “The Simpsons” season eleven set, because the sleeves keep the center holes exposed and the discs can be removed without getting fingerprints on them if reasonable care is used. However, the cardboard sleeves do leave the discs vulnerable to scratching.

The Final Analysis

At a street price of about $100, this set is a bargain, with the sole caveat being the cardboard sleeves.

Equipment used for this review:

Toshiba HD-XA-2 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: November 18, 2008
Rich Gallagher

#2 of 64 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted November 15 2008 - 11:53 AM

Wow, you had your work cut out for you! Good job.
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#3 of 64 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 15 2008 - 01:23 PM

Yeah, I'm exhausted!
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#4 of 64 OFFLINE   Greg_M

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Posted November 15 2008 - 02:53 PM

so when's the blu-ray coming...

#5 of 64 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 15 2008 - 03:18 PM

In case people are curious:

It Happened One Night and You Can't Take It With You are the same discs from the 2006 "Premiere Frank Capra Collection".

Kwai and Lawrence are the SEs from earlier this year.

A Man for All Seasons and Gandhi are the 2007 SEs.

All the others are new transfers created for this set.

I've only watched All the King's Men and Waterfront, but I agree with Richard's assessments of those. Men looks way better than the earlier DVDs, but Waterfront is a mixed bag. It has fewer print flaws but it's darker and WAY grainier. Both are up and down, but I think the old transfer is more satisfying; the grain is a real distraction on the new disc... Posted Image
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#6 of 64 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 15 2008 - 07:21 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson
Waterfront is a mixed bag. It has fewer print flaws but it's darker and WAY grainier. Both are up and down, but I think the old transfer is more satisfying; the grain is a real distraction on the new disc... Posted Image

I found the darkness more of a problem than the grain, but I agree with you that the old transfer is overall more watchable.
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#7 of 64 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 15 2008 - 07:23 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg_M
so when's the blu-ray coming...

I'm expecting Blu-rays of Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai one of these days, but nothing has been announced.
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#8 of 64 OFFLINE   MarcoBiscotti

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Posted November 16 2008 - 01:48 AM

so when do we get a proper new standalone release for On the Waterfront...

the old transfer & edition should be improved upon.

#9 of 64 OFFLINE   James 'Tiger' Lee

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Posted November 16 2008 - 02:58 AM

Was On The Waterfront shot for widescreen?

#10 of 64 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 16 2008 - 03:22 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by James 'Tiger' Lee
Was On The Waterfront shot for widescreen?

No - it's Academy ratio 1.33:1...

Quote:
Originally Posted by MarcoBiscotti
so when do we get a proper new standalone release for On the Waterfront...

the old transfer & edition should be improved upon.

Are you asking if this version will be released separately? It's not an improvement over the original, so why would you want it? Posted Image
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#11 of 64 OFFLINE   MarcoBiscotti

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Posted November 16 2008 - 03:24 AM

1.37:1

#12 of 64 OFFLINE   MarcoBiscotti

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Posted November 16 2008 - 03:38 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson
Are you asking if this version will be released separately? It's not an improvement over the original, so why would you want it? Posted Image

I'm not referring to any negligible differences, for better or worse, between the two transfers but a full-blown restoration which is long overdue.

#13 of 64 OFFLINE   BillyFeldman

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Posted November 16 2008 - 03:41 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson
No - it's Academy ratio 1.33:1...



Are you asking if this version will be released separately? It's not an improvement over the original, so why would you want it? Posted Image

I'd love Jack Theakston or Bob to chime in on this - I believe it's incorrect. TCM regularly shows it in widescreen and it's a bit of a revelation to see it that way - perfectly framed, every shot. Since it was released in June of 1954 it would have been shot after the studios made the decision to shoot films in widescreen and, as I said, the film frames perfectly in widescreen and it's hard to watch the full frame after that - I just think everyone is so used to the full frame because that's the only way most people have seen the film - on TV, on home vid, etc.

So, perhaps our early widescreen experts can chime in. I doubt TCM is frivolously showing the letterboxed transfer which had to be done by Columbia.

#14 of 64 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted November 16 2008 - 04:48 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BillyFeldman
I'd love Jack Theakston or Bob to chime in on this - I believe it's incorrect. TCM regularly shows it in widescreen and it's a bit of a revelation to see it that way - perfectly framed, every shot. Since it was released in June of 1954 it would have been shot after the studios made the decision to shoot films in widescreen and, as I said, the film frames perfectly in widescreen and it's hard to watch the full frame after that - I just think everyone is so used to the full frame because that's the only way most people have seen the film - on TV, on home vid, etc.

So, perhaps our early widescreen experts can chime in. I doubt TCM is frivolously showing the letterboxed transfer which had to be done by Columbia.
The movie was filmed in mid-November, 1953 through late January, 1954. I believe initially they were going to film it 1.37:1 ratio, but later decided to compose the film in the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio.





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#15 of 64 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 16 2008 - 06:45 AM

I've never seen a widescreen version. It's on AMC next week, but that won't be widescreen.
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#16 of 64 OFFLINE   BillyFeldman

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Posted November 16 2008 - 08:00 AM

Check TCM - they only show it in widescreen.

Thanks for the info, Robert. I'm hoping Bob Furmanek or Jack can find one of those Box-Office aspect ratio pages to post here.

#17 of 64 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted November 16 2008 - 04:22 PM

I wonder if someone who recorded it from TCM might be able to provide a screenshot.

I Googled "On the Waterfront aspect ratio" and the results are all over the place -- 1.33:1, 1.37:1, and 1.85:1.
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#18 of 64 OFFLINE   Jay*W

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Posted November 17 2008 - 12:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson
In case people are curious:

It Happened One Night and You Can't Take It With You are the same discs from the 2006 "Premiere Frank Capra Collection".

Kwai and Lawrence are the SEs from earlier this year.

A Man for All Seasons and Gandhi are the 2007 SEs.

All the others are new transfers created for this set.

I've only watched All the King's Men and Waterfront, but I agree with Richard's assessments of those. Men looks way better than the earlier DVDs, but Waterfront is a mixed bag. It has fewer print flaws but it's darker and WAY grainier. Both are up and down, but I think the old transfer is more satisfying; the grain is a real distraction on the new disc... Posted Image

Colin,

Does that mean that the new Kwai 2-disc set released in 2007 has a different transfer than the one included on the 2-disc set released in 2000?

Jay

#19 of 64 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 18 2008 - 03:56 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay*W
Colin,

Does that mean that the new Kwai 2-disc set released in 2007 has a different transfer than the one included on the 2-disc set released in 2000?


I think so, but I've not compared the two yet, so I can't say for sure...
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#20 of 64 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 18 2008 - 03:58 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BillyFeldman
I doubt TCM is frivolously showing the letterboxed transfer which had to be done by Columbia.

And I doubt that Columbia would only release a widescreen Oscar-winning, legendary AFI 100 movie in a pan and scan transfer after all this time...
Colin Jacobson
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