Dead Poets Society (Blu-ray)
Directed by Peter Weir
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 129 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.0 French
Subtitles: SDH, French
MSRP: $ 20.00
Release Date: January 17, 2012
Review Date: January 19, 2012
Robin Williams has many moving and effective moments as John Keating, an experienced teacher who returns to his old prep school to teach English. (He seems to have only one class, an anomaly that the film doesn’t deal with.) In his class are the assorted, highly impressionable youngsters looking for answers in a world that changes the questions on an almost daily basis (the film is set in 1959). Screenwriter Tom Schulman has only provided a sketchy portrait of Mr. Keating, and he’s such a fascinating character that it’s understandable the audience feels some measure of frustration in not being given more information about this quirky, charismatic person.
What Keating attempts to teach his pupils is that they must rely on themselves and their own uniqueness to make their own ways in the world. He has no pat solutions for them; the answers to life’s mysteries are waiting for each of them to discover. To get this across to his students, John relies on unorthodox instruction methods, techniques which naturally get him in hot water with the school’s dean of students (and a former teacher of this very English class) played by Norman Lloyd.
Almost everything that happens in the movie to the students has happened in previous serious movies about the ethereal bond between teacher and student. One student wants a career his parents feel is completely wrong for him. Another becomes a complete nonconformist. One student is deep in the throes of love. One has deep thoughts and sensitivities but is too shy to express them aloud. Mr. Keating’s teachings come in handy for most of them, but he sacrifices himself in the process of helping them.
The movie is calculated for tragedy and tears, and director Peter Weir succeeds masterfully in achieving them. Sadly, Tom Schulman’s screenplay (despite its Oscar-winning credentials) seems rather too predictable and pat, but the actors have a way of making even the multitude of clichés absorbing and even enjoyable. Robert Sean Leonard as the boy in conflict with his parents, Ethan Hawke as the painfully shy student, Josh Charles as the one in love, and Gale Hansen as the slightly loony individualist all make favorable impressions giving remarkable performances at such early points in their careers. Less favorable are the banal characterizations of Norman Lloyd as the priggish headmaster and Kurtwood Smith as the aloof, unbending father. It’s the script, of course, that has painted these actors into such an unyielding corner with the performers having to act these stereotypes without much nuance or color.
Weir’s ability to take sunsets and moonscapes and make pictorial masterworks of them was already a known commodity in his many films prior to this one, but the visuals here really are quite something. And these striking compositions go a long way toward holding the audience’s attention as the young actors go through their fairly predictable paces. For all of the film’s odes to nonconformity, the stories of these students seem very conventional. Yet, Weir’s pacing keeps the 129-minute movie running at a brisk pace (there are a good many individual stories to cover) so that the length is never an issue.
The transfer has been framed at its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film is never as crisply sharp as one might expect from a high definition transfer, and there are some scenes that look particularly dated. Color is robust enough though flesh tones seem mostly a bit too rosy and a bit unnatural. Black levels are fairly mediocre throughout, but shadow detail isn’t bad. The image is free from age-related or video-related artifacts. The film has been divided into 10 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix has good fidelity but only a small spread through most of the movie. You won’t hear much sound in the rear channels (only when Maurice Jarre’s music swells), and there is very little for the LFE channel to do. Dialogue is very clear and has been placed in the center channel.
The audio commentary is an edited together series of comments from director Peter Weir (who doesn’t bother identifying himself), screenwriter Tom Schulman, and cinematographer John Seale. All have interesting anecdotes to reveal about the making of the film in a worthy commentary track.
All of the bonus video featurettes are presented in 480i.
“A Look Back” is a 27-minute tribute to director Peter Weir from several members of the cast discussing the casting, rehearsal, and shooting process and how instrumental he was to them in bringing out the best performances possible. Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Norman Lloyd, Kurtwood Smith, and Dylan Kussman are among the actors who comment favorably on the director.
There are two deleted scenes which appear together in a montage lasting 8 minutes.
“Master of Sound” is an 11-minute tribute to the late sound man Alan Spiet by Peter Weir (on camera) and director David Lynch (audio only) who has Alan’s ashes in an urn in his office.
John Seale conducts a “Cinematographer’s Master Class” showing his students how to light a small recreated set from the film for three specific time periods and how to do tricks in the camera to achieve effects. This runs 14 ¾ minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Dead Poets Society earned Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor Oscar nominations in 1989 for an emotional Oscar-winning story of a teacher’s monumental influence on a handful of his students. Neither the sound nor the picture on this new Blu-ray release will earn any prizes, but it’s likely the best the film will ever look on home video, and fans of it will be happy with its release.