PictureHenry V comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
ITV Studios Home Entertainment look to have licensed a Rank Distribution print from 1978 and their “full digital restoration” is clear for all to see. Print damage is minimal and never as intrusive as other releases have shown, and the colour scheme is far more naturalistic. This, though, may prove to be a bone of contention for some. The original Technicolor was a new technology and Olivier has written of the trouble they had getting the palette correct. Once fixed though, some feel it should be left as such, with any further iterations of the film on home formats remaining true to the original cinematic run. Now, without getting into a whole “what the director intended” argument, whilst I found the colours far more pleasing to my eye, I know of others, who felt it lacked the same punch that it once had. There is no doubt that it looks more organic now, but given the avante garde sets and general fairytale feel of the piece, there is a real argument to be made that the original Technicolor vividness was more fitting. What I see as realistic facial tones, others may see as wan and lifeless. There has certainly been an overall lightening of the visuals though, with contrast taking a fair knock and some fine detail lost in the transition. Background paintings no longer have that same lustre to them, but on the flip side, Olivier doesn’t resemble a prawn in armour either, so there are plusses and minuses to this overhaul.
Fine detail has been much improved, with clothing showing a notable refinement. Sadly, as mentioned, some of the finer points of the backgrounds and the like are lost, or at best not improved upon from the standard def releases of the film, as the brightening of the image has washed out a certain amount of intricacy, making it harder to discern. Low light brings with it some crushing and shadow detail isn’t the greatest, but then again it never was. Softness creeps in when there is a lack of light, but from the problems the crew had with the Technicolor cameras and their focus, I can only assume this to be more a cinematographic flaw than one of the disc. This is a worthy upgrade in many areas, the textures are now visible, the jewellery tangible and the print is as close to pristine as I think we’re likely to get. Ultimately though, the matter of lightening the image will shape how much of a success you believe this transfer to be. If you preferred the Disney-esque vibrancy and almost painted fairytale atmosphere, this will probably not be to your liking as it’s geared distinctly for those who favour a shift towards realism, even if it comes at a price.
SoundSadly there is only one track, a vanilla Dolby Digital 2.0 mono offering.
As one would expect, it is fairly flat and prone to tinnyness. It is pity that William Walton’s score is never allowed the headroom to breath and come alive, as the higher frequencies never truly sing and the lack of bass under whelms what should be invigorating battle sequences. The stringed instruments have a reasonable amount of reverberation, but never fill the room as one would hope. More worrying was the necessity to crank the volume knob several times before everything was at a level that I considered approaching normal.
This track will never outstrip its origins, but a lossless variant would have been nice. At it is, speech can be tough to hear, which is never a good sign when trying to understand Shakespeare’s language. However, when enunciated properly, as some of the clearly more classically trained actors are found to do, it is passable. A touch of minor hiss may enter the fray but no loud pops or the like. In general this is a perfunctory track, nothing more, nothing less.
Not having heard the commentary track on the criterion disc, I can only assume the fact that both that and this one are by film historian Bruce Eder they are one and the same. Here he gives dry, but informative insight into the film’s production and keeps the facts coming steadily. It is not what one would call an engaging track, but it does help viewers unfamiliar with the material, or what Olivier’s remit was, to appreciate the ingenuity of the final piece.
Three separate galleries – “B+W/Colour/HD comparison” (1080p – 00:51) shows the difference between the various images. “Actor’s portraits” (1080p – 3:14) has numerous stills of the cast, whilst “promotional materials” (1080p – 00:45) is merely a few posters and flyers.
Original lecture brochure – 1080p – 3:46
A lecture brochure “For use in factories and schools in connection with the Laurence Oliver production of Henry V. This offers an interesting perspective of how the film was being viewed by, and marketed to, the audience of the period.
Trailer – 1080p – 2:55
A trailer for the film when it was being released to push “Superscope”.
VerdictHenry V is a remarkable accomplishment of cinema – fighting against a lack of land to shoot on, extras to appear, materials to make costumes and horses to ride on – all the whilst with a crew struggling to get the best out of a new technology (Technicolor) that they were unfamiliar with. It also serves as a fitting showcase for Olivier’s adaptability as actor, director and producer in his debut role for the latter two positions. It transcends its simplistic patriotic propaganda roots to remain a stirring piece of cinema and a template for how to adapt the great Bard’s works for a mainstream audience whilst maintaining key themes.
The disc is a little more hit and miss, with a picture that adds a lot, but also may alienate others with its lightening and the subsequent drop in contrast and potency of colours fans of the film have become accustomed to. The sound is plain and performs a function, but does little more, whilst the extras are barebones, but with an informative but somewhat dry and dusty commentary track.
The film makes up for the areas the disc lacks refinement in, and with the opportunity to witness one of the greatest actors in an iconic role, for that alone it deserves a place in your collection. Thrilling, inventive, graceful, comedic, elegiac and moving, it features all the hallmarks of a classic and in such style.
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