Under Milk Wood (1973)

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Released 21-May-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 87:59
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Andrew Sinclair
Hugh French
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Richard Burton
Peter O'Toole
Elizabeth Taylor
Glynis Johns
Vivien Merchant
Sian Phillips
Case C-Button-Version 2-Opaque
RPI $19.95 Music Brian Gascoigne

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 in Uplands, Swansea. He wrote his first poems before the age of eleven and his first published work was 18 poems released when he was only nineteen. A contemporary of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, but writing in a very different style, he was the epitome of the mad poet. He spent a large amount of the time drunk and often engaged in roaring disputes in public, and he was also very flamboyant. At one stage he worked as a reporter, though it is said he lost his job after reporting on a lacrosse match that had been cancelled. He was reportedly in the pub instead of at the match. He also worked at the BBC reading poetry and later was to tour widely in America reading poetry. In many ways he was responsible for popularising this form of entertainment. He died in 1953 of alcoholic poisoning, the same year that he first read Under Milk Wood to a public audience.

    Under Milk Wood is billed as a play for voices and this certainly comes across in the film adaptation. About half the film is silent action with a voiceover, and the voiceover describes the thoughts of a stranger (Richard Burton), who whilst wandering through a small Welsh village seems to know the intimate details of the life of a selection of the town inhabitants. Described in poetic terms we learn that most of the inhabitants are very strange people indeed - we are told about their innermost desires and thoughts. The other half is the characters themselves acting out some of what we have learned about them.

    We start at dawn and follow through one day in the life of the town. The town itself appears to have been passed by in history and those that are left behind almost seem like they are caught in a very drab and depressing version of Groundhog Day, destined to repeat each day over and over. We see a bartender that has secret desires for the local school teacher, a haberdasher that is having an affair, a strange marriage with a very dominant wife and a husband that dreams of knocking her off and many other strange characters. A central character is a retired sea captain that is blind and dreams of the life that he used to lead.

    Parts of this film are strangely compelling. Other parts are strange or repelling. Overall, this is a very hard film to categorise or review. The cast is a who's who of the time; Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Elizabeth Taylor and many others. I am sure that the analysis of this play is the subject of study at the great houses of learning. From a humble reviewer's point of view, I see a film that very much follows the feel of a play, a play that was written by a poet, a play for voices.

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Transfer Quality


     The film is presented at 1.66:1 which is somewhat strange as the original was shot at 1.78:1. I have no idea why they would present the film at this ratio.

    Overall, this is a fairly disappointing transfer even considering the age of the film.

    The sharpness is poor with a lack of any fine detail. The shadow detail is acceptable in most scenes as is the black level. There is a very small amount of low level noise. This always shows up in any medium greys if present and can be found at 65:04 on the barn door. There are also some brightness variations such as at 20:08 in the white washed wall behind the old lady.

    For most of the film, the colours are very drab and grey, though I believe this is intentional as there are the occasional flashes of colour present. I think they were trying to give the impression of a very drab grey world. The colours are free from noise although there is occasionally some colour bleed.

    The transfer is relatively free of MPEG artefacts - any problems are mostly hidden in the lack of sharpness. There is some aliasing seen on the Union Jack on the bus at 18:39 along with false colouration on the grille in the same scene. Considering the age of the film we have to expect a number of flecks and marks but the scratches at 18:22 are a little too much. These scratches appear for several seconds as vertical lines and must be at least 30 frames or more long.

    There are no subtitles and this is a single layered disc, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     There is a single Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack on this disc.

    The dialogue quality was pretty good, barring one problem. Throughout the film there is a bass pop on many of the consonant sounds during speech. This is probably mike pop and would not be heard on a system that does not have a subwoofer. The best way to listen to the film is with the sub off or at least with bass redirection defeated.

    The music only appears in certain scenes and is strange but fitting for the film, almost poetry in music.

    The surrounds are not used.

    You are better off without your sub for this film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    This is one of the best menus that I have ever seen. They have taken a rather interesting and very typical scene from the film and looped it so that it repeats. The scene takes place in the local pub and on the wall on the left is the blackboard for today's menu which is, in fact, the DVD's menu. It is accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and loops for 38 seconds. If you let it play for the full 38 seconds it then goes straight into the film.

Theatrical Trailer (3:04)

    Presented at 1.33:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, the trailer is in very poor condition with lots of film artefacts.

R4 vs R1

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

    There does not appear to be a Region 1 version of this disc. There is a Region 2 version that appears to have the correct aspect ratio as well as subtitles and a small picture gallery.

    In this case, I have to give the nod to R2 for being in the correct aspect ratio.


    The language in the voiceover is probably the most compelling part of this film with a very interesting way of describing people and their world. This is not to say that it is stuffy, not when part of the description includes 'barnacle breasts'. The voice over is by Richard Burton and his powerful ringing voice is perfect for the part.

    The video is disappointing in its lack of sharpness.

    The audio pops are very distracting.

    There is only a trailer as an extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Saturday, September 28, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252q CRT Projector, Screen Technics matte white screen 16:9 (223cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR-DB1070
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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