To Kill a Mockingbird: Collector's Edition (1962)

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Released 14-Feb-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of-Fearful Symmetry (DD2.0, 1.85:1, 4x3, 90:13 minutes)
Audio Commentary-Robert Mulligan (Director) & Alan Pakula (Producer)
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer-(DD2.0, 1.33:1, 2:52 minutes)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1962
Running Time 123:53
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (94:24) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Mulligan
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Gregory Peck
Mary Badham
Phillip Alford
John Megna
Ruth White
Paul Fix
Brock Peters
Frank Overton
Rosemary Murphy
Collin Wilcox
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music Elmer Bernstein


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Swedish
Norwegian
German
Dutch
Czech
Polish
Turkish
Hungarian
Bulgarian
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    To Kill A Mockingbird is the film adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning book set in a small rural Alabama town during the depression years of the 1930s. It is primarily a story seen and told through the eyes of children, in particular by Jean Louise "Scout" Finch (Mary Badham), playing the partially autobiographical role of Harper Lee. She and her brother, Jem (Phillip Alford) are the two children of the well respected lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), a man of principles who tries to instil in his children the values of human decency, understanding and acceptance. At the core of the story is the issue of bigotry, firstly of the very real, ugly, adult version that forms so crucial a part of the Southern US character of the film, and secondly of the imaginary, childish version that exhibits itself in the play and dreams of the two children and their friend, Dill (John Megna, in a role that was based on Harper Lee's childhood friend, Truman Capote).

    The film begins by recounting the long, warm summer days of the author's youth, soon followed by the beginning of school. In this, as in all of the film, the time and effort taken in recreating the feel and mood of the times is wonderfully repaid as the viewer becomes part of the setting (and perhaps our own childhood memories are rekindled). We are reminded that there are more than simple children's games going on, as Atticus is approached by the town's Judge to provide legal defense for a young black man charged with the rape of a white woman. That the man is innocent, in fact that he is physically incapable of committing the crime, is ignored by many in the town as they try to reconcile their own immutable social conditioning with what has really happened. The girl's father, Bob Ewell (James Anderson) is an example of the very worst kind of a man, the behaviour and attitude of whom are at the opposite extreme of what Atticus tries to instil in his children. Unfortunately, as Atticus admits to Jem, it's impossible for him to protect his children from the evils of the world forever. There are many contrasts for the children to learn and understand. For example, in spite of Atticus rejecting the use of guns, and preventing his son from owning one, he shows in one scene that he is in fact a fine marksman himself.

    The children have their own, simple, strain of bigotry, expressed in their stories of a hideous man-monster - Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) - living in the house of their neighbour and only coming out to roam the streets of a night. That they have never seen or even heard Boo for real doesn't deter them in lavishing ever more fantasy on his story. That it should all turn out to be so far from the truth is part of the magic that makes this film so special.

    There is no action of any real kind in this film. In fact it could almost be described as being "slow". Yet this is part of the magic that unfurls on the screen, and which really can't be described adequately here. It is because this is a story as seen by the children, for whom (as we all know), time seems to crawl by so slowly. This is a film about story, and characterizations and remembrance of a previous age, and has been made with very real love and care. It is full of very special moments, such as when Scout is told to stand as Atticus is walking out of the courtroom because her "daddy is passing", or in the bare one or two minutes in which Robert Duvall is on screen and utters not a single word. Within minutes of the opening we have been literally beguiled into the world of the depression era rural township, into the world of the children. That Gregory Peck simply IS Atticus Finch is a remarkable testament to his legendary star status.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    WARNING - at the time of writing this review there were two versions of this film available on DVD in Australia, from two different distributors. This review refers to the Columbia Tristar version, a distributor who takes considerable pride in the high quality of their product. Having not seen the alternative version I can make no promise as to its quality.

    The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced, but the quality of the transfer is such that this does not show up as a significant problem. Black and white films seem to bear up relatively better than colour prints in this area but, of course, I would much rather have had the full widescreen enhancement for even better quality.

    Image sharpness is extremely good, especially so for a film of almost 40 years of age. By modern standards, the picture would be considered slightly soft but still yields remarkable detail. One such example is the clarity of reflections that are frequently seen in Atticus' reading glasses - there are no blurs or smudges at any point. Shadow detail is similarly clearly rendered. In fact, the black and white image seems to lend shadows a certain type of magic, where foreground imagery is crystal clear and background shadow begins to merge seamlessly into the dark. There is no low level noise and scarcely any grain - see 78:05 and 121:00 for a couple of rare examples of minor grain.

    The black and white adds to the setting of the film and prevents the story from being overpowered by overt displays of colour. Several of the night scenes, the last couple in particular, I think benefit especially from this. The greyscale graduation is wonderfully recorded, and allows for wide and clear contrast between the various objects on screen. At one stage this huge range of different shades led me to feel that there were no real blacks to be had on screen, but this turns out not to be the case.

    There were no MPEG compression artefacts to be seen throughout the film. Aliasing did show up, once worth mentioning at 37:12 just to show how trivial this was.

    Film artefacts can certainly be found, such as at 16:17 where a faint blemish running the full height of the picture persists for some time. Reel change marks begin at 17:29 and then at intervals of about 20 minutes thereafter. Finally, tiny scratch marks are dotted throughout, but they are so small you actually have to look for them to see them. Notwithstanding these comments, the general feel is that the picture is nigh on pristine.

    The disc is formatted as a dual layer DVD, with the layer change coming at 94:24 midway through a scene. Perhaps the first layer was crammed full by that stage, because an ideal spot for the change comes just a few minutes later in a fade out to a night scene. In any case it is a relatively quick change and not too troublesome.

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

Audio

    There are five audio tracks available on the disc - English, German, Italian, French and Spanish - all in Digital Dolby 1.0. In addition there is a single English audio commentary track featuring the director and producer. The mono track mirrors the original soundtrack recording. I listened solely to the English tracks. The initial impression is of a very flat and lifeless soundtrack. However, this seems to evaporate as the story begins to dominate, to the point where the sound seems as natural and as enveloping as a surround soundtrack. I know this must be an illusion, created by the quality of the film and the actors, but it does say a lot for what can be achieved by truly talented filmmakers.

    The weakest part of the soundtrack, in my opinion, is the occasional lack of clarity of the children's dialogue. Scout is the worst offender in this regard, and there were a couple of times when I resorted to the subtitles to understand what was being said. No doubt the problem is caused by a combination of the youth and inexperience of the children (none of them had had any serious acting experience) together with the southern accents they possess. It goes without saying that Atticus' dialogue, and that of the other adults, is never less than crystal clear.

    Special mention must be made of the beautiful musical score created by Elmer Bernstein. The Children's Theme is an especially lovely piece of music that seems to blend with the film's mood to perfection. A comment is made during the audio commentary that it would have been a very different viewing experience in the absence of the music, and I entirely agree. From the opening credits, the music is enough to bring tears to your eyes with its simple beauty. This is repeated several times to great effect during the more important parts of the film, and several other themes were composed to add to other dramatic scenes. I found myself replaying the opening credits several times just to hear the music.

    There is no use made of the surround channels or the subwoofer.

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

Extras

Featurette - (Making Of) - Fearful Symmetry

    Presented in widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Running time is 90:13 minutes. This is far more than a simple "Making of" featurette. In fact it is a full film in its own right, directed by Charles Kiselyak, and could be considered to be a study of the film and its background in the form of society in Harper Lee's own home town in the rural South during the depression. Oh, it's also a bit of a "Making of" featurette to the extent that it includes interviews of its stars and director, and some of its production details. Although beginning rather slowly and ambiguously, I found it ultimately to be extremely worthwhile and by far the most thoughtful and rewarding extra of its type I've seen.

Audio Commentary-Robert Mulligan (Director) & Alan Pakula (Producer)

    I was looking forward to this with much anticipation, but found it to actually be rather poor value. The commentary tends to ramble, and often seems to be little more than personal reminiscences of people the director and producer once knew. Most of the stuff of any interest disclosed here makes its way into the "Frightful Symmetry" and Production Notes extras.

Production Notes

    Provides an interesting read on some aspects of the film.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Slightly better than the average Bio listing in that it contains more than 5 lines for each actor. Otherwise, there are no surprises.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. An example of the old style of trailer, including a personal commentary from Gregory Peck to the audience. The picture quality is not of the same standard as that of the film itself, lacking a degree of sharpness and with slightly excessive contrast, but overall the quality is not too shabby.

R4 vs R1

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

    From what I can gather we get an identical set of disc specs as the R1 version. The decision to buy locally is therefore very easy.

Summary

    To Kill A Mockingbird is a true jewel of film history. The quality of the story, production and ensemble acting, led so wonderfully by Gregory Peck, means that this should be a necessary addition to any film lover's library. The film will appeal to a very wide range of audiences (except those who require speed, action and violence) and can be enjoyed time and again. This very fine film has been given an excellent treatment, notwithstanding the lack of widescreen enhancement. Go out and buy it.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Thursday, February 22, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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