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Schindler's List Blu-ray Review - Highly Recommended



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#1 of 13 Kevin EK

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Posted March 03 2013 - 07:28 AM

Schindler’s List makes its debut on Blu-ray with a beautiful edition that provides a new high definition transfer and a high definition sound mix.  The movie continues to have a strong impact twenty years after its theatrical release.  A frank and brutal depiction of Nazi atrocities in Poland during the Holocaust, Schindler’s List is one of Steven Spielberg’s best movies, featuring strong performances by Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and especially Ralph Fiennes.  The Blu-ray comes with the same bonus features as the DVD from about ten years ago, adding only a brief introduction to the new IWitness educational program.  Fans of Steven Spielberg will want to add this Blu-ray to their collection without question.  It goes almost without saying that this release is Highly Recommended.


SCHINDLER’S LIST

20TH ANNIVERSARY LIMITED EDITION

Studio:  Universal/Amblin Entertainment

Release Year:  1993

Length:  3 hrs 16 mins

Genre:   Period Drama/Holocaust


Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 21 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Oscillating between 2.1 and 4.0 mbps for much of the movie), Spanish DTS 5.1, English DVS

Subtitles:   English SDH, Spanish, French


Film Rating:  R (Language, Sexuality, Nudity, Strong Brutal Violence)


Release Date:  March 5, 2013


Starring:  Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagalle, Embeth Davidtz

Screenplay by:  Steven Zaillian

Based on the Novel “Schindler’s Ark” by:   Thomas Keneally

Directed by:  Steven Spielberg


Review Rating:    4 ½/5


Schindler’s List is an undeniably powerful movie.  Twenty years after its theatrical release, the movie has a timeless quality to it, aided in no small part by the decision to mostly film it in stark black and white, with only a few moments of color.   Based on Thomas Keneally’s account of the lifesaving work of Oskar Schindler during the Nazis’ genocidal Holocaust against the Jewish people, Schindler’s List is notable for its refusal to look away from the brutality, and for its honesty about Oskar Schindler.   It does not spoil anything to say that the movie follows how Schindler (Liam Neeson) takes advantage of the plight of Polish Jews by having them work in his enamelware factory at Krakow after the Nazis take over.  As the Nazis’ brutality escalates, particularly as seen in the vicious conduct of SS commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), Schindler comes to see that his factory is the only thing keeping his workers alive.  Schindler’s greatest act comes with the creation of the title list – an inventory of his employees telling the Nazis that these are “essential workers” who must not be killed.   And that’s really the extent of the story.  But this is a movie that tells that story with a lot of strength and empathy.   For the basic quality of the movie and for the presentation here on the Blu-ray, this release is Highly Recommended.


SPOILERS HERE:   One of the biggest surprises about Schindler’s List is how simply much of it is shot.  Steven Spielberg’s movies are normally showcases of some amazing techniques and big camera moves.  Here, he limits himself, staying away from almost all of the usual toys and using a documentary-style approach.  Much of the movie is shot with handheld cameras and only occasionally do we see a tricky move.  The object here was clearly to tell the story as simply as possible, and let the characters do it rather than the camera.  There’s a deliberate starkness to the imagery – particularly in the way Schindler himself is lit and made up – if I didn’t know better, I’d say that Liam Neeson’s makeup for this movie was modeled on the look of 1920s and 1930s German film.   At the same time, the movie doesn’t make excuses for Oskar Schindler.  The man we are shown is a war profiteer, a huckster and a womanizer who refuses to make any commitment to his wife.  He starts an enamelware factory by forcing the Jewish people of Krakow to work for him for free, and essentially forces local official Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to run the company for him.  Stern takes advantage of the situation to get as many people as he can onto the company’s books, thus giving them a chance to survive as the Nazis begin killing more and more people.  This doesn’t always work – one one-armed older Jew is shot in the head in front of everyone else even after he insists he is an essential worker for Oskar Schindler.   And Schindler’s reaction at the time is to complain to the local Nazi officials that he’s lost a worker and needs to be compensated.  At another time, Stern himself is caught without his identification papers and gets loaded onto a train headed to a death camp.  Schindler rescues Stern (notably leaving all the other Jews on the train to their deaths) and loudly berates him, saying “What if I got her five minutes later?  Then where would I be?” 


MORE SPOILERS:  The situation goes from bad to horrific with the arrival of Commandant Goeth, who supervises a massacre of most of the Jews in Krakow and moves the survivors into the new Plazow camp.  Goeth’s casual brutality is probably the scariest element of the movie – not because he’s wild-eyed but because Ralph Fiennes plays him with such casualness.  It’s not just that Goeth hates the Jews – he doesn’t even conceive of them as being human.   One scene, in which he nearly rapes his housekeeper before beating her senseless, may be the harshest five minutes in any Steven Spielberg film.  Whereas many of his movies are family adventures, with the violence happening offscreen or in a manner akin to a thrill ride, this movie makes a point of unblinkingly watching the brutality that man is capable of inflicting.  At multiple points in the movie, characters are shot in the head and Spielberg refuses to turn the camera away.  During one unfortunate sequence, the men and women at Plazow are stripped and forced to run naked through the camp’s main yard while their children are being packed away on trucks to the death camps.  This level of frankness is surprising for Spielberg, but it’s also necessary to truly depict the horrors being discussed here.  I recall a review of Oliver Stone’s Platoon where the reviewer noted that movie’s in-your-face style as saying to the audience, “This is the way it happened whether you #$@$% like it or not!”   I get the strong feeling that the statement also applies to Schindler’s List.


MORE SPOILERS:   On the night of the massacre, Spielberg employs one of the few cinematic tricks seen in the movie – a single girl caught up in the mess is noted by an observing Schindler as she tries to hide herself.   The girl stands out in the black and white image due to her coat, which shows up as a light red.  Her coat is the only color seen in the movie aside from the very opening and closing of the film, and a brief moment with candles later on.   It can be argued that Spielberg is clarifying that this girl’s plight is the one that pushes Schindler from seeing his workers as assets to seeing them as human beings.    For this reason, when the Nazis exhume the bodies later and begin burning the corpses en masse, Spielberg makes a point of showing the little girl’s dead body – identifiable again by the telltale coat.  Where before she was a symbol of helplessness in the face of Nazi atrocities, now she is just another dead victim, in the midst of thousands. 


FINAL SPOILERS:  Were the movie to have simply closed with the end of the war and the departure of the now-bankrupt Schindler from his Czech factory, Spielberg would have achieved a masterpiece.  As it is, the movie is still a great one, and a worthy film to have earned Spielberg his first Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director after years of being snubbed.   But there’s a pair of moments at the end that take the movie over the top, in a manner that may feel good on an emotional level, but which are simply not necessary to the telling of the story.  Before Schindler leaves his workers, Spielberg has him break down in tears over not having saved more people.  And at the end of the movie, Spielberg shows some color footage of the real survivors visiting the real grave of Schindler in Jerusalem, accompanied by the actors who played them here.  For a movie that was unflinchingly honest, even brutal at times, this level of sentimentality is almost at complete odds with the preceding 3 hours.   And this isn’t the only time that such a moment happens in Spielberg’s best movies.  Saving Private Ryan caps an impressive and brutal World War II battle movie with a sentimental scene where an elderly survivor in the current day asks his wife to tell him he’s a good man.  The otherwise straightforward Minority Report can’t resist adding an epilogue in which the audience gets to see the precogs in a happy rustic setting.  And so it goes with Schindler’s List.   It’s one of Spielberg’s best movies, filled with some of the most unflinchingly candid material he’s ever directed, and it does very well before finally going over the top right at the end.  The best thing to do is simply to appreciate all the good that is in this movie before that point – and while I wouldn’t call a movie about this subject to be an enjoyable experience, I would definitely think of it as a necessary one.  For fans of Steven Spielberg, this is a watershed movie and a necessary one to have in their collection of his films.   Again, this release is Highly Recommended for purchase.


We should also note here that Schindler’s List was the final movie on the list of 13 films selected by Universal Studios for special restoration as part of their 100th Anniversary.  With this release, Universal has completed the project announced a year ago, mostly with strong results.  (The biggest exception was, of course, The Sting.)


Schindler’s List will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 5th.  The Blu-ray edition contains high definition picture and audio of the movie, along with a DVD edition spreading the movie across two discs.  The second standard definition DVD also contains a documentary and featurettee ported over from the earlier DVD release and a short new featurette about the IWitness educational program..  The Blu-ray comes with instructions for obtaining digital or ultraviolet copies. 



VIDEO QUALITY   4 ½/5

Schindler’s List is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p AVC encode that shows off a tremendous amount of detail in the locations, costumes and faces throughout the movie.  The level of detail is such that when color stock film is used for the few moments of color like the girl’s red coat, the difference between that and the black and white film is evident.  Some of the early shots have some background grain that looks a bit digital to my eye, but that’s the extent of any PQ issues I could spot.



AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Schindler’s List gets an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which mostly lives in the front channels but uses the surrounds for John Williams’ score and occasional atmospherics.  There are also 5.1 DTS mixes in Spanish and French.

                              

SPECIAL FEATURES      2 ½/5

Schindler’s List includes the special features from the earlier DVD edition, but only on the second disc of the standard definition DVDs included in the package.


Voices from the List  (1:17:32, 4x3) (CREATED FOR THE 2004 DVD) – This documentary, created for the 10th Anniversary DVD of the movie, includes interview material with several survivors who were workers in Oskar Schindler’s factories in Poland and Czechoslovakia.  The documentary traces the same events as the movie, only from the personal accounts of the survivors, who describe their interactions both with Schindler and with Amon Goeth.


USC Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg (4:43, Anamorphic) (CREATED FOR THE 2004 DVD) – This short featurette, carried over from the 10th Anniversary DVD, offers a brief introduction to the USC Shoah Foundation, including the notion of expanding the outreach of the Shoah Foundation to include other atrocities in other parts of the world.


About IWitness (3:48, Anamorphic) (NEW FOR THE BLU-RAY) –  This short featurette offers a brief introduction to the new IWitness online teaching program, essentially covering the same ground as we saw in the launch event this past week..


DVD – The DVD edition of the movie is included in the packaging, spread over two discs.  The DVD contains the movie in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (@ 448 kbps), along with all the special features.   I note again that the special features are not found on the Blu-ray disc – they can only be seen on the 2nd SD DVD.


Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.  The other side of the insert is an advertisement for both soundtrack releases.


The movie is subtitled in English, Spanish and French.  The usual pop-up menu is present, including a complete chapter menu. 



IN THE END...

Schindler’s List is one of those movies that must be seen, not only to have a complete appreciation for the work of Steven Spielberg and to understand what movies get the big Academy Awards, but because it really is a strong movie about a difficult subject.  This isn’t a movie that calls out for repeat viewing on a regular basis – the material is too upsetting for that.  But it is a movie that, for its first three hours at least, aims an unblinking and unflinching eye at genocide and the people who would commit it.  The Blu-ray release includes solid high definition picture and sound, and includes a two disc SD DVD that contains extras ported over from the 10th Anniversary edition.  This release is Highly Recommended.


Kevin Koster

March 3, 2013


Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “ISF-Night” picture mode

            HDTV Calibrated in June 2012 by Avical

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 13 Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 03 2013 - 07:30 AM

Looking forward to owning this.   Thank you for the review, Kevin.


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#3 of 13 Todd Erwin

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Posted March 03 2013 - 09:13 AM

I was a theater evaluator for THX when Schindler's List was first released, and what I remember most about the theatrical presentations of this significant film was that, because Spielberg wanted only the colorized and full-color sequences printed on color stock and all black and white printed on black and white stock, each print had to have the color sequences edited in by hand, since black and white printed on color stock would have a bluish tint.


This meant that many prints went out to theatres with missing sequences, and one of the reasons for its staggered release (in addition to the subject matter). I remember having to see this film at two different theatres at least three times each until I could confirm that they had a complete print.



#4 of 13 Kevin EK

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Posted March 03 2013 - 09:20 AM

Todd, thanks for adding the note.  I was thinking about it when I watched the movie, and then I totally forgot when I was writing the review.



#5 of 13 DustinPizarro

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Posted March 03 2013 - 04:10 PM

Excellent review Kevin. However I'm surprised that a film of this scope did not get a collectors edition or at the very least a digibook release. Still an important film that will be added to my library.

#6 of 13 Lord Dalek

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Posted March 04 2013 - 01:18 AM

Spielberg went on record when the dvd came out that he didn't want to talk about the production process on this film so its not surprising there isn't any retrospective documentary again.



#7 of 13 Scott Merryfield

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Posted March 04 2013 - 04:10 AM

Thanks for the review, Kevin. It has been quite awhile since I last watched this film, so I've been looking forward to the release for some time.

#8 of 13 Dave H

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Posted March 04 2013 - 12:33 PM

I will definitely be buying this although it will have to come down in price as I've bought quite a few catalog titles the last few months when the price was right.

#9 of 13 Rick Thompson

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Posted March 05 2013 - 04:28 PM

I half-agree with you about the ending. The color sequence is appropriate -- but during that long breakdown in tears sequence, I wanted to say "Puh-leeze!" It was plain unbelievable.

#10 of 13 Dick

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Posted March 06 2013 - 06:02 AM

I half-agree with you about the ending. The color sequence is appropriate -- but during that long breakdown in tears sequence, I wanted to say "Puh-leeze!" It was plain unbelievable.

I do not share your sentiments regarding this sequence. Were I Oscar Schindler, and it suddenly hit me that I did actually save lives, but in retrospect might have saved countless more, and that I was almost certainly among a very small handful of Germans who would risk their own lives to save others, I believe I'd have had this emotional release as well. I did not find this in the least gratuitous -- I found it a powerful expression of new-found huimility and empathy. Neeson's performance during these moments was among the highlights of the film for me.

#11 of 13 Kevin EK

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Posted March 06 2013 - 09:14 AM

I agree that the breakdown was a powerful expression, and Neeson gave a great performance.


We'll have to disagree about the nature of the scene.  For me, it was a sentimental moment that was at odds with the frankness of the preceding 3 hours.  It was also at odds with Schindler's character in the movie - he was very good about doing the right thing when pushed to do it - but he would never make a public expression of emotion like that.  His speech about the end of the war was as much as you could realistically imagine him doing.   The breakdown pushes the viewer to an emotional place that may feel satisfying but simply isn't in line with the movie.  It's understandable why Spielberg wanted that moment, but there was no story or character need being fulfilled - it was more of an audience/director wish to have an emotional moment.  In another movie, this wouldn't be a problem.  It's just that this movie wasn't that kind of experience.



#12 of 13 TravisR

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Posted March 13 2013 - 10:17 AM

USC Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg (4:43, Anamorphic) (CREATED FOR THE 2004 DVD) – This short featurette, carried over from the 10th Anniversary DVD, offers a brief introduction to the USC Shoah Foundation, including the notion of expanding the outreach of the Shoah Foundation to include other atrocities in other parts of the world.

I'm nitpicking but this isn't the same as the one on the 2004 DVD. The old DVD has a very similarly named featurette on the same topic and even uses the same chunks of footage but the old one runs about 7 minutes longer (for a total of about 11 minutes) than the new one.

#13 of 13 Kevin EK

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Posted March 13 2013 - 12:04 PM

Thanks for the correction.







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