The disc presents a theatrically correct 1.85:1 1080p transfer that has had ‘an extensive 4k restoration’, is an absolutely glorious picture and Region free to boot.
Sony’s work on this print is a revelation, worthy of Criterion themselves. After rereading my DVD review and looking at this print, it is immediate how much work has been levelled at bringing to Blu-ray the very best available image possible. The opening credits (and indeed the closing credits) have always been very ‘rough’, i.e. graining, soft, riddled with damage; the work here has removed just about all of the damage, tightened things up, but it does still retain that ‘rough’ look – colours are overly saturated, there are some slight blooming issues and it is a little soft – however, once you get into the film proper the picture clean up is astonishing. It is clear, bright and detailed and still retains that filmic ‘glow’. It does not have that ‘latest Hollywood Blockbuster’ sheen, but what it does have is an organic quality with the kind of definition associated with Blu-ray making this a spectacular advert for the format. Detail is amazing, from skin to clothing weaves, from the grim on Travis’ taxi to the clutter in his room, from the debris of the streets to the clearly readable newspaper cuttings; detail like this has never been available for this film and it is a wonderful.
Colours too have a new lease of life; all the primaries are excellently represented, look at the red of the campaign headquarters, or Betsy’s dress, the green of Travis’ jacket, the yellow of the cabs, the blue of the skyline, all are so clean and clear and grade with no problems at all.
Brightness and contrast are set to give astonishingly deep blacks – now the film has always been dark, but now the black is near impenetrable; look at the night shots of the streets, or in Travis’ darker moments when people literally disappear in the dark – but it’s not a wall, shadow detail is still present when called for, look at Scorsese’s cameo, how in the shadows he is, but still there is detail to his suit, or beard. There was the odd occasion of white clip, very occasionally on Betsy’s blouse early in the film, and very rarely on the sky line shots, but this is extremely rare.
I must briefly mention the climatic shoot out that has always been washed out colour and darkened to reduce its impact, well that is still prevalent, the picture is softer, grimier, faded and darker, and in comparison to the rest of the picture looks like it has not been cleaned up, in fact it has, it is brighter and cleaner, but the colours are still very much muted, the detail is much softer – but enough remains that you now notice how false the false hand that gets shot off is!
Digitally there were no compression problems, no banding, posterization, or edge enhancement and the whole thing has that magnificent film grain, giving that wonderful organic look to it. In all this is a fabulous picture worthy of a reference score.
I concentrate on the English dts- HS Master Audio 5.1 offering. The sound hasn’t had quite the same attention lavished on it as the picture, there has been a 5.1 mixes around for a number of years; however in its lossless variety a definite precision and clarity has been identified, making it even better than before. I still find the mix mainly front heavy, but the separation is wider than previously with a never before heard clarity to the differing elements; dialogue, street/car sounds etc. The surround speakers do pipe up to add to the general ambiance, the sounds of the streets, particularly at night, sound great, but it is with Bernard Herrmann’s score that they really light up – really placing you in the centre of things, with a clarity to the music that has never been achieved before. Bass is extremely well defined, giving everything a nice ‘weight’, and is very explosive in the climatic shoot out. Dialogue, for the most part, is very natural sounding and purely from the front, though it did muddy on one or two occasions with the very high end rolling off slightly, particularly with some of Travis’ self musings. Loved the reverb to the cinema dialogue though, just how it used to be before THX. In all this is a fabulous mix, perfectly in tune with the visuals and sounding nothing like a thirty five year old film.
- Audio commentary – The first of three commentaries features Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader and was, as most probably already know, recorded (separately and edited together) by Criterion in 1986. Scorsese takes the lead for most of the time and he discusses with brutal honesty the film making process, his influences, his working relationships both in this film and later and the improvisational work, in a talk that meanders between being scene specific and anecdotal. Schrader, on the other hand, seems much more limited, but he discusses the writing period, how it came about, his own tortured life and how the most remembered line in the film is not even his!
- Audio Commentary – The second commentary is with Professor Robert Kolker, and what he doesn’t know about Taxi Drive isn’t worth knowing. He delivers his encyclopaedic knowledge somewhat dryly, but with minute detail on every facet of the film on practically every single shot, defining new meaning, or, at least, meaning that may (or may not, depending on your point of view) be intended by the filmmakers interpretation. At times it’s like a film lecture and dissecting a film like this can often reveal insight that you may never have thought existed, or, indeed, were ever intended, but there is no denying the passion he has for the film and that, if you are a fan, can be intoxicating.
- Audio Commentary – The third and final commentary is with Paul Schrader whose solo effort is somewhat hampered by the lengthy patches of silence; however, the points he makes about writing, the script to final film, actors, censorship and the ending are worth listening to, even if this last track is way down the line in comparison to the previous offerings.
- Making Taxi Driver (1.10.55) – An all in one, feature length, making of documentary that sees pretty much everyone involved interviewed about their time during the production of the film. Inevitably there are over laps with everything else that is on this disc, but if you are looking for an overall feature that covers all the bases, then this is where to get it; everything about the production is discussed and no stone is left unturned in the frank and absorbing piece on the making of the film. If you only look at one extra, this is your best bet.
- Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver (16.52) – The acclaimed director talks about everything Taxi Driver, including his influences, the budget forming the style, how the project managed to get off the ground and the people that made it happen, the casting choices and acting style along with the gritty realism portrayed.
- Producing Taxi Driver (09.53) - Producer Michael Phillips discusses how he got involved with the project, his admiration for the script and the talent involved, the friction with the studio and his battle to keep the notorious ending.
- God’s Lonely Man (21.42) – Centres around writer Paul Schrader as he frankly discusses his state of mind at the time of the conception of the Taxi Driver and the character of Travis, while relating it all to the process of screen writing.
- Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute (18.30) – A whole host of faces, including Oliver Stone, Paul Schrader, Roger Corman, Robert De Niro, Robert Kolker and Michael Chapman, pay tribute to the great man with reference to Taxi Driver and how he influenced their work with his imitable style.
- Taxi Driver Stories (22.23) – Real life taxi drivers recount their experiences while driving in New York in the late seventies; stories involving loneliness, danger, areas of the city to avoid are commonplace and linking them to the themes explored in the film is quite novel.
- Travis’ New York (06.16) - Former New York mayor Ed Koch and cinematographer on Taxi Driver Michael Chapman discuss 1970’s New York as depicted in the film.
- Travis’ New York Locations (04.49) – A split screen feature that shows nine locations as seen in the film with their up-to-date (2006) counterparts.
- Storyboard-to-film comparison (08.21) – Scorsese himself introduces this feature (04.32) where he describes the importance of storyboarding, why he uses them and how they help to bring the film together. The feature then plays various scenes with their storyboard counterpart, they are amazingly close.
- Galleries (09.28) – Split into four titles (Bernard Herrmann Score, On Location, Publicity Materials and Scorsese at Work) which can be watched individually or all together with the play all function. Each title provides photos accompanied by the score.
- Interactive script-to-screen comparison – Watch the film with the script in a window to the right, choose to read the script as it plays to the film (sometimes arduous due to the way the scenes (can) appear in a differing order between the written word and the finished film) or read it independently of the running and then sync it up later. Of particular delight is to notice the amount the dialogue differs between the two mediums, and alternate takes on differing scenes.
- Movie IQ
So there you have it, as pretty much a comprehensive amount of extra material you could ever wish for. Apart from a full on PiP track (which would only repeat what is already on the disc anyway) there is nothing more I can think of to enhance this material, it has to have top marks.
There is no denying Taxi Driver’s impact on cinema. Films may come and go, but classics are here forever, Taxi Driver has had its place assured since its first showing in 1976. De Nero gives a tour de force as Travis Bickle, the taxi driver who descends into madness through an unnerving sense of loneliness that culminates in one of the most brutal climaxes ever witnessed in cinema. Once seen, it is never forgotten and it is a testament to its greatness that, even now, its raw power is utterly compelling.
As a Blu-ray Sony has provided one of the releases of the year, with spectacular picture and sound backed up by a fully comprehensive extras package and a cheap price to boot, this should be on everyone’s list to buy, not just fans of the film. Highly recommended.
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