Blu-ray Disc Review
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Film Year: 1953
Film Length: 134 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Video Codec: AVC @ 21MBPS
Disc Size: BD-50
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean
Film Rating: Unrated
Release Date: March 17, 2009.
Starring: Richard Burton (Marcellus Gallio), Jean Simmons (Diana), Victor Mature (Demetrius)
Screenplay by: Albert Maltz & Philip Dunne
Directed by: Henry Koster
The Robe is a fictional story about a Roman Centurion whose life changed after he crucified Christ and won his robe in a gambling game at the foot of the cross. His guilt overcomes him as he is sent on a mission to investigate Christ’s followers as a merchant and search for to destroy the robe that cursed him. In his journey he learns about peace and forgiveness that contradict the views of the Roman Empire and the evil Emperor Caligula. Many people to this day wonder what happened to the robe Christ wore when he died. This film is based on the novel of what the author thought of could be a good story as to what happened to the robe.
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor, Costume Design in colour, Art Direction in colour) and won the last two.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3.5/5
Much effort has been placed in the restoration of The Robe. Past editions of the film have not looked too good, and now that good restoration tools are available, The Robe received the treatment it needed. The result is an image that is respectable. The conditions of elements vary and the very good surviving pieces tend to show the known technical limitations of the anamorphic lens used for this film. Based on the featurettes on this BD, The Robe didn’t get one of the sharpest anamorphic lenses. While resolution is good, it wasn’t as sharp as the second Cinemascope feature How to Marry a Millionaire. Image contrast and colour check out ok with these elements but dupes appear dimmer and not as naturally saturated. What is also noticeable about the lens is the distortion at the far edges and in the middle; the image gets skinny to the sides and fatter in the middle. When viewing the 4:3 full screen version as a comparison, one can see that Richard Burton’s face is probably more accurate, but of course you lose the scope of the widescreen presentation (the 4:3 version with mono audio can only be viewed in the smaller BonusView window and not separately). Note that this is the original photography for the film, and a great amount of effort has been placed in restoring The Robe and one will appreciate the work completed here.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
At one time the sound has been repurposed for 5.1. My guess is that this had to have been a 6-channel recording in its day: five channels across the front, one in the rear. Dialogue is very directional and is placed with the actors on screen. The effect works wonders for those with large screens and a wide speaker spread, or even better – with speakers behind the screen (in my opinion too much video resolution is lost with the latter because of perforation). I like this technique because it’s much better than restricting dialogue to the center channel only. The directional dialogue of The Robe, it’s not always stable; every now and then dialogue wavers back and forth in a floating space, say, between center and 75% left. Its movement doesn’t always correspond with movement on screen. It sort of takes me out of the moment. At other times imaging is good, although my center speaker is placed below the tweeters of my mains, the phantom image was shifted down slightly.
Another strange effect is how dialogue at 100% left and 100% right isn’t always exactly “hard” left and right. Its phase is different…rather than coming from the precise speaker location, the voice seems to float in front of me on that axis, exactly half the distance between the speaker and I (about 5 feet from me). It’s like a third dimension in sound but rather being placed far back into the soundstage, it’s forward and almost in my face. The music and sound effects don’t appear to be affected by this oddity.
The original sound design sounds fairly good in terms of design, but the soundtrack does not have the warm, thick sound we hear more and more as soundtracks continue to evolve. Lacking a nice round bottom end makes The Robe feel thin, weak, and in need of a little fattening. Listening to The Robe can be a bit sibilant at high volumes. Alfred Newman’s score has some directionality with channels, but I found it based too much in the center channel. If my center speaker was placed behind the screen, it may have been a bit better, but I prefer music from left and right channels only with 100% phantom imaging.
TACTILE FUN!!: 0/5 ZERO
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: OFF
I didn’t notice anything in the LFE channel. If there was it was too subtle. Use of a bass shaker is unnecessary.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5
Many of the features here are about Fox’s use of Cinemascope for this film. Since it was the first Cinemascope film, devoting time to this topic is not a mistake. I found the features well organized and very informing and worth the watch. It was sometimes tough to skip through these educational spots. My only complaint is the menu to navigate these features; it’s hard to read on the film when overlaid. I also found using the left and right arrows a bit bothersome when going into submenus, I sometimes hit the wrong arrow key repeatedly based on how I thought the key should have functioned.
IN THE END...
The Robe is not one of my favourite films in the history of cinema, but it is a pivotal success for Fox’s continued success, the fight against television, and the continuation of widescreen films in the years to come. Fox’s work on this film is good and the result is a large step above what was available in the past. The film did have its technical limitations at the time and inconsistencies can be seen on this disc, but the final result is a good job that is a pleasure to view.
March 30, 2009.