PictureThe Pianist comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 1.85:1. Whilst it is probably easily the best that the movie has ever looked, the image quality is not quite perfect. Polanski’s style for the piece is one of dour palettes, sombre tones, almost documentary-like imagery given a filmic feel thanks to an appropriate level of cinematic grain. Certainly the detail stands up well in HD, with everything from the close-ups to the longer landscapes exhibiting strong clarity, with little apparent edge enhancement and only a twinge of haloing. The colour scheme, as aforementioned, is particularly dull – but intentionally so – and it is consistent throughout, so you never get the feeling that there is anything unintentional going on here: this is exactly how Polanski wanted the movie to look. Black levels are strong, allowing from potent night sequences. 3D pop is non-existent, but that’s not exactly unexpected. The only noteworthy problem that I had with this presentation was a couple of instances of film judder as the image tracks and the camera pans across the screen. This happens on more than one occasion, and too often to go unmentioned, and brings down an otherwise pretty solid visual offering.
SoundTo accompany the movie we get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is top notch in technical specification, but distinctly limited by the material. I guess that was only to be expected, given that much of the movie is dedicated to dialogue – or just the central protagonist attempting to be as quiet as possible – but it does not leave the surround system doing a great deal. The dialogue is given keen and prominent presentation across the frontal array. The effects are mainly incidental, quiet and ambient, given reasonable room to breathe – but again coming across front-heavy. There are a few noisier scenes – particularly those involving violent conflict – and these allow for gunshots, mortar and bombs reigning down from the skies. Unfortunately, mainly because these sequences are viewed from the perspective of the lead character, the surrounds still do not light up under these circumstances, and the LFE channel feels a little under-utilised. It’s a solid offering – and appropriate for the film’s content and the view from which it has been told – but that does not exactly make it anywhere near appropriate for demo. It should be noted that the previous Optimum release had subtitle problems (later corrected) which are definitely not of any issue here.
ExtrasOn the extras front we get a nice selection of largely interview-based material. Whilst some of the interviews are not particularly interesting, the majority are insightful and compelling, and work perfectly as supporting material for the main movie. The lack of Commentary is a little disappointing, but given the hefty quota of aforementioned interview material – including plenty of input from Polanski himself – I don’t think we’re missing out on much.
A Story of Survival: Behind the Scenes of The Pianist is a comprehensive 40-minute look at this powerful project. It offers us more archive footage, behind the scenes shots of scenes being filmed, and plenty of interview material from the cast and crew, including the Producers and Actor Adrian Brody. They could have arguably separated out Roman Polanski’s contribution and put it in amidst the other interviews, however, as his part in this Documentary is the most substantial. He discusses wanting to make a holocaust movie, choosing this one, his childhood history during the War, and the key events that were taking place during that period in Warsaw, which all makes for extremely interesting, revealing background information. Fans of the movie, and those interested in the history as well, will get a lot out of this offering, and we even get some footage of the real Szpilman himself thrown into the mix.
There are three interviews, two of which are excellent. The first is with Writer Ronald Harwood, and runs at 20 minutes in length. Although he (word for word) recites some of the same stuff – in a different interview! – for the main Documentary, there is still plenty of new information to be gleaned here. He talks about working with Polanski – who never talked about his experiences but showed great visual recollection of his childhood memories, right down to the Nazi boots and uniforms. He discusses the background of the production, comparisons with Schindler’s List (and the fact that Polanski rejected Spielberg’s offer to direct that), the criticism the film had for portraying Germans in a marginally sympathetic light, and the very hands-on approach Polanski took to filming the affair.
The second interview is pretty worthless, a 3 minute chat with Szpilman’s grandson, who really does not have a great deal to say – and certainly nothing interesting – but the third interview is the real gem, from Szpilman’s son, Andrzej. Running at 30 minutes in length we get a great deal of background information, into Szpilman himself, the story, the aftermath and the film (and previous films done on the subject matter). He talks about the way in which the movie accurately follows the book, the minor enhancements (including the rooftop jump), how meticulous Polanski was, how the older Polish people living in Warsaw were not impressed to see German troops (actors in uniform) on the streets during the shoot, and how he seldom had any discussion with his father about his experiences during the war. The perfect companion-piece, it really gives you a nice insight into the man that this movie was all about.
Finally we get the Original Trailer to round off the disc. I have to say, however, that I’m getting a little tired of the menu music for all these Studio Canal / Optimum releases – the collection all have the exact same menu music, and I’m not sure why they have done this as, sooner or later, the 20-seconds-on-loop gets positively tiresome, however much it kind-of suits the accompanying movie.
VerdictAccurately depicting the absolute depths of human endurance, Roman Polanski’s moving tribute to the victims of the holocaust is a powerful piece of filmmaking. A faithful adaptation of late survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman’s book about his experiences, I dare say that this is probably the most realistic depiction of this horrific historical event – more so than Spielberg’s counterpart. With a tremendous lead performance from Adrien Brody, who practically carries the whole movie, and a massive amount of attention detail paid to get the setting just right – as authentic as possible – this is without a doubt a very good movie indeed. Unfortunately – at least for me – there are some films that are just too damn hard to watch, and almost impossible to rewatch. Like enduring McQueen’s equally moving Hunger, The Pianist is a test of stamina and endurance in itself, extremely tough going and with very little reward at the end (mirroring its subject) and some may found that getting through the experience once is more than enough.
The Studio Canal Collection Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release comes complete with a generally superior video presentation – which unfortunately is not without its faults – and a solid aural accompaniment, as well as a nice selection of predominantly interview-based extra features, which fans will be sure to enjoy a great deal. If you are one of those people who simply must add a film to their collection based purely on whether or not it is a ‘good’ movie, then look no further than this near-perfect quality production. If, on the other hand, the question – of whether you will ever want to sit through the pain and suffering ever again – is on your mind, then this may be more rental material for you.
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