Producer-writer-director Alan J. Pakula lavished his whole heart and soul in bringing William Styron’s heartbreaking best-seller Sophie’s Choice to the screen, and the results are there for all to see. Not an easy film to return to with its devastating coming-of-age story and its oddly compelling yet ultimately tragic love triangle relationship, the movie still rewards repeat visits as the richness of its characterizations and the dexterity of its composition more than atone for the film's length and the utterly disturbing sadness at its center.
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 2 Hr. 30 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDkeep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 04/29/2014
A youthful Southern writer nicknamed Stingo (Peter MacNicol) comes to New York in 1947, specifically a rooming house in Brooklyn, to write the Great American Novel, but he realizes that he’s vastly inexperienced in the ways of life and love. His involvement with his upstairs neighbors, Polish concentration camp survivor Sophie (Meryl Streep) and her mercurial Jewish lover Nathan (Kevin Kline), will, over the course of many tumultuous months, provide him much insight into the human condition what with Nathan’s continual mood swings and Sophie’s gradual confessions about her life before and during her concentration camp years. By the end, Stingo has more than enough fodder to pen a memorable book which, in effect, becomes Sophie’s Choice.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
The fact is that during the course of the book and film, Sophie makes numerous choices (several life and death ones, others of lesser but still meaningful consequence), all of them vital to the narrative and all of them compelling for the viewer. While obviously condensing the vastness of Styron’s tome for his film, director Alan J. Pakula has remained remarkably faithful to the book, not only in story but also in tone and mood. While an inarguable tragedy, the film does have its playful moments when Nathan is in a mood upswing: a sojourn to Coney Island caught in montage which allows the three characters to forcefully bond into a loving, caring unit, picnics on the rooftop and in the park (all the while Stingo’s infatuation with Sophie and his fascination with Nathan make their friendship triangle something fraught with subtextual tension: a real love shared among the three of them). Pakula takes his time getting to the film’s most horrifying moments: the concentration camp scenes narrated by Sophie where the story’s title establishes its most horrific sensibility. Apart from the grotesqueries of the squalor and privations, there is a moment when Sophie is taken to the commandant’s quarters and the camera drifts over a fence showing us in a startling composition the contrast between the camp’s muddy, barren horrors and the almost pastoral bliss of the grounds of the German commander who lives apart from the tortures and death. By then, of course, the light and hope from the film’s earlier scenes are a distant memory as the film winds its way toward its inevitable conclusion, but the journey to that unavoidable end is no less memorable or heartrending because writer-director Pakula has paved the way to it with such meticulous attention to detail.
Meryl Streep won practically every conceivable acting award for her towering performance as Sophie. Her expertise with accents that become a part of her while filming is so utterly present in every frame in which she appears that she wills herself literally to be this catastrophically unlucky woman, and it’s a performance that sears itself into one’s memory. Kevin Kline had for years been mesmerizing theater audiences with his undeniable charisma, and now cinema audiences got to see him for the first time as this rapturously charming, inescapably chilling chameleon worms his way into the viewer’s heart and mind. Peter MacNicol exudes loads of Southern charm in showing his growing ardor for these two highly individualistic people, and he does seem to grow up before our eyes. Rita Karin as the trio’s landlady and Stephen D. Newman as Nathan’s brother have the other important roles to fill in the movie.
Though the liner notes claim for some odd reason a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film actually has been framed at 1.78:1 in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec for this Blu-ray release. For the 1947 scenes, sharpness is wonderful and color saturation levels are all one could hope for with accurate skin tones another positive. Black levels are very nice though details in the shadows are sometimes obscured in scenes that feature low lighting. The concentration camp scenes are sepia-toned and a little less sharp, obviously deliberately a choice of Oscar-nominated-for-the-film cinematographer Nestor Almendros. With no age-related problems in the transfer, by far this is the best the movie has ever looked on home video. The subtitles used during the concentration camp sequences are in white and are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 10 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound is solid and reliable and very much a product of its era. The use of several classical music pieces along with Marvin Hamlisch’s tender, heartrending score is excellently reproduced in this lossless encode. Dialogue is always easily understandable, and the use of ADR is relatively seamless. Sound effects never intrude on the dialogue scenes, and there are no age-related issues of hiss or crackle to mar the listening experience.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: writer-producer-director Alan J. Pakula displays his enormous pride in his achievement in his thorough audio commentary which covers casting and decisions on shooting and the themes he wanted to emphasize in his writing. A must listen.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Roundtable Conversation (45:41, HD): stars Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, original author William Styron’s widow and director Alan Pakula’s widow, along with host Boaty Boatwright and producer Donald Lawenthall share lively, wonderful memories of the book’s conception and seven-year journey to the page and the subsequent film’s two-year journey to the screen.
Theatrical Trailer (2:50, SD)
DVD: disc enclosed in case.
It’s a long, harrowing journey to get to the ultimate revelations of Sophie’s Choice, but it’s a trip well worth taking. This Blu-ray release is unquestionably the best representation of the film for home video audiences, and the commentary (not new) and the roundtable discussion (brand new) are worthwhile extras for fans of the film. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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