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HTF Blu-ray Review: Sherlock Jr./Three Ages (1 Viewer)

Todd Erwin

Senior HTF Member
Apr 16, 2008
Hawthorne, NV
Real Name
Todd Erwin

Sherlock Jr./Three Ages

Studio: Kino International
US DVD Release Date: November 16, 2010
Original Release Year: 1923/1924
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 140 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM 2.0, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: None

Sherlock Jr.: 4 out of 5
Three Ages: 3 out of 5
Buster Keaton was one of a handful of silent comedians (Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd) that are just as popular today, if not more so, than when their films were originally released. Sherlock Jr., one of Keaton’s few box office disappointments, is a case in point, having found its audience more than 85 years after its initial theatrical run in 1924, and was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1991. Keaton plays a movie projectionist who longs to be a detective. When his future father-in-law’s watch is stolen, his inept investigation points to himself as the prime suspect. Dejected, he returns to the theater and falls asleep in the projection room, dreaming himself into the movie that is currently playing. In his dream, he becomes the star detective, literally walking out of the audience and right onto the screen (Woody Allen would recreate this sequence, in reverse, in Purple Rose of Cairo 60 years later) in what must have been captivating to audiences in its day, and yet still has some magic to it today. And that was (and still is) Buster Keaton’s appeal to movie audiences, someone who pushed the envelope to what could be achieved on camera, whether it was a visual effect, stunt, gag, or any combination of those. The only actor that bears any resemblance in terms of talent and ingenuity would be Jackie Chan, who, much like Keaton, once performed all of his own stunts until he began working with the major Hollywood studios. The big set pieces of the film are, of course, the entrance into the film-within-the-film, but also Keaton’s shadowing of the actual suspect in the real world, and the big chase finale as Keaton rides a motorcycle solo on the handlebars through city streets and country roads. Watching many of the set pieces in Sherlock Jr., today’s viewers may not ask themselves “how did they do that,” but “how did they do that back then?”

Three Ages, Keaton’s first feature-length film from 1923, tells essentially the same story of Keaton and Wallace Beery vying for the affections of Margaret Leahy in three different time periods (the stone age, Roman Age, and Roaring 20s). There are some funny moments in the film (I especially enjoyed when Keaton gave a manicure to what was obviously a guy in a lion suit), and its use of stop-motion animation for the dinosaurs likely wowed audiences, but in the end, it is not a very memorable film. With no real set pieces to grab the viewer, the shifting back and forth between time periods can be distracting, and ultimately hurt the film.

Sherlock Jr.: 4 out of 5
Three Ages: 3 out of 5
Kino brings these two classic Buster Keaton features to Blu-ray in high definition using the AVC codec. An important thing to keep in mind when watching or purchasing silent films on DVD or Blu-ray is that the presentation is only going to be as good as the existing film elements. Most silent films have been lost forever due to improper storage or because the studios ordered a film destroyed because they foresaw no future revenue and needed the storage space in their vaults. Virtually all films made prior to the 1950s were produced and printed on extremely unstable and volatile nitrate stock, and the transfer to safety film has not always been of the best quality. That being said, both Sherlock Jr. (presented in 1080p) and Three Ages (in 1080i) look about as good as they are ever likely to. Compression artifacts are virtually non-existent, and detail is about as good as what the print can provide, which includes some dirt and scratches throughout.

Sherlock Jr. has been fairly well-maintained, although some shots suffer from either crude (by today’s standards) multiple exposure effects or have been restored from what must be the best available print in existence. The good news is that nothing appears as bad as the newly-restored lost footage in Metropolis.

Three Ages has not been as well-maintained. The print used suffers from heavy scratches, occasional pin holes, and what appears like watermark damage. It is watchable, but some may find the imperfections distracting.

Sherlock Jr.: 4 out of 5
Three Ages: 3.5 out of 5
Both films have been given multiple music scores in various audio formats.

The preferred soundtrack for Sherlock Jr. is by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo. The DTS track is more enveloping, with more pronounced bass response than the LPCM stereo track. The included stereo score by The Club Foot Orchestra (encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps) makes a nice alternative score (the group will be performing the score live at the Steve Allen Theatre in Los Angeles on February 13, 2011) and fills the listening space quite nicely when played back in Pro-Logic mode. There is also a vintage music score compiled and synchronized by Jay Ward (also encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps) that is more reminiscent of what may have been heard during the initial theatrical run, taken from old vinyl recordings and presented in mono. This last score is limited by its source material, and often sounds flat and compressed.

There are three scores to choose from for Three Ages, as well. The preferred score is by Robert Israel, in LPCM 2.0 stereo. I’ve always enjoyed Israel’s silent film scores, and this one is no exception. When played back in Pro-Logic mode, the music is enveloping, filling the listening space, with good fidelity. Also available are a traditional organ score by Lee Erwin (no relation) in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 224 kbps and an anonymous piano score also in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 224 kbps.

Special Features: 3.5 out of 5
Kino has included a nice set of features on this disc.

Sherlock Jr.
Audio Commentary on Sherlock Jr. by Film Historian David Kalat: Kalat seems to be an expert on this film, indicating that this is his and his son’s favorite film, and speaks at length over the controversy over how much Keaton directed Sherlock Jr. and how much, if any, was directed by Fatty Arbuckle (and the scandal that ruined his career). This is a very entertaining listen, and adds an extra appreciation for this classic film.

Tour of Filming Locations (9:57): Author and Buster Keaton shooting locations expert John Bengtson takes us on a journey using vintage maps, still photographs, and film footage to highlight where Sherlock Jr. may have been filmed.

Movie Magic and Mysteries: The Making of Sherlock Jr. (22:36): Film historian David B. Pearson discusses, with the aid of vintage still photos and footage from this and other silent films, the history behind this now classic film.

Still Gallery: 27 photos are provided, many from deleted scenes that are considered lost forever.

Three Ages
Tour of Filming Locations (7:58): Author and Buster Keaton shooting locations expert John Bengtson takes us on a journey using vintage maps, still photographs, and film footage to highlight where Three Ages may have been filmed.

Excerpt from D.W Griffith’s Man’s Genesis (1912) (9:10): A brief look at what many believe to be the inspiration for Keaton’s Three Ages.

Three (Separate) Ages: A re-edited version of the film into three separate short films, with score by Lee Erwin.

Still Gallery: 21 photos are provided, some from deleted scenes that are considered lost forever.

Overall: 4 out of 5
The real standout on this disc is Sherlock Jr., with the inclusion of Three Ages more as a bonus feature in and of itself. This is a must-have for any student and/or fan of film.

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