Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
|Year Of Production||1960|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Ken Annakin|
Warner Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.70:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Well, this is a review that has been a long time coming! Released nearly three and a half years ago, we finally troll through the back catalogue (and the affectionately named dud list) to dig up one of those glorious live action feature films that Disney made in the 1950's and 1960's of great family novels. Such classic gems as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea were the sort of renowned stories that came under the Disney spotlight. In this instance it was the classic story by Johann Wyss, Swiss Family Robinson, that we are checking out in all its widescreen glory. What this DVD proves is that the dud list is not actually made up of complete duds! Since it was Christmas, and my review pile was small (plus my father loves the film), I readily grabbed it off the dud pile.
I am sure that I don't really have to provide a synopsis here as I am fairly sure that most should know the broad story of Swiss Family Robinson. Anyone who has visited Disneyland (prior to it being redeveloped) and Walt Disney World has probably clambered over the replica tree house from the film. But just to honour my obligation to provide a synopsis...
The Family Robinson are escaping the Europe of Napoleon Bonaparte to seek new pastures in New Guinea. Father Robinson (John Mills), Mother Robinson (Dorothy McGuire) and their three sons Fritz (James MacArthur), Ernst (Tommy Kirk) and Francis (Kevin Corcoran) are sailing to the new colony when the ship they are travelling upon is beset upon by pirates led by pirate chief Kuala (Sessue Hayakawa). In escaping the pirates, the ship sails straight into a fierce storm that sees it pretty well wrecked before nature has the final say by tossing it onto the rocks near a remote South Pacific island. The family escape from the shipwreck and set up camp on the island, gathering whatever they feel is useful off the shipwreck, most notably a few animals and weaponry. Whilst recycling what they could from the shipwreck, the pirates turn up again but are deterred by a simple ruse. The family settles down to life on this most wondrous of islands, building a large tree house in the process as a permanent domain. Why a wondrous island? Well, the plot hole is that this island has animals from Africa and Asia resident upon it...
The older boys start getting antsy to do a bit of exploring and so eventually head off to find out whether they actually are on an island and where the heck it might be. During their little expedition, they lose their dugout on the rocks but this also brings them into contact with a ship captain and his cabin boy Bertie, captured by the ever-present pirates. They rescue the cabin boy but are forced to leave the ship captain to his fate. With no way of continuing their sea-voyage, they head back over land to rejoin the family. Adventures along the way soon determine that Bertie is actually Roberta (Janet Munro) and it does not take much for two strapping young lads to get their hormones flowing faster than Niagara Falls. But the family still have to find a way to best the pirates once and for all - and still hope for rescue from this paradise.
Whilst not a swashbuckling tale like Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson is still a great family story and its realization on the big screen, despite the rather traumatic shooting by all accounts, remains highly enjoyable forty odd years later. Sure the variety of animals on the island invests the story with a degree of unbelievability, but that is quite minor in view of the enjoyment to be had without a single swear word, not a single ropey special effect, no stupid humour and with some decent enough acting. If I remember correctly, these were the distinguishing features of nearly all the live action family features that Disney produced in this era, and the fact that we don't see films made like these any more is certainly something that I do regret. With very decent direction, some excellent cinematography and a generally decent standard of acting, there really is nothing much to complain about here.
Were it not for some inherent problems in the transfer, this would have been a highly recommendable title. Unfortunately, three and half years is a long time in the DVD world and as a DVD this does not hold up well at all.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.70:1, which is somewhat wider than its theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. Unfortunately, the whole deal is badly let down by the fact that it is not 16x9 enhanced.
The main issues with the transfer all boil down to two things: aliasing and film artefacts. It does not matter what scene you choose here, you will almost certainly encounter aliasing, some of it quite gross at times. Any shot involving movement includes aliasing. Any shot involving a sharp edge includes aliasing. Since that accounts for about 95% of the shots in the film, you can guess the extent to which the aliasing becomes annoying. I started out listing all the instances I noted but then decided that there was little point in being so pedantic. If you don't see any aliasing in any five minute segment of this film, then I can only conclude that you have a vastly better quality system than I and good luck to you for that. The other obvious problem is the film artefacts and these are literally everywhere. The opening credits have some rather obvious damage (notably a consistent mark in the bottom right hand corner for a while) and throughout the film there are dirt specks galore to be seen. Compounding the problem are the rather obvious reel change markings every nineteen or so minutes. Since the rest of the transfer is otherwise quite good, these problems are just made all the more obvious.
Apart from that, the transfer is quite sharp, rather well detailed and in all general respects does not look too much like a forty odd year old film. Shadow detail is pretty good all things considered. There is some grain present in the opening credits but after that it is hardly an issue at all, and there appears to be no low level noise to be worried about either.
The colours come up rather well most of the time, being rather bright and vibrant. There are, however, times when the standard slips a little and I cannot help but feel that this might be due to source material problems with a particular reel of the original film. Skin tones are well handled, with a sharp contrast between the sun-bronzed look of the boys and the English rose complexions of the ladies. Blacks are well handled all in all. Oversaturation is not a problem at all and colour bleed is also absent from the transfer.
There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Beyond the aliasing, there appears to be no other significant problems with film-to-video artefacts.
This is an RSDL formatted DVD, but as usual I don't know where it is. I would guess that it is hidden in one of the black scene changes that crop up throughout the film.
There is not much choice in the way of subtitles on this release I am afraid, rather funnily given the unused space on the disc. The English for the Hearing Impaired efforts are pretty good and nothing significant is missed.
There are three soundtracks on the DVD, all of them being Dolby Digital 2.0 mono efforts. The language choices are English, French and Italian. I of course stuck with the English efforts.
There is nothing much wrong with the soundtrack and the dialogue comes up pretty well and is quite easy to understand generally. This is hardly surprising as it seems that most if not all the dialogue was replaced with ADR work. Unfortunately, this is rather obvious at times as the sound certainly has the feel of being in an enclosed space, even when the dialogue is being spoken out in the wide open spaces. There is some problem with audio sync as a result of the ADR work but nothing that I found offputting.
The original music score was composed by one of the most underrated British classical music composers of the twentieth century, William Alwyn. Like most of his work, it is rather fine stuff and the lack of an isolated music score is rather noticeable here.
Whilst there are times when you wish there was more than just a mono soundtrack here, much of the film really needs little more than what we have in the soundtrack. There is nothing much wrong with it, and it really is not that front and centre. There appears to be some minor issues with source material damage here and there and a bit of hiss if you crank the sound up but otherwise it is quite acceptable enough for its age.
|Surround Channel Use|
Typical of early Disney releases, there is nothing at all in the way of extras.
Whilst this might have possibly been an acceptable enough release three and a half years ago, unfortunately time has caught up with it. Released not so long ago in Region 1 was a two disc set that offers up a veritable feast of extras:
Given that the video transfer is a brand new 16x9 enhanced effort given the THX treatment, and it has a brand new, albeit sympathetic, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio transfer, by all accounts the Region 1 release looks pretty much the bees knees and is the version of choice. Hopefully a new PAL version will be forthcoming in the not too distant future (with not just the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack but the original mono soundtrack). Until then, batter the credit card and get this film from Region 1. This Region 4 release is now withdrawn, but a re-release of the film is coming in Region 4 on 21st January, 2004, as part of the Walt Disney Family Collection, at a much reduced price of $19.95 - whether this is just a re-release or a completely new transfer is not yet known.
Swiss Family Robinson is one of those great live action family films that Disney made in the 1950's and 1960's as part of a plan to dominate the family live action market as it had done with the animated features. Whilst its success in the live action realm was perhaps not as great, there is no doubt that this film and its relatives such as 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Treasure Island are high points of family film in their own right. I might have been happy with the Region 4 release three odd years ago but in light of what now exists in Region 1, it is difficult to recommend this DVD. The film? No problems recommending it at all. Wonderful stuff, even if it is a million miles away from the sort of stuff made nowadays. Just don't bother about the slick errors - they were quite common back then.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|