You know, some discs come along and the review is easy to write. It is easy, and obvious what mark to give each aspect of the disc. But whilst the film is an unequivocal nine, all the other aspects are incredibly difficult to mark - as you will see.
For a start, the facts. The Graduate comes to Blu-ray in the UK with a 1080p theatrically correct 2.35:1 transfer. What is surprising, for the age of the film, is just how clean and sparkly the print is. I could discern very little damage or any other defect within the film. This was certainly much better than I expected.
The contrast is great, and the colour is very vibrant. Just look at Ben’s red sports car as just one example. Black levels are deep and dense and flesh tones are realistic – the contrast between the white skin and tanned on Anne Bancroft’s less, errrr, sunkissed, parts is superb. Detail in close-ups is amazing – some of the shots of Hoffman, for example, show every drop of sweat on his brow – but distant shots do look rather soft and lacking.
So why exactly am I finding it hard to give it a mark. Well, in all honesty your average punter is not going to find anything to complain about on this disc. But I found it all a little bit disappointing. It doesn’t appear that DNR is raising its ugly head here, but there is very little grain or anything that remotely represents a FILM here. It all looks a bit artificial and processed. It is very difficult to put my finger on exactly what was wrong here – but it just seemed like a facsimile of a picture to me rather than a representation of the actual film as it was. It just seems too digital – too processed in some way.
I do stress that this is me possibly being too picky. The picture does certainly look better than any DVD version I have ever seen and I am certainly recommending this blu-ray picture as a worthy upgrade. But true connoisseurs may find something a little lacking.
It is not just connoisseurs who will find something lacking in the sound department though. The US disc got a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track – but on this version that soundtrack is only available in German. This is great for our Teutonic cousins, but we have to make do with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track in English. Now, the reality is that a lot of people will throw their arms up in horror at the very idea that this film be remixed in 5.1 but I would have loved to have heard how it sounded. Sadly, despite living in Berlin for six months, my German is non-existent so I had to make do with the 2.0 mix.
Really, there is very little to shout about here. The mix is solid, without ever being spectacular. The front separation is not very wide and everything seems a little condensed around the centre of the sound field.
Positives though are that the dialogue always comes through clearly and accurately with no need to tinker with volume levels. The Simon and Garfunkel score is nicely balanced although it seems to lack the fidelity of the recorded versions.
Overall then, the combination of the lack of space offered by the mix, along with the omission of a reasonably regarded 5.1 mix in favour of a German version does lower the score.
Oh dear. The accompanying press release that came with this disc proudly trumpeted a lot of extra features – some of which were previously unreleased. Delve a bit deeper into this and a disclaimer states New to the UK. This is because they have obviously been previously released in Germany. How can I be so sure? Well, the fact that they are in German is a bit of a giveaway.
Let’s start with the commentary which is by Professor Koebner, a film historian. This is presented in German with English subtitles. If you don’t mind watching the film with a man talking over the top in German, and large English subtitles translating his words then you may well enjoy this. Me, I am very sorry but for the first time in my reviewing life I did skip some of this track. What I did see I thought was reasonably interesting, although very dry and lacking any true insight into the making of the film – as you would expect from someone not involved in the production. This was very disappointing.
Professor Koebner is back, accompanied this time by Helga La Motte-Haber in the featurette About the Music. Again in German, again with English subtitles – this is also dry and disappointing. They do have an interesting theory – that the film sets up the music video genre, but this does seem to stretch a theory a little bit too far. The two Germans are back again in one final subtitled featurette Analysis of the Seduction Scene. This is probably the best of these extras, but that really isn’t saying much. The scene really is a cinematic classic so it is nice to see it dissected – but not by this rather dour pair.
Then to some previously released material, in English. As the film celebrated its 40th anniversary recently, Optimum have decided to celebrate its 25th anniversary with The Graduate at 25. Containing some decent insight, and interviews with the participants – this is certainly one of the best of the extras. But you cannot get away from the fact that it feels, well, about 15 years out of date. The music in the film is simply the scenes of the film that have a musical accompaniment spliced together and isolated from their surrounding scenes.
The Graduate : Looking Back is an interview with a French writer (in English) explaining how the film influenced him when he first saw it. Perhaps the best extra on the disc is an Interview with Charles Webb. He is the author of the original novel on which the film was based. For some reason he seems to have turned his back on his California upbringing and has relocated to Hove, where he is interviewed in a bar. He is a personable, down to earth man and twenty minutes spent in his company is very interesting. The on disc package is rounded out by a Trailer. There is also a booklet including an essay by Marc Webb, who directed 500 days of Summer and who is also behind the forthcoming Spiderman project. Sadly, this was not provided for review so I can make no comment on this.
It is impossible to deny that The Graduate is a classic and deserves a place in any film fan’s collection. The film is beautifully shot, directed, written and performed and it is hard to spot any flaw in the production.
Unfortunately, the disc doesn’t really do the movie justice. The picture is the best that the film has ever looked, although it does look a little too digital for my taste, and the DTS soundtrack found on the US release is only in German on this disc. English listeners are only given a stereo track. The extras rather seem cobbled together. Some seem as if they are taken from a German release, one seems to be taken from a French release, and the rest seem to be from a release from 15 years ago.
All this leaves me with a dilemma. The film is such a classic that this disc is probably worth picking up, whatever is missing, or poorly thought out.. In fact, if you are only UK Blu-ray enabled I would probably recommend, on balance, that you purchase. However, if you have multi-region capabilities then you may want to seek out some releases from other countries. There is a US release, for example, that contains the DTS track in English and the 40th anniversary DVD as part of the package. Optimum should be congratulated for bringing classics to Blu-ray but it is disappointing that more of an effort hasn’t been made with this disc.
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