This Blu-ray release is definitely one of Judge Bill Gibron's favorite things.
Our reviews of The Rodgers And Hammerstein Collection (published January 15th, 2007), The Sound Of Music (published August 31st, 2000), and The Sound Of Music: 40th Anniversary Edition (published December 12th, 2005) are also available.
The Hills Are Alive Again! On Blu-ray!
It remains one of the most popular movie musicals of all time—quite a feat when you consider that it came out during the 1960s, a time when such trite Hollywood relics were being routinely dismissed by the new, uber-hip counterculture. Adjusted to today's dollars, it remains a massive box office hit as well, revived many times before home video and DVD rendered such rereleases moot. As a matter of fact, the film version of this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein stage hit is so famous, so beloved by the general public, that its long since surpassed its Great White Way doppelganger. New productions tend to leave out songs conceived for the original version, replacing them with tunes crafted specifically for the film. As an entertainment, it's a juggernaut, a nonstop toe-tapper that transports you into a real life fairy tale and never lets up—that is, until a specific moment when the entire tone of the movie changes, turning the radiant and the frothy into the dour and dangerous…at least, for a while.
Facts of the Case
Maria (Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins) is a lost young lady who struggles daily to fit in with the rest of the nuns in her convent. She wants more out of life—and is given the chance when a governess job opens up for a local Austrian officer, Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer, Silent Partner). Unfortunately, his seven motherless children are quite the handful. Lost without the love of their parents, they make Maria's first days on the massive estate a trial. But after a series of incidents ingratiate her into their confidence, they become fast friends. All the while, the Captain is courting the blousy, conspiratorial Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Eleanor Parker, Caged), much to the kids chagrin. They would love for Maria to be their new mother, but their father is very good at hiding his feelings. With World War II and the invading Nazis looming over Eastern Europe, the Von Trapps are more than a little concerned for their safety. Perhaps promoter and family friend Max Detweiler (Richard Haydn, Young Frankenstein) can smuggle them out of the country—that is, if the clan agrees to sing at the annual music contest in the process.
There's a moment in The Sound of Music, an exact narrative beat, when the light and luscious musical we've been engrossed in for nearly two hours starts to turn sinister. We've had hilarious puppet shows, bouncing trips through the gorgeous Alps, and more than a little romantic intrigue. But elements are conspiring against the Von Trapps, unseen (and obvious) forces bent on ruining their current happiness. The Baroness is desperate to get Maria out of the Captain's life, the children for once seem cheerful and content, and the Nazis, while still a threat, at least seem a couple of countries away. Then the kiddies sing the party send-off "So Long, Farwell" and toddle off to bed. The meddling matron reads Maria the marital riot act, and suddenly our joyful governess is out the door, desperate to return to her previous calling as a nun. There's no bigger downer in any cinematic song and dance (with perhaps the exception of Nancy's death by the hand of Bill Sykes in Oliver!), a weird tonal left turn which, as it has aged, makes The Sound of Music a strange, schizophrenic experience.
The show was always front loaded. You can't have amazing tunes like "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "The Lonely Goatherd," and "Edelweiss" and not think that "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" can compete. Indeed, the movie makes the conscious choice to avoid the froth of the first two acts to bring the heavy historical elements in. In the hands of a director as capable as Robert Wise, it all works, but in looking back at nearly 80 years on motion picture musicals, it's a very odd dynamic. Of course, back in the late '60s we didn't have the wealth of newsreel reality regarding the Nazis many atrocities (or if we did, they weren't part of the 24 hour cable news/network programming cycle). Hitler was still a demon, but the Swastika aspect of Music didn't seem so threatening then. Now, we wonder how quickly the Von Trapps would find themselves shuttled off to a work camp…or worse. Indeed, the whole premise of this unique entertainment is rife with post-modern problems. From the dictatorial dad and his bevy of offspring to the spry little lady who waltzes right in and takes over the household, the movie is as magical as it is manipulative.
As with many stage to screen translations, Music is missing some of its glorified greasepainting. Three songs from the show—"An Ordinary Couple," "How Can Love Survive?," and "No Way to Stop It"—were actually cut from the film. Oddly enough, two are from the post-"Mountain" phase of the storyline. Composer Richard Rodgers also added some new tunes to the piece—the personal pep talk "I Have Confidence" and the new Maria/Captain love ballad "Something Good." For many, the changes were unimportant, since the Mary Martin version of the show was, by then nearly six years in the past. Besides, today's audiences never balk at the inclusion of new Academy-friendly tracks. Recent efforts like Dreamgirls, Evita, and Chicago have all reconfigured their scores to incorporate some obvious Oscar fodder. Whether or not it was a matter of baiting the voters or merely polishing an already pristine production, one will never know. When you consider the impact these changes had—all for the better—and how beloved the show now is, Wise and Rodgers were right in their alterations.
Indeed, without being hyperbolic, The Sound of Music is an amazing masterwork. It's that seamless synchronization of talent and material all movies strive for, yet few achieve. It's fun, frightened, and a little too frothy and frilly for 2010—but then again, none of that matters. The minute Andrews opens up her gorgeous mouth to sing, all less than contemporary concerns melt away. Sure, it's corny as Kansas in autumn and riddled with more cliches than a collection of greeting cards. But when all of these cinematic chestnuts are handled in such a solidly skilled manner, the results transcend such traps. Sure, the Aryan Youth aspect of the children is a bit unnerving and, as stated before, the last act shift in atmosphere is more disturbing than delightful, but that's part of The Sound of Music's power. Before, all we cared about were the personal problems of Maria, The Captain, and his seven sad, smug children. Once the occupation occurs, we get a real threat, a danger that brings the family together in a warm and wonderful way. While blatant in its ability to manipulate, it makes The Sound of Music more than just a bunch of memorable tunes. It turns it into something far more substantial—and worth celebrating.
But enough about the movie. It's great. It's glorious. It's…blah,blah, blah. All you really want to know about is the massive tech specs this new Blu-ray release carries. First off, this three disc set also carries a standard DVD, a beautiful looking transfer newly remastered and optimized, and literally glowing from its 2.20:1 widescreen image. Even better is the Blu-ray version, an absolutely stunning 1080p/AVC- encoded work taken directly from the original Todd-AO format prints. If reference quality visual had a definition, it would be this release. The colors pop and sizzle, the details jumping off the screen. The beautiful backdrops Wise used are captured in all their lovely landscaped glory and the interiors have depth and scope. Overall, the optical aspect of this release is superb, as is the absolutely perfect lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix. The Sound of Music was originally released in a six channel stereo configuration (unusual for the time) and all the immersive and directional elements from said strategy are expertly recaptured here. The score resonates between the speakers and the movement between instruments and characters is captured flawlessly.
As for added content—settle in, it's going to be a lengthy discussion. There are bonus features accompanying both the standard and high definition versions of the film, and a second Blu-ray disc overloaded with extras. First up is a pair of commentary tracks. We are treated to the experience of hearing Andrews, Plummer, Charmian Carr, Choreographer Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes von Trapp speak about the film, and while fun, there are far too many gaps and long empty silences. Better is the breakdown from director Robert Wise. He walks us through every aspect of the production, from the location work to the vigorous input from Richard Rodgers. In addition, there is a sing-along option as well as a "Music Machine" configuration. Both let you jump directly to the many memorable songs in the film. Finally, there is something called "Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration," combining several play-along options: picture-in-picture storyboards and still photos, a trivia track, a karaoke style presentation of the musical numbers, and a multiple choice quiz. By using the colored button on your remote, you can access these intriguing features at any time during the nearly three hour running time.
The second disc houses something called an "Interactive Studio Tour" which allows the viewer, through a representative menu of the Von Trapp home, to access 24 different featurettes. Similarly, "A City of Song" uses a map of Salzburg to highlight 18 additional overviews. "Vintage Programs" draws 13 bonus features from previous releases, while "Rare Treasures" compiles five singular sequences (including screen tests). Finally, "Publicity" collects all the trailers, radio spots, and TV previews prepared for the film. In total, it's a stunning collection of content. While some of it is definitely light and fluffy, we get more information than EPK insights.
As the home video format continues to change, as it moves from magnetic tape to digital discs to (supposedly) live streaming high def content, packages like the one offered for this new Blu-ray Sound of Music will eventually go the way of the dinosaurs. Only true fans or film purists will want to plop down big bucks to see three hours of behind-the-scenes footage. Others will be happy to download the film onto their iPhone and catch its charms in between calls, web searches, posts on Twitter and/or Facebook, and games of Peggle—and that's too bad. The Sound of Music is the kind of movie meant to be seen on as big a screen as possible, it's outsized emotions and entertainment values better served by the larger aspect ratios. Dropping it down to even this speculative size undermines its vastness and scope. Still, it's a solid cinematic classic with a digital package. So enjoy it while you can. Something like this doesn't come along that often nowadays…if ever.
Not Guilty at ALL! Great film! Great Blu-ray transfer and treatment! Great
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