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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Taxi Driver



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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted April 03 2011 - 10:38 AM

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Taxi Driver

Studio: Sony
Year: 1976
Rated: R
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

The Program

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.

The Video

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 Audio

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.

The Supplements

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 Packaging

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


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#2 of 17 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted April 03 2011 - 01:02 PM

Thanks for the review. The price was hard to pass up so I had this pre-ordered from Amazon weeks ago.



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#3 of 17 OFFLINE   ShowsOn

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Posted April 03 2011 - 01:04 PM

Great. Thanks for the review, most reviews / previews I've read say that the image quality is great.And it is great that Criterion were willing to let Sony have their commentary track.





#4 of 17 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted April 03 2011 - 01:41 PM



Originally Posted by ShowsOn 

Great. Thanks for the review, most reviews / previews I've read say that the image quality is great.And it is great that Criterion were willing to let Sony have their commentary track.




That's something I'd like to see more of. There are some great commentary tracks on LD which may never be available on DVD or BD.



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#5 of 17 OFFLINE   ShowsOn

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Posted April 03 2011 - 02:10 PM



Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher 




That's something I'd like to see more of. There are some great commentary tracks on LD which may never be available on DVD or BD.



Yeah, I always thought that Criterion had a strict policy of never licensing out their extra features, because - along with the quality of the transfers - the extras is what makes the Criteiron brand. But maybe they are now willing to do it on some occasions? Perhaps they now have a closer relationship with Sony after working together on the America Lost & Found box? It seems that their edition of Taxi Driver is basically Criterion quality anyway, and it was an absolute steal at Amazon for just $12.99.


Criterion could make some money selling their laserdisc commentary tracks on iTunes. Paul Thomas Anderson says he learned a heap about filmmaking listening to John Sturges' commentary on the Criterion Bad Day at Black Rock laserdisc.




#6 of 17 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted April 03 2011 - 02:24 PM

Originally Posted by ShowsOn 


Yeah, I always thought that Criterion had a strict policy of never licensing out their extra features, because - along with the quality of the transfers - the extras is what makes the Criteiron brand. But maybe they are now willing to do it on some occasions?



Criterion licensed their commentary track from the Halloween laserdisc to Anchor Bay back in 2003.



#7 of 17 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted April 03 2011 - 05:21 PM

I'm looking forward to viewing this.  I watched the film in the theater a couple weeks ago when it was re-released and found the transfer to be downright brilliant up until the final sequence when it looked horrid.  I'm not sure if this was due to something being wrong with what they were showing but it was really, really poor.  I know the "history" behind the ending and how the color had to be altered but there were parts where there was no detail to be seen and much of what you could see was blurred together.  When Travis put his finger up to his head you couldn't even see the blood drip down.  I was hoping this stuff was fixed, which I'm guessing it has been.



#8 of 17 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted April 03 2011 - 09:37 PM



Originally Posted by Michael Elliott 

I'm looking forward to viewing this.  I watched the film in the theater a couple weeks ago when it was re-released and found the transfer to be downright brilliant up until the final sequence when it looked horrid.  I'm not sure if this was due to something being wrong with what they were showing but it was really, really poor.  I know the "history" behind the ending and how the color had to be altered but there were parts where there was no detail to be seen and much of what you could see was blurred together.  When Travis put his finger up to his head you couldn't even see the blood drip down.  I was hoping this stuff was fixed, which I'm guessing it has been.



They probably did the best they could do with 1976's technology. The original unadjusted sequence doesn't exist anymore (not that Scorsese would want to change it back anyway) so Sony did the best they could, giving the material. It looked fine on the Blu-ray when I watched it.


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#9 of 17 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted April 04 2011 - 01:34 PM

I'm not expecting the original version, which is known to have been lost years ago.  I've seen this film a dozen times and never has it been as fuzzy, hazy or missing stuff that was obviously seen in previous versions.  If people can at least see the blood dripping off his finger then you're seeing more than what was visible in the recent theatrical showings.



#10 of 17 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted April 05 2011 - 06:16 AM



Originally Posted by Michael Elliott 

I'm not expecting the original version, which is known to have been lost years ago.  I've seen this film a dozen times and never has it been as fuzzy, hazy or missing stuff that was obviously seen in previous versions.  If people can at least see the blood dripping off his finger then you're seeing more than what was visible in the recent theatrical showings.



I checked for you, and the blood dripping from his finger is indeed visible on the Blu-ray. There were some people that complained that the restoration in the movie theater looked too dark, while others didn't have any problems at all.

As a side note, I was watching the scene while listening to the soundtrack to Quigley Down Under, which is quite surreal, I can tell you Posted Image.


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#11 of 17 OFFLINE   42nd Street Freak

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Posted April 05 2011 - 08:28 AM

I'd still love to know why Scorsese would not want to restore the finale if he could!

This was not how it was filmed, not how it was planned, not how it was decided upon when the film was finished.  This was a censorship pandering adjustment that needed to be done at the time but was NOT what Scorsese shot or handed in in his final cut of the film.


Why do you say Scorsese would (is?)  happy to leave outside censorship changes to what he originally and ACTUALLY shot?

For me the colour alteration on "Taxi Driver"is one of the most foul examples of censorship to a masterpiece in cinema history.


To hell with this mindset that the colour censored (for that's what it is, and it is bemoaned on the DVD extras) finale of "Taxi Driver" is somehow 'how it should be'!

Because without outside censorial interference it would NEVER have looked like that, ever.


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#12 of 17 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted April 05 2011 - 10:37 AM

^ I can't speak for Scorsese but I would guess that he feels that changing it after 35 years is worse than having to change it in the first place.



#13 of 17 OFFLINE   ShowsOn

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Posted April 05 2011 - 10:58 AM

Maybe Scorsese's thought is that the desaturated colour is how people know the film over the years, so changing it would go against the expectations of the audience?





#14 of 17 OFFLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted April 05 2011 - 11:51 AM

In the Criterion commentary, Scorsese makes it clear that while the color desaturation at the end was initially a "compromise" to get the R-rating, he came to prefer how the scene played that way.  In fact I believe he mentioned that he considered using that process on the entire film at one point.


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#15 of 17 OFFLINE   ShowsOn

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Posted April 05 2011 - 05:29 PM



Originally Posted by Vincent_P 

In the Criterion commentary, Scorsese makes it clear that while the color desaturation at the end was initially a "compromise" to get the R-rating, he came to prefer how the scene played that way.  In fact I believe he mentioned that he considered using that process on the entire film at one point.


Vincent

I beleive most of the night scenes in the film were printed using a process called Chemtone that was sort of a chemical way of flashing the film. It seems that the darkness of the restored version that some people have complained about was an attempt to more accurately emulate the Chemtone look of the film, whereas previous transfers boosted the contrast in order to remove the Chemtone effect.




#16 of 17 OFFLINE   42nd Street Freak

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Posted April 05 2011 - 09:18 PM



Originally Posted by Vincent_P 

In the Criterion commentary, Scorsese makes it clear that while the color desaturation at the end was initially a "compromise" to get the R-rating, he came to prefer how the scene played that way.  In fact I believe he mentioned that he considered using that process on the entire film at one point.


Vincent


Thanks.

Can't argue with that I guess.
Never heard the comm track.


I know on the DVD extras they do a still photo screen-wipe that restores the colour and the cinematographer (I think) bemoans the fact the tampering was done to it.

But if Scorsese does like it, I guess that's valid enough.

I think it wipes the scene of some of its power and makes the blood look like water with a drop of food colouring in.  But hey....I ain't Scorsese so nuts to me.


Thanks for the clarification Vincent.



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#17 of 17 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted April 07 2011 - 01:47 AM



Originally Posted by 42nd Street Freak 

I'd still love to know why Scorsese would not want to restore the finale if he could!

This was not how it was filmed, not how it was planned, not how it was decided upon when the film was finished.  This was a censorship pandering adjustment that needed to be done at the time but was NOT what Scorsese shot or handed in in his final cut of the film.


Why do you say Scorsese would (is?)  happy to leave outside censorship changes to what he originally and ACTUALLY shot?

For me the colour alteration on "Taxi Driver"is one of the most foul examples of censorship to a masterpiece in cinema history.


To hell with this mindset that the colour censored (for that's what it is, and it is bemoaned on the DVD extras) finale of "Taxi Driver" is somehow 'how it should be'!

Because without outside censorial interference it would NEVER have looked like that, ever.



Probably the same reason for never getting a "Director's Cut" for Gangs of New York. Scorsese simply doesn't believe in altering a movie once it's released.

Too bad, because there was even more tinkering after the fact with "Gangs", so I'd like to see that cut, with Elmer Bernstein's score.


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