The Academy Awards’ Best Picture winner of 1981 makes a triumphant debut on Blu-ray, providing first rate audio and video and a nearly perfect set of special features. Chariots of Fire Release Date: July 10, 2012 Studio: Warner Home Video Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Blu-ray DigiBook Year: 1981 Rating: PG Running Time: 2:04:07 MSRP: $35.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video AVC: 1080p high definition 1.85:1 Standard and high definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 1.0 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, French Variable The Feature: 5/5 Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) are both phenomenal runners, but their motivations could not be more different. While Abrahams runs for himself, as a way to fight against the anti-Semitism he’s experienced all his life, Liddell runs for God, using the gift he’s been given to bring glory to Him. Despite such fundamental differences, their mutual love of the sport unites them toward one common goal of representing Great Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games. Their respective paths to that ambition are not easily tread, especially for Abrahams, whom Liddell easily beats in their first race together. However, each man ultimately comes to see their dream of being an Olympian come true, though winning the medal in their respective events will prove to be no less challenging as both their will and personal convictions will be tested alongside their physical abilities. Should they overcome their obstacles, Abrahams and Liddell will be more than victorious, they will be triumphant. Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, “Chariots of Fire” could be dismissed as a sports film, and indeed it seems to hit all the requisite themes for that genre, the triumph of the human spirit being primary. However, where some in the genre arrive at the catharsis of victory through dramatic manipulation and contrivance, “Chariots” does so organically through well-written characters, compelling performances, and masterful storytelling. An evocative score by composer Vangelis further cements the film as a legitimately inspiring piece of filmmaking that captures the essence of what draws so many to the biennial, international athletic competition. So much so that its debut on Blu-ray – expertly timed with the impending 2012 Summer Games in London – hardly feels like part of that juggernaut of Olympics merchandising. Given the number of products capitalizing on our zeal for the Games, that may turn out to be “Chariots” greatest achievement. Video Quality: 4.5/5 Presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer approximates the 1.85:1 aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. The naturalistic, available light cinematography is presented to great effect in the high definition encode, delivering satisfying black levels, strong contrast and rich, saturated color. Healthy levels of grain appear intact with no signs of digital noise reduction measures. Likewise, the image is free of artifacts from digital sharpening tools; textures in fabrics, skin and hair look pleasingly detailed and filmlike. Audio Quality: 4/5 Dialogue in the DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear, detailed and intelligible. Surround activity is somewhat limited, providing some light atmospheric and environmental effects and support for the score. Low frequency effects are similarly limited given the nature and vintage of the film, but the track exhibits great dynamic range with pure upper frequencies and satisfying lower registers. Special Features: 4.5/5 Porting over the material from the 2005 special edition DVD – including the director commentary, the video featurettes, deleted scenes and screen tests – the extras also include a number of new items that prove even more fascinating. The only caveat is that given the quantity of material there tends to be a bit of repetition of various production anecdotes and history. The easiest item to skip is consequently the director commentary, which requires more time commitment from the viewer to digest the information. Audio Commentary with Director Hugh Hudson: Hudson turns in a solid commentary track with bits of trivia about the locations, production anecdotes, and some analysis of the story and its themes. Some of the information turns up in the documentary pieces, so the track may feel a bit redundant after watching them. Deleted Scenes (13:27, SD) Eight scenes removed from the film for various reasons, the most notable being the alternate European post-title scene that was essentially deemed “too British” for American audiences. Cricket in the Ballroom Cricket in the Ballroom with Hugh Hudson Commentary Two Masters and Abrahams Tea Dance Nationalism Eric and Jennie Liddell Argue Harold Abrahams Running Past a Car Harold and Sam Speak of Speeding Up the Pace Wings on Their Heels: The Making of Chariots of Fire (27:14, SD): The 2004 documentary – through interviews with actor Ben Cross, director Hugh Hudson, producer David Puttnam and others – covers the requisite topics of development, casting, athletic training for the actors, film scoring, test screenings, distribution and critical reception. Chariots of Fire: A Reunion (19:00, SD) Another 2004 production brings together actors Nigel Havers and Nicholas Farrell, director Hugh Hudson, producer David Puttnam, and cinematographer David Watkin to discuss topics like the casting process, technical aspects of the iconic opening sequence, and audience reception. Some of the information is similar to what was shared in the previous documentary, but the informal discussion between old colleagues gives the material some freshness. Paris 1924: Birth of the Modern Games (27:21, HD): The documentary provides historical context to the pivotal eighth Olympic games held in Paris in 1924, emphasizing the vision of Pierre de Coubertin, who created the International Olympic Committee with a vision of having the games be an environment of pure competition between nations, free of violence and bloodshed. Ironically, the rugby match between the United States and France led to a minor riot, but ultimately the spirit of Coubertin’s vision won out, giving us the celebrated international sporting event we have today. While there’s certainly more history behind the 1924 games than the documentary is able to provide, the piece definitely whets the appetite for a more thorough look into the Olympics’ fascinating history. David Puttnam: A Cinematic Champ (25:40, HD): Another fascinating documentary interviews Puttnam himself, tracking his career from his start and success in the British advertising industry, to his work as producer on films like “Chariots of Fire,” “The Killing Fields,” and “The Mission,” to his subsequent work as a politician in the British House of Lords and international activist with organizations like UNICEF. He also notes where his fascination with the Olympics began, and provides some thoughts on the impending games in London. Hugh Hudson: Journey to the Gold (14:06, HD): The director discusses his career, starting with his work making documentary films in France, which then led to working in commercials with cinematographer David Watkin and Ridley Scott Associates, which in turn led to second unit work on one of Puttnam’s early films, “Midnight Express,” and ultimately directorial duties on “Chariots of Fire.” Ben Cross and Patricia Hodge Screen Test (4:14, SD) Ian Charleson Screen Test (4:34, SD) Sprint Around the Quad (1:56, SD) Hugh Hudson, David Puttnam, and Nigel Havers gather at the Eton College quad, where the Cambridge sprinting scene was shot, to reminisce and attempt to re-enact the event. Famous Opening Shot (1:06, SD): Actor Ben Cross talks briefly about his experience shooting the iconic scene. Theatrical Trailer (1:34, SD): Soundtrack Sampler: The audio CD includes four selections from Vangelis’s score: 1) Titles (AKA the “Chariots of Fire” running theme) 2) Abraham’s Theme 3) Eric’s Theme 4) Jerusalem. Collectible Book: The printed material attached to the packaging includes cast and crew biographies, trivia, an essay about the film, and vintage production photographs and artwork. Recap The Film: 5/5 Video Quality: 4.5/5 Audio Quality: 4/5 Special Features: 4.5/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5 Just in time for the 2012 Summer Games, Warner Home Video delivers a top-notch release for the inspiring and award-winning “Chariots of Fire.” Given the quality of the presentation, inclusion of previous bonus material, and the addition of some new, interesting pieces to the collection, the Blu-ray edition represents a worthwhile high definition upgrade for owners of the DVD. It’s also the obvious choice for those looking to add the movie to their collections for the first time.