Program Length: 114 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: English, French, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
You talking to me? You talking to me? You talking to me? Well, then who the hell else are you talking to? Well, I'm the only one here. - Travis Bickle
Sony's Blu-ray release of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver is nothing short of stunning. The film has never looked or sounded better, and as an added treat Sony has included the audio commentary which Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader made for the 1986 Criterion laserdisc. Sony also has ported over all of the extras which appeared on the Limited Collector's Edition DVD which was released in 2007. The film is a brilliant but disturbing portrayal of a man's descent into paranoia and violence.
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a lonely, troubled veteran of the U.S. Marines. Living in New York City, Travis is plagued by insomnia and spends his nights wandering around Manhattan. He decides that if he is not going to be able to sleep, he might as well drive a cab all night and earn some money. Visitors to New York City today might not be aware of the fact that in the seventies Times Square was an incredibly seedy section of Manhattan. It was the home of adult movie theaters and peep shows, and at night the surrounding streets were populated by pimps and prostitutes. Travis is both repelled and fascinated by what he sees. He hates Times Square, yet at the same time he is inexorably drawn to it. "Someday," he ruminates, "a real rain'll come and wash all this scum off the streets."
Travis is friendless, but there is an opportunity to end his loneliness when he meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a beautiful campaign worker for Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Travis approaches her in the senator's campaign headquarters. Betsy is intrigued by Travis and agrees to go out with him. What starts out as a promising first date ends in disaster when Travis inexplicably takes her to see a pornographic film. When Betsy rejects him and refuses to see him again, Travis' sense of isolation only increases. He encounters a teenaged runaway-turned-prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster) and her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel). Travis decides to make it his mission to rescue Iris from her sordid life, but ultimately she also rejects him.
Other colorful characters in Taxi Driver include Wizard (Peter Boyle), a long-time cabbie, and Tom (Albert Brooks) an aide to Senator Palantine. Somewhere Travis has parents, and he occasionally writes to them. He has spun a tale that he is doing secret work for the government and that he is not allowed to give his parents his address. He also lies that he is in a solid relationship with a woman and that he is making plenty of money. As his mental instability becomes more evident, Travis makes plans to assassinate the senator.
At its core, Taxi Driver is an examination of extreme loneliness and the debilitating effects it can have. Some veterans have objected to the portrayal of Travis Bickle as a stereotypical deranged Vietnam vet, but that criticism strikes me as unfair. It is unclear what, if any, effect Travis' military experiences had on his current condition and it is quite likely that he was a misfit while he was in the military. The sight of Vietnam veterans wearing their fatigues was a common one during the seventies, so it is far from clear that Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader were making a statement about the war. Indeed, in the beginning of the film Travis is applying to be a cab driver, and when he is asked if he has any military experience he replies that he was a Marine. The interviewer comments that he too was a Marine, but then drops the subject. If the point had been to blame Travis' troubles on the horrors of war, that would have been the place to set it up.
Taxi Driver features a superlative and iconic performance by Robert De Niro, who is ably supported by a top-notch cast. The film's gritty depiction of New York City in the seventies is spot-on. Mention also should be made of the compelling and evocative musical score by Bernard Hermann. Taxi Driver is one of the cinema's great films, and Sony's Blu-ray does it the justice it deserves.
Sony's 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer is exceptional, with highly detailed images, accurate and vivid colors, solid blacks and superb shadow detail in the film's many dark scenes. A moderate level of film grain has been retained to give Taxi Driver a very satisfying film-like appearance. I saw no evidence of digital anomalies or excessive edge enhancement. Sony is referring to this as the "35th Anniversary Edition," although it is not identified as such on the packaging. It was newly remastered with a 4k digital restoration from the original camera negative and was approved by both Martin Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman. This is now the definitive home video edition of Taxi Driver.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio is superb. Dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel and is always clear and understandable. The film was originally presented in stereo but was enhanced in surround sound for its re-release. Here the surround channels are effective in producing realistic ambient sounds, and Bernard Hermann's outstanding musical score is given a pleasing soundstage.
This Blu-ray disc is loaded with extras. Fans of the films will be thrilled to discover that Sony has reproduced the commentary track which Scorsese and Schrader made for the Criterion laserdisc. Also included are commentary tracks by Schrader and Professor Robert Kolker which were made for the 2007 DVD.
An interesting and innovative feature is "Script to Screen," which allows the viewer to watch the film while the original script scrolls by scene-for-scene in a separate window. It is interesting to see how the screenplay was modified during the filming.
The other extras originally appeared on the 2007 DVD. The difference is that most of them are now shown in high-definition.
1. "Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver," is a fascinating 17-minute featurette in which the director discusses how he got involved in the project and how it came to fruition. It was difficult to obtain financing for Taxi Driver until Scorsese demonstrated that he could produce box office successes with Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.
2. "Producing Taxi Driver" is a 10-minute featurette with producer Michael Phillips and Schrader.
3. "Influence and Appreciation" is an 18-minute homage to Scorsese featuring tributes by De Niro, Oliver Stone, and Roger Corman.
4. "God's Lonely Man" is a 22-minute featurette in which Schrader and Professor Kolker discuss the loneliness theme, and Schrader expounds upon how he came to write the screenplay.
5. "Travis' New York" is a 6-minute featurette in which director of photography Michael Chapman and former New York mayor Ed Koch discuss what Times Square was like in the seventies. This is followed by "Travis' New York Locations," a 5-minute look at how some of the New York locations appeared thirty years later.
6. The longest extra is a 71-minute "making of" documentary which was made in 1999. It appears in 4:3 standard definition.
7. "Introduction to Storyboards" is a 5-minute featurette in which the director discusses his use of storyboards. This is followed by "Storyboard to Film Comparisons," which runs for 8 minutes.
8. "Taxi Driver Stories" is a 22-minute featurette in which real New York City cab drivers discuss their work. Are you interested in owning your own New York City taxi? Be prepared to shell out more than a half-million dollars for a taxi medallion - that is how much they cost nowadays.
Also included are photo galleries which include photographs of Bernard Hermann's score, location shots and publicity photos.
A trailer for the film appears in 4:3 standard definition, and BD-Live features will be enabled on the release date.
The single Blu-ray disc is packaged in a gatefold case which is approximately the size of digibook release. However, instead of a book this case has an inner sleeve which contains a reproduction of the original movie poster and 11 still photographs (in both color and black & white).
The Final Analysis
Taxi Driver is one of the most highly-regarded films of the seventies, and its themes of loneliness and emotional isolation remains relevant today. It boasts outstanding direction and acting and is a time capsule at how the Times Square neighborhood of New York City appeared 35 years ago. Fans of the film will be thrilled by this presentation, and those who have not seen it will never find a better time to do so.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: April 5, 2011