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Blu-ray Reviews

To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary Edition - Highly Recommended



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#1 of 31 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 05 2012 - 04:47 PM

The wonderful film To Kill A Mockingbird is the very definition of a classic, and Universal’s new Blu-ray of the film is a great way to experience it.   The Blu-ray shows off a new HD transfer that handles the film with a clear amount of love and care – this is absolutely not the DNR problem that some may have feared, and that some reviewers may be alleging.  It’s truly a pleasure to watch this.  The Blu-ray carries over the extensive special features from prior DVD and laserdisc editions, adding a new HD featurette about Universal’s more recent restoration work and a new U-Control PIP function that allows you to watch bits of the “Fearful Symmetry” documentary while watching the movie itself.   Put simply, this title is Highly Recommended for purchase in either Blu-ray edition you choose.


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/TO KILL A MOCKINBIRD

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Studio: Universal

Year:  1962

Length:  2 hrs 10 mins

Genre:  Drama/Coming of Age/1930s


Aspect Ratio, Color: 1.85:1, Black and White

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, VC-1 (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (oscillating between 1.6 mbps and 3.2 mbps), English DTS 2.0 Mono, French DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French


Film Rating: Unrated (Family-Appropriate)


Release Date: January 31, 2012


Starring:  Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, John Megna, Ruth White, Paul Fix, Brock Peters, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy, Collin Wilcox


Screenplay by:  Horton Foote

Based on Harper Lee’s Novel “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Produced by:  Alan Pakula

Directed by:  Robert Mulligan


Film Rating:    5/5


To Kill A Mockingbird is truly a timeless classic.  A period picture when it was originally made in the 1960s, it presents a small southern town in the 1930s from the point of view of the children of perhaps the most virtuous man to be found there, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, in an Oscar-winning performance).  The movie is a quite faithful adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel of the same name, with some events and characters condensed for length without sacrificing any of the meat or the voice of the story.   This is a movie that was made with a lot of care toward the material – enough so that Harper Lee herself approved the approach taken.  Appropriately enough, the new Blu-ray edition shows the same level of care, this time being shown toward the work done with film elements to create a new HD transfer.   The short version of this review is that the title is Highly Recommended for purchase.  Look below for more information about the movie and then about the two Blu-ray editions from which you can choose. 


SPOILERS HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM OR READ THE BOOK:   And while we’re on the subject, if you haven’t read the book, I strongly recommend you do so.  It’s a beautiful piece of storytelling, conveyed in the dialect of Harper Lee’s childhood town of Monroeville, Alabama.  For the movie, playwright Horton Foote expertly condenses Lee’s narrative to work within the confines of a 2 hour movie, without losing any of the substance of the story or the central characters.   The basic idea here is the transition of the two children, Scout and Jem Finch from innocence to something approaching a more adult perspective.  For the first few reels of the movie, we get to know the Finch children as kids, as they play with one neighbor child and spy on another, the elusive “Boo” Radley.  But then more dangerous material begins to enter the equation, just as a mad, rabid dog threatens the household at one point.  The kids’ father Atticus is assigned the task of defending a black man, Tom Robinson, from the charge of rape and assault of a young white woman.   And it’s here that the story really moves into deep waters.  One scene is particularly telling:  Scout is the one to defend both Atticus and Tom from an angry mob, just by the act of asking the mob leader to say “hey” to his son, a boy who Atticus brought home for lunch.  (That’s not to mention that Atticus did legal work for the man for free, since the movie shows that their family is bitterly poor.) 


MORE SPOILERS:  A lengthy section of the film and book concerns the trial of Tom Robinson, wherein Atticus mounts an intelligent and spirited defense that conclusively shows the man could not have committed the crime, and further that it’s a lot more likely that the victim’s alcoholic father may have actually beaten his own daughter.   In a simpler book or film, you could write the resolution of this situation already.  But that’s the beauty of this film – it refuses to take the simple way out.  Atticus and his children are forced to deal with the harsh reality that facts may be stubborn things, but racist and ignorant people may still not wish to see them.   The fate of Tom Robinson is compounded by the concluding reels of the film, where the kids are exposed to the real face of intolerance, and to a very real danger in the community.  A final scene of discussion between Atticus and the county sheriff reveals not only an adult sensibility in the writing, but also in Scout’s perspective of their discussion.  The sheriff’s refusal to allow the attack to be investigated is not presented as a cover-up but rather an act of mercy to both the community and to the person who stopped it.  The simple phrase “Bob Ewell fell on his knife” conveys the knowledge that the sheriff, Atticus and the kids now have:  that to expose a simple, shy man’s act of decency and potentially damage him in the public spotlight would be as much of a sin as it would be to kill a mockingbird.


The Blu-ray release of To Kill A Mockingbird is actually the 3rd DVD edition of the movie, not counting a compilation package of Gregory Peck films released by Universal four years ago.  The first DVD “Collector’s Edition” coincided with a Signature laserdisc release, and included a commentary by producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan, a thorough documentary about the book and film called “Fearful Symmetry” and the film’s trailer, complete with an introduction by Gregory Peck.  In 2005, a “Legacy Edition” 2-Disc DVD was issued, this time adding an anamorphic transfer, an additional documentary on Gregory Peck and a few other odds and ends.  That edition was the one included in the Gregory Peck collection I reviewed for this website four years ago.


The new Blu-ray comes in two flavors.  The one reviewed here is a digibook package that carries over all of the extras from the Legacy Edition and adds in a new HD featurette and a PIP function.  The movie is presented in a new HD transfer and for sound, both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that updates the 5.1 mix on the Legacy Edition into HD, and a DTS 2.0 mix that sounds like it’s the one originally heard on the earlier editions.  The 45 page booklet contained within the packaging includes pages from Gregory Peck’s working script, storyboards from the film, poster art, press excerpts and some correspondence.  A standard-definition DVD is also included in the packaging.  This is a lovely package for fans of the film and of Gregory Peck, but it isn’t really necessary material.  More casual viewers could just go with the second Blu-ray flavor – which is a simpler package without the digibook and runs a few dollars cheaper.  Both versions are Highly Recommended, but which version you choose simply depends on how much of a fan of the movie you are.

                                                       

VIDEO QUALITY   4 ½/5

To Kill A Mockingbird is presented in a black and white 1080p VC-1 1.85:1 transfer that has clearly been assembled with a lot of care and affection for the film.  For a thorough analysis of this, I strongly recommend readers check out Robert Harris’ A Few Words assessment.  For myself, I’ll just note that this is quite a pleasing transfer, particularly given the difficulty of assembling a consistent look, given all the different sources.  The detail visible in multiple scenes is impressive – from the stripes of Gregory Peck’s courtroom suit to the material of Scout’s school dress to a late shot through the window of the Finch home where the foreground window lace can practically be touched.  I’m stopping short of a perfect rating here, to acknowledge that the digital work done to balance the look between multiple sources and between grain sizes in several post-production blow-ups can and will be debated at length.  But this is not a matter of what some may have thought to be DNR and excessive digital sharpening done on autopilot.  This is a matter of careful work, over which some may disagree about specifics in the choices being made.


AUDIO QUALITY    4 ½/5

To Kill A Mockingbird is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, along with an English DTS 2.0 mono mix, and a French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono mix.  The English 5.1 mix works quite well without feeling like an artificially generated surround mix.  It’s a quiet mix, as is appropriate for the movie, and most of the sound is in the front channels.  But there’s some subtle work in the surrounds, and nothing that will take you out of the experience.  And there’s always the option of going with the DTS 2.0 mono mix instead.


SPECIAL FEATURES      4 ½/5

The Blu-ray presentation of To Kill A Mockingbird comes with multiple special features, almost all of which is carried over from the earlier DVD incarnations.  There is a new U-Control PIP function, but it simply recycles the existing (and terrific) “Fearful Symmetry” documentary.  There is also a new HD featurette about the work done to restore several Universal classics.  The Blu-ray also carries the usual BD-Live and pocket BLU functionality.  The packaging also includes the standard-definition DVD of the current edition.


Commentary with Producer Alan Pakula and Director Robert Mulligan (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – This is a great commentary, originally recorded for the 1998 laserdisc/DVD release, and thankfully done before the tragic death of Alan Pakula later that year.  It’s a great conversation between the two men, discussing pretty much every aspect of the movie, and includes an oblique discussion about the shooting of the mad dog – something they insist did not involve actually hurting a real dog.  (As a dog lover, I listened to this section with interest…)


Fearful Symmetry (1:30:13, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – This thorough documentary was assembled for the 1998 laserdisc/DVD release, and it covers all the ground you could want to see, from the origins of Harper Lee’s novel through the production of the film.  Like the movie, this documentary is presented in black and white.  It is divided into 24 chapters, which can be viewed individually, or via a “Play All” function.  The documentary is presented in standard definition.


A Conversation with Gregory Peck (1:37:37, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 2005 DVD) – This documentary centers on the life and career of Gregory Peck, framed within a tour he did around the country at different times during the 1990s.  (I actually attended this tour in 1990, when he visited his college and my alma mater, the Department of Drama at UC Berkeley.)


Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech (1:31, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 2005 DVD) – This short clip shows Peck being presented by Sophia Loren with the Oscar for Best Actor for this film.  As you can see from the length, he doesn’t go on for very long…


American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award (10:01, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 2005 DVD) – This 1989 video clip of Gregory Peck’s acceptance speech is both interesting and funny at times.  One can pick out various celebrities in the crowd and gauge the time period from their respective ages.  Peck starts things out with a fun James Mason story before getting any deeper.


Excerpt from the Academy Tribute to Gregory Peck (10:09, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 2005 DVD) – This material comes from the posthumous tribute done for Peck at the Oscars. 


Scout Remembers (12:01, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 2005 DVD) – This material comes from a 1999 interview with Mary

Badham done by NBC.


Theatrical Trailer (2:52, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE LASERDISC) – This is the original theatrical trailer for the film, starting with an introduction by Gregory Peck to the material.


100 Years of Universal:  Restoring the Classics (9:13, 1080p) (NEW FEATURETTE) – This high definition featurette covers the restoration work being done by Universal on several of their movies, much of which will be seen as part of their centennial.  The work being done includes the digital balancing done with this film, as well as flicker correction done for older films like All Quiet on the Western Front, scratch removal and color correction for films like Pillow Talk and Jaws, hiss correction and removal for Dracula, and stabilization of a shot I noted as out of kilter in the 2010 Blu-ray release of Out of Africa.  (As it turns out, I was wrong about the source of the problem – I had thought this was an error in the transfer and it turns out to be a problem native to the actual shot in the movie…)


U-Control:


PIP Scene Companion – This is actually a series of excerpts from the “Fearful Symmetry” documentary, presented at appropriate times during some of the chapters of the movie.  There’s nothing new here – just a way to see some of the documentary while watching the movie.


BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present.


Pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present.


The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.  When you first put the Blu-ray into the player, you’ll see a few BD-Live trailers for upcoming Blu-ray releases.


Digital Copy – Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie are available on an insert in the packaging. 


SD DVD – (1.85:1 Anamorphic, Black and White) – As a bonus, the digibook also contains a standard definition DVD of this new transfer.  The sound is presented in an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (at 448 kbps) and a French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix.   All of the special features except for the two longer documentaries are included here.


IN THE END...

To Kill A Mockingbird continues to be a compelling film 50 years after its original release, just as the book continues to compel readers.  The new Blu-ray release is a great way to experience this film for the first time, or to rediscover it.  The restoration work done by Universal has been invaluable here, particularly given the difficult situation with the actual negative.  If you haven’t already read the book or seen the film, this is your opportunity to rectify the situation.  The release is Highly Recommended.


Kevin Koster

February 5, 2011.


Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer



#2 of 31 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted February 05 2012 - 11:18 PM

Beautifully written review.  Thank you!


I also suggest, for those who have never read the book.


There's no time like the present.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#3 of 31 OFFLINE   HarleyDog

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Posted February 06 2012 - 01:44 AM

This is why I love Blu-Ray. I have to agree with both of the above posts. I just watched the Blu-Ray this weekend and must add that, overall, the new restoration drew me into the story even more so than in previous viewings. I know the debate will continue to rage over the digital manipulations but, for me, this is a beautiful presentation of a magnificent film and I am not ashamed to admit i teared up more than once watching it. After all the Universal bashing that has taken place at this forum I feel they are to be commended for doing a splendid job with what was surely difficult material. One minor caveat, did anyone else notice the major drop in picture quality when Atticus lifts Scout up on a chair on the porch in one of the last scenes where she's talking about killing a mockingbird? I can only assume that was the best they had to work with.

#4 of 31 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 06 2012 - 02:10 AM

I didn't notice that one, but there were a few others I did pick up on - particularly during the optical push on Mayella in the courtroom.  There's also a moment of buzzed focus when the camera dollies in behind the kids as they run over to the Bradley house at an early point in the movie.

After rechecking these moments on the 2005 DVD, I realized these are exactly what you're thinking - the best the restorers could work with to piece together a full print of the movie in the best possible condition.  For me, the digital work wasn't obstructing the film - it was allowing me to more clearly see it.   There will always be some digital work done, as we've learned over time.  Van Ling spoke eloquently about this when we discussed T2 a few years ago.  The issue for me is whether the team was just doing something on autopilot (running an automatic program) or actually paying close attention, as was done here.


And thank you for the kind words.  I hope this is a sign of a good year for 100th Anniversary releases.



#5 of 31 OFFLINE   Johnny Angell

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Posted February 06 2012 - 02:27 AM

Beautifully written review.  Thank you! I also suggest, for those who have never read the book. There's no time like the present. RAH

Or you could listen to it. There is (or was) an unabridged version narrated by Sally Darling and she absolutely nails it. Once I year I listen to the book and never tire of it.
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#6 of 31 OFFLINE   JoHud

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Posted February 06 2012 - 03:19 AM

Glad to hear it. I was a bit worried about the grain stabilization of different sources. I'm still not keen on what they did with the optical zooming, since I have long accepted their use in countless films of the "golden" era, making the one's here look sort of freakish in comparison. However, it's hardly a dealbreaker and an admittedly minor caveat that's easy to overlook in the greater scope of this film.

#7 of 31 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 06 2012 - 05:37 AM

I should clarify that the moment of buzzed focus on the kids was actually a part of the shot used in the movie, and not any digital issue.  Meaning that the shot had a focus problem for a moment, but was overall good enough for the filmmakers.


#8 of 31 OFFLINE   haineshisway

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Posted February 06 2012 - 09:50 AM

I didn't notice that one, but there were a few others I did pick up on - particularly during the optical push on Mayella in the courtroom.  There's also a moment of buzzed focus when the camera dollies in behind the kids as they run over to the Bradley house at an early point in the movie.  After rechecking these moments on the 2005 DVD, I realized these are exactly what you're thinking - the best the restorers could work with to piece together a full print of the movie in the best possible condition.  For me, the digital work wasn't obstructing the film - it was allowing me to more clearly see it.   There will always be some digital work done, as we've learned over time.  Van Ling spoke eloquently about this when we discussed T2 a few years ago.  The issue for me is whether the team was just doing something on autopilot (running an automatic program) or actually paying close attention, as was done here. And thank you for the kind words.  I hope this is a sign of a good year for 100th Anniversary releases.

All the shots you and the other poster are speaking of are optical zoom-ins - they were always softer in focus because that's what happens when you optically push in - it gets grainier and the focus goes. The controversy here is that Universal removed a lot of the grain to make those shots more of a piece. It's the ONLY part of the transfer that they should have done differently. It's a fantastic transfer and, more importantly, a MIRACLE considering what they were working with. The optical push-ins number approximately ten shots, eight of which are under six seconds long - and two of which are approximately a minute long - the Mayella shot in the courtroom, and the shot with Scout and Atticus at the end.

#9 of 31 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 06 2012 - 10:40 AM

Bruce, you're correct about almost all of the shots I mentioned - save one - and I was hamhanded in the way I discussed that one.


The shot of the kids at the front of the Radbury House (before they sneak around the back at night and Jem gets caught in the fence) is actually a dolly move that was done on set.   I had thought this was an optical until I realized you can see that the camera itself is moving forward, not just the lens zooming in.  During the dolly move, there is a momentary loss of focus and then the shot recovers.  Given that they were shooting a night shot with the kids (which meant limited time and a limited number of takes), I'd say this was a case where they were able to live with what they had - in much the same way that they chose to do the optical zooms later rather than reshooting the various scenes.


The Mayella shot is one that is remarkable both for its dramatic impact and for a clear drop in picture quality as it goes to a closeup.  The higher definition simply makes that drop clearer - while the grain balancing just removes one of the more egregious signs.   At the same time, it's such an emotional moment that if you're caught up in the movie at that point, you may be more involved in yelling back at Mayella than at the grain level.


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Posted February 06 2012 - 12:10 PM

I guess I don't understand the controversy. If you blow something up (which is what is happening as you zoom in on the image) then the grain gets larger as well. How is that superior to what's been done for the restoration?



#11 of 31 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted February 06 2012 - 12:47 PM



Originally Posted by eric scott richard 

I guess I don't understand the controversy. If you blow something up (which is what is happening as you zoom in on the image) then the grain gets larger as well. How is that superior to what's been done for the restoration?



There is no controversy.  Merely discussion.


First, what is occurring in that context is not restoration, but rather adaptation.  Nothing is being restored.  It is being changed.


Grain makes up the image, and its removal becomes problematic, as it is grain that partially covers the fact that resolution is being lost in field enlargement.  There are means of increasing resolution, removing and replacing grain, and doing so on a continuum, thereby yielding a more natural looking image.


What has occurred is neither right nor wrong.  It simply is.  Whether the change should have been made without consult from the filmmakers is really the only question.  It could have been handled differently, and IMHO better, but what the studio did was performed in the best interest of the film, and one cannot argue with that motive.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


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Posted February 06 2012 - 12:55 PM

I'm on the side of Universal with this one. I think it looks fine. Great book. Great movie. Great restoration.



#13 of 31 OFFLINE   Scott Calvert

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Posted February 06 2012 - 01:35 PM

I'm on the side of Universal with this one. I think it looks fine. Great book. Great movie. Great restoration.

The majority of the BD looks good but I think the opticals were handled very poorly. It's not a matter of looking better or worse (although, subjectively I think the digital manipulation makes it looks worse). They should have been left alone because they have always been there. That's how the film was made. Everytime there is editorial work done optically (which occurs I think 7 or 8 times throughout the film), the image turns from film into bad video. It is extremely noticable and I'd like to let Universal know that I hope they reconsider digital alterations like this in the future. But like I said, other than that it looks good.

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Posted February 06 2012 - 01:37 PM

I normally can tell when the image changes as an optical zoom is performed. In the case of the courtroom, scene I really can't tell that much of a difference. Just my opinion though.



#15 of 31 OFFLINE   Scott Calvert

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Posted February 06 2012 - 01:52 PM

I normally can tell when the image changes as an optical zoom is performed. In the case of the courtroom, scene I really can't tell that much of a difference. Just my opinion though.

Believe me, it looks a lot different, especially in that crucial courtroom scene (and a couple of closeups of Jem in the upper level of the courtoom). I don't know if you have the DVD but if you do take a look. Not that a 480i DVD is a perfect reference, but it gives you the general idea. There are lots of films with noticeable optical work and I really do not want to see this type of mastering become the norm because everyone just shrugs it off here. If studios are worried about complaints then maybe education would help. Maybe a screen before the film starts briefly explaining photographic anomolies and/or featurettes explaining in greater detail.

#16 of 31 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 06 2012 - 06:26 PM

Scott, I don't think anyone here is shrugging off the picture quality discussion.  Robert Harris made cogent points in his analysis and I addressed this with my own scoring.  I think we're all in agreement that this is overall very good work.   It is my hope that this is a good sign for the year.



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Posted February 06 2012 - 06:37 PM

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#18 of 31 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted February 06 2012 - 10:10 PM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 



There is no controversy.  Merely discussion.


First, what is occurring in that context is not restoration, but rather adaptation.  Nothing is being restored.  It is being changed.


Grain makes up the image, and its removal becomes problematic, as it is grain that partially covers the fact that resolution is being lost in field enlargement.  There are means of increasing resolution, removing and replacing grain, and doing so on a continuum, thereby yielding a more natural looking image.


What has occurred is neither right nor wrong.  It simply is.  Whether the change should have been made without consult from the filmmakers is really the only question.  It could have been handled differently, and IMHO better, but what the studio did was performed in the best interest of the film, and one cannot argue with that motive.


RAH


I thought all of the filmmakers of this film have passed away.  Anyhow, the BRD looks great and I have no complaints.








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#19 of 31 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted February 07 2012 - 02:20 AM



Originally Posted by Robert Crawford 


I thought all of the filmmakers of this film have passed away.  Anyhow, the BRD looks great and I have no complaints.


Crawdaddy



Which, at least to my mind, means the film is "locked," and should be protected from corporate manipulation.


RAH



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#20 of 31 OFFLINE   haineshisway

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Posted February 07 2012 - 06:15 AM

Bruce, you're correct about almost all of the shots I mentioned - save one - and I was hamhanded in the way I discussed that one. The shot of the kids at the front of the Radbury House (before they sneak around the back at night and Jem gets caught in the fence) is actually a dolly move that was done on set.   I had thought this was an optical until I realized you can see that the camera itself is moving forward, not just the lens zooming in.  During the dolly move, there is a momentary loss of focus and then the shot recovers.  Given that they were shooting a night shot with the kids (which meant limited time and a limited number of takes), I'd say this was a case where they were able to live with what they had - in much the same way that they chose to do the optical zooms later rather than reshooting the various scenes. The Mayella shot is one that is remarkable both for its dramatic impact and for a clear drop in picture quality as it goes to a closeup.  The higher definition simply makes that drop clearer - while the grain balancing just removes one of the more egregious signs.   At the same time, it's such an emotional moment that if you're caught up in the movie at that point, you may be more involved in yelling back at Mayella than at the grain level. 

Ah, yes - that happens in a lot of films back then - the famous dolly-in to John Wayne in Stagecoach loses complete focus before it lights on him.