on 26 February 2016
James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition is packaged in an 11-1/2" x 7-1/2" x 1-3/4" box with a magnetic flap. Inside lies a similarly sized, lavishly illustrated, 44-page hardcover book that provides a cursory overview of Dean's career, impact, and legacy, along with a few items of trivia. An envelope housing additional collectibles sits beneath the book, and contains 12 7" x 10" glossy black-and-white stills of Dean on the sets of his various films (be careful not to smear fingerprints on these prints in mint condition), six reproductions of studio memos from East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, and three 14"-x-20" reproductions of posters from the three films included in this collection, unfortunately all folded. A multi-paneled, fold-out disc case resides at the bottom of the box, and houses three BD-50 dual-layer discs, one for each film, and four standard-def DVDs. This Limited Edition set is a numbered (in my case, 41937/50000).
All the encodes are 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and have been taken from 4k scans of each film's original camera negative, restored by MPI, Warner's on-site post house.
East Of Eden (2:55:1): This restored transfer revealed deeper depth, detail and luster, when compared to earlier releases. There is good contrast and clarity, that enhance the perception of fine details. Blacks are rich and deep, while flesh tones are spot on. Ted McCord's cinematography flaunts a muted look on such picturesque California backdrops as the Salinas Valley and Monterey. Occasionally, there is an explosion of vibrant hues, like the field of yellow wildflowers that engulfs Cal and Abra. A fine but unobtrusive grain pattern is also visible throughout. (4.5/5)
Rebel Without A Cause (2:55:1): The results for Rebel are of similar quality in terms of sharpness, rich texture and detail, which is to say that the image is excellent. From the moment the block red letters appear on screen during the opening title sequence, the reds continued to be bold and beautifully saturated, later from Wood's lipstick and fiery coat in the early police station scene to the iconic, scuffed up red jacket Dean dons throughout most of the film. There is excellent contrast and clarity, inky black levels, and vibrant whites. (4.5/5)
Giant (1.66:1): It was the decision of director George Stevens and his cinematographer William C. Mellor to shoot the film with diffusion and soft-focus lenses. Bucking the trend of the day, Stevens refused to shoot in the currently fashionable widescreen format of Cinemascope, thus we have 1.66:1. Much of the time, the Giant transfer is breathtakingly beautiful, distinguished by marvelous clarity and contrast. Some of the close-ups of Taylor are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. But when compared to Eden and Rebel, Giant lacks the same level of sharpness, with some images blurred, soft or indistinct. The latest news is that certain shots were beyond repair and had to be taken from duplicates. I still remember when the DVD was first announced many years ago, it was suddenly withdrawn, probably because no good original print was available. This current set is probably the best we can get. (4.0/5)
East Of Eden & Rebel Without A Cause (DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio); Giant (DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio): Despite the difference in specs, the audio on all three films is strikingly similar - clear, robust, well-modulated, and devoid of surface noise, hiss, and other age-related imperfections. Eden and Rebel were scored by Leonard Rosenman, who would later win Oscar for Barry Lyndon and Bound For Glory. He scored Rebel with an energetic, jazzy score that no doubt sounded contemporary at the time. But the score that I like most is the majestic, often thundering score by Dmitri Tiomkin, a crucial component of Giant 's epic sweep, which is conveyed with decent fidelity and good dynamic range. I even bought the rare Giant Soundtrack CD. (all 3 films: 4.0/5)
An extensive, impressive, and utterly absorbing collection of supplements make this box set truly special. There is a wealth of material associated with each individual film, as well as three feature-length documentaries on three separate DVDs that examine Dean's impact and legacy, as well as one of the iconic directors with whom he worked, plus a separate DVD on George Steven’s Filmaker’s Journey.
Much more than a mythic figure and symbol of rebellious youth, James Dean was a damn fine actor. His exceptional range, naturalistic style, and emotional intensity span the ages, and his trio of major films remain a timeless testament to his talent. Though his death at age 24 spawned a legend, the reason Dean is still relevant today is because of his work, and 'James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition' celebrates the man and his memorable performances. This seven-disc box set, which also includes glossy photographs, reproductions of movie posters and studio correspondence, and a lavishly illustrated hardcover book, is a must for any Dean admirer. Featuring pristine video transfers, high-quality audio, and more than 12 hours of extras, this is indeed the ultimate tribute to one of cinema's true icons, and it comes very highly recommended.