Holiday Blu-ray Gift Guide: Part Two

I wrap up my gift guide recommendations with two from Warner Home Ent.:  James Dean: Ultimate Collector’s Edition and The Right Stuff 30th anniversary edition.

James Dean: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant)

At long last, James Dean’s trio of movies are available on Blu-ray (with superb image harvests from the original camera negatives by Warner MPI). It’s fascinating to watch them together as a progression of the young star’s brief but brilliant career. Dean was very much like a moth drawn to the flame: his sense of curiosity and spontaneity, his humor and melancholy, were deeply personal yet universal in appeal. Childlike and innocent, he tapped a longing for truth and recognition and displayed a rebellious spirit that found its way into the ’60s. By the time of Giant, though, the pain of unrequited love was too much for Jett Rink to take and the social misfit/dreamer resorted to self-destruction.

Elia Kazan’s East of Eden, shot by Ted McCord (The Treasure of Sierra Madre) in CinemaScope has never looked lovelier, (particularly the Salinas Valley vistas and the green scenery); Nicholas Ray’s claustrophobic Rebel, also shot Scope by Ernest Haller (Gone with the Wind), also looks much improved. Its use of off-beat compositions and architecture, and emphasis on red is psychologically riveting. George Stevens’ Giant, meanwhile, was shot flat by William Mellor (A Place in the Sun) to emphasize height and to avoid the distortions associated with early Scope. Unfortunately, it does not look pristine because of so many dupes in the negative, but when Giant is at its best, it looks magnificent (as in the screen capture above, courtesy of DVDBeaver).

Extras include:

James Dean: Sense Memories: This 2005 episode of the PBS series American Masters focuses on Dean’s years in New York City studying at the Actors Studio, which eventually led to his role in the Broadway production of The Immoralist, where he was seen by Kazan. It was during this time that Dean became acquainted with a diverse circle that included Martin Landau, Eartha Kitt, Mark Rydell, and Eli Wallach, all of whom present their individual recollections of the young man they knew for what turned out to be a relatively brief time.

James Dean: Forever Young: Narrated by Martin Sheen, this detailed review of Dean’s career is significant for the attention it devotes to the years preceding the three films for which he is primarily known. More than half an hour is devoted to early film appearances and his extensive TV work, both before and after the release of East of Eden. Dean’s early work brought him into contact, however briefly, with such notables as Humphrey Bogart, John Forsythe, and Rod Steiger.

The Right Stuff

Philip Kaufman’s misunderstood masterpiece about our early space adventures gets the grand Blu-ray treatment from MPI and looks spectacular.  The recent National Film Registry entry is the antithesis of Gravity yet still very authentic with its rousing combination of the cosmic and the absurd (adapted from Tom Wolfe’s sprawling book). Maybe it confused viewers with anachronisms and shifts in tone. Plus it didn’t help that former astronaut and Ohio senator John Glenn ran for president to try and unseat Ronald Reagan. No matter: The Right Stuff  plays even better 30 years later for its ambition, scope, and long-lost heroism.

The ineffable spirit of Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) serves as a heroic touchstone, and Ed Harris (Glenn), Barbara Hershey, Dennis Quaid, and Fred Ward are the memorable co-stars. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography, like everything else, “captured the style, the feel, the wild humor, and sheer craziness of the book,” according to Kaufman. They made use of NASA archival footage that had never been seen before and made use of new and old special effects and sounds to pull off the breaking of the sound barrier and space flights.

Extras include:

Realizing the Right Stuff : Made in 2003 for the 2005 DVD, this doc traces the development of the film from the first interest expressed by producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler in Wolfe’s book through completion. Goes through the end of principal photography.

T-20 Years and Counting: a follow-up focusing on VFX and release.

The Real Men with the Right Stuff: A doc with archival footage and interviews with Wolfe, Yeager, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, and Wally Schirra.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Sound, Tech, VFX

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