Our reviews of The Rodgers And Hammerstein Collection (published January 15th, 2007), The Sound Of Music: 40th Anniversary Edition (published December 12th, 2005), and The Sound Of Music (Blu-Ray) 45th Anniversary Edition (published November 29th, 2010) are also available.
The Happiest Sound In All The World!
Fox, the king of the two-disc special edition DVDs, has come through with an excellent Five Star Collection release of this much heralded and cherished film. A superb picture and sound combined with a plethora of quality extras make this a must buy for fans of the film and musicals in general. Even those who look down on musicals should give this one a chance. For several years, it was the highest grossing film of all time, and that makes a statement worth listening to. It is a joyous, uplifting film that has withstood the tests of time to remain a classic for the entire family.
Facts of the Case
The story in the film is an adaptation of the real life story of Maria and the rest of the Van Trapp Family, who became a quite popular singing group in the '40s and '50s. Their tale of meeting and marrying, of facing Nazi aggression during the Anschluss or annexation of Austria by Hitler's Third Reich, was first published as an autobiography, then adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein for a successful Broadway musical, and ultimately turned into the feature film. In the beginning Maria was applying to become a nun, but her irrepressible nature and predilection to burst into song at a moments notice made her Mother Abess decide perhaps she should try being a governess, and find out more about herself first. She is placed in charge of the seven Von Trapp children, whose mother has died and are being kept under some military boot camp existence by their father, who is a retired naval officer. The joyful Maria quickly changes things and brings music into the house and hearts of the children, and bringing life and love into the home. This is all under the umbrella of impending Nazi occupation, which is vocally and publicly opposed by Captain Von Trapp, played by Christopher Plummer.
I hate musicals. I've spent a good deal of my life looking down my nose at them. It's not to say that I hate music in movies, far from it. It is the looking into someone's eyes and singing instead of talking and not being taken for a raving lunatic that I've always had a problem with. Hence, I've not spent the time to watch The Sound of Music since I was a kid. And it is safe to say I was less than thrilled when a spanking-new two-disc set of the movie arrived at my doorstep to review. I love two-disc sets and all, but the idea of spending a dozen hours or more on a MUSICAL left me cold. Still I knew how well loved this film was in the hearts of fans of the genre, so I decided to give it a fair shake. The more I learned about the film, the more intrigued I became. Learning, for example, that it was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture. I was also impressed that Robert Wise was the director and producer; I knew him best for one of my favorite classic science fiction films of all time, The Day the Earth Stood Still. So I felt better when I finally popped the first disc into my player. And much to my surprise I didn't hate the movie. The film is nearly flawless from a cinematic and directorial perspective, with gorgeous scenery, sets, and production design. The film does have its overly sentimental side, but also has many humorous, dramatic, and romantic moments that transcend merely being a vehicle to get to the next show tune. While some of the songs are simplistic, they are also catchy, and several, such as "Do-Re-Mi," have become ingrained into the culture. There is no doubt that the singing and the rest of the score are beautifully performed and orchestrated.
You can't mention The Sound of Music without mentioning its star, Julie Andrews. She won the Best Actress Oscar the year before in Mary Poppins, her first feature film. There she also played a musical governess, and might have been totally typecast (instead of only partially typecast) except for also doing The Americanization of Emily, a fine and underrated film, the same year. At any rate, there is no Sound of Music without her. She brings off the irrepressible, outspoken Maria superbly and deserved her Oscar nomination for the role. Her golden singing voice meshed with a surprising dramatic and comedic range for a memorable, perhaps even unforgettable, performance.
The Oscars the film did win were for Best Picture, Best Director, and for Music, Sound, and Film Editing. I certainly can see why the film won each of these as well. As I said, from a technical standpoint the film is nearly flawless, and the story ekes emotion at every turn. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, Sabrina, Portnoy's Complaint) wove a tale that combined many elements of the true story of the Von Trapp family with dramatic elements and music into a tapestry that maintains interest even over the nearly three hour running time. I particularly appreciated how often Lehman managed to make the music fit into the context of the film, instead of the general "out of the blue" singing in lieu of conversation.
I can't say enough about the stunning picture quality on this DVD. Struck from a 65mm negative, this transfer is nearly flawless, but goes past that to the point where the image is three dimensional, startlingly clear, and extremely smooth. I doubt most people in theaters saw it look as good as this. This 35-year-old film still was able to provide bright, vivid colors that never bleed or smear. The transfer is anamorphic and retains the original 2.20:1 aspect ratio. While there are a few tiny flaws that only a dedicated reviewer is likely to notice (a bit of shimmer or a bit of pixelation in a few quick moments on small objects), it majestically captures the beautiful essence of the scenery and the film. Few transfers have had this jaw-dropping impressiveness that I have seen, even on new films.
I am nearly as impressed with the sound quality as the picture quality. The original soundtrack has been remastered into a Dolby Digital 4.1 soundtrack, though it will show on the player as 5.1. The dynamic range is fantastic, and the frequency range gives crystal clear highs and even reaches down into the subwoofer range for the lows. Despite a mono signal in the rear channels, the track is surprisingly aggressive in the use of them, making for a very spherical listening environment. Dialogue and sound effects are also widely spaced across the front soundstage. Every note and every word is clearly heard and understood.
While I'm talking about the sound, I can move straight to the first extra feature, which is on the first disc as well. The film's musical score, sans vocals, is offered in a unique way. Whenever the music is not playing it doubles as a commentary track by director and producer Robert Wise, who gives a thorough account of the movie, its stars, and the making of the film. I found it a wonderful compromise and perhaps superior to having separate tracks for each, as now there are no annoying silences between the musical passages and you don't have to hear three hours of commentary. Wise manages to convey a great deal of information in the time he has. This is identical in content to the laserdisc, but has been remixed by Sharpline Arts, who also did the rest of the extras for the laserdisc and this DVD.
The second disc has the main body of the extra content, and is divided into sections called "Documentaries," "Broadcast Promotions and Interviews," "Audio Supplements," "Gallery" and "DVD-ROM." There are two documentaries; the first of which is "Salzburg Sight and Sound," a 1965 promotional feature focusing on Charmian Carr, who played the eldest daughter Liesl in the film. It lasts 14 minutes and is mainly promotional and a sightseeing piece. Of far more worth is the second documentary "The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon," an 87 minute exhaustive look at the film, with much interview footage of the stars and crew who made the film. It still kept a good pace and I never lost interest, and will bear a repeated viewing since no one can absorb all of the information in one try.
The next section contains five trailers, two TV spots, four radio spots for the films 1973 re-release, and an eight-minute radio interview with Julie Andrews and Robert Wise also done in 1973. For you trailer and promotion/marketing fans this should satisfy.
Moving on to "Audio Supplements" we find more interviews. First there are radio interviews done on location during shooting in Austria for stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, and for supporting actress Peggy Wood, who was also nominated for an Oscar as the Mother Abess of the convent. Next is a 13-minute audio "telegram" from Daniel Truhitte, who played the Hitler Youth Rolfe on the film, but doesn't seem like a Nazi now. He talks about his own experience with the film and interacting with the other stars and the other kids, and has great affection for the film and his own shot at immortality for having been part of it. Last but certainly not least is the 35-minute interview with Ernest Lehman, which is the unedited version of the full interview from which snippets were cut for the documentary. Since he was one of the first people attached to the project and saw it through to the end, he has tons of stories and knows virtually every aspect of the film. In some ways it is my favorite extra on the disc.
If that wasn't enough, there is a ton of well-researched and in-depth information provided by Sharpline Arts' Michael Matessino. Hundreds of pages of text go into great detail of the real life von Trapp family history, the locations used in the film and their history, timelines, the production of the film in all its aspects, technical information, and still photos and descriptions of outtakes removed at the last minute from the film. I'm simply astounded at the depth and amount of information included here, and I'm still not finished with them all. It is also easy to follow the menus to get to the pertinent topics you are interested in; you need not wade through all of it at once.
Last and least among the extras is the DVD-ROM section, which has some rather poor looking wallpapers, along with weblinks. But I'm not complaining; in fact I think this package of extras rates among the best ever done for DVD, including Fight Club and The Abyss.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaints with the film are from my own personal biases against musicals. In the case of The Sound of Music, there were only four or five times in the film I rolled my eyes at what I consider inane instances of singing. If someone were to put their face less than a foot from mine and start singing from within my private space, smiling and falling in love would not be my first response. Fans of musicals would tell me I simply don't get it…and they'd be right. The fact that I could still truly enjoy the film even with that predisposition speaks volumes.
This is one of the top ten disc sets ever produced by any studio. The only reason it doesn't shoot up on my top ten list is that I'm not a fan of musicals, quite the contrary. If you have children, or you have even the remotest interest in the film you should check out this set. In the vast majority of cases I'd say it is a must-buy and will take a place of pride in their collection.
Whoever thought they could use my dislike of musicals to gain a conviction in this case was deluding themselves badly. Case dismissed, and the prosecutor gets to spend the night in the pokey for charging against the film.
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