Elephant Man, The (Blu-ray) (1980)
Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-Jospeh Merrick: The Real Elephant Man
Featurette-The Air Is On Fire: Interview With David Lynch
Featurette-John Hurt Interview
Featurette-David Lynch Interview
Featurette-Interview With David Lynch By Mike Figgis
|Year Of Production||1980|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||David Lynch|
Universal Pictures Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
German DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
Spanish DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
Italian DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
As I have said elsewhere, David Lynch's work is an acquired taste. However, like all truly good directors, he finds something relevant to say in every work. Even if in many cases it is almost impossible to discern exactly what that something is. After Eraserhead managed to make studio heads around the world collectively say something like "huh? what the ****?", Lynch managed to secure the director's chair from Brooksfilms (as in Mel Brooks' production company) for what would be a very challenging biopic of Joseph Merrick (renamed John in this piece).
The film begins with Doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) visiting a Victorian freak show in the East End. There, he discovers John Merrick (John Hurt), a man with such severe deformities that he cannot go outside without a sack over his head for fear of scaring observers. Through various means, Treves secures Merrick's release from the freak show and brings him to the hospital. At first, Merrick is merely a research curiosity to Treves and most of his colleagues, but as Merrick slowly opens up to communicate, Treves becomes determined to do whatever he can to help the poor man. Unfortunately, the circumstances in which Treves rescued Merrick from the freak show have unpleasant repercussions. During the daytime, Merrick is treated well, but a night porter (Michael Elphick) begins to secretly make money by bringing people from nearby pubs to gawk at Merrick. Bytes (Freddie Jones), the freak show owner, is especially incensed by how Merrick has been removed from his custody, and eventually kidnaps Merrick, taking him to Europe and subjecting him to the life that he had before Treves came along.
Of course, Treves is incensed by these terrible things that have been done to Merrick in spite of all his efforts. And therein lies what the film is basically about. The people shown in this film who mistreat Merrick are universally ignorant, with their reactions to him being the one thing that unites them in spite of the severe disparity in wealth between the two kinds of audience he is put before. In the end, the kindness that Merrick is shown by Treves and his circle is overwhelmed by the ignorance and ugliness of the England that they happen to inhabit. I will not give the ending away, except to say that I was greatly moved by Hopkins' and Hurt's performances, and Phoebe Nicholls' brief appearance as Merrick's mother really threw me.
Unfortunately, the more straightforward a David Lynch film is, the less it works. It is not that the film is bad, but the less he tries to creep the audience out, the less the film ends up with to fall back on. Lynch just lucked out in this case with Hopkins and Hurt in the lead roles. They are why the film has the power it does. The presentation, in this instance, does not hurt, either.
The Elephant Man was shot anamorphically, and on a budget of five million 1980 dollars. It is also presented in black and white. The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.
The transfer is very sharp. The fine details of the makeup can be appreciated to a degree here that I do not believe has ever been available outside of a theatre. Shadow detail is limited but it is always easy to understand the shots. No low-level noise is evident.
Being a black and white film, colour is not really an issue. A good range is visible between the blackest of the black and whitest of the white, and no false colouration is visible.
The transfer is compressed in the AVC codec, with no artefacting in evidence. Film to video artefacts were not in the transfer, either. Film artefacts are occasionally on offer, but are far smaller and less frequent than one would expect from a thirty-two year old film.
Subtitles are offered in English. These contain no cues of any kind, so their use to Hearing Impaired viewers is limited. Their accuracy to the spoken word is good, but not a hundred percent.
A total of five soundtracks are offered with this transfer. The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio, 5.1 channel. Dubs are offered in French, German, Spanish, and Italian. All dubs are in DTS HD Master Audio 2.0, and all were reported as stereo by the BD45. I listened to the English soundtrack, and did a quick comparison of the dubs. The dubs vary considerably in level and mix, but are otherwise pretty reasonable in quality.
Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, with one exception. John Hurt's lines take some effort to properly discern, more so at times than others, but with the deformities being portrayed, this is clearly by design. No audio sync problems were noted.
The score music is credited to one John Morris. Other credits in Morris' résumé include Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs. The score on offer here is nothing like those pieces, obviously. When I did notice it, the score seemed to resemble circus or carousel music. It works well, although I will not be seeking it out to listen to separately.
The surround channels were used sparingly for music and the occasional environmental effect. One could turn off the surround channels without missing a thing.
The subwoofer was used a little more in order to support music and the odd bass-heavy effect. It did not make its presence felt often, but when it did, it added something to the soundtrack.
|Surround Channel Use|
A moderately-sized collection of extras that manage to be more interesting than expected is present. All of them are in standard definition, but their interest factor overcomes that enough for a viewing. All are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, unless otherwise stated.
The Top Menu is animated and features audio that is noticeably louder than any of the video material on the disc. Navigation is pretty straightforward and responsive.
Nineteen minutes and fifty-three seconds of Jonathan Evans, an archivist for the Royal London Hospital Museum, and an apparent fan of this film, giving us the straight dope on whom Joseph Merrick was and how the real story differs from what we see in the film. This is well worth a look.
Fourteen minutes, fifty seconds, and far more French than I ever wanted to hear in my lifetime.
Twenty minutes and fourteen seconds of John Hurt discussing how he approached playing the character. They obviously cast Hurt for physical reasons as well as his abilities as a performer. Having said that, it is quite jarring to try and imagine how this man played the part with such huge amounts of makeup on his person.
Twenty-four minutes and forty-nine seconds of David Lynch talking about what he did between Eraserhead and this film, for starters. His voice makes it no mystery as to why he does not get in front of the camera. Haha. His story about working with Mel Brooks is worth watching this featurette on its own.
Nineteen minutes and fifty seconds. Exactly what the title says. The manner in which the shot(s) of Lynch was composed is very interesting. The subject matter of the interview is far less specific to The Elephant Man. Lynch's hands move about a lot more as he speaks than even mine do when I am bored or nervous. Haha.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
A search on High-Def Digest for a review of the Region A equivalent turned up empty. There are articles on that site referring to a HD-DVD of the film, but whether this is the only release available in Region A is not something I am able to properly determine. If anyone is able to point me in the direction of more definitive information about the American release in particular, thank you in advance.
The Elephant Man has been described by some as mawkish and moralising. Roger Ebert stated that he continually asked himself what the film was trying to say about the human condition, and kept drawing blanks. Well, speaking as someone who marched for a no-fault disability insurance scheme and is anguished at the threat of a man who should not be allowed a say in what is for lunch becoming Prime Minister (thus putting an end to what I hope it will mean for me), I can enlighten you, Mr. Ebert. What The Elephant Man told me is that if the degree of civilisation in a society is reflected in how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us, then we should look in a mirror and be utterly ashamed of ourselves, even today. No, this is not David Lynch's best work, but it is a big step above many other films that attempt similar comment on our world. Much of that is due to John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins.
The video transfer is very good, bordering on excellent.
The audio transfer is good, but could have been 3.1 channels without making much of a difference.
The extras are basically a collection of interviews, mostly with the director. One of them in particular is quite enlightening.
|DVD||Panasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic TH-P50U20A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer|