North By Northwest (50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Book) Blu-ray Review
North by Northwest arrives on schedule with a stunning VC-1 1080p transfer, one which allows all facets of this fine movie to simply shine. Presented slightly narrower than its original 1.85:1 ratio (as erroneously reported on the back insert and on some web sites), North by Northwest on Blu comes in at 1.78:1, that being the case though I cannot see this edition ever being bettered.
Colours are simply lush, vibrant and identified as a product of its time; the primaries burst off the screen, the detail in the initial crowd scenes, lunch on the train, clothing, skin textures, the swathe of green in the opening titles or the incredible wealth of information in Vandamm's study. These colours appear natural, never bleeding or smearing when the actions speeds up a little (note the crop dusting scene), skin tones are perfectly rendered, even the slightly darker toned looks of Grant himself. The image is pretty sharp throughout with occasional softness as the camera moves onto Eva Marie Saint.
Detail is exquisite and you could pause a myriad of scenes to examine what it contains. A must is to pause and look around Vandamm's study... the books, the fireplace, curtains, his desk, the liquor cabinet.. all and more have structure and depth. All are much better rendered than the already decent DVD release and all display that elusive pop factor and exhibits what a very decent Blu-ray release can create. Textures on skin or clothing is exemplary, further scenes to sit back and enjoy are the auction room scene where you can people watch from the comfort of your own cinema room, the train cars, the train station and Vandamm's exclusive apartment set back from Mount Rushmore.
Contrast is exemplary with bright, pristine and stable whites, and incredibly dark ebony like blacks at the other end of the scale. That contrast allows superb shadow delineation around Vandamm's apartment, the somewhat brutal effects of a night time drive and the more pleasing chase across Mount Rushmore. The encoding is again top class with no faults to be found, edges are kept in check, no smears as mentioned previously and no noise or blocking at all. There is a subtle level of very fine grain to be found here and there and the print is in almost pristine condition. It's difficult to see how this film could look any better.
Brought into the modern digital age with a resounding English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, like the above mentioned video this track is simply stunning with no anomalies that will distract you from your viewing experience.
Originally a mono track, and several exist in non English tracks on the disc, care has been taken not to use the surrounds unless absolutely necessary. Those instances include the crop dusting scene, of course, where you can hear the biplane sweep from to left and right surround as required. The movement and tracking is seamless and seems perfectly natural. Herrmann's glorious soundtrack bleeds into the surrounds here and there, and is a wholly enjoyable experience enveloping the viewer in a wall of sound yet never being intrusive.
It is Herrmann's score that provides us with the greatest degree of bass and it thunders from the frontal array as required. There are other slight uses of LFE, again the crop dusting scene has to be mentioned as the plane crashes into the passing tanker. The subsequent explosion thumps your sub into action and is definitely the best use of LFE in this film. Mid range and higher tones sit well and everything seems to be well rendered from an audio point of view. There's no clipping in any part of the spectrum. Dialogue is up front, a little low at times but dial your volume up a little and you'll be fine.
Ultimately a superb audio track, bolstered by Herrmann's incredible score. Sit back and enjoy.
- Commentary by Ernest Lehman.
We get straight down to it with Lehman chatting away from the opening titles onwards. A decent enough chat track, if a little quiet on occasion, this really is a scene by scene discussion of how the story unfolds. Herrmann's score is discussed, Hitchcock's working methods, locations and the actors involved. A must listen to if you're a Hitchcock fan or simply a fan of this movie.
- Gary Grant: A Class Apart. - 1:27:00 - 480i/VC-1
Friends, ex-wives, producers and more discuss the man who was Cary Grant... where he started how and he came to be the star he was. It covers all aspects of his life from his humble beginnings in England, his desire of performing and the theatre, his move to America and his subsequent rise to stardom. Of all Hollywood biographies I have seen this is by far the best of any actor, and should be regarded as a must watch. Warts and all it even shows him dabbling with LSD, the fact he always tried to keep a clean image and when he was unable to do so tried to make sure that his failings were never discussed in the press or any other publications.
- The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style. - 0:57:32 - 480i/VC-1.
Everything you wanted to know about Hitchcock, some words from the wise man himself, other directors and writers having their input on Hitchcock and how they influenced them. William Friedkin definitely regards him as one of the greats whilst Guillermo del Toro talks about his almost fetish dedication to his work. Hitchcock themes are repeated again and again, in all the films he made and we get an insight into a few of them here. Again a must watch.
- Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest. - 0:39:27 - 480i/VC-1
Eve Marie Saint introduces this short EPK. about the ultimate Hitchcock thriller. Herrmann's music plays in the background. We get to learn how Hitchcock met his wife, how Lehman came to grips with writing the story, the shooting schedule, controversy about shooting on Mount Rushmore and an indication of some of the arguments between Grant and Hitchcock.
- North By Northwest: One for the Ages. - 0:25:29 - 480i/VC-1
More of the same from renowned writers and directors telling us why they love and admire Hitchcock so much. There's little repetition in what we've already seen and as such always new pieces of information to be gleaned here.
- Stills Gallery. - 0:05:52 - 480i/VC-1
A rolling montage of production shots from North by Northwest.
- TV Spot. - 0:01:02 - 480i/VC-1
Standard television commercial, no more than a trailer. In black and white.
- A Guided Tour With Alfred Hitchcock. - 0:03:14 - 480i/VC-1
Hitchcock taking us through certain scenes of North By Northwest as if he's a tour guide exploring your holiday with you. Fun.
- Theatrical Trailer. - 0:02:13 -480i/VC-1
The standard trailer, interesting to compare with what we have today or even those from say the seventies. It does give away one important plot point I feel, but then so do most trailers these days.
- Music Only Track. - Dolby Digital 5.1.
The film but the only audio you'll hear is Bernard Herrmann's fantastic score. Unfortunately it's only presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and therefore not lossless, however in saying that it's fantastic to be given the opportunity to hear it in this fashion. I've already chilled out and listened to this a couple of times.
This represents an incredible set of extras and ones which I can, and will, return to at some point. The commentary is engaging and worthwhile, the associated documentaries on Grant, Hitchcock and the particular movie are exemplary in the attention to detail. There are a couple of extra packages out there which just top this one but really with what we get here there shouldn't be too much complaining. This is all beautifully packaged in a digi-book case, complete with 43 page glossy book which includes briefs on some of the cast, production photos, art and drawings. It's a superb addition to an already bursting set.
So what's your favourite Hitchcock film and from those which is your favourite scene, can you identify all the places where the master has his brief on screen cameo? Hitchcock, quite simply, was a glorious director and for me this is the height of his incredible talent. Sure I enjoy his other works and at times prefer Pyscho for its shock value but North by Northwest is the one I return to to watch over and over... and over again. I enjoy the combination of thriller and slight comedy, I was enthralled the first time I saw it with its unravelling plot, the performances by Grant and Mason were ones to be studied and learned from.
As a package, it's not going to get any better, this region free Blu-ray release hits all the right notes in all the right places. Stunning audio and video coupled with a wealth of interesting extras make this a must have buy in my opinion. It's unlikely we'll see anything better squeezed from this movie.
High marks across the board, reference video and quality audio but at the end I still give this one an overall 10. Why, because there are a few Hitchcock films you absolutely must own and this for me is at the top of that pile.
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- Commentary by Ernest Lehman.