Casablanca Blu-ray Review
Re-play it again, Sam
Over 75 years on and Michael Curtiz's Humphrey Bogart / Ingrid Bergman-starring 1942 masterpiece is still regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.It's almost impossible not to regard Casablanca as a bona fide classic; any shortcomings have long been buried under three quarters of a century of mounting love and affection. Indeed, it's quite amazing to think that the film was produced and released in the same era it was set in - in other words in the middle of World War II, and just after America had entered no less. Securing a Best Picture Academy Award at the time, the film has only grown in acclaim, with both Bogart and Bergman's roles becoming iconic, along with the memorable and often mis-quoted lines.Sometimes regarded as Hollywood's equivalent of the Brit endeavour Brief Encounter, which came a few years later, the tragic tale of an ill-fated romance set against the backdrop of the Resistance effort against the Nazis is a timeless example of redemption and sacrifice, painting the myriad characters in shades of exquisite grey but ultimately delivering them through their character arcs with honour. Bogart's had better material to sink his teeth into, as has Bergman, but seldom as memorable as when they teamed up for this timeless classic.
Picture QualityThe HMV-exclusive Blu-ray release of Casablanca is only an exclusive insofar as the UK never received an equivalent to the US's 70th Anniversary box set, with Warner essentially offering up the exact same package (albeit not in the same packaging) for those who didn't import the Region Free US release some 6 years ago.
Nevertheless, the remastering work done for that release easily stands the test of time, one of a run of film classics from Warner that received rather extensive new 4K scans, with remastering and restoration work done to make it look as close to perfect as you could possibly expect from a production of this vintage, and certainly the absolute best that the film has ever looked.
The picture is close to perfect
Detail is often very good indeed, for the era, picking up on skin textures and background textures, resolving fine object outlines with clarity and precision, even if the style of the piece was - and will always be - steeped in era-specific softness. Contrast is excellent, affording a broad greyscale range with excellent black levels. Despite the frame by frame work done, it's not frame by frame perfect, with some pretty variable grain levels that fluctuate quite wildly on a few sequences, but it's only really to be expected, and it's hard to mark it down when you know that you will simply never see a film this old look any better than this. Outstanding work.
Sound QualityAn excellent audio presentation of this classic
The accompanying lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track does fine work providing the aural component to this classic, delivering up the core components with clarity and resonance. Dialogue remains firmly prioritised, clear and coherent throughout, whilst effects, however limited, offer some scant breadth to the offering allowing bars to bustle with life and prop plane blades churn up the air.
The film's memorable score gets keen presentation too, both resonant and iconic, and escaping any signs of being tinny or distorted despite the intervening decades. It's amazing that a film this old sounds this good, and whilst it will never be regarded as either demo or reference material in modern terms, it's an excellent presentation of a classic.
ExtrasThe UK HMV exclusive 3-disc set of Casablanca (the third disc is a DVD copy) will be primarily of interest to those who didn't get around to importing that 2012 package from the US, despite it being Region Free. As such, those who are finally picking it up now will notice an entire new disc of extras, with the first disc more packed than before.
Headlined by two audio commentaries from film critics/historians, as well as a short introduction by Lauren Bacall, there's also an interesting option to watch the movie 1940s-style, with all of the then-trailers and previews (animated films etc.), all obviously available to watch separately in the Warner Night at the Movies feature.
An entire new disc of extras.
The feature-length documentary, Bacall on Bogart, is well worth your time, and we also get shorter half hour Featurettes on the director and the film, as well as a reflective piece looking at the features iconic status and a brief pieces from the children of the stars. There's also a whopping 75 minutes of audio-only features, including alternate songs, radio broadcasts and scoring sessions and over half an hour of extra footage (some of which, conversely, has no audio and just subtitles), including deleted scenes and trailers.
There's also a hefty documentary on the partnership between Warner and Hollywood and their championing of some classics, with an accompanying documentary on Jack Warner himself.
Blu-ray VerdictCasablanca is a bona fide classic
HMV's 3-disc package is an exclusive only for the UK, mirroring the US Region Free release from several years ago which celebrated the film's 70th Anniversary in style. It's a tremendous package nonetheless, affording the timeless classic excellent 4K-remastered video and lossless audio as well as a fabulous selection of extra features spilling out across two discs. For those who don't already own it, it comes highly recommended.
You can buy Casablanca on Blu-ray here.
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