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Customer Review

363 of 396 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "And you, miss, are no lady!", November 17, 2009
This review is from: Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
As with the "Wizard of OZ" BD set, the GWTW set is elaborated -- and made "spendier" -- with the addition of material that might not be absolutely necessary for one's enjoyment. The box is covered in red velvet flocking (green would have been more appropriate and amusing -- qv, Carol Burnett). There's a CD "sampler" of Max Steiner's score, running a measly 45 minutes. Given that Max took excessive scoring to the max (Bette Davis had some pointedly unkind things to say about it), a "sampler" could have filled two CDs, and still not have exhausted the music (though the music might exhaust you). *

As with "OZ", there's a 52-page hard-backed book that's largely content-free, plus reproductions of some of the watercolor set-design paintings (in their own little envelope), and various memoranda sent to and from David O. Selznick. I was expecting a reproduction of Gerald O'Hara's pocket watch, but it likely would have been of even poorer quality than the kiddie watch in the "OZ" box.

The best bonus is a reproduction of the 25-cent (expensive in 1939) souvenir booklet. It includes pieces by the principals, notably one from Clark Gable telling how badly he wanted to play Rhett Butler and much he enjoyed every minute of making the film. (He didn't want to appear in "costume" films (having had bad luck in a film about Irish revolutionaries), was afraid to take on a role the public had such definite ideas about, and got along poorly with the first director, George Cukor.)

As I write this, I haven't viewed all the supplemental material on the second disk. (There's a lot.) The third disk duplicates the "When the Lion Roars" feature included in the "OZ" box -- though the package labeling suggests it's unique to GWTW.

GWTW was always unsharp and muddy-looking -- until the Ultra Resolution transfer of the original three-strip negatives a few years ago. It was a major improvement, and the DVDs showed the film as it had never been seen.

This edition apparently uses a new Ultra Resolution transfer, at twice the resolution (8k versus 4k) of the previous. Some scenes -- such as Ashley escorting Melanie to the balcony of Twin Oaks -- are breathtaking, far superior to what the DVD offered (and /that/ wasn't exactly chopped liver). The best Technicolor films, properly transferred, push HD to its limit.

What most surprised me, though, was the awareness of how the film's color balance is adjusted to produce specific effects. Many scenes have an appropriately warm, "burnished" coloration that /does not/ carry over to the scene's subtle colors. For example, at the fund-raising bazaar, there's a bottle of pastel-colored candies (which you'll probably never notice in the SD edition) that retain their correct colors, "unromantized" by the rest of the image's warmth. Similarly, in the scene outside the hospital where Belle Watling makes a donation, her costume is vividly colored (there's no question about her profession!), even though everything else is drab.

Several sequences are outstanding, particularly the one where Scarlett returns to Aunt Pittypat's home to tend to Melanie. It's a model of Technicolor photography, one that any cinematographer would be proud of -- as good as anything being done today. In earlier transfers of poorer prints, this sequence is flat and two-dimensional. You can't see how magnificently lit and photographed it is.

At its best, the Technicolor resembles large-format, ultra-sharp Polacolor. That's a compliment! If you're fortunate enough to have a large display, you'll gasp at some of the images.

One of the most-startling moments occurs when Scarlett goes to the train station to look for Dr Meade, one of the most-famous scenes in movie history. Hundreds, if not thousands of injured men lie on the ground, waiting for medical attention that will likely never come. There weren't enough extras, so dummies were used. And for the first time, you can actually /see/ which of the "extras" are dummies! You can probably tell better than the camera operator!

In short... The BD edition is a major improvement over the excellent DVD edition. It gives the impression that the movie makers were able to manipulate Technicolor to get specific aesthetic effects. ** And it shows just how /beautifully photographed/ this film is, something even the original Technicolor prints never fully revealed. The DVD probably captured most of this (I no longer have it for comparison), but you'll never see it in standard definition on a "small" screen. Looking at excerpts in the supplmentary material /not/ taken from the Ultra Resolution transfer is a reminder of just how "messy"-looking the original GWTW was. It no longer is. I've never enjoyed watching it so much.

It's becoming apparent that an HD transfer, shown on a big display, is not the best way to watch a movie at home, but the best way to watch a movie, period.

The sound is so-so, of limited range and not particularly clean. (Disney does a better job cleaning up the audio of its classic films.) The reviewer who said it filled the room as well as any modern soundtrack must own Bose 901s. It would sound better in a theater, with big horn speakers that started rolling off above 5kHz. If GWTW was recorded in RCA multi-track, the stems don't appear to have survived. (Those for "OZ" exist and have been used, though not, apparently in the Blu-ray.) Music and dialog are mono throughout, but individual sound effects (particulary explosions) are panned to the side or rear when appropriate. The music sometimes seems too loud for the dialog, and the overall level is by far the lowest of any Blu-ray I've yet auditioned. I had to really crank up the volume, far, far beyond 11.

This is an expensive set, but it represents such a significant improvement over the last DVD edition (as good as it was) that it's worth seriously considering. Even if your BD player has a good scaler, the DVD won't look anywhere nearly this good on your HD monitor. Highly recommended.

PS: Just because a film is a classic doesn't mean it's suitable for everyone in your family. The G rating is ridiculous. GWTW is at least PG, containing, as it does, women of questionable virtue, a fair amount of violence (including a scene in which Scarlett is attacked, and another in which she shoots a Yankee, practically blowing off his face), and Rhett dragging Scarlett up the stairs to "molest" her. The MPAA ratings board is nothing if not inconsistent.

PPS: Though Vivian Leigh and Hattie McDaniel received Oscars, I consider Butterfly McQueen's performance as Prissy the best in the film. Though she hated the role (it's too easy to interpret Prissy as representing slaves in general, rather than one in particular), she showed great courage in taking it, and delivers a finely nuanced performance.

* Max Steiner wrote the first great film score for a talky - "King Kong". It epitomizes his style -- "Mickey-Mousing" almost every screen action, and the heavy use of Leitmotivs for characters and events. (Note how Melanie's motive appears every time she does, and how Rhett's is played -- breaking the scene's mood -- when he leaves Scarlett for the last time.) He was also the first sound-film composer to underscore almost the entire length of a film -- this is not a recent development. It's worth noting that GWTW, despite some memorable music, did not win "Best Score" for 1939 -- Herbert Stothart's for "Wizard of OZ" did. I find Stothart's considerably more imaginative and appealing.

** The Technicolor print uses dye transfer, in which each color is layed down separately from its own gelatin matrix. This allows a great deal of flexibility in controlling the contrast and color balance -- if you're willing to put out the time and money. According to the supplementary material, the color balance /was/ adjusted on scene-by-scene basis for GWTW, just as it is for modern films -- that's what the "color timer" person does. A high-quality print from 1939 was found, and guided the restorers in adjusting color balance.
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Showing 1-10 of 30 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 17, 2009 9:49:09 PM PST
Exellent review! You went much deeper into this edition than I did! Great job!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2009 4:50:11 AM PST
Thanks for the compliments. You might care to return later, as I'm still adding stuff to it.

Posted on Apr 30, 2010 9:29:15 AM PDT
Hank Drake says:
Excellent review. I read with interest your comments in the RMCR about the benefits of Blu-ray over SD. I got my Blu-ray player a year ago and have never looked back. Even though my equipment is not top-grade, the improvement in GWTW, OZ, and a number of other films is striking. (I find it amusing how TD pooh-poohs the advantages of BD. It certainly explains the lousy transfers heard on the GPOC series!)

The only problem I've seen with BD is that it sometimes shows too much. In the 1978 Superman movie, one can now see that Krypton's explosion was clearly filmed on a stage with a (wrinked) black backdrop. I can assure you, that was not seen in the theater!

Posted on Sep 21, 2010 3:39:19 PM PDT
Jazznme says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 21, 2010 5:12:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2010 6:45:52 AM PDT
To paraphrase Voltaire -- I rarely have time to write shorter reviews. Don't read any review that's longer than your tolerance.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 3, 2010 5:22:44 AM PDT
Yes, I DID! says:
I thoroughly enjoyed your review. Today, GWTW is Amazon's Gold Box deal and I not only feel like I've got "good savings" but now I look forward to seeing all that you have described...Thank You!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 3, 2010 6:45:36 AM PDT
Thanks for your compliments.

I'm wishing I'd held off buying "Wind" and "Oz", as Warners didn't sell as many deluxe sets as it would have liked, and they're going for a very attractive price. (Mine were purchased at a local CD/DVD store, which swapped them for unwanted DVDs.)

Posted on Oct 3, 2010 11:45:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 3, 2010 11:53:37 PM PDT
C. Lybrand says:
Thank you for your thoughtful and informed review. It's the only one I've read so far, but on the strength of it, I'm buying this Blu-ray set. But I do have a couple of comments on points you made.

1) You said the audio quality was "so-so, of limited range and not particularly clean," & that a reviewer who thought it was great must have Bose 901s. One of the reasons I love GWTW is actually because of the beautiful theme that emphasizes the majesty and depth of the spectacle we're about to experience; without the music, GWTW would not have the same gravitas. Since my speaker system is actually superior to the Bose you mentioned, I'll do my best to remember to post here again after checking out the audio quality I get from the main disc. Interestingly, my a/v receiver has a "Mono Movie" mode that makes it seem that you're in a movie palace like Atlanta's Fox (or any of the old single screen large theatres), complete with that subtle hollow echo. I plan to try it both with that and with my normal movie settings.

2) I don't agree with you that the role of Prissy lends itself to any possible generalization, whether Butterfly McQueen feared so or not. That character stands out precisely because she is so very different from all the other blacks portrayed, nearly all of whom had qualities of wisdom, strength, selflessness, deeply felt love of others, and loyalty far beyond the call of their roles in life. I can see why an actor might not want to play someone who is a selfish, deceitful, lying shirker with few redeeming qualities; but in this film, there is no chance we will miss the many virtues of nearly every other slave portrayed.

One last note: At age nine I was taken to a re-release of GWTW by my aunt, along with my cousin of the same age, in the late '50s. We thought Belle Watley was a lady who wore too much makeup to suit her, but who was nice to Rhett while Scarlett was being mean to him. When Rhett carried Scarlett up the stairs, we didn't fear forced sex, as we didn't know about that; we thought he was taking her to her room to give her the spanking that she had so long deserved! When Scarlett shot the soldier who was trying to hurt her, we were relieved ... just as Melanie was. The gory part was on screen for so short a time, we hardly saw it. We were not traumatized by this film, but were awed by it in every way. So I don't think you need worry about the innocents who view it. Innocents see things with innocent eyes.

Thank you again for a wonderful review.

Posted on Oct 4, 2010 1:18:48 AM PDT
C. Lybrand says:
I won't be getting this deluxe edition, after all. When I finished reading reviews and went back to the main product page, the price had increased from $36.99 to $51.49! I called Amazon, but they wouldn't honor the price I first saw. I am now going to buy just the Blu-ray movie without the extras. Amazon really annoys me sometimes; I hate it when they do things like this. They should've honored the price I first saw, since I never left the product's information pages.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 4, 2010 5:17:12 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2010 12:37:15 PM PST
You're welcome. I'm glad I can be useful.

I'm judging the sound by modern standards. It's not bad, it's just not up to what is possible today. (In my view, it's not even the best that could have been done then.)

One might argue that someone held in slavery /should/ be selfish, deceitful, lying, and a shirker. Morally, slavery has never been a good thing. Should slaves behave in ways that make the system "work"?

You're right about the innocence of childhood. That does not, however, alter the fact that GWTW's G rating -- which is supposed to help parents decide whether their children should see a film -- is quite wrong. Some R-rated films /should/ be watched by teenagers, along with their parents, and the films' issues discussed afterwards.
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