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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted December 07 2008 - 01:33 PM

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Ultimate Collector's Edition

Release Date: Available now (original release date December 2, 2008)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Three-disc digipack and numerous extras housed in a collectible box
Year: 1942
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1h42m
MSRP: $64.98

MAIN FEATURESPECIAL FEATURES
Video1080p high definition 1.33:1May be in standard definition
AudioDolby Digital: English 1.0, French 1.0, Spanish 1.0Audio standards my vary
SubtitlesEnglish, French, SpanishNone


The Feature: 5/5
Everybody comes to Rick's Café Americain, a bar in the city of Casablanca in French Morocco. "Everybody" would include refugees looking for a way out of increasingly Nazi-occupied Europe, and of course those willing to sell them that way in the form of exit visas. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) enjoys a healthy business as a result, but takes no part in the dealings himself until he comes into possession of the holy grail of travel papers - letters of transit that guarantee passage for those possessing them. When Rick's long lost lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor (Paul Henreid), a central leader in the resistance, come into the bar that same night, it looks like the letters are destined for the couple. But Rick has changed since Ilsa knew him - or rather he's changed because of it, having become bitter and unsentimental. There's no doubt the letters of transit will get used, but by whom only Rick can decide.

Consistently topping greatest movie lists, "Casablanca" is a classic in every sense of the word. It's a film many could never live without, that presents and embodies timeless values and ideals, and whose lines have become an enduring part of our popular vernacular. So it's a surprise to learn the production was so problematic - that the dialogue and integral scenes that we could never hear or see another way were either determined last minute or constantly rewritten. I guess that goes to show that greatness is neither painless nor predictable, though the effortless and enduring qualities of "Casablanca" make that easy to forget.


Video Quality: 5/5
The picture is accurately framed at 1.33:1, encoded in VC-1, and remarkably devoid of blemishes. Black levels and contrast are excellent, showing off the full extent of the film's beautiful black-and-white cinematography. Sharpness and detail are equally exemplary, with no signs of artificial edge enhancement or grain reduction. Though the film is now over 60 years old, there's nothing about this transfer that would make you think it.


Audio Quality: 3.5/5
The 192 kbps Dolby Digital mono track is effective in its presentation of the film's oft-repeated dialogue, but the handful of musical performances also sound remarkably clean and full. There may be some faint hiss at times but nothing that will get in the way of the experience. I also found I had to raise the volume more than usual to get to a listening level equivalent with other titles.


Special Features: 5/5
The special features package includes all the extras from the 2003 Special Edition DVD, an additional documentary on Jack Warner on a separate DVD, and various physical collectibles. Though the collectibles are nice, it's unfortunate that those who have no interest in them don't have a less expensive, "disc-only" option for the film's first appearance on the Blu-Ray format.

All video material is in standard definition.

Commentary by Film Critic Roger Ebert: Those who have heard Ebert's other commentaries on films like "Citizen Kane" and "Dark City" know to expect a quality track and this one doesn't disappoint either, offering a thorough blend of history, analysis and personal observations.

Commentary by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer: Belhmer, who played a critical role in the extras on "The Adventures of Robin Hood," is another fount of knowledge for "Casablanca," offering an impressive depth of history behind the film's production.

"As Time Goes By: The Children Remember" (6m46s): Stephen Bogart, Bogart's son, and Pia Lindstrom, Bergman's daughter, reminisce about their parents' respective feelings about the film.

"Bacall on Bogart" (1h23m): Lauren Bacall hosts this well made and in-depth tribute to her late husband and features interviews with friends and peers like Katharine Hepburn, Peter Bogdanovich and Alistaire Cooke.

"You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca" (34m39s): Bacall narrates this examination of the film's history, appeal and enduring qualities, with interviews from Behlmer and screenwriters Julius J. Epstein and Howard Koch.

"Production Research" Gallery: Filled with stills from production and poster art, the images could stand to be sized a little larger for high definition displays.

Theatrical Trailer (2m17s)

Re-Release Trailer (1992) (2m53s)

"The Adventures of Robin Hood" Trailer (1m50s)

Additional Scenes (1m41s): Excisions from the final cut include a scene where Laszlo has been arrested and Rick posts bail for him and a German officer gets drugged by the cantina bartender. The original audio is missing but dialogue from the shooting script has been inserted as subtitles.

Outtakes (4m59s): Without the audio it's difficult knowing the context for many of the scenes.

Television Adaptation (1955): "Who Holds Tomorrow" (18m38s): The "Warner Brothers Presents" television series provided a behind-the-scenes look at film production along with a television story based on the studio's popular films. The TV treatment of "Casablanca" is an interesting experiment, but a pale shadow of the film on which it's based.

"Carrotblanca" (8m03s): The 1995 Looney Tunes cartoon sends up of the film in typical fashion, though it lacks some of the charm of the Mel Blanc era productions. With Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Scoring Stage Sessions (15m22s): Seven alternate audio takes and outtakes of the source musical numbers performed by Dooley Wilson (Sam). One track is an orchestral medley used when Rick sees Ilsa.

Screen Guild Theatre Radio Show - 1943 (29m38s): The Screen Guild Players do a radio show version of the film, and includes Bogart, Bergman and Henreid reprising their roles.

[DISC TWO]

"Jack Warner: The Last Mogul" (57m39s): Produced in 1993 and directed by Warner's grandson, Greg Orr, the documentary is a pretty standard bio with few insights into the influential studio head, though it doesn't necessarily gloss over his faults either.

[PACKAGING AND PHYSICAL ITEMS]
  • Sturdy cardboard box with removable lid and beautiful, laser cut cardstock slipcover
  • Leather passport holder and luggage tag
  • Hardcover 48-page photo book with publicity and production images and an essay by Behlmer
  • Cardboard folder with seven replicas of "Casablanca" movie posters, three replicas of vintage lobby cards, and three replica documents that include
    • July 17, 1940 letter from Warner Bros. Advertising and Publicity Director S. Charles Einfeld directing an employee to sell Bogart as a romantic lead
    • December 31, 1941 inter-office memo from Hal Wallis announcing the film's title change to "Casablanca" from "Everybody Comes to Rick's"
    • April 3, 1942 inter-office memo from Hal Wallis to Jack Warner that discourages casting George Raft in favor of Bogart
  • [*]Replica of the letter of transit that was used in the film[*]A voucher to order a 27"X40" "Casablanca" movie poster

Recap

The Feature: 5/5
Video Quality: 5/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5

One of cinema's greatest films gets an excellent video transfer, good audio treatment and a phenomenal set of special features. The only downside is it's currently the only option for those wanting the film on Blu-Ray, leaving those who aren't interested in the physical collectibles to wait for a disc-only release or pay for items they don't want.
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#2 of 4 OFFLINE   BrettB

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Posted December 08 2008 - 05:24 AM

As much as I like this film I'm gonna have to wait for a gimmick-free release. I really have no interest at all in the trinkets. PS, please put that future release in the *normal* Blu cases, thanks.

#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Scott Merryfield

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Posted December 08 2008 - 07:28 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrettB
As much as I like this film I'm gonna have to wait for a gimmick-free release. I really have no interest at all in the trinkets.

Same here. My SD-DVD version will have to get me by until then.

Cameron, I would have given the feature a 6/5 rating. Posted Image Thanks for the review.

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted December 08 2008 - 07:39 AM

I realized I left out the leather passport holder and luggage tag from the list of trinkets, so the review has been updated with that info.
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