- May 7, 2001
Gone With The Wind
Four Disc Collector’s Edition
Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Length: 238 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33 Standard
Audio: DD 5.1 & original mono track
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Package: 4 discs in a 5 panel Digipak with cardboard slipcover case
1939 is a year that often comes up throughout the course of various classic film discussions. It was the year that saw the release of such classics as The Wizard Of Oz, Gunga Din, The Women, Destry Rides Again, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Dark Victory, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Stagecoach, just to name a few. Another film, perhaps the most celebrated of all, was also produced in 1939; Gone With The Wind. On the 65th Anniversary of the film, Warner Brothers is releasing a four disc Collector’s Edition of the film.
Gone With The Wind is widely considered the most popular and beloved, perhaps even the finest film of all time. The script was written by Sidney Howard and was based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling Civil War novel. The shrewd and oppressive David O. Selznick acquired the rights for $50,000 (an unprecedented amount at the time, a sum which now seems a paltry amount), a decision which was precipitated by the fact that 1.5 million copies of the book were already sold. Above and beyond the beauty of the timeless story, the film is a visual sight to behold, shot in three-strip Technicolor – but we’ll get to that a little bit later.
The film was produced on a budget that exceeded $4 million, an enormous sum for that time. The original cut of the film was approximately 6 hours and was a challenge due to the controversial subject. As a result, two hours of what would have been at the time unacceptable material was edited from the film.
The film went into a three year advanced publicity blitz and eventually debuted after a gala premiere in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, and became the highest-grossing film for its time. Selznick went on a nationwide casting call for an actress to play Scarlett which eventually resulted in the hiring of a young British actress Vivien Leigh. Apparently the initial list exceeded 100 names and included some of the finest female actresses of the time including, Katharine Hepburn, Miriam Hopkins, Susan Hayward, Loretta Young, Paulette Goddard, Margaret Sullavan, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Lana Turner, Joan Bennett, Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Arthur, Lucille Ball and even Mae West.
Even though MGM star Clark Gable was expected to play the role of the suave and debonair businessman Rhett Butler, others considered for the role were Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and Ronald Colman, although Margaret Mitchell apparently favored Basil Rathbone for the male lead. Credited as the film’s director is Victor Fleming, however the job was performed by a number of directors who were all replaced for various reasons. Those directors were Sam Wood, William Cameron Menzies, George Cukor, and B. Reeves Eason.
The film is a historical epic, with a veritable who’s who cast which is centered around an unattainable romance in the Old South during the Civil War era. The ever-determined female lead, Scarlett O'Hara (played by Vivien Leigh), struggles to find love during the chaotic Civil War years and afterwards, and ultimately seek refuge for herself and her family back at the beloved family plantation, Tara. The four-hour epic film takes us on a journey as the once affluent young beauty takes charge, and defends her land against Yankee soldiers, carpetbaggers, and starvation and tries to secure love in the process.
The legendary film received tremendous accolades - thirteen Academy Award nominations and ten wins (more than any previous film to date), including Best Picture, Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel – the first African-American nominated and honored), Best Director (Victor Fleming), Best Screenplay (Sidney Howard), Best Color Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration and Best Film Editing, as well as honorary plaques, one for production designer William Cameron Menzies for the "use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood," and the other a technical achievement award for Don Musgrave for "pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment." It was a record that would stand until 1959 when Ben-Hur would win eleven statues.
During its nearly four hours, the audience is witnessing several movies in one, which include multiple love stories, a war epic, a portrait of a self-driven woman wanting to succeed regardless of cost, a historical saga, and the need of a displaced formerly proud people struggling to regain their roots. The star of the film is the narcissistic but beautiful southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, who’s the eldest of three O'Hara daughters, and lives a life of privilege at a cotton plantation called Tara. The year is 1861, and sixteen-year-old Scarlett is in love with Ashley Wilkes (played by Leslie Howard) but he marries Melanie Hamilton (played by Olivia de Havilland). In a moment of spontaneity, a jealous Scarlett agrees to marry Charles Hamilton (played by Rand Brooks), who later dies at war. Shortly after, Scarlett goes to Atlanta to live with her busybody Aunt Pittypat Hamilton (played by Laura Hope Crews).
A woman whose priority is to be cared for (and dismissive of the mourning clothes she must wear), Scarlett falls for a new man, a rather shady war profiteer, Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable). Rhett loves Scarlett with all his heart, mainly because they are much the same. They both think the world is there for them; however, Scarlett is not as reciprocating when it comes to showing her affection. After a brief leave, Ashley returns to the war, leaving behind his pregnant wife in Scarlett's care. Throughout the sweeping, dramatic film, which covers the Civil War and the Reconstruction, Scarlett endures the hardships of war, death and close personal loss. Making her way home to Tara, Scarlett finds her beloved home and surroundings devastated by war. The fates and fortunes of all have changed, evidence of which is measured in blighted landscapes and human lives. Scarlett as clever, manipulative, and charming a woman you could ever meet, proves an adept survivor - but what will the cost of survival be? And will she ever realize whom it is that she really loves before love is lost forever?
A little bit about the packaging… The four-disc set is housed in an extremely attractive five panel Digipak in a very classy cardboard slipcase. The slipcase is gorgeous with raised lettering and absolutely representative of the film itself. The various panels are loaded with pictures as well as Cast & Crew information, a Chapters Listing and a list of the Academy Awards. The first two discs contain the film (as well as the commentaries), while discs three and four are reserved for extras. I might not be the biggest “Digipak” fan in the world, but this set is gorgeous.
The Feature: 5+/5
Warner Brother’s proprietary “Ultra Restoration” process was used to restore this Technicolor film. It is the same process that was used with such films as Meet Me In St. Louis, Singing In The Rain and the near perfect, The Adventures of Robin Hood, so fans of those Special Editions should have some idea of what to expect. And trust me, Gone With The Wind is every bit as impressive.
For those who are familiar with the look of the previous version, you are in for a big surprise. This transfer is quite different from what you might be used to and it is stunning.
The two biggest differences between this version and the previous release are the colors and the textures. The previous version sports colors not quite as vibrant - just slightly on the dull side. Like brush strokes on a painting, you can almost feel the various textures within the film. The new restoration might be a source of contention for some who feel the new look isn’t necessarily representative of the film. However, I am absolutely and thoroughly impressed with this variation. While the previous version has a slightly muted look in comparison, the difference between the two is night and day. This new version is a visual treat for the eyes. The colors literally jump off the screen and are as luscious and as vibrant as you could ever imagine. Hues and the level of saturation were absolutely perfect. Skin tones were only slightly red but otherwise perfect.
Black levels were near perfect as was evidenced by the various uniforms and costumes, while whites were always stark. The level of contrast and shadow detail was just right.
Image detail was incredible, even many of the longer and wider shots looked as impressive. Some of the facial close-ups looked spectacular and as we would expect, many of the female close-ups were slightly soft and diffused. There is only a hint of fine film grain present. What really stood out was the amount of depth and dimensionality there was with this film. The film exhibited levels of depth among the very best I have ever seen. Gorgeous.
Unlike many films from a similar period, the image is rock solid with no jitter or shimmer whatsoever. The print appears to virtually free of any dust or blemishes, looking almost perfect.
While some may claim to see edge enhancement, particularly during a few scenes when Scarlett’s silhouette can be seen on the hillside, this is in my opinion nothing more than a contrast issue relating to the bright sun behind her. The film appears to have been compressed flawlessly with not a single hiccup to report.
A perfect job…!
Similar to the original release, the Collector’s Edition comes with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, but fear not you purists, the original monaural track is also included. And, as much of a purist as I am, I am ecstatic with the new and “improved” track. Let me explain.
The level of clarity and dynamic range is greater. The 5.1 track helps open the soundtrack up with a greater sense of envelopment, not to a point of sounding gimmicky or artificial. Dialogue (most importantly) is virtually unchanged for the most part, and rightly so.
The track was surprisingly clean. It was virtually free of any hiss or other distracting anomalies. Whatever was cleaned up was done so without altering the tonal fidelity of the track, which sounded as natural as you would imagine. There was a slight amount of hiss during the music of the main menu but I’m nitpicking here. This is hardly worth mentioning.
Dialogue was incredibly clear and exceptionally bold even during the beautiful and sweeping Max Steiner score that frequently accompanies the film – dialogue was never lost or competing.
The dynamic range, as you might expect, for a 65 year old film was rather limited, but during the bombing and fire scenes the track exhibits more oomph than you might expect. Toggling back and forth with the audio button demonstrates how effective the newer track is.
Surrounds were used only as a means of slightly opening up the track for a better sense of envelopment. There were only a few examples of specific surround information discernable and it was barely discernable – as it should be. Very tactfully done. Needless to say LFE was virtually non-existent.
As with the case of the video, it’s abundantly obvious that a lot of care and effort went into this restoration. In light of the fact I’m unable to find fault with anything pertaining to the presentation, my score couldn’t be better.
The first two discs contain the film as well as two special features. They are:
[*] A full length Commentary featuring film historian, Rudy Behlmer. At four hours in length, I had to select certain portions of this if I had any hope of posting this on the eligible posting date. I like Rudy Behlmer and enjoy listening to what he has to say – and he knows his stuff. He does a great job, imparting his vast amount of knowledge on the production of this film and those involved with its production. I listened to about an hour or so, skipping through various chapters, never to find any dead time whatsoever and keeping the pace and the feature most interesting.
[*] For those not interested in the newer mix, the Original Monaural Soundtrack also appears as an option on discs one and two.
The 3rd and 4th discs of this set are dedicated to the special features, and they are plentiful.
[*] The Making Of A Legend: Gone With The Wind. This is an extremely comprehensive and detailed documentary covering those who were responsible for the film and as you might expect, the feature starts with a bio on David O. Selznick and how the initial project was almost shelved. The various collaborations of George Cukor were also discussed including Selznick’s decision in choosing him as the initial director for the project. It was also interesting learning of the “National Search” to cast the leading lady as well as the other roles. The feature also goes into a great amount of detail regarding the terms and financial support of MGM. This is extremely informative and is jammed with facts that relate to the film. There are literally dozens of casting clips, behind-the-scenes shots, storyboards and still photographs. The meat & potatoes of special features and is a must see for fans - fabulous. The special is narrated by Christopher Plummer. Duration: 123:18 minutes.
[*] Restoring A Legend features the Warner film restoration team headed by Rob Hummel, Senior V.P. of Production Technologies as they discuss the various obstacles and hurdles with the restoration process. The feature starts with a brief history of Technicolor as well as the human error pertaining to the disposal of elements and the awareness and the importance of preserving these elements. Degradation is also discussed such as the fragility of the film to the trapezoid shaping the film. Re-aligning by scanning via the 4K digital scanning process, color correction, dirt & scratch removal, sound restoration, restoration philosophy is also discussed with great detail. Many before and after comparisons are shown. Absolutely fantastic – one of the highlights of the disc. Duration: 17:42 minutes.
[*] Dixie Hails “Gone With The Wind” is a Hearst Movietone Newsreel showing footage of the Atlanta World Premiere of the film. It’s obvious that no expense was spared for this event. This short is in great shape. Duration: 4:01 minutes.
[*] Historical Theatrical Short “The Old South” is an MGM short directed by Fred Zinnemann which highlights the importance of cotton to the economy in the old south and the difficulty of growing and harvesting it, as well as showcasing the enormous wealth the plantations brought to southerners. The short, from 1940, is in pretty good shape. Duration: 11:18 minutes.
[*] Atlanta Civil War Centennial is footage of David O.Selznick and his two leading ladies as they return to Atlanta for the 1961 theatrical re-release of the film. Duration: 3:40 minutes.
[*] International Prologue for international releases, a special prologue was added offering the audience a historical background of the period. Duration: 1:16 minutes.
[*] Foreign Language Versions briefly discusses how the film was dubbed into a number of languages, this feature offers clips of three famous scenes dubbed in French, Italian & German. Duration: 2:37 minutes.
[*] The second to last feature on this disc is a collection of Theatrical Trailers. They are:
- 1939 Announcement Trailer
- 1961 Civil War Centennial Trailer
- 1967 70mm Re-Issue Trailer
- 1968 Re-Issue Trailer
- 1989 50th Anniversary Trailer
All of the trailers are in terrific shape. Total Duration: 14:13 minutes.
[*] The final feature on the disc is an Awards list which is a three page text list of the various Academy Awards the film won.
The final disc focuses on the stars of the film. First up is a feature entitled:
[*] Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland is a terrific collection of personal experiences as Ms. de Havilland discusses her role as Melanie. It is interesting how she was lured into reading some lines for George Cukor at Selznick’s studio, as she humorously describes it as an “illegal” event… also discussed is her pleading with Jack Warner thus allowing her to play the role of Melanie. This is a terrific little documentary and Ms. de Havilland’s colorful presentation is absolutely wonderful. Duration: 38:40 minutes.
[*] Gable: The King Remembered is a rather extensive documentary which takes an in-depth look at the actor’s long and distinguished career as MGM’s most famous leading man. Some of the clips are in rather rough shape but the feature is informative and entertaining. It is narrated by Peter Lawford. Duration: 65:00 minutes.
[*] Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond. Though her career spanned more than 30 years, she starred in only 19 major motion pictures and won two Academy Awards. The feature takes a comprehensive look at the legendary actress’s background and her numerous accomplishments. This documentary is hosted by Jessica Lange. Duration: 46:02 minutes.
[*] The Supporting Players is a collection of brief bios found within a grouping of sub-menus (somewhat awkwardly laid out). Featured is Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O’Neill, Evelyn Keys, Ann Rutherford, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen, Leslie Howard, Rand Brooks and Carroll Nye, Surprisingly, WB snuck a short trailer for The Polar Express among these bios which is selectable.
[*] And finally an Insert is included. It’s actually a 20 page reproduction souvenir program filled with various bios and information relating to the production of the film etc. A very nice touch.
Special Features: 5+/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
Gone With The Wind is the movie by which all other epic films are judged. I believe that it might very well be the finest film ever produced – and it’s not even my personal favorite. Regardless of your thoughts on the film, there’s no denying that every ingredient of this film is near perfect, from the performances to the music – from the cinematography to the storyline. And regardless of budget, there will never be anything like it – ever again.
As for the set, well, the movie is perhaps the most famous and celebrated of any movie ever. The A/V presentation is guaranteed to satisfy every member of this forum and the extras are magnificent. On top of everything else, the packaging is as classy as the film itself.
Personally, I have what I consider to be fairly comprehensive collection. It’s probably small compared to some here - possibly huge compared to others and I’m going to be so bold as to say that in my opinion this is the best release of any single title that has ever been released on DVD thus far. There… I said it. Make this Collector’s Edition a priority, you won’t regret it.
Overall Rating: 5+/5 (not an average)
Very Highly Recommended…!!!!
Release Date: November 9th, 2004