Eureka Entertainment // 1927 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // October 10th, 2011
Having won the award for "Unique and Artistic Production" at the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929, Sunrise also has the honor of being the first silent movie released on the Blu-ray format.
Now, thanks to Eureka, the film is getting a dual-format release in the UK, offering fans the Sunrise (Blu-ray) (Region B) three-disc set, with both cuts of the film on DVD and Blu-ray.
The simple, yet happy lives of a married couple, known simply as The Man and The Wife, are disrupted when a woman from the city journeys to their country farm. She uses her wiles to seduce The Man, telling him to sell his farm and murder his wife. Torn between his love for his wife and his seemingly uncontrollable lust for the woman, The Man begins a journey that sees him come to realize what is truly important.
Due to the outstanding work of its director, F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu), Sunrise is often best remembered for its technical innovations, which put it on a par with Citizen Kane in terms of the effect it had on film production. As such, it would be easy to recommend Sunrise on the strength of its imagery alone. The level of invention, coupled with the meticulous framing of each shot is staggering. In fact, before the story really takes hold, it is Murnau's innovation that ensures the viewer remains transfixed. An early example of this comes shortly after The Man has returned home from a night of infidelity. Torn up with guilt, The Man cannot bear to look at his wife, who is happily looking after their child and carrying out household chores. Whichever way he turns he is confronted by the image of The Woman, whose visage is superimposed into the shot, implying the hold she has over him. This short series of superimpositions shows what a remarkable visionary Murnau truly was, as he utilizes technically innovative shots to actually accentuate the film's emotional content, rather than overshadow it. A scene later on, in which The Man and The Wife walk along the streets of a bustling city, complements this early sequence beautifully. It's obvious now how the feat was achieved, but it's still remarkable to witness the busy streets gradually transform into a lush field -- thus matching the couple's mood. Indeed, Murnau was brave enough to resist the heavy use of title cards with Sunrise, and instead allows his actors, score, and most notably their surroundings to inform the tone of each scene. Perhaps the most impressive moments, in terms of visuals, come during the Luna Park sequence. Consider that any movement of the camera was still rare in 1927, and then wonder at the introduction to Luna Park, which sees the camera apparently swooping in from above the crowd. Murnau's progression from his earlier works, such as The Haunted Castle, is staggering. In less than six years, Murnau went from delivering rather staid, theatrical productions, to mastering the art of cinema, and becoming an innovator of the medium in the process.
However, there is much more to the film than technical innovations. F.W. Murnau skillfully blends melodrama with moments that border on the horror films he is still most famed for, but what is perhaps most surprising are the lighter moments that capture the bliss of true love, and the humor that frequently punctuates the film. There's a feeling of Murnau attempting to capture the delicate nature of love with Sunrise, as his two protagonists experience the full range of emotions during the course of the movie. The film's full title, Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans is most apt, as rather than a film driven by narrative, Murnau delivers a film that is driven by emotion, and is, as has already been said, a visual poem.
The performance of Janet Gaynor (A Star Is Born) as The Wife is exceptional, and perhaps eclipses the technical feats of Murnau to become the highlight of the picture. There's an innocence to Gaynor's portrayal of the young mother that is hard to shake, making the actions of her husband -- which at times become terrifying-all the more powerful. George O'Brien (The Iron Horse) somehow manages to instill a decency into the role of The Man, despite his faults. The Man is a slave to his desires, and consistently risks his humble, yet happy home, for something that little bit sweeter. O'Brien's reading of the role suggests a good man, who wants to do right by his wife, but falls prey to his demons all too quickly, jeopardizing his happy family life when the seductive city girl comes calling. One scene sees The Man coming close to murdering his Wife, so as to be with his mistress, before he finally sees sense. O'Brien and Gaynor sell the horror of the moment perfectly, which in turn leads to one of the most affecting scenes in the film. Realizing he has betrayed his wife's innocence and destroyed her faith in him, the man is finally forced to confront the extent of his actions. The scene plays out as a cautious rebuilding of the fractured trust between the couple, culminating in a heartbreaking reconciliation. Murnau's simple images -- which reveal how astute a filmmaker he really was -- are matched by the swelling score to create a moment of pure cinematic perfection.
Along with the Movietone version of Sunrise, this Eureka release also includes an alternative, and shorter cut of the film, discovered in the Czech Republic. Running 14 minutes shorter, the Czech version uses alternative takes and edits. The Movietone version ultimately offers the richer experience, but it should not be denied what a treat it is to have both versions of this stunning film made available.
Each version of the film is presented in a different aspect ratio, with the Movietone version presented in a 1.20:1 aspect ratio, while the Czech version is presented in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The transfer on the Czech version is the better of the two, offering an overall sharper picture. Both prints have small incidents where age and damage are evident, yet this distracts little from such a careful restoration job. Detail levels are good, with a clean image. For those who wonder just how much an old movie can benefit from the hi-def treatment, Eureka's release of Sunrise provides the answer. The Dolby Tru-HD soundtrack, which incorporates both a score and numerous sound effects, is excellent, with each individual element ringing out with real clarity. Both cuts of the film are also included on a separate DVD each. Both offer a fine audio-visual presentation; yet lack the sparkle of the hi-def version.
The Movietone version of the film comes with the option of a commentary track, courtesy of cinematographer John Bailey. Bailey provides a track that goes into great detail on the technical elements of the film, but still finds time to complement the many rich emotional layers. Also included amongst the extras are a number of outtakes, available either with or without John Bailey's commentary. Though the picture quality of the outtakes is poor, they still prove to be of interest. Perhaps the biggest treat for lovers of classic cinema is the "Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces Of A Lost Film" documentary. Clocking in at 40 minutes, Janet Bergstrom narrates this fascinating look at one of the silent era's most sought-after lost films, with production stills and other materials offering a glimpse of the movie. The original theatrical trailer for Sunrise is also included on the disc. Finally the three-disc set also includes a twenty-page booklet detailing the restoration process, as well as comparison between the two versions of the film.
I expected little from Sunrise, and yet came away mesmerized. Even if one were to put aside the film's numerous technical accomplishments for a moment, Sunrise is a still deeply affecting picture. The blending of German expressionism with Hollywood sensibilities makes Sunrise an almost unique film, and one that would go on to inform the language of cinema over the decades that followed its release.
I've said it before, and fear I must repeat myself here, but Eureka's treatment of Sunrise is almost unrivaled in their treatment of cinematic classics. There is no excuse not to pick this set up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* 1.19:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 1.0 Mono (Silent)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1927
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Version
* Alternate Score
* DVD Copy