Our review of Legends Of The Fall: Superbit Edition, published August 6th, 2003, is also available.
After the Fall from Innocence the Legend Begins.
A grand American Epic filled with haunting beauty, Legends of the Fall delivers a compelling story.
Facts of the Case
Legends of the Fall is a sweeping epic. It tells the story of the Ludlow family, headed by Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), who has grown weary of the madness of war. He establishes a Montana household to raise his three sons away from the vagaries of the world.
When young Samuel (Henry Thomas) brings his future bride, Susanna (Julia Ormond), home from the East Coast, the house is thrown into turmoil. Susanna's wild spirit and terrific beauty has an effect on all four members of the family, creating divides in loyalty and family chronicled over many years.
Before Samuel and Susanna are wed, Samuel decides—against his father's insistence—to rush off and fight the good fight in World War I. Samuel's older brothers take flight with Samuel in order to protect and oversee the youngster. But war is a dangerous business and some things cannot be protected completely…
For those of you who have not yet seen Legends of the Fall because you think it is a bit too sappy or is too much of a chick flick—I have some news for you. It's not. It may border on the genre at times, and it certainly is filled with melodrama much of the time, but it is mostly characterized by a special type of melodrama—the type that works. I tend to personally classify these melodramatic types of films into two camps, the type that pull at your heartstrings just because they are following a formula (these types of films tend not to work too well) and the type that does so in an original plot or other storytelling element (these tend to work more often than not). Maybe I am oversimplifying my categorizations and taking the easy way out in trying to explain why I like Legends of the Fall. That is certainly a possibility. But, the sheer number of people who claim not to like this film, without ever having seen it, troubles me.
The cast of Legends of the Fall works together brilliantly. Julia Ormond (Smilla's Sense of Snow) is spectacular in the role of Susanna. Her beauty is surpassed only by her acting ability. She creates a nervous and confused woman who appears several leagues out of her element, battling the land and weather of the far Northwest at the turn of the century. Anthony Hopkins (Titus) turns in a typically praiseworthy performance as Colonel William Ludlow, the family patriarch who has seen the ravages of war and will do anything to prevent his sons from experiencing the same.
Brad Pitt (Se7en) does a fine job as Tristan, the focus of the film. Tristan is a cursed character, haunted by his own nature and personal failings. Pitt tackles the job admirably. Lastly of note are both Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extraterrestrial) and Aidan Quinn (Benny and Joon) play Tristan's younger and older brothers Samuel and Alfred. While neither carries the film through its difficult periods, both perform quite nicely and give their characters a purpose.
Legends of the Fall was directed by Edward Zwick, who first reached national acclaim as the creator of "thirtysomething" the long-running television show which seemed to wholly capture the ethos of the generation once removed (older) than mine. Zwick was in the middle of quite roll professionally. Prior to "thirtysomething" he directed About Last Night, one of my favorite comedies of the '80s. He then went on to direct this film, and then Glory, like this disc, another Columbia TriStar DVD slated for a Special Edition re-release. His status may not have fallen with recent releases such as Courage Under Fire and The Siege, but neither of those two films measure up to Glory or Legends of the Fall in my estimation.
Legends of the Fall was shot by Cinematographer John Toll. Toll's cinematography won this picture an Oscar in 1994 and it is beautiful. The sweeping vistas of Montana (well, not really Montana) are a prime character in this film, and it is only through Toll's work that this was possible. Toll went on to win a second consecutive cinematography Oscar (the only person to do so) with his work on 1995's Braveheart. Moreover, he seems to have developed into one of the hottest cinematographers around recently, with work on The Thin Red Line and Almost Famous. I should also point out that Lilly Kilvert's contribution to this film cannot be overlooked. She acted as the production designer and her work certainly helped lend the film the authenticity it needed. Kudos to Zwick for assembling such a quality team.
But Zwick's acumen for choosing collaborators did not end there. Oh, no. He also chose one of my favorite composers of that period to score Legends of the Fall—James Horner. Horner's work here is among his best. While the score is at times derivative of Dances with Wolves, I nevertheless consider it his finest work, next to Glory. It is, in turns, inspiring, glorious and banal. Columbia's inclusion of an isolated soundtrack is a most welcome addition to this disc.
Now, on to the disc itself. The video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic video. Blacks are deep and rich, and Toll's cinematography comes across as beautiful and soothing. Colors are lush and richly inviting. Edges are crisp without appearing over-enhanced. Quite simply, this is a reference quality disc of a movie from six years ago. Columbia TriStar proves, once again, why they are so highly though of around the Verdict. An amazing job.
Audio is presented as English 5.1, with French, Spanish and Portuguese options available in 2.0 configuration. The 5.1 track is excellent with rich and deep bass, where appropriate. Dialogue is quite intelligible, except in a few areas. Surrounds are used quite well in this re-mixed track. Which raises my only complaint about the track. Columbia failed to include the original English Dolby Surround track as an option. I doubt this was done for a lack of space, although that could have been a consideration. There is no way to be sure. I, and many other purists, would prefer to have the option of listening to the original soundtrack, and not be forced to sit through a re-mixed 5.1 track. Re-mixed tracks will continue to be a trend offered on DVDs, which is a good thing—don't get me wrong. I just hope the studios remember those of us who are more interested in the original artistic vision as presented on the big screen. The original track is an important part of that vision as it was originally presented.
As a newly remastered special edition, this disc is filled with extras. The previous edition was relatively bare bones. This disc includes production notes, talent files, and theatrical trailers for Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Mask of Zorro, A River Runs Through It, The Devil's Own, Seven Years in Tibet, two trailers for Legends of the Fall. Also included on the disc are the original featurette, a new featurette focused on the production design, three deleted scenes with or without commentary tracks and two full length commentary tracks: the first featuring Director Edward Zwick and Brad Pitt, the second with Production Designer Lilly Kilvert and Cinematographer John Toll. Lastly, the disc is blessed with subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai as well as the aforementioned isolated soundtrack (found under special features and not audio options). Wow.
Both commentary tracks are very well done and fairly entertaining. Pitt and Zwick give some excellent background into the production, as to how things came together and how Pitt wound up involved in the production. Kilvert and Toll talk an awful lot about the technical aspects of the production and how things came together, as well as the thinking behind some of the decision-making that went on.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The plot of this film certainly wanders and is a bit overly long. I also felt the production leaned too much on the overly long shots of Brad Pitt riding his horse at full gallop, his long hair flowing in the breeze, looking like some sort of renaissance woodsman. But, the more often I watch this movie, the more it has grown on me, and the more I like it. The production values are incredible, the cinematography is outstanding, the acting solid and the story fairly compelling.
Legends of the Fall is better than you think it is—especially if you've never seen it. I recommend it very highly. The disc is a shining example of what can be done when a studio goes about its business in a workmanlike manner, all the while keeping its customer at the forefront of its mind. This disc didn't have to be re-done. It is only through the love of the DVD format and the consideration of its customer base that is was done. And it was done right! This disc speaks, therefore, as a first class testament to the DVD production team at Columbia TriStar—a studio I fear does not get nearly enough positive press. They consistently deliver outstanding results to all their DVD product, and I for one am thankful for that. Legends of the Fall: Special Edition will occupy a special place on my shelf, alongside the rest of my collection. It is one of those few discs I would not mind re-buying a second time. Because of the circumstanced surrounding the initial release (it was very early in DVDs lifecycle) and the tremendous quality of this disc, I would definitely have bought this disc had we not received this screener copy. Now, I wait with baited breath for the arrival of the similarly remastered Glory: Special Edition, due out in early 2001!
Fully acquitted. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track with Director Edward wick and Actor Brad Pitt
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