To Kill a Mockingbird
50th Anniversary Edition, 0th Anniversary Edition
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Experience one of the most significant milestones in film history like never before with To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary Edition. Screen legend Gregory Peck stars as courageous Southern lawyer Atticus Finch - the Academy Award winning performance hailed by the American Film Institute as the Greatest Movie Hero of All Time. Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about innocence, strength and conviction and nominated for 8 Academy Awards, this beloved classic is now digitally remastered and fully restored for optimum picture and sound quality and boasts hours of unforgettable bonus features. Watch it and remember why “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
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In 1960, Harper Lee (a childhood friend of celebrated writer Truman Capote), published her only novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird", which was based loosely on her own childhood memories of growing up in the small, sleepy, Southern town of Monroeville, Alabama, during the Great Depression. Lee maintains that the novel is not autobiographical, since many of the events it depicts are fictional; but the setting and characters are based on the places and people she knew as a child. The narrator, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, is based on Harper Lee herself. Scout's devoted father, the respected local attorney, Atticus Finch, is based on Lee's own father, who was a lawyer. And Dill Harris, the boy who spent his summers living at his aunt's house next door to the Finches, is based on Truman Capote. Even the reclusive Radley family, who rarely ventured outside of their spooky, boarded-up house down the street from the Finches, is based on an actual family who lived near the Lees. They, too, had a mysterious son they kept hidden from view because they were ashamed of him, just like Boo Radley in the novel. In fact, most of the characters in the novel were based, at least loosely, on real people Harper Lee knew as a child. Perhaps that's part of the reason why this story feels so real. The portrait that Lee paints of life in the Depression-era Deep South is not only realistic, but vivid and nuanced. She is able to honestly portray the hardships of poverty and the evils of racism that she witnessed as a child without ever crossing the line into caricature, and without in any way undermining her nostalgic portrayal of the magical innocence of childhood.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" became a runaway bestseller, and ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. And, even though the plot of the novel was not obviously well-suited to be adapted for the silver screen, it was made into a major motion picture the following year, with one of the biggest names in Hollywood, Gregory Peck, as its star. The movie wasn't able to depict everything that happened in the book, of course. (No movie ever can.) But we are fortunate that the talented screenwriter, Horton Foote, was able to find the essence of the story in Harper Lee's novel and turn it into a brilliant screenplay. What we end up with is a film that doesn't feel like a typical Hollywood movie. Instead, it feels more like an actual look at someone's bittersweet memories of childhood.
I'm no literary critic; so I won't even attempt to plumb the depths of this story. It's far too rich for even a cursory exploration of its many themes in a review such as this. But I do want to comment very briefly on what I believe to be the single greatest thing about this story: the character of Atticus Finch. There are few people I can think of -- either in the real world or in works of fiction -- who are even remotely as admirable as Atticus Finch. I find it hard to even imagine a better role model for a young person (especially a young man) to emulate. He represents, at least in my view, the ideal father, the ideal lawyer, the ideal citizen, the ideal gentleman, and perhaps even the ideal human being. As a father, he sets a good example for his children, treats them with respect and kindness, nurtures them, allows them a measure of independence, encourages their curiosity, answers their questions as honestly as he can, tries his best to instill in them the right values, and gently explains things to them rather than lecturing them or yelling at them. As a lawyer, he has the highest possible standards of ethics and integrity, genuine compassion for his clients, a non-cynical respect for the law, and a commitment to justice. As a citizen, he is dutiful, respectful, trustworthy, hospitable, neighborly, tolerant, and unbigoted. As a gentleman, he is humble, peaceable, dignified, self-controlled, stalwart, courageous, and polite. And, as a human being, he is virtuous, kind, empathetic, hopeful, and wise. I wish I were even half the man that Atticus Finch is. The world would be a much better place if it had more Atticus Finches in it.
This is a movie that everyone ought to watch. Not only is it a good story, with wonderful characters and a fascinating setting; but it also has some great lessons to teach about life, and about what it means to be a decent, honorable person. Everyone needs to be exposed to the example of Atticus Finch, who is one of the noblest heroes ever portrayed on film. I can't praise this movie highly enough; nor can my words do justice to it. You've simply got to see it for yourself.
Unfortunately, my five-star review has to come with this caveat: While the movie itself is great, the special features on this disc are, at least in my view, underwhelming at best. The documentary "Fearful Symmetry", which tells the story of the real-life people and places behind the novel, and how the novel was turned into a movie, is pretty interesting. And, being a total geek, I actually enjoyed the mini documentary on film restoration that was included on this disc, which showed how various old movies, including "To Kill a Mockingbird", have been restored for digital release on DVD and Blu-ray. But the other special features didn't really appeal to me all that much. I think that Gregory Peck was a brilliant actor and an admirable human being; but the Gregory Peck hagiography on this disc simply went too far, in my opinion. The special features included with this motion picture should have been about the movie itself, or about Harper Lee's story, rather than about the star of the film. But four of the nine special features on this disc were about the life and career of Gregory Peck, and a fifth (an interview with Mary Badham, who played Scout in the movie) spent more time talking about what a great person Gregory Peck was than about anything else. For starters, there was a feature-length documentary that Peck's daughter co-produced, chronicling her father's reminiscences during his later years when he went on tour holding Q&A sessions before live audiences, which I might have enjoyed had it been edited down to a more reasonable length of half-an-hour or so, but which was simply exhausting at its actual running time of 97 minutes. In addition to this there were two very short clips showing Gregory Peck giving acceptance speeches, first for his Best Actor Oscar for his performance in "To Kill a Mockingbird", and second for his Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. He didn't really have much to say on either occasion; so I'm not sure why these were included. But what really puzzled me was the inclusion of a poor-quality, amateur video recording of Peck's daughter speaking at a ceremony honoring her late father after his death. I found these special features a bit disappointing. But they can't take away from the overall quality of the movie. I seriously doubt that anyone bases their decision about whether or not to buy a movie on the quality of the special features included on the disc. Even if there were no special features on this disc at all, the movie would still be worth buying; and I highly recommend it.