*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 2012 BLU RAY 'COLLECTOR'S SERIES' BOOK PACK VERSION ***
In April 2012 Universal Studios is 100 years old - and to celebrate that movie-making centenary - they've had 13 of their most-celebrated films fully restored for BLU RAY. But it doesn't stop there. As many as 80 other titles will be given re-launches across the year each featuring distinctive "100th Anniversary" gatefold card-wrap packaging - and in some cases a host of new features. Most of the AMERICAN issues (non-region coded so they play on all machines) will be two-disc sets containing the BLU RAY, the DVD and also means to obtain a Digital Copy via download. It appears that the UK issues will contain ONLY the BLU RAY in a Book Pack.
1962's "To Kill A Mockingbird" is one of the thirteen singled out for full restoration (see list below) - and an absolute peach it is too.
Released 10 January 2012 - it comes in a gorgeous limited edition 'book pack' (Barcode 5050582881844). The outer hardback holder has a card-pouch wrapped around it at the base and a 45-page booklet contained within. The book has interviews with Veronique Peck (his wife of 40 plus years), Harper Lee (author of the 1960 novel), pictures of the Shooting Script, Original Storyboards, Original Posters and Lobby Cards (from around the world), Press Book Excerpts and even Correspondence surrounding the movie (telegrams of congratulations from Fred Astaire, Betty Bacall and Charlton Heston). It's a visual feast with loads of photos peppering the wonderful memorabilia. Universal are to be praised for this because it absolutely looks the part. But the real fireworks comes in the other two elements at play here - the extensive extras - and the glorious new print...
Digitally remastered and Fully Restored from Original Film Elements - Universal are reputed to have stumped-up over $300,000 for the restoration - and the results are BEAUTIFUL. Even from the opening logo and credits of a child drawing - there are no lines or scratches of any kind - and the black and white cinematography of 1930's Alabama is fantastically clear. Stand-out clarity - the scene where the accused black man Tom Robertson is sweating in the courtroom as he relays his side of the story (a superlative Brock Peters - he read the Eulogy at Peck's funeral in 2003 at Peck's request), Atticus's son Jem is in his dad's car outside the family home of the black Robertson family as the hateful Bob Ewell looks on, the three children watching from the bushes as the mob try to take the jail with Atticus guarding the doorway, Atticus explaining what happened to Tom Robertson after the trial as the moonlight shines on his suit, the young girl Scout pointing out the simpleton Boo Radley behind the bedroom door (Robert Duvall's stunning cinematic debut where he doesn't utter a word but leaves an indelible mark) - it's all suddenly gorgeous. And the sound is rounded and clean too. An exemplary job.
The extras are equally superb - the centrepiece of which is a near one and half-hour documentary called "A Conversation With..." It's a feast for Peck fans - interviews with Barry Norman in 1974, Terry Wogan in 1979 and other notables throughout the years are peppered with home movies and footage of Peck giving a one-on-one show to a Virginia audience in 1999. It's a raconteur tour-de-force a la David Niven - an 83-year old Peck is generous, charming, witty, responsive - full of anecdotes about Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Harper Lee. We get stories about meeting his wife in Paris just before shooting for "Roman Holiday" began - there's footage of dinner with the President of France Jacques Chirac and his family - a visit to Niagara Falls with his daughter Cecilia (handshakes with an adoring public) - US President Bill Clinton giving Peck the National Medal Of Arts and dropping it! But most of all as the minutes pass by you 'get' why Gregory Peck was greeted with such staggering affection everywhere he went in the world - he literally exuded 'good guy' from his every pore - that old style Hollywood class - a talented giant who didn't have a mean bone in his body. It's joyful stuff to watch.
The movie itself has entered into folklore - released in 1962 and filmed in Black and White - it primarily centres on a black man accused of raping a white woman and the trial that follows. Such was the power of the story - and especially Peck's central performance as the principled lawyer Atticus Finch (his only Oscar win) it literally inspired members of the public to take up the law as a profession and even impacted on America's turbulent and changing racial landscape of the time. The performances by the children as innocents are particularly superb too - but it's Peck who dominates the whole thing with a gravitas and sincerity that few actors could match. His stand against bigotry is magnificent and filled with a quiet decency that has touched audiences for decades. As if sensing the importance of the part, Peck's scrawl is all over the shooting script - to the point that it often obliterates the text - the four words he scribbled on the last page describing the character he plays title this review - and describe the great man himself.
To sum up - with the 1930 anti-war masterpiece "All Quiet On The Western Front" also being amongst the first vanguard of these 'restored' releases - it's heartening to see Universal Studios finally throw some proper money at the preservation of its movie legacy - and be proud about doing so too. I for one will collect the whole series - and live in hope that other studios respect their past in the same glorious way.
An absolutely first-class release - and then some.
BLU RAY Specifications:
1. "Fearful Symmetry" - A feature-length documentary on the making of "To Kill A Mockingbird" with cast and crew interviews and a visit to Harper Lee's home town
2. "A Conversation with Gregory Peck" - an intimate feature-length documentary on one of the most beloved actors in film history with interviews, film clips home movies and more
3. "Academy Awards Best Actor Acceptance Speech"
4. "American Film Institute Life Achievement Award" - Gregory Peck's memorable remarks upon receiving the AFI Life Achievement Award.
5. "Excerpt From Tribute To Gregory Peck" - Cecilia Peck's heart-warming farewell to her father given at the Academy in celebration of his life
6. "Scout Remembers" - Actress Mary Badham shares her experiences working with Gregory Peck
7. "Theatrical Trailer" - Original Theatrical Trailer of the film
8. "Feature Commentary" - with Director Robert Mulligan and Producer Alan Pakula
9. "100 Years Of Universal: Restoring The Classics" - An in-depth look at the intricate process of preserving the studio's film legacy
10. Blu-Ray Exclusive - U-Control
11. Pocket Blu - download content to your Smartphone and Tablet
VIDEO: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 1.85:1
AUDIO: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese DTS Mono 2.0
SUBTITLES: English SDH, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish, Traditional Mandarin
PS: UNIVERSAL RESTORED CLASSICS ON BLU RAY
If you search Listmania on Amazon UK for "Universal 100th Anniversary - Restored Films To Blu Ray"
It will give you my visual list of the following 20 titles. The list also contains fuller details on the releases, region coding, packaging etc.
As noted below - some are reviewed too...
1. Abbott And Costello in Buck Privates (1941) BOOK PACK
2. Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) BOOK PACK
3. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930) BOOK PACK [see Detailed Review]
4. The Birds (1963) [no individual release as yet - but the restored version is part of the "Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection" Box Set]
5. The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
6. Dracula (1931)
7. E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
8. Frankenstein (1931)
9. The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)
10. The Invisible Man (1933)
11. Jaws (1975) [BOOK PACK version is USA-only - see visual list]
12. The Mummy (1932)
13. Out Of Africa (1985) [US-ONLY BOOK PACK] [see Detailed Review]
14. The Phantom Of The Opera (1943)
15. Pillow Talk (1959) [BOOK PACK] [see Detailed Review]
16. Schindler's List (1993) Release date to be advised...
17. The Sting (1973) [BOOK PACK] [see Detailed Review]
18. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) [BOOK PACK] [see Detailed Review]
19. Universal's Classic Monsters - The Essential Collection
Released both USA and UK (non-region coding so will play on all machines) in October 2012 - this superb 8-disc box set contains Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), The Phantom Of The Opera (1943) and The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). There's also a 'Coffin' shaped version of this box set that is a limited edition. Both come with booklet and poster prints for each of the movies.
20. The Wolf Man (1941)
PPS: For a list of the 'USA' titles in the "100th Anniversary" series to date (Oct 2012) see the 'comment' section attached to this review (60+ BLU RAY and 90+ DVD).
There are a large number of great films available Stateside that have no UK or European release date as yet. However, most are Region Free so will play on UK machines - but check this first to be sure...