GONE WITH THE WIND
Studio: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment
Film Length: 3 hours, 58 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1080p (1.37:1)
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround Sound, restored English Monaural soundtrack, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1, restored Spanish Monaural soundtrack, restored Portuguese Monaural soundtrack, restored Japanese Monaural soundtrack
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish
Release Date: November 17, 2009
On the 70th Anniversary of the theatrical release of Gone With the Wind, how can anyone say anything that has not already been said about this seminal film? Anyone who has seen this film is probably uninterested in reading a complete summary of the plot, and anyone who has not seen this film does not want to read spoilers. Since no plot summary can do this film justice, I will attempt to be as brief as possible: On the eve of the Civil War, Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a spoiled Southern belle who pines away for the man she can never have, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is the scoundrel who is smitten with Scarlett but is rarely the object of her affections. This star-crossed romance takes place against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction as the South is decimated by the War Between the States.
Following its theatrical release in 1939, Gone With The Wind won 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Victor Fleming), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Vivien Leigh), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Hattie McDaniel). This was an impressive feat given that the year 1939 produced so many enduring film classics. At the time, this film was one of the most expensive films ever produced, and taking inflation into account, remains one of the most profitable films of all time.
This 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition marks the first time that this film has been produced in high definition on Blu-Ray disc. This edition comes in an elegant, illustrated velvet box, which is individually numbered out of a production of 150,000 units, with a plethora of extras, including the following: 2 Blu-Ray discs and 1 DVD in a sturdy foldout cardboard sleeve with clear plastic holders for the discs; an illustrated hardcover book of 40 pages; a reproduction of the original theatrical program from 1939; reproductions of various studio memoranda and telegrams during production; a CD soundtrack sampler; and 8 frame-able art prints measuring 5" by 7". I was skeptical about this packaging when it was first announced but I must concede that this is a beautiful package even though it takes up considerably more shelf space than a regular Blu-Ray case.
The movie is entirely on Disc 1 in 1080p in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The only occasion on which I had the opportunity to see Gone With The Wind on the big screen was during its brief theatrical reissue in 1998. I am more impressed with the video presentation on this BD than I was with the theatrical presentation. Detail is perceptible on this Blu-Ray that I do not remember seeing in the theater, much less on the 2004 DVD release. From the burning of Atlanta to the interior scenes at Tara, the presentation throughout defies any criticism.
Some early recipients of this Blu-Ray have criticized the color timing on this transfer. It is more than 10 years since I saw this film on a big screen, and my memory is hazy, even assuming that the print I saw in 1998 was an accurate reproduction of the 1939 prints, which it probably was not. My impression is that this is the best transfer of a technicolor film to Blu-Ray that I have ever seen, including the recent, excellent release of The Wizard of Oz. Colors are vibrant and flesh tones are natural, and the actual quality must be seen to be believed because words cannot describe adequately the superior quality of this video presentation.
The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround Sound track is the default track with the restored English monaural track and other tracks accessible through the disc menu. Dialogue is appropriately through the center channel on the surround sound mix with other speakers used for percussive effects and to supplement the music score by Max Steiner.
The first disc contains the entire film with optional audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Disc 2 consists entirely of special features organized into one of the following 4 categories: Behind the Story, Trailers, Extras, and Additional Footage. The special features are in mostly in standard definition and upscaled, and include all of the following:
Making of A Legend (2:03:36): This is a TV documentary produced by Turner Home Entertainment in 1989 regarding the making of Gone With The Wind.
1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year (1:08:20): This new documentary narrated by Kenneth Branagh puts Gone With The Wind in historical context with the other notable films released that same year.
Gone With The Wind: The Legend Lives On (32:44): This new documentary explores the legacy of Gone With The Wind with interviews, archival footage, and visits to historical sites, events, and museums.
Gable: The King Remembered (1:05:03): Clark Gable was initially reluctant to play Rhett Butler, and this documentary covers his entire career.
Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond (46:05): Documentary about Vivien Leigh hosted and narrated by Jessica Lange.
Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland (36:43): Olivia de Havilland offers her recollections in this interview done in 2004 for the DVD special edition.
The Supporting Players: There are brief character portraits of 17 supporting characters showing footage from the film with narration describing each character. The characters appear in subcategories of one of the following categories: At Tara, Their Daughters, The House Servants, At Twelve Oaks, In Atlanta, and Exit.
Restoring A Legend (17:43): Documentary explaining the Ultra Resolution Process used in producing this high definition transfer.
Dixie Hails (4:01): An original News of the Day newsreel from 1939 regarding the film’s premiere.
The Old South (11:19): Fred Zinneman directed this historical short which describes the history of the South. This short was produced specifically for promoting the film.
Atlanta Civil War Centennial (3:40): Footage from the Civil War Centennial in 1961 attended by stars Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland.
Trailers: Trailers for the film including the original 1939 Announcement Trailer, the Civil War Centennial Trailer from 1961, the 70 mm Reissue Trailer from 1967, the Reissue Trailer from 1968, and the 50th Anniversary Trailer from 1989.
Movieola: The Scarlett O’Hara War (1:37:23): Tony Curtis played producer David O’Selznick in this 1980 TV movie detailing the exhaustive search for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara.
Additional Footage: Included here is the International Prologue (1:16) which consisted of an upward text crawl summarizing the historical background of the film and a short featurette (2:37) showing portions of the film dubbed into other languages.
In addition, the 3rd disc is a double sided DVD of the 6 hour documentary MGM: When The Lion Roars. This documentary of the history of MGM Studios premiered on the TNT television network in 1992. The Home Theater Forum’s Ken McAlinden has provided an excellent review and summary of this documentary which can be viewed at: http://www.hometheaterforum.com/forum/thread/281429/htf-dvd-review-mgm-when-the-lion-roars.
It might be possible that Gone With The Wind could look better with present technology but I do not know how. Likewise, the special features are so comprehensive that there is not much else that could be included. I especially appreciate the inclusion of the Movieola telefilm starring Tony Curtis. The retail price may seem steep for consumers who want to purchase the film in high definition without all of the extras: In the U.S., Target stores have an exclusive single disc edition which I understand will have wider distribution in a few months after the expiration of Target’s exclusivity period. Since the Ultimate Collector’s Edition can be obtained, by shopping around, for only 10 dollars or so more than the single disc edition, this UCE is well worth the money. Warner Brothers has produced an excellent transfer of one of the greatest films of all time, with packaging and extras worthy of the film. May they meet or exceed this high standard for all of their future releases.