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A Massive Improvement Over EVEN the Recent 50th Anniversary 'Restored' Blu-ray - Superb
on 6 February 2016
I, like many other fans of this excellent 'swords and sand' (well 'Italian grass' really) classic film from 1960, bought the 50th Anniversary 'Restored' Blu-ray back in 2011 as it offered the chance to see it at it's best - it rightly won 4 Oscars....
Well, again perhaps like many, I was a little disappointed with the release as it was certainly cleaned-up, but a little dark and occasionally weirdly-'coloured'; I really should have heeded the reviews I had read beforehand !
Happily, this more recent 55th Anniversary 'Restored' Blu-ray release is what should have been on offer those few years ago - the picture is massively improved in colour and (most significantly) sharpness AND brightness PLUS we get some additional extras and a UV copy (unfortunately of the original 1991 restoration, NOT this 2015 version). For those with the audio capability, the English DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is now 7.1, instead of 'just' 5.1....
I got it in the Amazon '2 for £10' offer, late Jan 2016 - the apparent popularity of this release has made the latest offer for it appear in the worse-value '3 for £20' offer....
The film is well explained on the Amazon synopsis, EXCEPT there's no mention of the fact that initially (about the first week apparently !) the film was directed by Anthony Mann - but he was summarily sacked by Kirk Douglas, the film's 'star' and ultimate producer (since he owned the production company).....
So, Stanley Kubrick was then employed and I think many might not realise this is a film of his, as it's quite different from the other classics he went on to produce...
For me, most of the notable aspects of this film are to do with the gladiator training scenes and then of course the marvellous 'finale' battle which involved a cast of some 8000 - nowadays it's all CGI, here the clinking of armour/weapons as masses of soldiers march forwards towards their likely doom is real and sounds magnificent, along with the spectacle of seeing them en masse moving around to change formation etc.
Another notable aspect is the the lead cast, and their exceptional/totally committed performances, which is (aside from Douglas) essentially British: Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) Jean Simmons and Charles Laughton are all on top form, confirming how accomplished they were at their profession.
Just a few minutes into watching the film it was clear this Blu-ray was a justified purchase (and upgrade from the one I'd bought just a couple of years ago !).
The early scene where the purchased slaves arrive at the gladiator training school owned by Lentulus Batiatus (Ustinov) demonstrates all the improvements - as the cart carrying them is wheeled into the central area of the school we see Batiatus move towards a balcony to make a 'welcome' address to his new 'purchases'. His form and surroundings are no longer shrouded in murk of varying grades as he moves forward, but instead look completely natural - the distant cart/slaves below him are sharply defined and bathed in the obviously present 'sunlight', where previously they were of 'mushy' appearance and similarly bathed in murk.
The improvement/difference is staggering and happily it's like that for the whole film.
Don't believe me ? I've provided a link to a comprehensive review with comparison screencaps in the Amazon discussion section for this Blu-ray; it's entitled 'Comparison Review with Screencaps' and dated 6 Feb 16.
I've also attached photos of the box back and interior, as Amazon omit them - you can see the info is a little misleading/sparse as the added footage is nothing new, the restoration details vague (when they are very significant !) and the audio spec is devoid of any detail whatsoever ! Finally, owners of the '50th' disc can see that this new '55th' disc is similar, but not exactly the same and continues the oddity of not stating the film title !!!
So, an essential acquisition for fans of this film, whether it's a first or 'repeat' purchase, to enjoy this classic at it's best - and how it should have been in the first place !!!