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A Matter of Life and Death (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s heavenly romance
A stunning technicolor reverie
After miraculously surviving a jump from his burning plane, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) encounters the American radio operator (Kim Hunter) to whom he has just delivered his dying wishes, and, face-to-face on a tranquil English beach, the pair fall in love. When a messenger from the hereafter arrives to correct the bureaucratic error that spared his life, Peter must mount a fierce defense for his right to stay on earth—painted by production designer Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff as a rich Technicolor Eden—climbing a wide staircase to stand trial in a starkly beautiful, black-and-white modernist afterlife.
Intended to smooth tensions between the wartime allies Britain and America, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s richly humanistic A Matter of Life and Death traverses time and space to make a case for the transcendent value of love.
“A romantic, daring and beautifully realized allegorical fantasy—one of the best of the Powell/Pressburger movies.” —Martin Scorsese
Special Edition Features
- 4K digital restoration
- Interview with filmmaker Martin Scorsese
- Interview with editor Thelma Schoonmaker
- The Colour Merchant, a 1998 short film featuring cinematographer Jack Cardiff
- Short doc on the film’s special effects, restoration demonstration, audio commentary, and more!
After miraculously surviving a jump from his burning plane, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) encounters the American radio operator (Kim Hunter) to whom he’s just delivered his dying wishes and, face-to-face on a tranquil English beach, the pair fall in love. When a messenger from the afterlife arrives to correct the clerical error that spared his life, Peter must mount a fierce defense for his right to stay on earth—painted by production designer Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff as a rich Technicolor Eden—climbing a wide staircase to stand trial in a starkly beautiful, black-and-white modernist heaven. Peppered by humorous jabs intended to smooth tensions between the wartime allies Britain and America, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s richly humanistic A Matter of Life and Death traverses time and space to make a case for the transcendent value of love.
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : s_medPG PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
- Product Dimensions : 7 x 6 x 1 inches; 1 Pounds
- Director : Michael Powell;Emeric Pressburger
- Media Format : NTSC, Subtitled
- Run time : 1 hour and 44 minutes
- Release date : July 24, 2018
- Actors : Kim Hunter;David Niven
- Subtitles: : English
- Studio : Criterion Collection
- ASIN : B07CH6415W
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,932 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
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For those of us who have seen both 35mm and 16mm dye transfer prints and then have had to suffer (and I do mean suffer) through every previous home video iteration - breathe easy - we finally have the transfer we've been waiting for. This new 4K transfer from Criterion (well, from Sony) is, in a word, spectacular. We finally have the correct color, we finally have the sharpness and contrast, we finally have the BEAUTY of this most beautiful film. I had my breath taken away many times during my viewing of this Blu-ray. I'm sure the usual anti-Criterion brigade will find something to howl about with bits or bytes or blacks or teal - they never stop and they are idiots and you must never ever listen to them. If you love this film you will be in heaven. If you don't know this film give it a chance, although if you only like louder, faster this is not for you.
The performances are brilliant, the script and direction and photography are beyond brilliant, and the score is fantastic. If this isn't a five-star disc then nothing is. Buy it, rejoice in it, and praise it to the skies. A Matter of Life and Death is a Stairway to Heaven and praise be to Sony/Grover Crisp and Criterion for the bang-up job.
And THAT is all you need to know.
A Matter of Life and Death is a rare picture in many ways. It's story is simple. REALLY simple. A soldier survives a crash that should kill him, washes up on a beach and meets the last person he spoke to the on the radio. It's love at first sight. Unfortunately there has been an error in the next life and he's not supposed to be alive, so an agent of the next world comes to fetch him. Only he wont' go. Is he having delusions? Is it real? Who knows! But to him it's real and if he doesn't have brain surgery swiftly his doctor is worried he's lose his mind. Which coincides with the fact that he's on trial in the next world to determine his fate. Is the plot pretty wild? Yup. Is it simple? Very. It's also AWESOME.
I'll honestly say that it's unlikely a film like this could be made today, because there's just too much jaded cynicism in the world. Someone's right to live JUST because they fell in love? Give me a break, right? People get divorced all the time. Love is no big deal!
But if you are a hopeless romantic like me, and cling to the idea of meeting and marrying, and spending the rest of your life with your one true love, this film is wonderful in it's message (even if it is a bit of post-war propaganda on the power of love...between the British and the Americans[!]).
The cinematography is Jack Cardiff work at it's most spectacular, the special effects are some of the finest in any film EVER (keep an eye out how all ambient sound stops when time stops, books fly from the floor back to the shelf when time rewinds, and when time stops in the hospital multiple people walk through walls [!]). The effects are old-school optical, and they are used to serve the story. There's no computer-assisted/CGI here. When time freezes the actors are holding as still as they can. But when a woman is watching what may be the last moments of the love of her life and a tear is captured from her cheek on a flower as evidence to prove her devotion is real... I couldn't help but be moved by the sincerity and power of emotion.
The acting is uniformly great in this film, and like "I know where I'm going" there isn't a single character I dislike. I like the American Girl, the British Pilot, the emissary sent to bring him back, and especially the doctor. Seeing delusions treated with kindness and compassion in order to help someone through a crisis real or imagined again, is a just incredibly moving.
The stairway to heaven is a literal set prop and it is magnificent. All of the sets in the next world are fantastic in every sense of the word. And the jump between black and white and color in this film is some of the greatest I've ever seen. Even if you aren't crazy about the story etc, this film is worth watching for the special effects and set pieces alone.
I most love this film because it makes the ordinary into the epic (that and making the epic into the ordinary are the two hardest things to do in story-telling in my opinion). It tells a small story in a grand fantastic way, and lifts the spirit of all those who watch it. The glorious blu ray with it's gorgeous high definition transfer is a credit to Criterion and will doubtless get this film the attention is deserves after all these years.
If you enjoy fantasy films with a bit of ambiguity (the film never says if what you see is real or not, or if the next world is heaven or not (and even hints strongly that it's all a dream... and I like it that way). If you like the Powell and Pressburger collaborations and haven't seen this film, buy it immediately. There's nothing more that I can say.