Special Edition, VHS video
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Casablanca: easy to enter, but much harder to leave, especially if you're wanted by the Nazis. Such a man is Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), whose only hope is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American who sticks his neck out for no one - especially Victor's wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the ex-lover who broke his heart. Ilsa offers herself in exchange for Laszlo's transport out of the country and bitter Rick must decide what counts more - personal happiness or countless lives hanging in the balance. Winner of three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Casablanca marks its 70th anniversary as a beloved favorite with so many bonuses that no matter how often you've seen it, this beautiful 70th Anniversary Edition looks like yet another beginning of a beautiful friendship with an unforgettable classic.
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The 70th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition restores the film's pictorial splendor, surpassing the previous version which used too much DNR. This time the film's inherent grain texture isn't smoothed away along with a measure of sharpness, but is evenly configurated resulting in perfect black and white image resolution that replicates 35mm film.
CASABLANCA is offered both as a Blu-ray/DVD special combo package and as a single Blu-ray disc. The big set comes with an array of bonus material, much of which was bumped over from the previous Blu-ray edition, including the commentaries by Roger Ebert and Rudy Behlmer. There's also some photographic and printed memorabilia, and a few new documentaries on the making of the film, on its director, Michael Curtiz, another on the history of Warner Bros., and one on its chief mogul, Jack L. Warner. The single Blu-ray has all the video/audio extras except the two Warner documentaries, and doesn't include any memorabilia items.
One of my all-time top favorites, CASABLANCA is a movie I enjoy playing again and again, and if that's true of you, then this upgrade is a must.
This movie premiered in 1942 when the war's outcome was very much in doubt. This alone lends to the tension & urgency of the film. Fashion is mid 20th century...very traditional & occasionally erotically revealing. The dialogue is fast-paced & crackling. Rick is not above more than a few putdowns to the minions seeking his approval or allegiance. The actual writing was edited as the movie was in production so the players never knew how the eventual outcome would occur.
Elsa (Ingrid Bergman) is a stunning revelation. The chemistry between Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Elsa is sustained throughout. This film was, is and always will be film making at it's best
Second, with a couple of exceptions, I'm not really reviewing the quality, quantity, or variety of extras in this special edition as a reason to purchase or not to purchase this movie. It's got some cool souvenirs, extras, etc. Some of the extras I watched appear to have been re-mastered vs. the 2008/2009 edition they were in. In that edition, the extras look as though they were poorly upscaled from the DVD version. The extras on this edition seem to be of better quality, and the menus are a bit more refined.
What I am reviewing is the quality of this transfer vs. the 2008/2009 Blu-Ray edition of the movie. Sadly, I think the 2008/2009 edition is superior, both for the video and the audio. Let me start by saying I watched all versions on an HDTV and on a newer 1920x1080 Dell laptop with the appropriate player software. For the heck of it, I also took an HD recording off TCM, as well as a TCM standard DVD because I could not really believe what I was seeing, or rather, not seeing, with this edition. The problem with this edition is that the contrast/gamma is off. Way off, at least on my monitors, relative to the 2008/2009 edition Blu-Ray and DVD, and the TCM HD airing. While the other versions seem to have no problem with grays, this edition contains too much black. I had to create a custom setting on my monitor to expand the gamma. When I went back to other shows, they were far too bright and washed out, so I don't think it's in my monitor or laptop. And yes, I can watch the TCM edition on my laptop via SageTV. This leads me to believe one of two things is going on - either "Casablanca" has been transferred incorrectly all along, and this edition finally got it right, or this edition has a problem with its transfer. I think it's the latter. The gamma is just plain too low. Things are either too black, lost in the shadows, or too white. The good news is, relative to the 2008/2009 Blu Ray edition, the resolution appears even higher and more detailed. The grain of the film is so apparent it almost hurts your eyes, in a good way. Needless to say, either edition beats the TCM HD airing in that department, as one would expect with the lower bitrate of satellite TV. Obviously, they also beat the standard DVD, but not by as much as one might think. I take issue with the contrast/gamma so much because of the important use of shadow, both with the characters' faces and costumes, and with the backgrounds, to convey emotional states and atmosphere. It's not solely because the detailing on someone's top or sleeve gets lost due poor contrast/gamma, although that is almost as bad.
The other issue is the audio. It's not that I expect surround; I never did from any edition. The problem is that the movie starts out loud and then gets softer. It's the same with dialogue normalization engaged or disengaged in my players/monitors. I was hoping that since the movie was in mono, and not being listened to with the expectation of a surround-sound festival, that I could correct the steadily-dropping level by using normalization and not destroy dynamic range that was never there to begin with. Unfortunately, that did not help either. Again, neither the 2008/2009 blu Ray or TCM DVD editions, or the TCM HD airing suffered from this, so I don't think it's my systems' fault.
Am I saying not to buy this movie? No, I am not. Casablanca is hands-down my favorite movie. But at $45 for this edition, I think one should be prepared for what one might or might not get. Maybe it's my monitor and laptop. I doubt it's both, especially with three other versions to compare it to. If you think I may be right, rent the last release and watch them both and decide for yourself.
As to the extras, the ones I have watched so far look as though they have been at least re-scanned in HD, even if their aspect ratios are not right when showing clips of the movie within them. I also recommend listening to Ebert's commentary at least one time while viewing the movie. He makes some great points about the composition of the movie itself and offers some compelling arguments against the popular "Casablanca" urban legends such as Bergman's alleged confusion about not knowing the eventual outcome of her character (aside from the order of the shooting, as an actress she had to know all along that her character could never go off with Bogart's character since her character was married and the film censors of the time would never have allowed her character to leave her husband for another single man in the movie). Details such as those might cause you to look further into the fascinating story of how this movie came to be so highly regarded, when in reality no one at the time expected it to be anythig more than one of the 50 or so movies Warner Brothers would make that year.
Just for the heck of it, I purchased a used HD DVD copy as well. My above criticisms against this 70th. Edition would also stand as compared to the HD-DVD transfer. It also has much better contrast/gamma, but I still have to give a slight edge to the 70th. Edition for the detail. As I stated earlier, the resolution of the 70th. Edition is so good at revealing the grain of the film that it almost hurts to look at it.
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