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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Sound of Music Blu-ray Review

At last the hills are alive with the Sound of Music on Blu-ray! This is is one of my all time favorite musicals (a genre that doesn’t have that many movies that interest me) and one of the movies that never fails to cheer me up.  After all, it was brilliantly directed by Robert Wise and has a stellar cast, great songs and choreography, and breathtaking panoramic visuals that just beg for the Blu-ray treatment.

This movie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Wise), Best Musical Score, Best Editing, and Best Sound.  Julie Andrews was absolutely fantastic in this and this became one of her signature roles (the other being Mary Poppins).  Christopher Plummer was also excellent in the difficult to play stern father of the children who has forgotten how to share his feelings with his children.  I would also like to praise the movie’s composers Rodgers and Hammerstein who created such catchy memorable songs that they are still being enjoyed by audiences worldwide through references in other movies such as Moulin Rouge, or in new special audience sing along screenings of The Sound of Music.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

The film opens with a beautiful aerial shot of the Alps which swoops across lakes, castles, trees, and instills in the viewer an appreciation of nature and its magnificent beauty which helps us understand the happiness of the young woman named Maria (Julie Andrews), who is joyously running across the mountains exulting in the natural wonders all around her.  The mountains are where Maria finds happiness and inspiration and unfortunately for her is also the reason she is continually late for her duties at the Abbey.

Back at the Abbey, her absence hasn’t gone unnoticed and some of the nuns are asking the Mother Superior (Peggy Wood) to remove Maria from the Abbey and through a song, we learn a lot about Maria which works a lot better than the usual exposition spouted forth in non-musicals.  Between the nun’s song and Maria’s late return and the way how both Maria and the nuns acknowledge that fact is both funny and enlightening.  As exasperated as the nuns are about Maria and her flighty ways, Maria is just as frustrated by all of their rigid rules and expectations. Maria is very religious but prefers to celebrate God by reveling in nature and not sitting in a cathedral like the other nuns.  Understanding this, the Mother Superior sends Maria to be the governess for a retired naval captain and his seven children.

Upon her first meeting with the stern Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) Maria clashes with him right away, as she disagrees with his military approach to raising his children such as using a whistle to summon them.  She quickly discovers that the Captain wasn’t always this way but he changed quite a bit after his wife died and has since then closed off the ballroom and prohibited music and singing from being performed as it reminds him too much of his late wife.  Of course, with the effervescent Maria around, that will inevitably be tested.  Although, the children have scared off the previous seven governesses before her, Maria finds ways to connect to all of them and they eventually grow to love her but not everyone has fallen under her spell.  The Captain’s possible fiancĂ©e the Baroness Elsa Scraeder (Eleanor Parker) senses a potential rival and does everything she can to remove Maria from the picture.

That’s not the only trouble that Maria and the Von Trapps have to face, as the Nazis are poised to take over Austria and at this point have some Austrian supporters like Herr Zeller (Ben Wright) who starts demanding that everyone start displaying the Nazi flag at their house. Captain Von Trapp’s outright dismissal of Zeller and the disobedience he shows by proudly showing the Austrian flag during a huge dinner party with Zeller in attendance only makes the Nazi’s more determined to enlist him into their navy.  The Austrian culture and values are slowly being assimilated by the Nazi regime and even people close to the Von Trapp family aren’t immune.  By the end of the movie, the Von Trapps will be forced to make life changing decisions as the threats become more dire.

I’ve always loved The Sound of Music as it is a perfect combination of light and darkness.  Most of the movie is basically joy captured like lightning in a bottle, but the threat of the Nazis and what they represent and foreshadow, add a dark undercurrent to the movie which only makes the bright parts even brighter.  The movie is also unabashedly old-fashioned and romantic which a lot of people believe makes it too saccharine but I disagree.  The parallel love stories in the movie show the differences between young and mature love and how elusive the whole concept is.  Growing up, I always was more interested in the burgeoning love between Liesel (Charmian Carr) and Rolf (Daniel Truhitte) and I’ve always enjoyed seeing it played out during the “16 going on 17″ scene.  Like most young loves, it’s passionate, but destined for adversity from the outside and because of selfishness.   On the other hand, the possible romance between the Captain and Maria is slow, cool, uncertain, and its success is dependent on unselfish motivations and honesty.

There are so many great songs in this movie that I can’t list them all but this is without a doubt Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best score and they were blessed to have the wonderful Julie Andrews sing the majority of them.  The entire cast is magnificent as is the direction by Robert Wise who stages the songs and dances with a naturalness that doesn’t feel staged or artificial at all.  The cinematography by Ted McCord also deserves special praise, but honestly this movie represents one of those rare instances where every person involved in the production not only did their best, but also in concert with each other.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

Filmed originally with Panavision 70 film stock and now fully restored and remastered, this 1080p 2:20:1 transfer is gorgeous! You can now see blades of grass, flowers that weren’t even noticeable before now, and the stunning beauty of the Austrian country-side which has never looked better.  Flesh-tones are much improved over the previous releases and are much more natural.  Colors are incredibly vivid and the detail is very impressive.  Black levels are so deep that the nun’s robes are a black hole that doesn’t allow any light at all.  The golden light spilling from the Abbey onto the cobblestoned streets is breathtakingly beautiful amidst the shadows.  I noticed so many new things thanks to this superlative transfer that I had never seen before that it was like watching a new movie.  I love it when studios take the time and spend the money to make these movies look like they were filmed six months ago.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

The lossless DTS-HD 7.1 audio surround mix is just as wonderful as the picture quality.   The dialogue and singing is crystal clear and when the music swells, be prepared for a symphony around you!  It seems like every instrument is given its own channel to luxuriate in it’s own lushness.  Everything is perfectly balanced and I don’t think it could get any better than this.  Every channel is well used and just wait to hear the church organs!  You don’t even need to own the soundtrack anymore since you can just create your own playlist off the disc and listen to it in all its 7.1 glory!  Of course, when the movie is called The Sound of Music, the sound better be good!

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars)

20th Century Fox outdid themselves with this release which is fitting since The Sound of Music is the movie that saved the studio from the financial ruin caused by Cleopatra.  There are so many extras it took me the good part of a day to watch all of them but each one of them was interesting and enjoyable.  Every one of them is in HD except for the vintage ones which is understandable and expected.  I will also mention that although it appears that you must click on a ton of items to start each featurette, at the bottom right of the screen there is an index icon that will allow to select play all which will save you a lot of time.

Blu-ray Disc 1:

Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration — All-New Immersive Viewing Experience with Behind-the-Scenes Images, On-Screen Lyrics, Trivia Track and Location Quiz - This is very cool addition to the set.  It allows you to select as many of these options are you are interested in to be viewed in a picture in picture mode.  I can see this adding a lot of re-playability since most people won’t want all of the options turned on at the same time due to picture space.

Music Machine Sing-AlongAllows you to sync up whatever playlist of songs you want to hear.

Audio CommentariesJulie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr, Choreographer Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes von Trapp (the youngest son of Maria and Georg) share one commentary and Director Robert Wise has a solo one. It’s very cool that they managed to record so many people involved in the movie but unfortunately they weren’t all recorded together.  I’m just glad they were able to include Robert Wise’s commentary before his untimely passing.

BD-LIVE**: Live Lookup™ Powered by IMDb®Basically a link to the movie’s IMDb page if you are connected to the internet.

Blu-ray Disc 2:

Musical Stages  - An “interactive backlot tour,” Musical Stages offers you the chance to select items within the Von Trapp home which will allow you to watch one of the following featurettes below.  Every song gets an overview of it’s background and details about how it worked within the film.  For instance, I discovered that although Christopher Plummer was recorded singing the songs (and doing it well in my opinion), he was dubbed by Bill Carter.  The Mother Superior played by Peggy Wood was also dubbed but that was at the actress’s request as she felt unable to pull off Climb Ev’ry Mountain.
  • Maria in the 21st Century
  • Restoring a Classic: Bloom and Grow Forever
  • Edelweiss
  • I Have Confidence
  • My Favorite Things
  • Sixteen Going on Seventeen
  • After the Escape
  • R&H: Partnership at its Peak
  • Shaping the Story
  • The Von Trapps Today
  • Climb Ev’ry Mountain
  • Stage Vs. Screen
  • Maria
  • The Sound of Music
  • Maria and the Musical
  • Cutting Room Floor
  • Something Good
  • The Lonely Goatherd
  • Do-Re-Mi
  • So Long, Farewell
  • A Generous Heart
  • Final Dream: Oscar Hammerstein Remembered
  • Stories from Broadway
  • Restoring a Classic: A Glorious Sound
A City of SongMuch like the interactive selection process of the Van Trapp home, except here you select locations based on a map of Salzburg.
  • Mellweg: Maria’s Mountain
  • Nonnberg: Maria’s Abbey
  • Residenzplatz: Scenes of Joy and Sorrow
  • Siegmundplatz: The Horse Pond
  • von Trapp Villa: A Place of Harmony
  • Frohnburg: A Facade Fit for Hollywood
  • Gazebo: A New Home at Hellbrunn
  • Mozartsteg – A Bridge to the Past
  • Werfen: Planning a Picnic
  • Winkler Terrace: The Ultimate View
  • Mirabell Gardens: Do-Re-Mi-rabell
  • Leopoldskron: Story of a Lake
  • Salzburg Marionette Theatre: Pulling Strings
  • Mondsee Cathedral: A Marriage of Fact and Fiction
  • Rock Riding School: Staging a Festival
  • St. Peter’s Cemetery: Safe Haven
  • Rossfeld: A Dangerous Escape
  • The Sound of Music Tour: A Living Story
Vintage Programs – The studio was nice enough to include special features from past releases, including some period and behind the scenes featurettes.  There are also some audio only interviews but I will take anything I can get!
  • The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon
  • My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers
  • Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer: A Reminiscence
  • From Liesl to Gretl
  • Salzburg Sight and Sound
  • On Location with The Sound of Music
  • When You Know the Notes to Sing: A Sing-along Phenomenon
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of American Music, 1985
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of Movies, 1996
  • Location Interviews (audio only, 11:49)
  • Reissue Interview with Julie Andrews and Robert Wise, 1973
  • A Telegram from Daniel Truhitte
  • Ernest Lehman: Master Storyteller
Rare Treasures
  • Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall: The Pratt Family Singers
  • The Julie Andrews Hour: Julie Andrews and Maria von Trapp
  • Screen Tests
  • 40th Anniversary DVD Introduction by Julie Andrews
  • Pre-production, Production, and Publicity Galleries
Publicity
  • Fox Movietone News Academy Awards
  • Trailers and Teasers
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots
DVD Disc:
  • Feature Film In Standard Definition
    • Newly Remastered Picture and Sound
    • Optional Sing-Along Track
  • Music Machine Sing-Along
  • The Sound of Music Tour – A Living Story

Final Thoughts (5 out of 5 stars)

This is one of the best box sets I’ve seen and there’s even a better one than this one that comes with a book, the soundtrack and even more goodies if you can believe it!  This movie deserved every Oscar it won and it should have won all the ones that it didn’t win. In times like these, it’s refreshing to watch a movie that doesn’t have a cynical or mean aspect to it at all.  Just like when it was released, it still resonates with audiences today because all of us want to believe in the power of goodness.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, make sure that you do and your heart will feel lighter by the end of the movie.  I promise.  How many movies can offer that?



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