Senior HTF Member
- Feb 24, 1999
Dead Poets Society
Special EditionStudio:Buena Vista Year:1989 RunTime:129 minutes (this is the theatrical cut) Rating:PG Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.85:1 Audio:5.1 DD & French SpecialFeatures:Commentary, “A Look Back” documentary, Deleted Scene, Featurettes, theatrical trailer ReleaseDate:January 17, 2005
Dead Poets Society is an exquisite film: intimate and dark, emotionally touching, both challenging and uplifting. In my opinion it is one of Robin Williams’ finest roles, and the movie showcases the depth of his dramatic ability as an actor that extends far beyond his usual (and talented) comedic type-casting. Dead Poets Society demonstrates that it was possible to produce a film that is high-art, serious drama, entertaining to watch, and palatable to teenage audiences all at the same time. The film is a rare-jewel of cinema where the talents and labors of the creative team coalesce seamlessly into a perfectly integrated whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
An exceptional cast of actors is assembled in this film, and their on-screen interaction is powerful and believable. Uncommon for Hollywood, the film doesn’t thrust a single protagonist out into the spotlight around which the rest of the story is meant to revolve. Instead, the writer allows a group of characters to share the protagonist role without giving in to the temptation to fall back on conventional movie-story-telling-tricks to keep audiences comfortable. In doing this, the film also manages to maintain its sense of identity without being donned “A Robin Williams Movie”. Yes, Robin Williams’ performance in this film is second to none, but the film doesn’t give way to becoming a vehicle for him to dominate with his personality and overshadow the other characters. Rather, the sincerity and humility of his performance make him a welcome guest in this film—a guest able to share the table with many other superb actors. Watching this film fifteen years after seeing it for the first time, I’m able to let go of actors that I now know well and view their performances on the screen as though I’m meeting them for the first time.
On a personal note, Dead Poets Society is a film that had a powerful impression on me as a teen. The film’s 1989 release year was the same year that I graduated from high-school, and it became a film that many of my classmates and I watched together, discussed, and identified with to the point of driving out to St. Andrew’s high-school to have lunch on the lawn where the film was shot on location. I know that every generation has a movie that intangibly captures their memory of their youth and the intense, vibrant relationships from those years, and Dead Poets Society is that film for me.
Dead Poets Society is a film that I truly believe everyone should see.
I’ll let other HTF members elaborate further on this point in the thread’s discussion, but I want to clarify for everyone right now that this “special edition” Dead Poets Society only contains the theatrical cut of the film and lacks the extended-cut that R1 fans have been asking for (and legacy-laserdisc owners have long enjoyed) for years. In fact, this DVD edition doesn’t even contain those segments as deleted-scenes bonus material.
While the theatrical cut of Dead Poets Society is “just fine” on its own, several of the scenes in the extended cut went a long way to adding depth and enhancing the story, and ideally Buena Vista would have provided the Dead Poets fan with both viewing options via branching. Were this not feasible, I think that most fans would have preferred to settle for the extended cut which is generally considered to be a superior version of the film. Whatever the case, Disney seems to be demonstrating a pattern of getting this type of thing wrong lately (Muppet Christmas Carol can’t help but come to mind)… and while I personally view this Dead Poets Society DVD edition as a glass-half-full, I can certainly understand how many fans might view the lack of the extended cut as an insult that prevents them from enjoying this edition in any manner at all. Who *are* the people who get paid too much money to make these bad decisions???
Your comments, as always, are welcome.
More information here:
Direct link to Extended Scenes:
Petition for extended cut:
Way too soft.
That’s my first, constant, and lasting impression of the video of this DVD. I’ve approached the image of this DVD with an attitude that comes from all directions, and no matter what reasoning I start with, my gut always ends up saying the same thing: “It’s way too soft.”
One could argue that the soft-focus is part of the “look” of this movie and I’m certain that to some extent this is true. However, softness of this projected DVD image doesn’t look like any focused 35mm print I’ve seen…soft film-style or not (even Vaseline-smeared 16mm would look sharper IMO). My suspicion is that the detail has been filtered in old-school Live-Action-Buena-Vista style but without the old-school dose of EE to artificially sharpen everything back up by adding in edge-halos (the fact that another simultaneous DVD release “Good Morning Vietnam”…which I’ll be reviewing shortly… looks soft in exactly the same way is evidence of a DVD mastering engineer who needs to be spanked and not a soft-focus film-source). On the one hand I’m pleased that the image is relatively EE-free (two wrongs don’t make a right…and on a wide-angle viewing system from 1.6 screen widths adding electronic ringing to an over-filtered image is definitely another “wrong”). But I find it so frustrating to watch what I know could have been so much more film-like, so much more faithful to the look of the real projected print, that this is one of those movies I’d be tempted to put in the “safe to take to a friend’s house to watch on a standard TV” stack…this DVD does not belong in the “must save to watch only on the projector” pile.
Ok, now that I’ve cathartically gotten that out of my system (therapy bill happily won’t need to go up this month), let’s talk about everything that this DVD presentation does right.
First, it’s 16x9. Yes…you true believers who’ve held out waiting for the Disney-DVD gods to hear your prayers can sing your halleluiahs. Color is generally muted but warm, and seems in keeping with the intended look of the film elements. This film print has a very muted, yet warm character and the DVD is doing its job right in this regard…don’t expect Monsters Inc. color saturation and you’ll be fine. Black level is solid and compression is clean…though the image lacks the “snap” of punchier/higher-contrast source material…but keep in mind that contrast range of this DVD is reflective of the film so this isn’t cause for alarm. Despite the soft image detail, some scenes did reveal some film grain which seemed very nicely compressed. Which leads me to another point: I’m convinced that the lack of grain in most scenes is a result of simple HF filtering and not excessive DNR (thankfully). My assumption that this mastering job is relatively DNR free is because I see none of the usual signs of DNR…no digital artifacting during pans and the image doesn’t “blur” during motion and then “snap” into clarity when backgrounds stop moving. Also, faces look consistently clean and natural during close-up shots…DNR usually produces nasty “crawlies” in people’s skin when their image shifts on the screen and the DNR algorithm gets confused thinking that the pores in their skin are noise that needs to be removed.
So picture quality is a mixed-bag here. Honestly, I think that wide-angle viewers who watch closer than 1.75 screen widths might be disappointed with soft look of the film. This lack of image detail will certainly bother viewers who watch from 1.5-1.6 screen widths in their home theaters (like me)…it’s especially frustrating in outdoor shots where grass and leaves blur and become an undistinguished mass of color. However, given everything else that this image mastering does right (which is everything else), viewers who watch from 2 screen widths will probably be quite pleased. If you’re planning on upgrading to a front projector or similar wide-angle viewing system in the near future, this is something you may want to consider. At this point, my conspiracy theories are solidly established: I’m convinced that the “compromised” picture we see on so many of these Disney-DVDs is a plot to make the “improvement” with future Blu-ray media seem all-that-more impressive. You may just want to wait for Blu-ray if image quality is your top priority.
Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5
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In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
SCORE Description 1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid. 2-3 Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain. 3-4 Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos. 4-5 A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back, The Fifth Element Superbit, or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is what I call the “categorically fine” audio presentation for a film of this genre. It’s not Woody Allen “mono” but it’s not The Incredibles multi-channel either…something in between. Most of the dialogue has a “fat mono” character and never seems directional. However, layered around the dialogue are effects and a musical score that at times make surprising use of the front three stereo channels. For instance, one often hears doors opening or closing with almost eerie realism off to the left or the right (following the on-screen action cues), and the musical score, while not recorded with weight and dynamic range of most modern mixes, still spread nicely across the front stage with a pleasing sense of fidelity and frequency response. If you don’t already have a subwoofer this is not the film to convince your wife it’s time to spend the cash.
Notice that in all of that I didn’t mention anything about surrounds. That’s because I never really heard any. I think I may have heard an occasional ambient cue bleed through the rear channels (there are lots of echoes from footsteps on stone hallways etc. that would make sense to let through to the rear channels) but just about every time I stopped to take notice the moment was gone and there was nothing to detect. If I could mention something here that I think is an issue HT enthusiasts ought to consider in general: many films from the 80’s were mixed down to 2-channel for ProLogic playback in movie theaters. While I’m not 100% sure that the audio for Dead Poets Society was similarly mixed for ProLogic playback I suspect that it was. There are three ways that “ProLogic” movies can get turned into 5.1 for DVD if my thinking is correct:
- The audio engineer for the DVD digs out the source stems and remixes the audio from scratch to produce a new 5.1 mix. This is probably the best solution, but also costs the most $$.
- The audio engineer finds the original “Four Track” master that was used to create the ProLogic 2-channel down mix that ended up on the release prints (L-C-R + limited fidelity mono rear channel). He/she then uses this 4.0 mix to create a “5.1” mix for DVD which is actually delivering 4.0 information though it may still be flagged to look like “5.1” on your receiver. This option has the honor of replicating the "original mix" with the greatest fideltiy...though not necessarily the "best sound" in comparison to conventional ProLogic playback (more on this in a moment).
- The audio engineer can only locate a 2-channel ProLogic downmix master from a release print, but the marketers tell him that it needs to say "5.1" on the DVD package to sell product so he can't just use the 2.0 mix directly for the disc. So instead he runs this 2.0 mix through some sort of ProLogic decoder at his lab to extract a “5.1” channel array which he then compresses into Dolby Digital for the DVD. This can work ok, but now you're hearing the sound of that ProLogic decoder in the egineer's lab. What if your Lexicon would have done a better job processing the original 2.0 signal?
To sign off from the audio section with a positive note—the fidelity of the Dolby Digital mix is impressive and preserves lots of the low-level ambient cues that made the soundtrack of Dead Poets Society such a joy. In particular, much of the dialogue (not all) sounds as though it was recorded “on set” and not merely ADR dubbed. Because of this, much of the dialogue preserves acoustic cues that describe the context of the environment on screen. Whether it’s just wind blowing, or the reflections of a voice off the plaster walls, or the footsteps coming down the stairs, sometimes the realism of actual on-screen action sounds more impressive (even when just coming through the center channel) than post-production wizardry. There are certainly instances of post-production audio effects in this film which are impressive as well, and at times the line between what’s recorded later and mixed into the film and what’s native to the moment of acting gets difficult to distinguish…which is the sign of a recording engineer who knew what he was doing.
Sound Quality: 4 / 5
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I understand from discussion I’ve seen elsewhere that R2 viewers have long been privy to enjoy a host of Dead Poets special features R1 viewers have been denied. It appears that this new R1 DVD replicates the bonus material from the R2 version and it’s got more than enough to satisfy both casual and earnest fans. Those of you with more knowledge of “what’s out there” in terms of potential bonus material please don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts. But let me assure the rest of you that what I’ve enjoyed here on this disc is of excellent quality and well worth the time to invest in viewing.
My one real beef of contention is that the “deleted scenes” that were (beautifully) edited into the extended cut on laserdisc are not contained here…even in the bonus material.
[*]Feature Commentary:It’s sounds promising from the specs: “With Director Peter Weir, Cinematographer John Seale and Writer Tom Schulman.” But honestly I was a bit let-down by the slow pace of this commentary which, while “classy” given the caliber of the three contributors, just never dug deep or really grabbed me. In my opinion, their conversation seemed tepid and rambling…and for quite some time I wondered if it was “screen specific” at all as I couldn’t make a tangible connection to what they were talking about and the immediate on-screen moment. However, the occasional “and I liked this scene very much” confirmed that, presumably these gents are indeed watching the movie along with us, but I still can’t shake the disappointment that these guys just aren’t digging as deep into the subject matter as I’d like. I’d like to hear what you think. Colin Jacobson from HTF says:
I think the commentary is unusually introspective as it tells us the script's development and how personal experiences influenced the movie. It's not just the usual production notes - it digs more into the roots of the project, and I think it's quite good.
[*]Raw Takes:No “extended” cut deleted scenes here, so start to deal with the loss right now, it will make it easier. What we do have here is a single (8 minutes long) deleted sequence at the end of the film which was at one point intended to be inter-cut with Neil’s suicide
. Here we see Keating meeting with member of the Dead Poets Society in the woods and from there we follow the group back to the school through the snow. This scene is indeed in “raw” form, which means you’re seeing the unedited, continuous take. It’s interesting to see this way realizing that, of course, this is how all scenes are first shot before the editors work their cinematic magic. The image is 4x3 lbx and appears sourced from video archival material.
[*]“Dead Poets” : A Look Back:This featurette appears to have been produced about a decade after the film’s release and is a fun watch. Most of the key actors you would have expected to see here appear, though Mr. Williams is notably absent. While this feature wasn’t produced with the hard-core film enthusiast in mind (it seems to blend more with a P.R. slant) you will find some interesting behind-the-scenes recollections and accounts of the film crew and creative team that are worth their weight in gold. I’d actually recommend watching this feature over taking the time to listen through the audio commentary for the film if you’re pressed for time. Approximately 26 minutes in length.
[*]Master of Sound: Alan Splet:Alan Splet was the audio engineer for the film, but what makes this feature really interesting is that Peter Weir and David Lynch are the two individuals sharing their thoughts and memories of him. 11 minutes long.
[*]Cinematography Master Class: This is probably my favorite item on the disc. This 14 minute feature was shot for the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School (AFTRS) and is 4x3 1.33:1 video-source in nature. It documents a workshop with Cinematographer John Seale where he details the prop and lighting techniques used to film many of the dormitory shots in the film. I’m sure that like me, most of you probably don’t watch Dead Poets Society and find yourselves constantly impressed by the amazing special effects. Well, that’s because the special effects really are amazing, and blend seamlessly with the “real” in the film. In many ways, the “special effects” of a film like Dead Poets Society are more impressive than the thousands of digitally animated warriors in Return of the King. If you only watch one item in the bonus material, make it this one. I’m still marveling at the skill and considering put into these effects in order to produce a few brief moments of “normalcy” on the big screen. Amazing.
[*]Theatrical Trailer:In all of its 4x3 full-screen (open matte) glory. Approximately 2:45 minute long. Enjoy.
Dead Poets Society is an exquisite film that everyone, at any age, should take the time to see. This DVD presentation is something of a mixed blessing for fans, however. The good is that the audio presentation is fine, bonus material is of real interest, and the video is finally coming to R1 viewers in 16x9 anamorphic form. However, the image has been overly filtered which results in a noticeable lack of detail for large-screen/wide-angle viewers, and Disney has seen fit to only provide the R1 fan base with the shorter theatrical-cut of the film rather than the extended cut long enjoyed by laserdisc viewers. Whether this DVD is one you choose to invest your cash in order to add to your personal collection is a decision I can’t strongly argue either way. I encourage discussion in this thread and hope that the comments shared by myself and by other HTF members might help you make the best choice.