The Elephant Man Blu-ray Review
'The Elephant Man' comes to Blu-ray with an impressive looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the 2.35:1 original aspect ratio.
The transfer displays deep black and peak whites as well as all the shades of grey in between, almost as a tribute to the lighting of cameraman Freddie Francis. Many black and white movies on TV look almost a uniform, washed out grey. This transfer is so different. It is 'proper' black & white. The print used for the transfer is sharp throughout, but with variable grain. For the most part it is unobtrusive, but you feel that it's there in the same way that you feel you are looking at film. The occasional shot has amplified grain, but they tend to be effects shots and stock footage which would have a different grain structure due to duping anyway.
We are treated to the odd very fine print scratch (black lines) such as in the sequence where the Night Porter and various miscreants visit Merrick in his room. I also noticed the very occasional neg scratch (white lines), particularly memorable near the start of the movie. This surprised me as I thought a film of this stature warranted more TLC for a Blu-ray release. These little niggles don't really detract from the splendour of the piece, especially when you can still remember the tram lines on 16mm prints in your collection before Laserdisc, DVD or High Def came along.
One other little puzzler that I noticed was the very occasional kick during panning shots, which seemed odd as it didn't happen all the time but it looked for all the world like a dropped frame - maybe an encoding fault.
Overall though, this transfer is satisfying and the black & white film looks superb.
'Handsome' is a very apt descriptive term here.
The audio on 'The Elephant Man' comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that ensures front centre dialogue is crisp and clear throughout as we strain our ears to catch John Hurt's pronunciation from under the mountain of make-up. The surrounds and subwoofers are used to great effect to produce the enveloping rumble of the hospital boiler room and also when the cogs on the clock in the tower above Merrick's room grind into action on the hour. It's a fairly immersive mix in places that adds to the atmosphere of the Victorian era.
The opening sideshow style music is played gently over the front soundstage, while the very evocative Barber's Adagio for Strings rises during the emotive final sequence.
This is a sound mix that befits the style of the movie and, thankfully, avoids trying to be the star of the show.
Sadly I couldn't find an audio commentary on the pre-production sample disc submitted for review, but the following extras were present.
- Joseph Merrick - The Real Elephant Man (SD, 20 mins)
Jonathan Evans, Archivist and Curator of the Royal London Hospital Museum provides us with details of the true story of 'The Elephant Man' and compares it to the interpretation used in the film. Most people want to know more about the real person behind the story after watching the film and here we get to see a letter written by Joseph Merrick as well as his hat and cloak.
- Interview with David Lynch (SD, 25 mins)
This lengthy interview gives David Lynch the chance to cover the origins of the film, working with Mel Brooks, a tribute to Lighting Cameraman Freddie Francis, developing the make up, finding the right locations and reactions to the film upon its release. He ends by saying that he's finished with film as it is ancient technology and digital is here to stay. While the content is interesting, Lynch is not the most exciting of people to interview and his collection of err's, umm's and ahh's eventually becomes soporific.
- Interview with David Lynch by Mike Figgis (SD, 20 mins)
David Lynch (with hair standing on end) is seated in a hotel corridor with a bare light bulb dangling in the foreground as he explains his views on getting film ideas, producing a script as a collection of small ideas linked to produce the one big idea which in turn is merely a blueprint for the final movie. He draws parallels with paintings concerning action and reaction. It's interesting in a vague way - clearly a work of some genius.
- Interview with John Hurt (SD, 20 mins)
John Hurt tells us, in a laid back way, about his portrayal of 'The Elephant Man'. He covers the 14 week shoot, the time spent in make-up, what it was like working with Sir John Gielgud, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon as well as the young unknown director David Lynch. Not particularly revealing, but nice to hear it from the actor's point of view.
- The Air is on Fire (SD, 15 mins)
This short is linked by French writer Michel Chion, who has written a book on the films of David Lynch, as he gets to meet the director at an exhibition of his own paintings at the Cartier Foundation in 2007. Lynch describes each painting in turn and we get a chance to see how his imagination works in a non film related setting.
'The Elephant Man' comes to Blu-ray with a very good looking Region Free 1080p AVC/Mpeg-4 transfer framed in the theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The black and white photography looks superb with deep blacks and a fine contrast range, taken from a crisp looking print. A few, very occasional, tiny scratches are surprisingly present to catch our eye.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound mix is strangely enveloping for a film of this vintage as the surrounds and subwoofer are used to create an ambient rumble. Dialogue is clear and centre locked while the front stereo pair gently reveal the music score including Barber's Adagio for Strings.
The extras provide us with interviews with director David Lynch and actor John Hurt, while there's also a nice featurette on the real life Elephant Man.
This is an ultimately very touching movie about a gentle soul trapped in a twisted body, given credibility by a fine cast including John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Sir John Gielgud and Hannah Gordon. This is a very noble, handsome picture. Watch it to find out how stories should be told.
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- Joseph Merrick - The Real Elephant Man (SD, 20 mins)