Papillon Release Date: May 24, 2011 Studio: Warner Home Video Packaging/Materials: Single-disc "Digi-Book" Year: 1973 Rating: PG Running Time: 2:30:47 MSRP: $34.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 2.40:1 Standard definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, Spanish, French None The Feature: 5/5 The penal colony of Devil's Island in French Guiana is notorious for being hell on earth. If disease and the environment don't kill a man, the endless years of imprisonment will surely break his spirit. Sent there to atone for a murder he claims he didn't commit, Papillon (Steve McQueen) can think of nothing else but escape from the moment he's sentenced. And it's on the voyage out to his new home that he takes his first hopeful steps toward freedom, by striking a deal with a timid forger named Dega (Dustin Hoffman) who needs protection from the other prisoners looking for a piece of his wealth. In exchange for Papillon's muscle, Dega agrees to fund his escape plans, though it quickly becomes clear the island and its administrators will not allow such a thing to happen soon or easily. But it's ultimately a critical choice between his own well being and that of his new friend's that will alter Papillon's plans, though no setback - regardless of how serious - will ever change his singular desire for freedom. "Papillon's" promotional materials make a clever reference to McQueen's filmography by describing the movie as "the greatest escape." Indeed, the story of the single-minded penal colony inmate, nicknamed for the butterfly on his chest, is structurally one long escape plot. But where some films might have focused on the procedural side of such an endeavor, as a sort of reverse heist movie, Screenwriters Henri Charriere and Dalton Trumbo and Director Franklin J. Schaffner instead use the opportunity to explore the bonds of friendship, the limits of the human will to live, and the undying need for freedom. McQueen bolsters the effort with his uncompromising performance, which feels stripped down and guileless compared to his other roles in more iconic films. By comparison Hoffman has noticeably less screen time, but he turns in a touching performance as the foil to McQueen's driven alpha male. Thanks to such stellar performances and a script with humanistic depth, "Papillon" endures and resonates in a way no simple "escape film" ever could. Video Quality: 4.5/5 The film is accurately framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. The picture quality is on the whole impressive. Areas some may cite as problematic come down to characteristics of the source material or production choices (e.g. the blurriness in early scenes seems to be a product of the optics not a result of any mishaps with the transfer). Thinking about the film's various scenes, I am most struck by the depth of color in moments involving azure ocean waves, lush green jungles, and of course the baby blues of McQueen himself. Black levels and contrast show good depth and range - though they can be a little limited in the darkest of scenes - and fine detail holds up in both close ups or panoramic vistas. In one particular scene the tangle of thousands of dead tree branches is so crisp it feels like you'd cut yourself touching them (and with nary a sign of digital sharpening artifacts like edge haloing). There are a few instances of scratches or dirt, but overall the picture is clean and devoid of distractions. Audio Quality: 4/5 Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is consistently clear and intelligible. Surrounds offer some light support for the score and the occasional directional and atmospheric effect, but on the whole it's front-loaded mix that also has a reasonably wide and balanced sound stage. LFE is nowhere to be heard, but the track exhibits good depth and fullness, usually thanks to elements in the orchestral score, but also from ocean waves breaking on the rocky shores of Devil's Island. Special Features: 2/5 Extras on-disc are meager, but the collectible book includes some information that would normally be covered through featurettes and commentaries. Though the quantity and quality of extras is consistent with past DVD releases, it would have been nice to see a retrospective interview or more archival materials included for its appearance on Blu-ray. The Magnificent Rebel (12:16, SD) is an archival behind-the-scenes during filming, and includes author Henri Charriere describing the experiences that lead to writing the novel. Original Theatrical Trailer (3:52, SD) Collectible Book integrated into the packaging includes production stills, cast and crew biographies, trivia, and an essay about the film. Recap The Feature: 5/5 Video Quality: 4.5/5 Audio Quality: 4/5 Special Features: 2/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5 Warner Home Video turns in a stellar presentation of a film that in the final estimation is more about the thirst for freedom than the struggles of imprisonment. The special features don't include anything more than what's been offered on past releases, which is ultimately a disappointment. Nevertheless, the quality of the presentation makes up for any shortcomings in the extras, and is recommended for those purchasing the title for the first time or those looking to upgrade from the now 10-year old DVD release.