PictureThe Karate Kid comes to Blu-ray presented with a very serviceable 1080p High Definition video rendition in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Detail is surprisingly good, clarity remaining on longer shots as well as the close-ups, with no distracting softness, nor any significant signs of unnecessary edge enhancement. The movie has a level of grain that you would only expect from an 80s production like this, and the picture would look wrong if it was not present (the recent Predator release shows just how too much DNR can ruin a classically - and intentionally - grainy flick). The colour scheme comes across well, although here you can start to see the age and era the movie was made in finally becoming apparent, the palette looking really quite dated. Still, the colours themselves are rendered well. Black levels are reasonably strong, and the night attack sequence has probably never looked this good. This is pretty far from a benchmark presentation, not even in the least bit comparable to modern Blockbusters with their Hollywood shine, but it is also considerably better than any previous incarnation of The Karate Kid released. Fans could not have hoped for more than this.
SoundThe DTS-HD Master Audio accompaniment also brings us the best audio presentation ever realised for a Karate Kid release. This may not be boisterous, bombastic movie, but there is a fair amount of spirit - particularly in the (often cheesy) 80s music tracks - which really shines through on this new aural offering. Although it feels biased towards the centre-stage - dialogue gets decent presentation from the centre channel, coming across clearly and coherently throughout, and the aforementioned pop tracks dominate the frontal array as well - both the score and the well-observed effects manage to bring the rears to life. Even the smaller noises are well-observed, from traffic to high school football practice. And the louder noises, motorcycle engines and the like, are even more noticeable, although only a few times in the movie do you feel thoroughly immersed in the sound field: like during the tournament finale. Bass is merely there for backup, and you - somewhat expectedly - don't really feel the LFE shaking things up at all. Overall this is a pretty-much pitch-perfect audio presentation for this 26 year-old classic.
ExtrasAlthough the majority of extras here could be found on the last SE DVD release, it was still nice to have them all ported over. The only significant new HD extra is the inclusion of a Pop-up track which features not only text bubbles of trivia but also Picture-in-Picture comments from both Ralph Macchio and that guy who plays Johnny (obviously both looking suitably middle-aged now). In spirit with the production itself, fans will love to pick up all of the little facts and stats about the production, the cast and the characters, as well as hear the semi-self-depreciating offerings from the two cast members.
The Audio Commentary is a jovial round-table contribution from basically everyone you want to hear from: the Director John G. Avidsen, the writer Robert Mark Kamen, and stars Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita. Whilst plenty of technical information is offered, this light-hearted discussion is much more enjoyable than just your average filmmakers' dialogue, the group taking a warm, nostalgic look back at their work on this production. Everything is up for poking respectful fun at, from the outfits worn to Morita putting on a heavy Japanese accent (because of his perfect English), and it is clear that this group get along well and worked well together (on both this and the movie's sequel).
The main Documentary piece - The Way of the Karate Kid - is split into two parts. The first part runs at 24 minutes in length and has all of the usual stuff: behind the scenes footage interspliced with recent interview snippets from the cast and crew, who discuss their involvement in, and the significance of, the project, The second part is a few minutes shorter, but follows suit, only with more of a focus on the fighting, in particular the tournament sequence.
Beyond the Form is an interesting little 13-minute piece with fight coordinator Pat E. Johnson (the referee during the final match, and also a former student of Chuck Norris) who talks about the martial arts in the movie, the press it gave Karate and the more spiritual ideals behind the form. East Meets West: A Composer's Notebook is an 8-minute look at composer Bill Conti's (the guy who did all of the Rocky movies) work on scoring this dramatic underdog piece. We also get a 10 minute Featurette dedicated to the art of pruning Bonsai trees: Life of Bonsai, and some trailers.
VerdictThe original Karate Kid movie is a bona fide classic that has stood the test of time over the last three decades, and will always remain a prime example of an inspirational underdog story-arc set against the backdrop of a superior coming-of-age drama. Pitched perfectly, it will always be held in high regard alongside other masterpieces in the sub-genre, like Rocky. Now available on Blu-ray in the UK, this well-timed (for the remake) Region Free release gives us the best video and audio ever committed to a home entertainment release of the film, and all of the previous SE-DVD's special features are ported over, along with a nice new PiP track. Fans should consider this the definitive edition, and should already have this in their shopping carts. It's a decent entry into anybody's collection and newcomers - the hopefully few that are out there - should, when watching the new Jackie Chan remake, remember that, however enjoyable it may turn out to be, it will never beat this seminal 80s classic.
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