To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray) (1962)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Robert Mulligan (Director) and Alan Pakula (Producer)
Featurette-A Conversation With Gregory Peck
Featurette-Academy Award® Acceptance Speech
Featurette-American Film Institute Life Achievement Award
Featurette-Excerpt from Tribute To Gregory Peck
Featurette-100 Years Of Universal: Restoring The Classics
|Year Of Production||1962|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Language Select Then Menu|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Robert Mulligan|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Collin Wilcox Paxton
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
Japanese dts 2.0
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English dts 2.0
French dts 2.0
Italian dts 2.0
German dts 2.0
Spanish dts 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
Japanese Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
Italian Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Just the title, To Kill A Mockingbird, invokes some interesting images. Popular opinion has it that the mockingbird in question serves as a metaphor for the innocence of the narrator. As the other primary theme is racial injustice, it does not take a genius to work out that the story is set in the United States' Deep South region during the 1930s.
The novel is narrated from the perspective of a little girl named Jean Louise "Scout" Finch (Mary Badham). She has a brother named Jem (Phillip Alford), with whom she is seen playing a great deal in the early stages of the story. Their father, a town lawyer named Atticus (Gregory Peck), believes a couple of things that I believe, too. One is that people should be treated fairly, the other is to stand for what you believe. The one belief described in the story where we differ is to turn the other cheek (aww, really?, I hear some of you cry), but I digress.
Being that this is the 1930s, and the setting is a fictional small town called Maycomb, Alabama, the place is firmly in the grip of the Great Depression. As some early dialogues about a gentleman known as Arthur "Boo" Radley (Robert Duvall in his first major film role) prove, the town is also very firmly in the grip of ignorance. This is further evidenced when Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) is accused of raping a young white woman from town named Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton). A judge by the name of Taylor (Paul Fix) asks Atticus nicely to be Robinson's court-appointed lawyer. Scout and Jem follow Atticus to the courthouse, and this is the moment where the proverbial mockingbird begins to die.
I am sure that even a six year old girl can notice that the prosecution's story is full of holes that, by themselves, would get a rape accusation tossed out of court in 2012. But Atticus' taking of the case soon has a powerful blowback that affects the whole family. Bob Ewell (James Anderson) gives the first example of just how sick the mentality of the country boy crowd really was (and remains in some ways to this day). Epithets are flung, as are fists and threats. And as it becomes clear that no matter how well Atticus defends Tom, the system intends to find him guilty, the whole view that the children have of their world changes forever. The mockingbird basically has a terminal case of cancer, combined with fifty years' worth of living with diabetes and psoriasis, by this point.
To Kill A Mockingbird is a great story that remains relevant not merely fifty years after the film was first released, but even since before author Harper Lee was born. Gregory Peck demonstrates that it takes more than just being tall and having massive pectorals to be a great big man, while Mary Badham and Phillip Alford are surprisingly compelling as the Finch children. The sequence in which Atticus explains to the children why his father told him it was a sin to kill a mockingbird is worth its weight in gold.
(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) (And the closing sequence in which "Boo" demonstrates he is more than just some neighbourhood bogeyman is icing on this cake.)
To Kill A Mockingbird is being rereleased as part of Universal Studios' celebration that, as of 2012, the studio is a century old. The film is, going purely in terms of years, exactly half that age. Universal also claims that this is a full restoration effort. Usually, when I hear this claim, I entertain it with scepticism and prepare for disappointment. But in this case, the claim is a hundred percent true.
The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive frame.
This transfer is sharp. Not as sharp as a five year old film, sure, but for one that is fifty years old, it is spectacular. Greenery, facial features at a medium distance, and other moderately fine details are spectacularly resolved. However, long shots are a lot less detailed, with anything more than about twelve feet from the focal point barely recognisable as their general category. This is a fault of the photographer, I am pretty certain, so we will leave it at that. Shadow detail is very limited. No low-level noise was in evidence.
The film was originally presented in black and white, and this transfer does not differ from that. The palette from the darkest black to the brightest white is appropriately wide, with no detail lost from this limitation. No bleeds, false colourations, or colour-related artefacts occur.
The transfer is compressed in the VC-1 codec. The total bitrate repeatedly rises above 38 mb/s. No compression artefacts were evident when I viewed the feature. No aliasing is in this transfer. Slight wobbles consistent with a mildly unsteady camera mechanism are visible in some shots, but never in amounts bothersome or sufficient to suggest any problem in the telecine stage. Film artefacts were visible very occasionally, and they were very small. There are films that are less than a fifth as old as this that would envy how good this one looks now.
Subtitles are offered in English. They are listed only as English, not English for the Hearing Impaired. The subtitles contain a few aural cues, such as when the dog is barking or when Tom sighs during his testimony. This reflects an element of the sound in the film that I will detail more in the audio segment. The subtitles for the dialogue are very accurate to the spoken word.
The video transfer offers very few clues to the film's age. The same can be said of the audio transfer.
A total of eight soundtracks are offered on this disc. Curiously, the first soundtrack on the disc is a DTS 2.0 Japanese dub. The second, and default on both of my players, is the original English dialogue, remixed into 5.1 channels and presented with DTS HD Master Audio compression. The third soundtrack is the original English dialogue, presented in a DTS 2.0 recreation of the original monaural presentation. Dubs in French, Italian, German, and Spanish DTS 2.0 are also offered. Finally, an English audio commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 is offered. I listened to all three of the English soundtracks.
Before we continue, it is important to note that this film was designed to be all about the dialogue and its meaning. This means very little Foley, only a small amount of music, and very little attempts to have two people talk over one another. This is reflected in the differences between the 2.0 and 5.1 channel soundtracks
The dialogue could not possibly get any clearer or easier to understand. Since other elements almost never overlap it, and certainly not to the degree common to today's films, separation is pretty much a moot point. Where this soundtrack truly excels is in the quality of the dialogue. Were it not for the fact that many of the adult cast in this film are no longer with us, and in some of those cases have not been for a while now, you could be forgiven for thinking the dialogue was recorded yesterday. The only time the age of the film is betrayed is when Scout raises her voice (with slight delay effect applied) at 114:32. This clips and distorts slightly, but not too dramatically. No audio sync problems are evident.
The score in this film is one of the many works attributed to Elmer Bernstein. Although it is not as prevalent in the film as years of living post-Star Wars have trained me to expect, the moments when I heard the score clearly are right up there with the greats. The music heard after the trial has concluded are a great proxy for what I am sure the entire Finch family are feeling. The cues we hear as the children walk home from the Halloween party are worth their weight in gold.
The surround channels are barely heard from during this film. The surrounds occasionally receive parts of the score music, but given the extremely dialogue-oriented nature of the film, it should surprise nobody that they can be turned off without anyone noticing a difference. The subwoofer also had the night off. The occasional slow journey of cars notwithstanding, there is nothing in the film that the subwoofer could really enhance, anyway.
Regarding the difference between the two mixes, it is somewhat curious that the two-channel soundtrack is not presented in the lossless format. But in this instance, due to the very limited amounts of overlapping elements in the soundtrack and the minimal use of the additional channels in the 5.1 mix, the difference between these two soundtracks is very, very minimal. Most of it is basically a difference in the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of both soundtracks.
|Surround Channel Use|
A moderate, but very valuable, collection of extras adorns this disc. In the interests of being fair, I will get my big complaints out of the way first, and quickly. The "perfect picture" blurb is still ill-advised, but far more appropriate in this instance. The menu system, however, is a little on the nose. Putting the language option I want in a position that is inconsistent with some other Universal discs, and in a place where my TV's informational display hides it at that, is a bit much. Can we please rethink the design of menus like this, just a tad?
The menu follows the usual Universal structure, with a video capture from the film occupying most of the screen, and the options in a column down the left of the screen. A total of forty chapter stops are present, creating an average of three minutes and change per stop. This is what I consider to be the right amount, so kudos to Universal for that.
As one would expect of a film with this much history and impact, the participants in this commentary share a load of information that enhances the film's impact. When the children are on-screen during the early part of the film, much is said about the manner in which Mulligan and Peck worked with them. And this is just one example of how informative it all gets.
At ninety minutes and thirteen seconds, this featurette is divided in the menu into twenty-five chapters. It is presented in a 1.78:1 window, windowboxed, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Seeing Phillip Alford and Mary Badham as they are nowadays is worth the price of admission by itself. Gregory Peck's recollections double the value.
Somewhat regrettably for me, this is only the second film I can recall seeing Gregory Peck in. Which means it is probably only the second film I have seen him in, because you do not forget him easily. He is the proverbial man's man.
Once, I was cutting up and composing a film capture featurette phrased as a collection of things that autistic Children Of The '80s like my good self wanted to say to a certain organisation actively working against our interests. Peck saying "Now I've heard you… I want you to hear me" during The Omen was the first piece that I edited and arranged for it. He looks worse for wear during much of this featurette, but the same still applies. When someone like my male parental unit says that to me, I stop listening. When someone like Peck says or said it, I am all ears. This featurette helps demonstrate why.
Presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with windowboxed excerpts from films at 1.85:1 or 2.35:1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Ninety-seven minutes and thirty-seven seconds of a tribute to a man this world is much poorer without.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. This ninety-one second capture is of Peck's speech at the 1962 Academy Awards. More of a historical curiosity than anything else, but worth a look. Valuable simply because any other footage of the event may no longer survive.
Presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. This ten minute featurette is obviously a lot more recent. Peck's speech was obviously worked out in advance, even rehearsed, but he has that rare quality of being able to make it sound like he is making it up on the spot and all the while making every word seem inarguable.
Ten minutes and nine seconds of Cecilia Peck making a speech about her father, in his capacities both as a father and as a professional actor. Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. At one point, she introduces her brothers to the present audience, and makes a statement, "Of all the children in the whole world who must have wished they could have Gregory Peck as a father, he was ours". Given what I am finding myself going through at present, I can tell Cecelia that I am definitely amongst that lot now.
Twelve minutes of Mary Badham talking to CBS about her experience of auditioning for and portraying the role of Scout Finch. Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with film excepts in 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
A two minute and fifty second trailer presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Basically a sales pitch for the film by Gregory Peck. It backs up the whole "Gregory Peck was awesome" theme that permeates the disc, and does so very nicely.
Nine minutes and eleven seconds of fluff, but good fluff. Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. This explains in a slightly more than superficial level of detail the processes that the people at Universal are using to present films of varying ages in their best possible light. It seems that Universal will be releasing a lot of older films on BD as a celebration of having been in business for a century. One title that is mentioned in this featurette, Jaws, I have been wanting to see on BD since I first fully got into the format. This is the one extra on the disc that actually is presented in high definition. And some of the obstacles the source materials are presenting, even with films as relatively recent as Jaws, leave me with my mouth open.
This is basically a picture-in-picture track that uses an extensive amount of footage that already appears in the featurettes. If one is looking for a picture-in-picture that proves its worth, this is not it.
Where content, and it would seem from descriptions on High Def Digest transfer quality, are concerned, the two releases are fundamentally identical. The Region A disc has far, far less language options cluttering things up. However, the Region A disc is also one of those "shove in" packs, with a mandatory DVD and "digital copy" in there, want it or not. Adding to this is the US list price. Amazon has it discounted at 25.99, which is slightly more than 25 percent more than I paid for the local release. On a technical, hard-evidence scale, the two discs are pretty much equal. But certain fringe elements lead me to the conclusion that my decision to just purchase the local release was the right one. I am actually happy to have said that for a change.
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the best films ever made, and deserves the pride that Universal have treated it with for this release. If ever there were a film that deserved to be packed away so that men or aliens ten thousand years from now could find it and see that the people of the twentieth century were not all complete write-offs, this is it. Why they do not show this film in political science or social psychology classes is beyond me.
The BD that To Kill A Mockingbird has been presented on can be summed up this way. Universal as a collective are obviously very proud that this film was made and distributed on their nickel, and they have every reason to be. They have every reason to be proud of this disc. The video, the audio, and the additional features are all at the top of their game. Here is to hoping the 100th anniversary celebration continues with this standard of releases.
|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|