Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Blu Review - A Night to Remember (Criterion)

With just passing the 100th Anniversary of the actual event, and with James Cameron's box office behemoth making it's 15th Anniversary known with a 3D theatrical treatment, no better time to tackle the 1950's British film adaption of Walter Lord's novel "A Night to Remember." I actually love James Cameron's Titanic (get that 12-year old film snob stuff out of here, Manny, (that's an IceBURN - that film has it's problems but is storytelling on a grand scale), but I'll never forget, upon viewing this film, how much Cameron nicked from this classic. Anyhow, the sinking of the RMS "Titanic" remains one of the most popular disasters and stories to adapt in recent history, and this film is often cited as the most historically accurate, so let's dig in...
I've been around boats since I was a child, I've even been shipwrecked, but this was different...we were so sure of it all...I'll never be sure of anything again...
Kenneth Moore as Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller

Personal Bias/Quasi Film-Review: My family have always had a connection to the eventsof April 1912 due to the fact that my great-great-great-great (that's four for those counting) Uncle was Captain Edward John Smith (you know, the guy who gets most of the blame but diverted the ship ten miles in a different direction due to ice warnings). Anyhow, I always thought that was interesting family history (not everyday you find a relative is blamed for 1,500 deaths), but it was my sister who delved more into the reading on the "Titanic." For me, water/boat disaster movies have interested me since my viewings of 1972's The Poseidon Adventure and 1975's Jaws at a young age, so films on the event have interested me, this one stands alongside Cameron's 1997 epic as the best known and most well loved. Imagine Cameron's Titanic filmed in black and white, basically with all that it has minus the whole love story angle between Jack and Rose, you have this film. I'm talking exact conversations and shots cut and pasted right from this film into his $200 million dollar chick flick. The old couple staying together instead of trying to get off, "Molly" Brown begging her boat to go back, the scene in which Andrews explains to Smith the ship WILL go down. Sure, some things are from first person accounts (Andrews staring at the clock without his vest on as the ship sank) but it's done so close to this film, the dialogue and shot composition, it's obvious. It's well known the band played "Nearer my God to Thee" as their last song, very close to the ships end, but it's this film that shows them deciding to call it a night, one violinist decides to stay behind and starts to play the song, the others come back and re-join. Past this element (and not forgetting the fact I like Cameron's film, and like TS Eliot said, great artists steal, and if you're gonna steal, steal from the best) this film is an extremely well done film for it's time, using some rather ingenious for their time tilting sets (which sounded much like a ship sinking when on) and models for some visual effects that haven't dated as much as you'd think. Director Roy Ward Baker tackles the events not as a sentimental journey so much as a documentary-style film. It plays out quickly, taking over an hour of it's 120-minute run-time to detail the ships sinking. There's still sensitivity on-screen, there some fine, reserved performances, and plenty of irony throughout, but watching it you can sense why some of the survivors who saw this film upon it's release thought they were seeing the real thing, wondering who would film the events and not come help. That's filmmaking on a rare and grand scale, especially for 1958.
You think anyone has figured out it's my fault yet?

History Class: Is there any event that has more films documenting it's events than the sinking of the "Titanic?" Not 30 days after the event itself there was a silent film called Saved from the Titanic that came out...starring one of it's actual survivors! The 1950's wielded two major films on the subject, this, a British production, and the American made Titanic. Here in 2012, Cameron's 1997 box office smash Titanic (also heralded for it's realism and attention to detail - besides the fictional love story intertwined in the non-fiction) and this film are still the most well-known and respected.
Am I that drunk or is my glass tilting like the Inception trailer?

Aesthetically Speaking: An excellent job by Criterion in this department, with only a couple
minor missteps. I LOVE the image they used for the cover, though I'm not sure I'm happy with the "oil paint" effect they turned the image into. On on hand, it feels right in the "capturing a moment in time" sort of feeling, on the other hand, I'd just have preferred the actual image. That's probably where my complaints end though. Inside the case insert is a still-grab of the band playing "Nearer my God to Thee" on the ships deck, with a disc with an image of the ship on it. The included booklet is a well done 24-page one featuring archival photos, newspaper clippings and posters (of the ship and events themselves, not the film) and an essay, "Nearer, My Titanic, to Thee") by Michael Srawgow. It also features cast and crew info, scene selection list and details in the audio and video remastering done to the film. It's a very classy booklet that completes a great package.
The menu, like all Criterion's, is the same generic button layout just with the background video/audio from the specific film. It helps complete Criterion's want to make these releases feel as part of a series, a collection if you will (hence, Criterion Collection - brain wrinklier!) and they are nice, clean menu's that are more than easy to navigate through. The image in this one is a rather iconic and startling one, the music chosen is perfectly suited.

Aesthetics & Packaging: 4.5/5

Visually Speaking: The film is presented in it's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, so while it's a more widescreen presentation than a 1.33:1 (4:3) image, and in fact will appear letterboxed on a 4:3 TV, it still has some small black bars that pillbox the frame on widescreen displaysThis 5:3 display was (and still is) a European standard (hence why this British film was shot in that ratio) and is the aspect ratio of 16mm film. Unlike most Criterion's, it was iTV who handled the restoration process, and Criterion licensed that master for this US release. The restore job was done in 2K (basically, just slightly larger than 1920x1080 HD at 2048x a number that depends on it's aspect ratio) and the restored original negative. Dirt, debris, scratches (not all - we'll get to that), jitter and film shutter flicker were all either removed or reduced in this process. Some noise reduction was used to make it a more fine grain film. This is quite a leap from Criterion's DVD release of the film, or older TV viewings that used even more outdated masters. Black & White films can really open up on Blu, with a deep contrast and film like presentation, and this film is a great example. So much more detail and sharpness is seen here than before. The mostly nighttime images of the ships deck, icy water and dark lighting come to life, and the interiors have never shown so much detail to the production design. It isn't flawless though, there are some scenes where there are more scratches than there should have been, my guess is they're on the original negative, but a lot of these shots are on the right-hand side of scenes that easily could have used some more work without sacrificing the integrity of the image on-screen or be distracting. Flicker is only an issue on the stock footage of the Olympia that's used early on in the film, my complaints are minimal, the detail and contrast are great.

Perhaps things would have ended differently in this adaption of the events if Smith was looking out for icebergs rather than babes willing to be drawn naked with blue necklaces on.

Overall: 4.5/5
Andrews details to Smith the differences in screenplays for their film and Cameron's, and why they can't sue for plagiarism...but it's close.

The Sound: Likewise with the 35mm film, the booklet states they remastered (in 24-bit) the
original monaural soundtrack from the 35mm optical soundtrack. Remastering was mostly done in Avid's Pro Tools, cleaning clicks, thumps, hiss and anything else that was detrimental to a as perfect as possible audio mix. There's nothing out of this world here, but it's a faithful mono track that I have no complaints with. Dialogue, music, sound effects are all crisp, clear and have a bit of depth to them.

Overall: 4/5

A/V Bitrates: The feature itself takes up almost 30GB of the disc, with a solid AVC-encoded bitrate hovering around 26Mbps. The uncompressed PCM audio track is 1.15Mbps at 48kHz and 24-bit. No complaints here, probably about as good as you'll ever see or hear this film, and that includes those who originally saw it in theaters.

Bonus Goodies: Exactly what I wanted on Criterion's The Last Temptation of Christ Blu-Ray release, everything their previous DVD incarnation of the film had, and more...

Audio Commentary - with Don Lynch and author/illustrator Ken Marschall. This was originally recorded in 1994 and released on the DVD release.
The Making of A Night to Remember - Likewise on the DVD, this is an excellent hour long doc from 1993. The books original author, Walter Lord, is involved and this, coming after he revisited the event with a follow-up book, The Night Lives On, includes some interesting words about his continued research.
Eva Hart: Survivor - All who watch the film should immediately put this on. Recorded in 1990 (by Ray Johnson, the director of The Making of A Night to Remember) the aging survivor (who would pass in 1996) gives detail into the night that truly sound like echoes of the film you just watched. Great stuff.
The Iceberg that Sank the "Titanic" - Taken from a BBC series, it's a documentary detailing icebergs. Not just any icebergs, it literally tackles the exact iceberg that sank the ship.
En Hatt Att Minnas - From 1962, in time to celebrate the singings 50th Anniversary, goes into the event, the book, the movie, and includes firsthand accounts by a couple survivors.
Trailer - The Film's original trailer, at least one of them.
Booklet - Mentioned in the aesthetics section of this review.

Bonus Overall: 5/5

Overall: A classy, near perfect release on all levels. iTV Studios did a more than solid job of remastering this film, almost 45 years after it's release. Criterion then put it together in a strong package that should please all comers.

The Nice Price: In July Amazon typically does a 50% off sale on Criterion's, take a look then.

More Blu-Ray Screen Grabs:
Taken from Sony BD Player into Avid Media Composer at 1080P
Blogger Re-Sizes images to well below 1920x1080
All images under fair use for Discussion, Critique and Review

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