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New Legacy DVD a Mixed Bag For Cinephiles
on September 10, 2005
First, my rating of three stars is strictly for the execution of this new DVD edition of The Sting, and not of the movie itself, which I consider a masterpiece in terms of both entertainment and craftsmanship. The Sting is easily one of my top 10 films of all time. Other reviews here cover the movie itself.
REVIEW OF THE LEGACY SERIES DVD EDITION
For the purpose of comparison, I'll first discuss Universal's original mediocre DVD release of The Sting in 1.33:1, which is basically full screen. I, like many others, have grown accustomed to anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and thus was initially disappointed and assumed it was pan-and-scam. However, with some research later I discovered that the director's original intent was to frame it as an old movie at 4:3, which is how it was shown when originally released in 1973. 1.33:1 is actually pretty close, so I was satisfied with the aspect ratio after all.
Regrettably, the digital transfer of original old DVD release is watchable but uninspiring; it's washed out, grainy, and there are noticeable artifacts throughout. Also, less important to me but still notable, it effectively offers no extras and the sound quality is merely adequate.
The new Legacy Series DVD just released (Sept 6, 2005) attempts to offer a more respectable package for an Oscar-winning classic. The case is attractive and of relative good quality, Universal made the effort to interview key surviving cast members (George Roy Hill and Robert Shaw are sadly no longer with us) for a worthy 60 minute retrospective documentary, and, most important, delivered a cleaner, brighter, and sharper print with good sound. (There is a quick frame jump right after the opening credits, however. A minor nitpick, but it's noticeable.)
Unfortunately, Universal really blew it in one regard. They decided to deliver the new version as widescreen, despite it not being originally filmed that way. To do this, they simply added black bars to the top and bottom of the screen to achieve 1.85:1. In other words, they faked it. I suppose because the general DVD viewing audience has grown accustomed to expect widescreen now, the bean counters at Universal must have decided to meet these expectations, and with the director dead, there was no dissent.
This is very unfortunate, because -- and I did a side-by-side comparison between both DVD versions -- the simulated anamorphic treatment cuts off the top and bottom of the film to a fair degree. I'd estimate perhaps 10-15% of the film is lost. Heads and hats are cut, and many other details are obscured. Although this might seem trivial to many, it does alter the original presentation and overall feel of the movie.
Although the original DVD is not 4:3, 1.33:1 is much closer to 4:3 than 1.85:1 is, and it's a big difference.
If Universal had just left it at 1.33:1 with the new print and extras, this would have been an excellent version. Perhaps someday they'll get it right.
So, what to do? If you want the original presentation as intended by the director and don't mind a marginal print, go with the old DVD. If a cleaner print is more important and you want the documentary, get the new version. As a huge fan of this film, I guess I'll keep both for now.