North by Northwest (50th Anniversary Edition)
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Studio: Warner Brothers
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Warner Digi-book
Running Time: 2:16:00
|THE FEATURE||SPECIAL FEATURES|
|Video||1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1||480i or 480p standard definition|
|Audio||Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 1.0, Spanish 1.0, German 1.0, Italian 1.0, Portuguese 1.0||Stereo (5.1 and 2s) and mono|
|Subtitles||English SDH, Spanish, French, Danish, German SDH, Italian, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish||English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH, Italian and Portuguese|
The Feature: 4.5/5
During a routine business lunch, Madison Avenue adman Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for an American spy, sending him on a tumultuous journey that begins with his being kidnapped and almost killed. Though he narrowly escapes, no one believes his story, not even his mother, so he is forced to go it alone, pursued by the coolly sinister Philip Vandamm (James Mason), who's convinced he's more than what he is; eventually the authorities believe it too after it after it appears Thornhill has murdered someone in cold blood. If not for Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), Thornhill would just be running for his life, but the beautiful stranger's moment of respite strengthens his resolve to fight his new enemies and clear his name. Though the truth becomes clearer with each lead he pursues, it turns out neither he nor Kendall are all that they seem. In his case it's from sheer necessity, the need to survive. In her case it's all by design.
To say "North by Northwest" is one of Director Alfred Hitchcock's best films is saying quite a lot, considering the company it keeps with "Rear Window," "Vertigo" and "The Birds" (to name just a few). Even without being sandwiched between two psychological thrillers on the Hitchcock filmography, one can see it is somewhat atypical of the work he's most known for, producing its excitement through action set pieces and choreographed romantic exchanges rather than convolutions of the mind. That's not to say it's in any ways conventional. If anything it's a perfect example of how an apparent "genre film" can be an outright great film, characterized by skillful direction, perfect casting and performances, and clever dialogue (though some of the humor in the first act falls flat). Though now 50 years old, the film certainly doesn't show its age - cosmetically, thanks to an impressive restoration that will please longtime fans, but also visually and narratively, evidence that good, cinematic storytelling is ultimately timeless.
Video Quality: 5/5
Presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec, the film image fills the entirety of my 16:9 display (despite package labeling it as 1.85:1). The picture itself is blemish-free and exhibits consistently deep and stable black levels. Shadow delineation in pure black articles of clothing is often limited, but contrast can still be described as excellent, producing an image that feels both rich and dense. Deeply saturated colors and flesh tones add to the visual quality, the former looking especially remarkable in full daylight scenes. Wide angle vistas like the farmland crossroads, where the focus is so deep you can make out everything in the frame, show off the film's incredible sharpness and detail. Things may look a bit soft at times, particularly in the first several minutes, but by all appearances this is the nature of the cinematography rather than anything to do with the transfer, which also shows no signs of digital sharpening or noise reduction measures. In short, the film looks amazing. Titles a fraction of its age should be so fortunate.
Audio Quality: 4/5
The rear surround channels in the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track provide light support for the score with some generally mild environmental and directional effects. The mix does become more aggressive in the crop dusting scene with seamless transitions for the airplane flyovers. Dialogue makes up the majority of the front soundstage activity and is consistently clear and detailed, the textures in Grant and Mason's vocal characteristics coming through nicely. Bernard Hermann's orchestral score is the greatest beneficiary of the lossless treatment with beautiful silkiness in the strings and powerful, sometimes surprising, depth to the tympani and double bass. And though LFE is non-existent, the airplane and fuel tanker explosion will definitely put the subwoofer to work. Overall it's an impressive presentation, yet another aspect of the film that transcends its age.
Special Features: 4.5/5
The special features package carries over the items from the 2000 DVD release and adds three additional documentaries. A handful of archival items and a commentary round out the overall solid feature set. Considering the quality of the film restoration and transfer, it would have been nice to have a featurette detailing the process, though I'm sure the information is readily available in industry magazines and websites (rumors of monks and nuns being involved notwithstanding).
Audio Commentary by Screenwriter Ernest Lehman: Lehman tends to describe on-screen action and is fairly measured in his comments, but he is forthcoming with his opinions, shares some interesting anecdotes, and provides insights into the writing process. However, with the slower pacing a more casual fan will probably get more out of the documentaries.
Cary Grant: A Class Apart (1:27:12, SD, 4x3): Produced in 2004 and aired as part of the PBS "American Masters" series, the documentary is a thorough exploration of Grant's professional and, to a lesser extent, personal life. The running theme throughout the piece is Grant's attitude toward and management of the "Cary Grant" persona, a canny awareness that many of today's legitimate stars and so-called celebrities would be wise to adopt.
The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style (57:32, HD, 16x9): Produced in 2009, the documentary features directors like William Friedkin and Martin Scorsese, along with film critics and historians, identifying key characteristics of Hitchcock's work and what makes it so compelling. It offers a solid encapsulation of the director's particular storytelling methods, though is probably nothing new for longtime fans of his work.
Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest (39:27, SD, 4x3): Produced in 2000, the somewhat sentimental retrospective is hosted by Eva Marie Saint and covers the requisite phases of the production, from development to publicity.
North by Northwest: One for the Ages (25:29, SD, 16x9): Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects") and Directors Guillermo Del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"), William Friedkin ("The Exorcist"), Curtis Hanson ("The Hand that Rocks the Cradle"), and Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend") dissect and analyze the film, highlighting key scenes and methods employed to tell the story. Of the more feature-centric pieces, I found this one the most interesting.
TV Spot (1:02, SD, 16x9):
A Guided Tour with Alfred Hitchcock Trailer (3:14, SD, 16x9): A tongue-in-cheek overview of the film with the director, presented as a travel promotion for the movie's locations.
Theatrical Trailer (2:13, SD, 16x9):
Stills Gallery (5:52, SD): Over forty photographs, primarily from the film's production but several from the production of "Destination Hitchcock."
Music-Only Audio Track: Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 640 kbps, the switch to a lossy track is apparent, lacking much of the lossless option's smoothness and dynamic range. Though it's somewhat disappointing, the score is such a strong component of the film that in this case there's really not much benefit to the isolated track. Forced to choose between isolation and higher resolution, I recommend the latter.
Collectible Book: The nicely produced book-that-is-the-packaging includes cast and crew biographies, photographs and artwork and retrospective essays on the film.
The Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 4.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5
One of Hitchcock's best films gets an excellent technical presentation and an equally impressive set of special features. For owners of the DVD the Blu-ray is a significant upgrade technically; the inclusion of in-depth documentaries further enhances the release. For both first-time purchase and the double-dip upgrade, the release is highly recommended.