Swiss Family Robinson (Remastered) (1960)

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Released 28-Jan-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Family Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Director and Actors
Featurette-Pirates (2:06)
Featurette-Lost Treasures: Swiss Family Tree House (3:41)
Gallery-1960 Disney Studio Album (4:32)
Gallery-Production Photographs (2:16)
Trailer
TV Spots
Storyboard Comparisons
Audio-Only Track-My Heart Was An Island, Pirate Attack
Gallery-Lobby Cards, Posters, Merchandising, Production Stills
Storyboards
Featurette-Script Excerpt: Bertie Is A Girl
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1960
Running Time 121:11
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (65:53) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Ken Annakin
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring John Mills
Dorothy McGuire
James MacArthur
Janet Munro
Sessue Hayakawa
Tommy Kirk
Kevin Corcoran
Cecil Parker
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music William Alwyn


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Portuguese
Spanish Audio Commentary
Swedish Audio Commentary
Norwegian Audio Commentary
Finnish Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Not so long ago I reviewed the original, withdrawn, Region 4 release of Swiss Family Robinson in the expectation of its replacement arriving in the near future. That expectation was partly flamed by the two disc Region 1 release that had been released well over eighteen months ago. So the arrival of the remastered Region 4 release has to be classified as a disappointment, simply as we have still not received anything close to the Region 1 release.

    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 realisation 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.

    The positives from this new remaster are the fact that the film has been restored and combined with the 16x9 enhancement this has resulted in a significant improvement in the visual side of things. Audio has also been improved by the six channel remastering, although purists will be aghast that the original mono soundtrack has been lost. Were the choice solely on audio and visual improvements, then this would be a dead cert recommendation, but when you know what the Region 1 release contains it is hard to look anywhere else for this film on DVD.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is no simple recycling of the transfer used on the earlier release of the film on Region 4 DVD - this is a brand new effort that has addressed all the major issues with that original transfer. The transfer is now presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in accordance with its theatrical release ratio and it is now 16x9 enhanced.

    The restoration has an element of good news-bad news to it though. Whilst the really good news is detailed below, there seems to have been a slight improvement in sharpness and detail in the transfer with the restoration. Shadow detail, too, seems to have improved a little. However, that extra detail in the transfer does highlight a couple of instances of slightly out-of-focus camerawork more than the earlier release did. Nothing major and obviously inherent in the source material for the simple reason that reshooting the scenes (which mainly involve the tiger) was simply impractical. Grain and low level noise remain pretty much a non-issue other than some grain in the opening credits. All-in-all, a pretty decent transfer without even allowing for its age.

    The colours were always one of the high points of the earlier release and so they remain in this new remaster. Indeed, the restoration has added quite significantly to the look of the film and there is now even more depth and vibrancy to the colours. Yes, there are still some of those lapses that are inherent in the source material but even these seem to be improved. Skin tones continue to be well handled, with that sharp contrast between the sun-bronzed look of the boys and the English rose complexions of the ladies still easily noted. There is no problem with oversaturation nor colour bleed in the transfer. There is a distinct blue tint to proceedings, however, around the 76:00 mark - this represents the tree house footage shot on a sound stage and not on location, so presumably is due to the lighting used.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. The big improvement over the withdrawn release is that film-to-video artefacts are almost absent from the transfer now. Indeed, there were only a few places where I noted the presence of aliasing: at 6:28 in the distress flag sign and two instances in the tiger's whiskers (at 13:52 and 106:14). I am sure that there are others but these were the only efforts that I really noted during playback - a vast improvement over the aliasing-riddled earlier release. The restoration has also seen a marked improvement in the cleanliness of the transfer such that film artefacts are very much reduced in this effort. Indeed, aside from the still present film damage in the lower right hand corner of the film during the opening credits between 0:40 and 1:00 there is little here to be concerned about. What is left falls into the rather minor category of some spots here and there that you barely notice. The reel change markings have gone for good.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 65:53. Given that there was no indication during playback of a layer change pause, it would seem that it is well placed and not at all disruptive to the flow of the film.

    There is a much better choice of subtitles on this DVD compared to the original release, although I only sampled the two English efforts. Both are pretty decent although with a tendency to drop words here and there in order to fit the rather largish font-sized efforts onto the screen. More annoying are the spelling errors that crop up: canon instead of cannon and Frances instead of Francis.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Naturally I stuck with checking out the two English language efforts.

    It is important to remember that most of the dialogue - if not all - was redone after the film was shot and it shows. No matter how good the ADR people were, there is no way that they could get this spot on. Just about every time you see lip movement, it does not correspond with the dialogue spoken. This is inherent in the source material and is not evidence of audio sync issues. Whilst it never gets off-putting, it certainly is quite obvious at times. Other than that, there is no problem with audio sync in the transfer. Overall the dialogue comes up pretty well (except the foreign language spoken by Sessue Hayakawa) and is easy enough to understand.

    The original music score was composed by one of the most underrated British classical music composers of the twentieth century, William Alwyn. It really is very nice stuff and it is a shame that we do not get an isolated music score in the package. I think it would have been an interesting inclusion.

    One of the big issues with remastering classic films to include six channel soundtracks is to ensure that the remastering is done with some sympathy. For the most part this one meets that test. There are, however, a few places where the lack of sympathy is a bit too obvious, notably in the over-the-top use of bass in the opening credits. There are other places where the bass is perhaps too "obvious" in the soundtrack, such as in the cannon firing, the blowing up of the ship and the explosion of coconut bombs. The obviousness is simply due to the fact that there is basically nothing in the way of surround encoding in the soundtrack otherwise. At best there might be some very occasional use in the front surround channels but nothing that is terribly overt. There is nothing at all out of the rear channels, to the extent that to call this a six channel soundtrack is really a misnomer. It all makes you wonder whether there was any real benefit served by the six channel remaster in preference to a remastered two channel soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A vastly different package to the original release, even if it still does not approach the Region 1 release. Unless otherwise noted the video presentations are in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, they are not 16x9 enhanced and they feature Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Most feature selectable Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish and Finnish subtitles.

Menu

    After a fair looking and presented main menu introduction, the menus themselves are reasonable decently handled with a thematic framework that evokes the shipwrecked nature of the family. The audio and animation enhancement is reasonable.

Audio Commentary - Ken Annakin (Director), Tommy Kirk, James MacArthur and Kevin Corcoran (Actors)

    As most regular readers know, I hate these things. So when I say that this is quite an amiable effort that is quite entertaining as well as informative, then you might have some clue that this is better than the norm. Whilst little is necessarily screen specific, that is part of the amiability of the effort: Tommy Kirk and Ken Annakin in particular provide a wealth of insights into what went on behind the film, with plenty of personal anecdotes. Obviously a fairly recent effort, the memories at times are not perfect (they seem to contradict each other as to whether Walt Disney actually visited the set on the island of Tobago for instance), but that hardly detracts at all. Kevin Corcoran was recorded separately and his contributions are spliced into the recording of the other three participants. Well worth checking this one out.

Featurette - Pirates (2:06)

    A seemingly pointless meandering through the Disney archives that dredges up a lot of excerpts of various films and shorts that include pirates (as well as an aged look at the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride at Disneyland). Given that the technical side of things is fairly ropey, this is certainly two minutes of worthless rubbish that could have so easily been left off the DVD and no one would have really missed it. No subtitles.

Featurette - Lost Treasures: Swiss Family Tree House (3:41)

    On the one hand this is hardly a worthwhile inclusion but on the other it does have some charm. It is a short film showing the tree house built at Disneyland that was pretty well a complete replica of the tree house built for the film. Its visitors are Dorothy McGuire, John Mills and Walt Disney amongst others pre-opening and finishes off with footage of the official opening. The film is without sound but there is narrated contribution from Hayley Mills - the connection of course being a little obvious.

Gallery - 1960 Disney Studio Album (4:32)

    A self-running collection of material that simply "lists" the catalogue of films, shorts, television programmes and such that were produced, were in production or were reissued in the same year as Swiss Family Robinson was released. Basically another pointless inclusion that serves no purpose and certainly is hardly worthwhile checking out. Technically there is some modest aliasing to be seen in some of the material displayed.

Gallery - Production Photographs (2:16)

    Another self-running collection of photographs taken during the making of the film. Again there is some aliasing floating around but nothing too disruptive. The photographs are of good quality overall.

Trailer (5:12)

    Under the menu heading of Trailers & TV Spots we find a single trailer and a single TV spot. At a reasonable guess, this is not a theatrical trailer but a promotional trailer. The presentation is in an aspect ratio of 2.55:1 by the looks of it and given the age of it in pretty good condition. There is certainly nothing really awry from a technical point of view although minor aliasing and grain are noted.

TV Spot (0:32)

    This runs straight after the trailer, and as a result the variation on a theme is rather too obvious. The technical quality is good and there are no real problems with the overall presentation.

Storyboard To Scene Comparison (2:15)

    Presented picture in picture style with the storyboards above the film. The segment covers the rescue of Bertie from the pirates. Rather mundane stuff nowadays as we have seen it so often - and there really is not much difference between the original storyboard and the final film. A bit of aliasing is all that mars the presentation.

Audio-Only Track - My Heart Was An Island (1:20)

    Playing over some rather nice photographs of the tropical paradise that Tobago appears to be. Not really earth-shattering stuff.

Featurette - Sound Studio: Pirate Attack (3:01)

    Another style of presentation that we have seen before, this provides the opportunity to see the relevant excerpt from the film accompanied by a choice of full final composite sound, just the dialogue or just the music and effects. You can switch between the three options by using the audio button on your remote. The presentation looks like it is in an aspect ratio of 2.55:1.

Gallery - Advertising: Lobby Cards

    Eight stills that are quite decent other than some dot crawl on some of the "embossed" writing on the cards.

Gallery - Advertising: Posters

    Fourteen stills that include not just posters but some concept art for posters.

Gallery - Advertising: Merchandising

    Eighteen stills that mainly cover a comic issue as well as some records (the old vinyl things that were replaced by CDs for you younger ones).

Gallery - Production Stills

    I am not going to count them again so you will just have to take my word for it that there are about 220 stills included in this package. Some are duplications of photographs seen in other sections, so presumably this is just picking up those collections as well. A pity that some annotations were not used to highlight some of the contents here.

Gallery - Storyboards

    A collection of 44 storyboards detailing the first sequence: getting to the beach on the raft. Basically ho-hum stuff that really is not inspiring me at all nowadays.

Featurette - Script Excerpt: Bertie Is A Girl (3:30)

    Maybe I am missing the point here but all this seems to do is play the segment from the film. Quite where this becomes a script excerpt I have no idea. The presentation appears to be 2.35:1. Pointless stuff indeed - unless some player specific fault is preventing access to something (which I seriously doubt).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Region 1 was blessed with a two disc Special Edition release over eighteen months ago. When this new Region 4 release was announced, I had what I would consider reasonable expectations that it would be the same package as the Region 1 release. Therefore the fact that we don't get the same package is extremely disappointing indeed. Compared with the Region 1 release, the Region 4 release still misses out on:

    By the accounts found, the near-hour long featurette is a beauty and is perhaps the biggest loss on the Region 4 release. Given that much of what is included on the Region 4 release is decidedly filler, I would have thought that going with the featurette and dropping the filler would have been the way to go. As it is, the Region 1 release remains the preferred choice.

Summary

    In comparison with the original Region 4 release, now withdrawn, of Swiss Family Robinson, this is an infinitely superior effort in every respect. Firstly, the restored and remastered image is generally very good and shows very little evidence of age at all. Most of the problems noted on the original release have been eliminated entirely. The audio remaster is not entirely successful but is at least generally sympathetic to the original soundtrack, whilst nearly pandering to those who insist upon six channel sound. A pity, however, that the original mono soundtrack has been lost. Whilst there is certainly quantity in the extras package, someone forgot about quality and a fair chunk of what is included here is filler of the highest order that adds nothing to the overall package. Accordingly, whilst this is an improvement, it still does not approach the Region 1 release from eighteen months or more ago.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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