Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Blu-ray Review

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a family classic that I somehow missed until now which is a mystery to me since I am a huge fan of Dick Van Dyke.  The movie stars not only Dick Van Dyke, but also the beautiful Sally Ann Howes (in a role that was originally intended for Julie Andrews), Lionel Jeffries, and in a drastic departure from the role of the villainous Auric Goldfinger, Gert Frobe  too. It’s funny that my next review is for The Sound of Musicwhich stars Van Dyke’s fellow Mary Poppins alum Julie Andrews and it’s interesting to see both of their follow-up movies play even more to both of their unique talents than Mary Poppins did.  This time, Dick Van Dyke has a the starring role and it’s one that showcases his admirable abilities as a singer and a dancer.
Based on a story by James Bond author Ian Fleming and co-written by the famous children’s author Roald Dahl, this movie had an amazing pedigree of behind the scenes talent.  If you can imagine a movie that boasts the choreography and songs by the people behind Mary Poppins and combine it with the scale of a Bond movie and you have this film.  This amazing blend of talent brings something rare and wonderful to the movie since the songs are by the legendary Sherman Brothers and it was produced by Cubby Broccoli who brought the best of the Bond production team with him, including the inestimable production designer Ken Adams whose efforts really make this movie much bigger than every other kids movie.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

Dick Van Dyke stars as Caractacus Potts who is an eccentric inventor who has created many fantastic inventions but none of them work as intended.  Undeterred by failure, he tinkers away in his workshop when he isn’t spending time with his two young children and his even more eccentric father who fancies that his shack allows him to travel to far-flung places.  When the children discover that the car in the junk yard that they play on is about to be sold, they beg their father to buy it so they can keep it from being sold and melted down.
Unfortunately for them, their father doesn’t have the money to buy it as none of his inventions have panned out.  In an attempt to raise some money, he takes one of his newest inventions (an automatic barber station) to a local carnival which ends in disaster and with him being chased by the customer.  In his effort to evade the customer, Caractacus joins a dancing troupe as they perform a high energy dance routine which was the highlight of the film for me, as it really showed off Van Dyke’s dancing ability.  The dance routine does more than show off his versatility as it also inadvertently helps his character to raise enough money to buy the car.
In between restoring the car (later named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, due to the noises it makes) and inventing a new kind of candy, Caractacus meets the lovely Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), and they hit it off despite their testy first encounter.  It doesn’t hurt that his kids love her and are conspiring to get their father and Truly married.  In the midst of a picnic, Caractacus tells the children and Truly a fantastic (or fantasmagorical as he calls it) story about a foreign nation named Vulgaria which is led by the mad Baron Bomburst (Gert Frobe) who wants to steal Chitty from them.  From this point on, the viewers along with the children and Truly are sucked into the fanciful story and the movie  takes off on a wild and whimsical ride full of spies, child-catchers, flying cars, and more.

Video  (5 out of 5 stars)

Much like the other recent release of The Sound of Music, this movie was shot in Super Panavision 70 format which I love as it looks amazing on Blu-ray.  Combine that format along with a dedicated restoration project, and you get results like this.  In this beautiful 1080p 2:20:1 transfer, detail is sharp, colors are consistent and true, and inky blacks which also provide nicely defined shadows.  There’s some light grain and flesh-tones are natural and the movie has an amazingly clean look to it.  This is a very impressive restoration and is reason enough to get the Blu-ray.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

You know you are in for a treat with this newly remastered and upgraded 7.1 DTS-HD audio track as soon as the movie starts with race cars whizzing all around you.  I was completely shocked that a movie this old could have such an aggressive sound field so kudos to the studio for their efforts.  That opening is even more emphasized by a lack of picture as the cars travel around you speaker to speaker so it sounds like you are in the middle of a racecourse and it’s brilliantly done.  The rest of the movie is also excellent with clear dialogue and it really kicks in for the songs as it should.  The sub-woofer is used well and frequently as are the rest of the surround speakers.  This audio track was better than the ones on a lot of recent movies I’ve reviewed which is really impressive for a movie that was made over 40 years ago!

Special Features  (4 out of 5 stars)

The special features are all enjoyable but I wish that more of an effort was made to get the film’s principals back to reflect on the movie. While Dick Van Dyke does appear in a retrospective of the movie which is great to see but I wish other people had been included in it.  I don’t know if the other cast members refused to participate or weren’t asked but it’s a shame they aren’t in it.  To balance that out however, there are some vintage spots that were filmed during the movie’s release.

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Special Features:
DISC ONE (Blu-ray):
  • All-new “Toot Sweet Symphony” melody maker – the Toot Sweet Toots Musical Maestro – A simon says style game where you have to remember color patterns that play during the movie and replicate them on your remote.
  • All-new “Chitty’s Bang Bang Driving Game” – A game made for children where you drive left or right on four different courses.
  • Remembering Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke – The best extra in my book where he talks about the making of the film and shares anecdotes of the cast.
  • “A Fantasmagorical Motorcar” featurette –  A look at the titular car with Pierre Picton talking about the role he played with the cars created for the movie.
  • Sherman Brothers’ Rare Demos of the film’s most popular songs – The legendary Sherman Brothers performing their demos of the songs that would be later used in the movie.
  • Vintage Featurettes including, “The Ditchling Tinkerer,” “Dick Van Dyke Press Interview,” and “The Potts Children’s Featurette” – These are great because it’s the only way to hear from others involved in the movie.
  • Photo Gallery
  • Vintage Advertising Gallery including English and French versions of the theatrical trailer and several television spots
  • Sing-a-long version of the film – This is a karaoke style setup.
  • Music Machine - Allows you to create your own playlist to sing along with the musical numbers but without the on-screen lyrics.
  • The DVD version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Sing-a-long version of the film

Final Thoughts  (4 out of 5 stars)

This is a great family movie and it’s one that parents can enjoy without cringing which is more than I can say for what passes for family entertainment these days.  I wish more movies like this were made nowadays but it would be hard to enlist as many talented people as this movie had.  It was especially nice to see a movie that fully utilized Dick Van Dyke’s personality and talents to their full extent.  In addition to his aforementioned dancing and singing, the movie also allows him to do a lot of the physical comedy he is celebrated for.
The biggest surprise for me was to see former Bond movie cast-members Desmond LLewelyn (Q)  and Gert Frobe (Goldfinger) in a different light, especially Frobe’s brilliantly manic portrayal of Baron Bombast.  It was also surprising to see Benny Hill in a different role as a toymaker which is a far cry from the racy television persona he had. While some scenes could have been trimmed, I really enjoyed this movie and I recommend it to anyone that hasn’t had a chance to see it as it has great songs (especially the title song) and some imaginative dance routines that are a lot of fun to watch.

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