The Jazz Singer

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer - 1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (3:32)
Year Released 1980
Running Time 111:02 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Richard Fleischer
Associated Film Distribution 
Universal Home Video
Starring Neil Diamond
Laurence Olivier
Lucie Arnaz
Catlin Adams
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Neil Diamond
Leonard Rosenman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

   Sometimes the films selected for issue on DVD leave me wondering exactly what runs through the minds of the bean counters who have a say in such matters. Here we have an example of a film that I would not have expected to see on Region 4 DVD for a long time, if ever. Now don't get me wrong, I have a bit of a soft spot for the film and am not going to pan it as unworthy. It is just the fact that there would seem to be far more obvious titles for release than this one. This is especially considering the fact that given the appalling quality of every VHS tape I have ever seen of the film, the quality of the source material is such that no amount of miracle-working would likely result in anything approaching a good quality transfer. So basically you have a film that most seem to dismiss out of hand, saddled by poorish source material: run that by me again as to why this should get a release ahead of plenty of other films?

   Anyway, for a moment let us forget what the film looks like, for we will get onto that shortly. As for what the film is about? Well, this is a 1980 remake of the 1927 film by the same name starring Al Jolson. For those of you confused as to why the film is called The Jazz Singer, it is because in the play and the original film, the cantor actually wanted to become a singer - which in 1927 meant a jazz singer. Of course in 1980 this had become a rock star.

   And so there we have the broad story. Yussel Rabinowitz (Neil Diamond) is a fifth generation cantor at his local synagogue, but dreams of being a rock star. He feels trapped by his circumstances and wants to escape to where his voice can take him. His father, Cantor Rabinowitz (Laurence Olivier), a very died-in-the-wool Jew, sees nothing wrong with being the cantor for their synagogue, and his wife Rivka (Catlin Adams) finds security in the life that she has always known. Things come to a head as Yussel, who unbeknownst to his father sings in local clubs, gets the opportunity to go to that den of iniquity known as Los Angeles for two weeks, where a famous rock star wants to record one of his songs. Naturally enough, things don't pan out, especially when Yussel (who goes by the stage name of Jess Robin) tells said rock star how to sing his song - thus losing the gig and also getting Molly Bell (Lucie Arnaz) fired. They team up, initially as act and agent but you can see where this is going, and get the big break. The big break sets Jess on his way but costs him his wife when she decides to forsake fame and fortune to return to her secure little existence in New York, and eventually his father who does not understand why Yussel and Rivka are apart - until he meets Molly. So family bust up leads to Jess running off and leaving Molly (and unborn child) and tossing away a career - but of course we know that is not how this film will end don't we?

   Not exactly a gem of a story, but then again it was written a long time ago. Unfortunately it does not inspire a gem of a film either. Basically a vehicle for Neil Diamond to sing, that is what he does best and the soundtrack album to the film sold by the boat load. Funnily enough, films do require acting and that is where things go really awry. Laughably, Neil Diamond copped critical acclaim (and a 1981 Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy Golden Globe nomination) for his performance. Just what do they smoke out there in La La land? He cannot act to save his life and somewhat closer to the truth he copped the 1981 Razzie for Worst Actor for this effort. Yes, it is that bad. Even worse, they obviously brought the brilliant Laurence Olivier to the film as the token talent and he ended up producing an excruciatingly clichéd performance - which dutifully copped him the 1981 Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor. Yes, it is that bad. Basically Lucie Arnaz ended up as the best thing here, but that really is not saying much at all. The whole clichéd effort was perfunctorily directed by Richard Fleischer who surprisingly allowed his name to remain on the film.

   By any reasonable standards, this is an eminently avoidable film. A remake, which is always a bad start in my view, brought to some sort of existence by some atrocious performances and some lousy directing and cinematography. Despite all of this, I enjoy the film. I guess that the music from Neil Diamond is a significant part of the reason why - the closing song Coming To America being a particular highlight - but sometimes I suppose the overall film is just more than the sum of its parts. This one had every justification for being thrown into a vault and never being seen again, but a bit of hype (remember that Neil Diamond was at the time HUGE in popularity terms) gave it a chance and something somewhere obviously hit a chord with some people. I guess it is a film that you either cannot suffer or enjoy. I fall into the latter category.

Transfer Quality


    You have to make some allowances to enjoy this film. This is not a film that has suffered well on video over the years. Indeed, I have seen VHS tapes of the film (and still own one) that are so bad in terms of transfer that for all the difference I can see it may as well be the 1927 original. Dark, atrocious definition, shocking shadow detail, there is nothing watchable about the VHS tape. Well, the only good news is that this is at least better than the VHS tape. The bad news is that it is dark, has lousy definition, lousy shadow detail and ends up being barely watchable.

    The transfer itself is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but it is not 16x9 enhanced. Now I really don't want to go into rant mode again over this particular point, but in my view the lack of 16x9 enhancement immediately qualifies any DVD as being unacceptable in this day and age. Whilst appreciating that the source material for this film is obviously sub-standard, if you are not going to bother producing a 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer then in my book don't bother releasing the DVD at all (unless the film has a classic status that demands release - not the case here).

    Where exactly do you start with what is wrong with this transfer? As indicated, the VHS tapes of this film have never exactly been wondrous things and that impression carries over to the DVD. The transfer itself looks every one of its twenty one years and more. To describe it as soft is to be a little kind, but on average that is the best way to describe this slightly inconsistent effort. Certainly there is nothing here that is likely to be confused with razor sharp. Unfortunately, there are some indications of edge enhancement here which really don't help the situation - a good example appears to be around the 65:00 mark. Detail could at best be described as average but often falls somewhat short of that, and the overall impression here is of a very flat transfer. Shadow detail borders on atrocious nearly all the time, and this is compounded by the darkish nature of the transfer. Clarity is also at best average. There is a consistent impression of grain running throughout the transfer. Thankfully there did not seem to be any serious problems with low level noise. The only good thing is that as bad as it sometimes gets, this is a better looking effort than the VHS tape and in many ways there is a lot in the film that can be really seen for the first time.

    As you can pretty much guess, there is not much in the way of a colour palette on offer here. Dull, matte colours predominate with very little in the way of bright colour to alleviate the dingy look to the whole film. This really is not a terrific demonstration of colour, and even when there are colour opportunities (stage lighting being a good example), the whole thing still looks as muddy as Adelaide water. This is not a vibrant transfer in any way, shape or form! Tonal depth is non-existent, so that blacks never really look black. Oversaturation clearly is not any sort of issue, but there are some indications of colour bleed at times. Given the nature of the transfer though, I would hazard a guess that this is inherent in the source material.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There are a number of film-to-video artefacts floating around the transfer, but none are really extreme. There are some indications of wobble (around 52:47 being one instance) and there is some mild aliasing if you look closely (whether that is wise or not I don't know but around 91:10 demonstrates the extent of the issue). Given that this is twenty one years old, there are naturally film artefacts to be seen but none are grotesque, being mainly of the dirt mark variety (both black and white).

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The film was originally recorded in plain old Dolby Stereo so what we pretty well have here is probably the original soundtrack - and it sounds like it. There is just the one soundtrack on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    It is not a pretty sounding soundtrack and has a lot of minor inconsistencies, but overall at least you can hear the dialogue and music which come up reasonably well in the soundtrack. There does not appear to be any real problem with audio sync in the transfer.

    The original music comes from Leonard Rosenman and nothing in it is all that memorable. The memorable stuff is the songs done by Neil Diamond and as I said the soundtrack album sold by the boat load. That probably says it all really.

    The soundtrack goes all over the place and is really nothing better than adequate. The ADR process must have been somewhat problematic for the film because the sound level is all over the place and at no time does the whole thing really sound natural. At times there is a distinct muddiness to the sound, and there are a few distortions and dropouts here and there. Obviously this is straight stereo stuff, mixed to come predominantly out of the centre channel, with no surround channel usage at all. The bass channel naturally is idle throughout. The whole soundtrack is just a tad congested to some extent but is thankfully free from any hiss. Overall, nothing much to write home about and whilst there was obviously no need to go to a Dolby Digital 5.1 remaster, it is a pity that some restoration work was not done on the original soundtrack before some remastering.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    I suppose that it was expecting too much to get much in the way of an extras package, so we should perhaps be grateful for whatever we do get.


    I would expect that most know the theme shot for the film and that is the basis of the otherwise rather unremarkable menus. Hello Again plays underneath the main menu.

Biographies - Cast

    Reasonable if unremarkable efforts for the three main cast members.

Gallery - Photo

    Comprising a total of twelve unannotated photos presumably taken during filming. Nothing to rave over.

Theatrical Trailer

    Well given that trailers always seem to look a lot worse than the features, you can imagine what this one looks like. Not remarkable apart from the amount of grain present at times and the often muddy sound, this really is not an especially great effort in any respect. The video transfer is decidedly ropey looking; far, far worse than the feature. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.


    As far as we have been able to ascertain, there are no censorship issues with this title.

R4 vs R1

    If it is any consolation, and I know it really is not, the Region 1 release is perhaps even worse than the Region 4. Pretty widely condemned as a terrible transfer, it can only indicate that the source material is a significant part of the problem. Since the Region 1 release appears to have nothing in the way of extras, we have at least got what would appear to be the better of the deal - but that is of course all relative.


    On the face of it The Jazz Singer is at best an ordinary film that does little to improve the general impressions of remakes. It is certainly not a film to watch if you are after anything great in film (except perhaps music). However, it is a film that I do enjoy for whatever reason, and fans of the film can be assured that unless they have a pristine tape taken from the original print, I seriously doubt that they have seen the film this good since its theatrical run. It ain't pretty by any means but it is better by a long shot than the VHS tape I have. If you don't know the film or are not a fan, then I would strongly suggest that there are far better movies to investigate at this price.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
13th May, 2001.

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL