DVD Review HTF REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird: Universal Legacy Collection (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Steve Tannehill, Sep 11, 2005.

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  1. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    XenForo Template  To Kill a Mockingbird: Universal Legacy Collection Studio: Universal Studios Home Video Year: 1962 (2005 Release) Rated: Not Rated Aspect Ratio: 1.85x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays Audio: English DD 5.1, 2.0 (mono), DTS 5.1; French DD 2.0 (mono) Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; French and Spanish Subtitles Time: 2:09:04 Disc Format: Disc 1: SS/DL; Disc 2: SS/DL Case Style: Sturdy, Tri-Fold, Book-Style Digipak Fairness. Courage. Stubborness. Love. - Hand-written by Gregory Peck on the last page of his shooting script for To Kill a Mockingbird The Feature: To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. I know that's an odd way to start a DVD review, but it puts into perspective just how seriously I take the story and how it is treated on-screen. It is on required reading lists for a reason; while some may say that the book is a good companion to the movie, I am going to switch that around and say that the movie is a nice supplement to the book. But we're here to talk about the DVD, so I'll get off my book crate and proceed! To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the early 1930's in a poor Alabama town, where attorney Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is raising his two children: Jeremy a.k.a. "Jem" (Phillip Alford) and his younger sister Jean Louise a.k.a. "Scout" (Mary Badham). Widowed for the past four years, Atticus has help from his servant Calpurnia (Estelle Evans), who is really more a surrogate mother to the children. Atticus is a decent man and a caring father (it is no wonder his character was at the top of AFI's list of 100 Heroes). Scout loves Atticus, as any 6-year-old would, but 10-year-old Jem is resentful because his father won't play tackle football. (As across-the-street neighbor Miss. Maudie points out, Atticus could put together an airtight will--but this is no consolation to the boy.) It's near the end of summer and Jem and Scout meet Charles Baker "Dill" Harris (John Megna), who is visiting his aunt next-door. Dill, who is Scout's age, can read. He also tells fanciful (false) stories about his parents. (The Dill character, by the way, is based on Truman Capote.) And so the adventures begin. We see the world through the eyes of the children. It is filled with mystery and intrigue, but none so enticing as the horror stories surrounding their mysterious, unseen neighbor "Boo" Radley. Radley, so it's told, attacked his father and is now locked up inside the house. Is it any wonder that the kids would want to find out more? Against the innocent backdrop of youthful play, a more sinister story unfolds. Atticus is retained to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (the late Brock Peters), from an unjust charge of raping a white woman. In the racially tense deep south, guilt is presumed, and lynching is prescribed. Atticus, who believes that Robinson is innocent, stands alone among his peers, but stands respected by the black community and his children. As the story continues, the children's perspective begins to shift. Scout, who is a tom-boy to begin with, gets into fights at school because of taunts relating to her father (I won't use the term here...). Jem is shocked to learn that Atticus has a talent at something he can respect (actually, be in-awe). The next summer comes (as does Dill) and the Finch children are able to stand up for their father (both before, and after Tom Robinson's trial). And, unbeknownst to their father, they attend the trial and see a great defense attorney in action. Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch. He epitomized those four words he wrote on the back page of his shooting script. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was always known for this performance from that point on and he cited Mockingbird as his favorite movie. In addition to the Oscar for Best Actor, To Kill a Mockingbird won the Oscars for Art Direction-Set Direction, Black-and-White, and Adapted Screenplay (Horton Foote). But what cements To Kill a Mockingbird as a true classic is the believability and performances of its young cast. They are amazing. My only gripe about the movie is that many details of the story are left out. That can be rectified by reading the book, of course! But the story told in the movie is still powerful and moving. The Feature: 5 / 5      Video: To Kill a Mockingbird has not only received a new 1.85x1 transfer that is enhanced for 16x9 displays, the source material has undergone significant restoration that started in 2001. As noted restoration expert, and favorite HTF contributor Robert Harris stated in this other thread:
    As a rank amateur when it comes to discussing film in this company, I'll keep my remarks brief. This is a clear improvement over the 1998 DVD edition, that itself was a port of the laserdisc transfer. The detail is impressive: look at the seams of the suit jackets, or the cracks on painted walls inside the Finch residence to see what I mean. Black level and contrast are fine. You'll notice a couple of scenes where the picture is off--a reaction shot of Scout, and a scene on the porch towards the end. This must be source-material related because, honestly, I can find no flaws in the actual DVD transfer. Video: 4.5 / 5      Sound: Once again, we are given a number of options for sound that are not usually expected of a film of this age. In addition to monophonic tracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 English and French, there are newly remixed Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks. Now don't expect explosions, helicopters, or exploding helicopters. About the only difference in the mono mix versus 5.1 is that Elmer Bernstein's haunting score spreads across the front channels instead of being focused on the center channel. In either mix, dialogue is firmly planted on the center speaker. I also detected some occasional chirping birds. While I'm not into the gimmicky placement of sound effects, I'll just say no harm, no fowl.  Sound: 4 / 5     Extras: There are some nice extras in this edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, starting with eleven mini-poster reproductions on card stock, and a letter from author Harper Lee. These fit in an envelope that slides into a panel on the sturdy tri-fold Digipak case. Disc 1 supplements include:
    • A feature-length commentary with director Robert Mulligan and Producer Alan Pakula.
    • The 0:2:52 theatrical trailer--with Peck narrating (very cool)
    • 11 pages of production notes
    • The 0:01:28 clip of Peck's Oscar acceptance speech
    • A 0:10:01 clip of Peck's AFI Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech
    • A 0:10:08 excerpt from an Academy tribute to Gregory Peck, given by his daughter. This does not appear to have been from a broadcast, rather video footage. Harper Lee is in that audience, and gets a standing ovation.
    • Scout Remembers, a 12-minute 1999 NBC News interview with Mary Badham, who played Scout. It is interesting how Badham says that Atticus was always there for her. (One recent report on CNN said that Badham always referred to Peck as Atticus--even as the years went by.)
    Disc 2 supplements include:
    • A Conversation with Gregory Peck (1:37:24) a 1999 documentary produced by Peck's daughter. I have not had time to get through this, but so far it is fascinating--from question and answer sessions, to scenes of Peck's family life, and more. By focusing on Peck alone, we don't get into the difficulties I had with the next supplement...
    • Fearful Symmetry: The Making of To Kill a Mockingbird (1:30:07) is an all-encompassing making-of documentary from the original 1998 video release. When I first reviewed this documentary back in 1998, I noted the grating narration, and seemingly unrelated interviews with experts about the era which provide no additional understanding of the story. Fortunately, this is offset by interviews with all of the principles, including Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Horton Foote, Robert Mulligan, Alan J. Pakula, and Elmer Bernstein. The documentary includes production photos of the movie, and even photos of the town in which Harper Lee grew up.
    Extras: 5 / 5      In Conclusion: If you've not read this Pulitzer-prize winning novel, you should. I am overdue to rediscover the beauty of Harper Lee's prose and the world inhabited by Scout, Jem, and their father. If you've not seen the movie, you are in for a treat. Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5      Highly Recommended Release Date: September 6, 2005
    Display calibrated by Steve Martin at http://www.lionav.com/
     
  2. Dane Marvin

    Dane Marvin Screenwriter

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    After reviewing the contents of this gorgeously put together set (including my second ever viewing of the film -- and the first time in a high-quality format), I'm going to say this is one of top two or three releases ever by Universal.

    The film is as powerful as ever. I agree with your sentiments, Steve, that Peck is Atticus. In fact, you mention that Mary Badham called him that even as the years passed. This is reconfirmed when she appears during the "Conversation with Gregory Peck" feature on disc two, which is a refreshing alternative to standard biographies in that it really allows us inside his life. It doesn't just have a narrator tell us what he did, it takes us there and lets him tell us. There are truly some beautiful scenes captured here on both tape and film (as well as some truly hilarious ones).

    I have to admit to having seen only two or three Peck films in my time (one of which is another literary classic, "Moby Dick"), but rewatching "To Kill a Mockingbird" and then seeing the doc has piqued my interest in giving some other films a shot. Perhaps "Gentleman's Agreement" or "Roman Holiday" will show up on my Netflix queue.
     
  3. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    I completely agree with the "TKAM" sentiments expressed in this thread. It's a remarkable movie -- and that Elmer Bernstein music is just incredible.

    I'd say that Universal's excellent new "Legacy Series" 2-Disc DVD Edition of "Mockingbird" rises to that of "Must-Have" status.

    Here's my own personal review of the new "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD" DVD set.



    And don't overlook Cape Fear, The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, The Omen, and The Big Country too. [​IMG]

    Another Peck-involved film that I'd recommend (and strongly advocate its release onto DVD) is a documentary film produced by the U.S. Information Agency, narrated with style by Gregory Peck, called John F. Kennedy: Years Of Lightning, Day Of Drums. That film (made in late 1964 and released to a limited number of theaters in 1966) was written and directed by Bruce Herschensohn (who also composed the beautiful music score too). Mr. Peck's narration puts the perfect touch on Herschensohn's work.


    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  4. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    That's a nice review David, thanks!

    - Steve
     
  5. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    Thank you, Steve. I enjoyed yours in this thread too.

    I think it might be of value to some folks to point out the fact that the originally-intended "extra" of a Replica of Gregory Peck's Working Script, with hand-written notes has not been included in the Universal Two-Disc "Legacy" Mockingbird Set.

    Instead of the script, Universal decided to include the 11 poster reproduction cards (which are nice too).

    Anybody know why the DVD-bonus powers-that-be decided to change out the script for the mini poster art?
     
  6. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    I guess they just relied on the daughter's comments (during the Academy tribute) as to what those notes said. It would have been a nice supplement.

    - Steve
     
  7. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    Thanks for the review.

    I remember liking this movie, but I can't remember squat about it. All the more reason to watch it again. [​IMG]
     
  8. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    Let me say Happy 57th Birthday to "Jem" from Mockingbird. The actor who played "Jem" so wonderfully (Phillip Alford) turned 57 just a few hours ago (born on a date that will now be remembered for something tragic -- September 11).

    Phillip was born in Alabama, which makes me wonder if he or his family (if they still have homes there) were affected by Katrina's wrath on August 29th?

    Along those same lines, Mary Badham ("Scout") was also born in Alabama (Birmingham). She'll be 53 next month. (Anyone feeling old knowing these stats? [​IMG]) -- Mary is the sister of Saturday Night Fever and WarGames director John Badham. John, btw, did a very interesting Audio Commentary Track for the SNF DVD. If you've never listened to it, I'd recommend doing so.

    Somewhat amazingly, even with the huge success of "Mockingbird", neither Mary nor Phillip went on to do much else in Hollywood -- Mary was in only 3 other films after TKAM; and Phillip in just a mere four more (three of those Made-for-TV films).

    But the boy who would be considered the youngster with third billing ("Dill"; John Megna; the boy who Jem said looked "right puny for nine years old!" [​IMG] ) actually fared much better in his post-TKAM acting career, appearing in several additional movies and TV shows -- including the films Smokey And The Bandit 2, The Cannonball Run, The Boy In The Plastic Bubble, and the Bette Davis flick Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

    http://imdb.com/name/nm0019221/

    http://imdb.com/name/nm0000825/

    http://imdb.com/name/nm0576345/
     
  9. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I'm feeling old, since I watched this film for the first time during it's initial theatrical run.

    Some might not know this, but Mary Badham's brother is director John Badham who directed such films as Saturday Night Fever, WarGames, Stakeout, Blue Thunder and Nick of Time.




    Crawdaddy
     
  10. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    An eerie "Twilight Zone" moment between myself and Robert "The Crawdaddy" Crawford, re. my just-edited remarks (above) about the Badhams. Then I see that Robert posted the very same thing.

    EDIT: Now's a good time to mention a second "TZ moment" -- "The Twilight Zone" (it turns out) is one of just two TV shows that Mary Badham made a guest appearance on. She was in the episode "The Bewitchin' Pool" in 1964, the very last "Zone" ever aired.

    ~~TZ Theme Playing~~

    [​IMG]
     
  11. JoshB

    JoshB Supporting Actor

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    Without a doubt one of Universal's finest releases in terms of overall quality. They seemed to have gone the extra mile in every dept., from video, audio, packaging and supplements. They use of quality over quantity in the extras has me thinking that maybe they are rethinking how they produce DVDs, especially as far as classics are concerned. I was also very pleased by the number of tributes to Peck that were included, especially that Oscar speech, which even has optional subtitles. (so do the other Tributes on disc 1) [​IMG]

    To me, this is one of the top 10 releases so far this year simply because of the effort that was put forth.
     
  12. MichaelScott

    MichaelScott Stunt Coordinator

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    Dane,

    Try Peck's On The Beach, I think it's one of his better films. The end really stuck with me a while.


    MS
     
  13. Dane Marvin

    Dane Marvin Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the recommendations, guys. I had totally forgotten that Peck was in "The Omen", which I have seen. That movie creeps the hell out of me. [​IMG]
     
  14. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    IIRC, Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch was voted #1 on the AFI list of "Greatest Film Heroes."

    An absolutely shining moment for movie lists in general! [​IMG]
     
  15. John Nelson

    John Nelson Stunt Coordinator

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    I live in southeastern Connecticut, which is still somewhat rural. About ten years ago I was at a lovely outdoor charity function held on a property just down the road from my parents' home. My mother introduced me to one of her local friends and neighbors, a "Mr. Mulligan". Very nice old man--pleasant, easy to talk to. Afterwards I asked my mother who he was and she answered, "Oh Mr. Mulligan was a director." I asked "Oh yeah? What did he direct?" When she said "To Kill a Mockingbird," I almost fell over. Glad she told me that after I spoke to him-- I would have been tongue-tied otherwise! [​IMG]
     

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