The Casablanca Ultimate Edition Blu-ray got high marks when it came out in 2008, so does creating a new transfer, upgrading the audio, and adding in hours of extras for a 70th Anniversary Edition amount to an actual improvement? The answer isn’t as clear cut as you might think.
Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Edition
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Studio: Warner Home Video
Running Time: 1:42:37
|Video||AVC: 1080p high definition 1.33:1||High and standard definition|
|Audio||DTS-HD Master Audio: English 1.0 / Dolby Digital: French 1.0, Italian 1.0, Castellano 1.0, Spanish 1.0, Portuguese 1.0||Various|
|Subtitles||English SDH, French, Italian SDH, Castellano, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish||Various|
Note: This review includes material from my evaluation of the 2008 Ultimate Edition Blu-ray.
The Feature: 5/5
Everybody goes to Rick’s Café Americain, a bar situated in the heart of Casablanca in French Morocco. "Everybody" would include refugees looking for a way out of increasingly Nazi-occupied Europe, and those willing to sell them passage in the form of exit visas.
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of the establishment, enjoys a healthy business as a result of the black market transactions, but never gets involved in the dealings himself. That is, until he comes into possession of the holy grail of travel papers - letters of transit that guarantee passage for those possessing them. When his long lost lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor (Paul Henreid), a leader in the resistance, come into his bar the same night the papers fall in his lap, it looks like the documents are destined for their use. But Rick has changed since he and Ilsa were together - or rather he's changed because of it, having become bitter and unsentimental since their separation. Though there's no doubt the letters of transit will get used, by whom only Rick can decide.
Consistently topping greatest movie lists, "Casablanca" is a classic in every sense of the word. It's a film many could never live without, that presents and embodies timeless values and ideals, and whose dialogue has become an enduring part of our popular vernacular. So it's a surprise to learn the production, helmed by the versatile director Michael Curtiz, was so problematic - that the lines and integral scenes that we could never hear or see another way were either figured out last minute or constantly rewritten. That goes to show the path to greatness is neither painless nor predictable, though the film’s effortless and enduring qualities also show that’s an easy thing to forget.
Video Quality: 5/5
Looking to improve upon the already five-star image of the Ultimate Edition, Warner Home Video went to the trouble of creating a new transfer off a fresh 4K scan. No doubt the black-and-white picture – devoid of any blemishes, dust or dirt particles – looks impeccable, with deep blacks, strong contrast, and fine detail. Compared to the previous effort, the image exhibits more highly resolved grain patterns and stronger contrast, though it’s hard to describe it as a vast improvement over what came before. Indeed, Robert Harris states only those with displays 50 inches and larger will likely see an improvement, making the release a low priority for re-purchase if an image upgrade is the only interest. Though the latest release is the only option left for those who never bought the Ultimate Edition (which is now-out-of-print), the lack of choice is a non-issue as Warner Home Video has delivered yet another stellar presentation for this classic and iconic film.
Audio Quality: 4/5
Apparently responding to complaints about the Ultimate Edition’s Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track, Warner Home Video upgraded the soundtrack to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. There is ongoing debate whether people are able to hear the difference, as well as the benefits of lossless when it comes to recordings of “Casablanca’s” vintage, but on principle most will be pleased by simply having the option. As before, the track is effective in presenting, with great clarity and detail, the film's oft-repeated (and at times misquoted) dialogue. There may be some faint hiss or edginess at times but nothing that gets in the way of the experience.
Special Features: 5/5
A number of items have been added to the already sizable complement of extras that came with the Ultimate Edition. The majority take the form of documentary pieces made as recently as last year. The rest of the new extras are physical pieces, the most impressive of which is the hardcover photo book. A couple of items from the Ultimate Edition didn’t make it over, like the gallery of movie posters and production stills, but the photo book essentially takes its place (and is ultimately more effective).
Though the sheer quantity and breadth of material remains as impressive as it did with the Ultimate Edition, the same issue lingers about offering a simpler release, separated from the large box of physical “stuff.” Though I won’t call what’s included a “box of junk,” Warner Brothers should keep in mind there are plenty of people who would jump on a release without all the added material.
Items marked with an asterisk are new for the 70th Anniversary Edition.
* Introduction by Lauren Bacall (2:03, SD)
Commentary by Film Critic Roger Ebert: Those who have heard Ebert's other commentaries on films like "Citizen Kane" and "Dark City" know to expect a quality track and this one doesn't disappoint either, offering a thorough blend of history, analysis and personal observations.
Commentary by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer: Belhmer, who played a critical role in the extras on "The Adventures of Robin Hood," is another fount of knowledge for "Casablanca," offering an impressive depth of history behind the film's production.
* Warner Night at the Movies: Offers a number of pre-feature shorts and trailers to recreate the movie-going experience of 1942.
- “Now, Voyager” Theatrical Trailer (2:19, SD)
- Newsreel (4:36, SD): A glimpse at wartime efforts in 1942.
- Vaudeville Days (20:18, SD): Short film recreates a traditional vaudeville variety show.
- The Bird Came C.O.D. (7:43, SD): Merrie Melodies cartoon short featuring Conrad Cat as he tries to make a potted plant delivery.
- The Squawkin’ Hawk (6:41, SD): Merrie Melodies cartoon short starring an upstart chicken hawk looking to get his beak on some real meat.
- The Dover Boys of Pimento University (8:58, SD): Tom, Dick and Larry come to the rescue of a damsel in distress.
Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart (1:23:27, SD): Lauren Bacall hosts a well made and in-depth tribute to her late husband, featuring interviews with friends and peers like Katharine Hepburn, Peter Bogdanovich and Alistaire Cooke.
* Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of (37:20, HD): The 2011 documentary from Leva FilmWorks describes the director’s amazing career with Warner Brothers, beginning with 1928’s “Noah’s Ark” to 1950’s “The Breaking Point.” Includes interviews with directors like Steven Spielberg and William Friedkin, sound designer Ben Burt and various film historians and biographers.
* Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic (34:59, HD): Another 2011 Leva FilmWorks documentary details the production from writing to shooting to scoring. Many of the same people from the previous documentary return to offer their insights and opinions about the film.
You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca (34:39, SD): Bacall narrates this examination of the film's history, appeal and enduring qualities, with interviews from Rudy Behlmer and screenwriters Julius J. Epstein and Howard Koch.
As Time Goes By: The Children Remember (6:46, SD): Stephen Bogart, Bogart's son, and Pia Lindstrom, Bergman's daughter, reminisce about their parents' respective feelings about the film.
Deleted Scenes (1:41, SD): Excisions from the final cut include a scene where Laszlo has been arrested and Rick posts bail for him, and a scene in which a German officer gets drugged by the cantina bartender. The original audio is missing but dialogue from the shooting script has been inserted as subtitles.
Outtakes (4:59, SD): Without the audio it's difficult knowing the context for many of the scenes.
Television Adaptation (1955): "Who Holds Tomorrow" (18:38, SD): The "Warner Brothers Presents" television series provided a behind-the-scenes look at film production along with a television story based on the studio's popular films. The TV treatment of "Casablanca" is an interesting experiment, but a pale shadow of the film on which it's based.
Carrotblanca (8:03, SD): The 1995 Looney Tunes cartoon sends up of the film in typical fashion, though it lacks some of the charm of the Mel Blanc-era productions. With Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Scoring Stage Sessions (15:22, DD2.0): Eight alternate audio takes and outtakes of the source musical numbers performed by Dooley Wilson, who played Sam. One track is an orchestral medley used when Rick sees Ilsa.
4/26/1943 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast (29:38, DD2.0): The Screen Guild Players perform a radio show version of the film, which includes Bogart, Bergman and Henreid reprising their roles.
* 11/19/1947 Vox Pop Radio Broadcast (29:35, DD2.0): Visits the Warner Brothers Studio to provide a look behind the scenes of making a movie. Includes interviews with Jack Warner, Joan Crawford, Michael Curtiz and members of the crew.
Theatrical Trailer (2:17, SD)
1992 Re-Release Trailer (2:53, SD)
* You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers Story (4:49:21, SD): Richard Schickel’s three-part documentary that originally aired on PBS’s “American Masters” in 2008 tracks the long history of the studio from inception to corporate conglomeration. Narrated by Clint Eastwood.
Jack Warner: The Last Mogul (57:39, SD): Produced in 1993 and directed by Warner's grandson, Greg Orr, the documentary is a pretty standard bio with few insights into the influential studio head, though it doesn't necessarily gloss over his faults either.
* The Brothers Warner (1:34:19, HD): Another documentary from another Warner grandchild, in this case Cass Warner Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner. Her piece takes a more personal tack as she strives to keep a promise made to her grandfather to keep the Warner family name alive. It makes for a nicely produced family biography and studio history, made more interesting by the director’s embrace of the human and personal sides to the story. Produced in 2008.
DVD Copy: Includes the feature presented in 1.33:1 standard definition video and Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. It also includes some of the same special features, like the commentaries, documentary on Michael Curtiz and the trailers.
[PACKAGING AND PHYSICAL ITEMS]
- Sturdy 8” x 11.5” x 2.25” cardboard box with lid.
- Hardcover, 7.5” x 11” commemorative photo book with 60 pages of publicity and production images, studio memos, theatrical posters, and production design sketches. This is definitely the highlight of the physical items.
- French theatrical poster reproduction measuring 14.5” x 21”.
- Four cork beverage coasters in a “Casablanca” embossed container.
The Feature: 5/5
Video Quality: 5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
Warner Home Video ups the ante across the board with its 70th Anniversary Edition of “Casablanca,” delivering another stellar Blu-ray transfer, upgrading the audio track, and adding hours of new extras.
But ironically, despite such value-added components, the release doesn’t amount to a slam dunk purchase or upgrade since the 2008 Ultimate Edition was excellent as well.
As a result (and inadvertently), the 70th Anniversary Edition illustrates the concept of diminishing returns. It’s still the clear choice for those who haven’t purchased any previous edition AND are deeply interested in the physical extras, but anyone else will want to hold off - for either a discs-only version, the set to drop in price, or some combination of the two.