'The African Queen' steams on to Region free Blu-ray with a very good looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The three strip Technicolor photography is beautifully reproduced here, giving us the lush greens of the African vegetation together with the blue skies. Skin tones have the 'hot' look that you'd expect from the African sun and the opening scenes of natives singing in the Mission station church have the shine of perspiration.
The film is contrasty by nature and the transfer does not let this slide. Blacks are pretty solid in the shadows of trees and buildings. There is an ever present veneer of film grain throughout and this should come as no surprise considering the film process which required three separate colour negatives to be pumped through the whacking great Technicolor camera. Combine three negatives to achieve the colour and you get three times the grain. Taking this into consideration, what we have is superb. The image is pin sharp and very pleasing to watch. The restoration team has done a fine job and the result is very clean without appearing clinical.
The old washed out look has been banished and the improvement of the blue screen shots is like chalk and cheese compared to previous versions.
The audio on 'The African Queen' has thankfully been spared a ham fisted surround remix and what we have is a very clean representation of the original mono soundtrack contained within a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix.
The clean up has been caringly done and we have no snap, crackle or pop to offend our ears but those with the hearing of a cat will detect a slight hiss when playing the film at higher levels. The music has the same rather thin quality as I have heard on previous versions, although there is no distortion - so it sounds pretty authentic.
The dialogue is always clear and intelligible throughout. The crispness of the jungle sound effects often surprises and perhaps the efforts to retain this clarity may be responsible for the slight hiss i.e. not wanting to pull back the treble too much.
It's good and remains faithful to the way the film originally sounded. It reminds you that when you have a good film, the surround effects (while expected in a modern film) are not an absolute necessity.
There are two versions of 'The African Queen' being released on Region free Blu-ray in America. There is an all singing, all dancing commemorative box set edition with a whole host of fripperies although it does contain a reprint of Katherine Hepburn's out of print book 'The Making of the African Queen - or how I went to Africa with Bogie, Bacall & Huston and almost lost my mind.'
The version I reviewed was the single disc version which is largely devoid of extras although it does contain the following documentary.
- Embracing Chaos - The Making of 'The African Queen' (HD, 59 mins)
This is a rather nice, well worth having, recent documentary about the production of the main feature. It uses interviews with cast, crew and modern day film makers like Martin Scorsese - cobbled together from disparate sources to provide a good overview of the production. It opens with some great period newsreel footage of Bogie & Bacall on an ocean liner as they head for Africa. We hear from director John Huston, assistant director Guy Hamilton, director of photography Jack Cardiff as well as other sources. Ms Hepburn explains how her abstinence from alcohol made her ill and we hear how her contractual requirement for her own personal loo put a strain on production.
That all time classic 'The African Queen' is launched on to Region free Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Jack Cardiff's three strip Technicolor photography looks superb with lush greens and realistically grimy skin tones to reflect the African locations. Contrast and black levels are healthy throughout.
The mono audio has been carefully cleaned up and comes in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track with crisp, clear dialogue and jungle effects.
This single disc version contains only a 59 minute 'Making of' documentary but it's one that is very well edited from a variety of sources.
As a movie 'The African Queen' is a tale well told by an excellent storyteller with first rate performances from Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. If you haven't seen it, the restored version on Blu-ray is the best one to buy.
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