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OLIVER!  [Blu-ray + UltraViolet] [UK Release]
on August 16, 2014
OLIVER!  [Blu-ray + UltraViolet] [UK Release] HUGELY ENJOYABLE!
Experience the high-spirited adventure of Oliver twist in this Oscar® winning musical adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic tale! Young Oliver [Mark Lester] is an orphan who escapes the cheerless life of the workhouse and takes to the streets of 19th-Century London. He’s immediately taken in by a band of street urchins, headed by the loveable villain Fagin [Ron Moody], his fiendish henchman, Bill Sykes [Oliver Reed], and his loyal apprentice, the Artful Doger [Jack Wild]. Through his education in the fine points of pick-pocketing, Oliver makes away with and unexpected treasure . . . a home and a family of his own. Set to heartfelt score that includes such favourites as “Consider Yourself,” “Where Is Love” and “As Long As He Needs Me.” OLIVER! leads us on a journey in search of love, belonging and honour among thieves. OLIVER! Will steal your heart!
FILM FACT: At the 41st Academy Awards in 1969, OLIVER! had earlier been nominated for eleven Academy Awards, won six, including Awards for Best Picture, and Best Director for Carol Reed. At the 26th Golden Globe Awards the film won two Golden Globes for Best Film, Musical or Comedy, and Best Actor, Musical or Comedy for Ron Moody.
Cast: Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Mark Lester (songs dubbed by Kathe Green), Jack Wild, Hugh Griffith, Joseph O'Conor, Peggy Mount, Leonard Rossiter, Hylda Baker, Kenneth Cranham, Megs Jenkins, Sheila White, Wensley Pithey, James Hayter, Elizabeth Knight, Fred Emney, Norman Mitchell, John Baskcomb, Frank Crawshaw, Peter Hoare, Arnold Locke, Norman Pitt, Keith Roberts and Bullseye (the dog)
Director: Carol Reed
Producer: John Woolf
Screenplay: Vernon Harris
Composer: Lionel Bart, Eric Rogers, Johnny Green and Onna White
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French: Mono, German: German: 5.1 DTS-HD, Italian: 5.1 DTS-HD, Spanish: Castilian Dolby Surround and Spanish: Latin American Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Danish, Nederland, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish [Castilian] and Swedish
Running Time: 144 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review – Strangely, during the turbulent and rebellious 1960s, when civil rights protests, political and social unrest, and anti-establishment views pervaded our culture, the innocuous movie musical dominated the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture a whopping four times over the course of the decade. (Even more incredible, that's just one award shy of the total number of top honours the musical received in the preceding 33 years of Oscar history.) 'West Side Story' (1961), 'My Fair Lady' (1964), 'The Sound of Music' (1965), and 'Oliver!' all took home the coveted gold statuette, and such noteworthy favorites as 'The Music Man' (1962), 'Mary Poppins' (1964), 'Doctor Dolittle' (1967), 'Funny Girl' (1968), and 'Hello, Dolly!' (1969) also nabbed Best Picture nominations. That's quite a haul for a genre often dismissed as insipid and shallow. Yet the musical has always bolstered audience by providing escapist entertainment during such trying times as the Depression and World War II, so maybe it was fitting to finally acknowledge the form's contributions during one of our nation's most difficult periods. Unfortunately, all the adulation may have incited a backlash, for after the victory of 'OLIVER!' and 34 years would pass before another musical 'Chicago' would be named Best Picture [exhausting yawn!]. Such are the fickle ways of the Oscars.
'OLIVER!' gave the impression of the good old days and rose-tinted portrait of society's underbelly at a time when tolerance for such sugar-coating was at a particularly low ebb, yet understandable because the film distracted the public from the serious issues of the day and, through its ebullient musical numbers and inspirational story, gave us hope that good really could triumph over evil. Sir Carol Reed's film certainly brandishes a dark and disturbing edge during its second half, with the horrifically menacing Bill Sikes symbolizing the distrust, paranoia, anger, and violence that permeated both mid-19th centuries England.
Oliver Twist is arguably the most renowned orphan in all of literature, and his signature line "Please, sir, I want some more" is legendary. Yet after he makes that audacious request to the austere and sadistic wardens of the workhouse where he's incarcerated, Charles Dickens' plucky, pint-sized hero begins an arduous journey to find some semblance of home and family. A chance encounter with a spritely pickpocket named the Artful Dodger [Jack Wild] leads Oliver [Mark Lester] deep into London's bowels and into servitude to Fagin (Ron Moody), the patriarchal leader of a youthful gang of thieves. After a spell in the trenches, a bit of coincidence and serendipity – this is Charles Dickens after all and changes Oliver's fortune, but his newfound prosperity doesn't sit well with Fagin's grown-up henchman, the maniacal and sociopathic Bill [Oliver Reed], who fears exposure. Bill conspires to kidnap Oliver to keep him from talking, which outrages his devoted girlfriend, the maternal Nancy [Shani Wallis], who risks her own safety to protect and rescue the young boy.
Charles Dickens wrote “Oliver Twist” as an indictment of the exploitation and abuse of underprivileged children, who were often treated as slaves in deplorable workhouses and victimized and ignored by a society that refused to take responsibility for them. Reed's film touches upon these potent themes, but the musical nature of the piece softens the sting. A nostalgic quaintness defines this vision of London at the dawn of the Victorian Era, as the movie concentrates more on the fairy tale aspects of Dickens' novel than its social commentary. Though it's impossible to ignore the undercurrent of depravity that courses through ‘OLIVER!’ there are something innately cute and endearing about dirty-faced ragamuffins picking the pockets of gentleman dandies, and the film does little to quash such an attitude.
Composer Lionel Bart, whose infectious score includes several classic melodies such as “Where Is Love,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “Food Glorious Food” and “Who Will Buy?” among them, often diffuses the gravity of these situations and his bouncy tunes tend to derail the narrative rather than expound upon it. Abuse and violence still had to be dealt with delicately in 1968, and the screenplay by Vernon Harris integrates them into the musical's rigid confines as well as it can. If produced today, 'OLIVER!' would undoubtedly adopt a more serious air, but the production wins points for its shift toward darkness during its latter stages. Carol Reed gave 'OLIVER!' plenty of effective film noir accents that heighten tension as the drama nears its climax. He also eschews any sort of musical finale in favour of a low-key ending that wisely spotlights character and thematic elements, and gives the movie a lovely resonance.
The use of unknown actors adds authenticity to the film, and all involved file vivid, dimensional portrayals. Ron Moody, who received a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination, especially impresses as the greedy, manipulative Fagin, who grooms his orphan charges into criminals. Fagin unwittingly creates Bill Sikes, an out-of-control, rotten-to-the-core monster, played with explosive menace by Oliver Reed, nephew of the movie's director. As the benevolent, masochistic Nancy, Wallis is both tough and tender, and her rendition of the show's signature song, “As Long As He Needs Me” radiates with power and warmth.
'OLIVER!' remains a terrifically entertaining, meticulously produced motion picture that brims with vitality and artistry, and features more than a dozen memorable tunes. Commercial and critical success usually eludes musicals with serious themes, but Carol Reed's production is that rare exception that pleases on a variety of levels and appeals to a wide range of ages. Though the tale of Oliver Twist has been filmed no less than nine times from 1922 to the present time, this is the most beloved and revered version, and it's doubtful that opinion will ever change.
Blu-ray Video Quality – A nice step up from the 30th anniversary DVD, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Twilight Time possesses a brighter, clearer picture than its inferior standard-definition counterpart, and the source material is much cleaner, too. Gone are the nicks and marks that dotted the DVD, leaving a crisp, well-detailed image that immerses us in 19th century London. Visible, but not overly intrusive grain preserves the film-like feel, and solid contrast provides marvellous depth to such large-scale numbers as 'Who Will Buy?' and 'Consider Yourself.' A muted colour palette properly predominates during the movie's bleak first half, but when Oliver's prospects improve after the intermission, so does the liveliness of the picture. Though the green lettuce and orange carrots of the London market add welcome punch to the picture early on, the Bloomsbury Square sequence substantially ramps up the hue quotient, as the red roses carried by the flower girls, the green grass of the common, and the crystal blue sky all combine to create a vibrant scene.
Black levels are quite good, especially in the dank hovel where Fagin and his minions reside. Whites, however, really impress, from the copious snow early in the film to the bright exteriors of the Bloomsbury Square townhouses, which by the way was filmed at the “Royal Crescent” a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent in the city of Bath, England and designed by the architect John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, it is among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom and is a Grade I listed building.
Flesh tones remain true and stable throughout, and close-ups spotlight fine facial details well. In addition, background elements are easy to discern, shadow delineation is good, and no anomalies like crush or noise could be detected. This is by far the best 'OLIVER!' has ever looked on home video, and those who own the previous DVD shouldn't hesitate to upgrade. If you're a fan of this musical, you'll be quite pleased with the quality of this release.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track infuses 'Oliver!' with more sonic oomph than it's ever had, thanks to excellent fidelity and a striking depth of tone that beautifully shades the warm vocals and robust, Oscar-winning orchestrations. Though a significant volume boost is necessary to maximize the audio's output, once a comfortable level is reached, the track's subtleties and accents really shine through. Unfortunately, despite the mix's multi-channel moniker, almost all the sound is front-based, yet excellent stereo separation (that's immediately noticeable during the overture's initial strains) nicely widens the soundscape and adds sufficient aural interest.
Ambient effects, such as the creaking gears of the grist mill and chirping birds outside Oliver's Bloomsbury Square window, come across well and any age-related hiss, pops, and crackles have been erased. The 'OLIVER!' track nevertheless impresses and provides a fine audio framework for this classic musical. An isolated audio track is also included for those who really want to immerse themselves in Lionel Bart's score.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Vintage Original Behind-the-Scene Documentary [HD] [15:00] A grown-up Mark Lester sits down to chat about his experiences making 'Oliver!' in this 2007 interview. According to the former child star, more than 5,000 boys auditioned for the part of Oliver, and once he was cast, he rehearsed with the company for six months before shooting began. Lester recalls his "instant friendship" with Jack Wild, who was quite supportive throughout the production; how he was terrified of Oliver Reed, and didn't have to act during their scenes together because he was naturally scared; and how director Carol Reed, who was "like a kindly uncle," often required 50-60 takes before he was satisfied. Lester shares a couple of anecdotes as well, such as a practical joke he played on Harry Secombe, and his memorable trip to the Oscars with Wild. Film clips and photos enhance this interesting look back.
Documentary: Meeting Oliver! [HD] [15:00] A grown-up Mark Lester sits down to chat about his experiences making 'Oliver!' in this 2007 interview. According to the former child star, more than 5,000 boys auditioned for the part of Oliver, and once he was cast, he rehearsed with the company for six months before shooting began. Lester recalls his "instant friendship" with Jack Wild, who was quite supportive throughout the production; how he was terrified of Oliver Reed, and didn't have to act during their scenes together because he was naturally scared; and how director Carol Reed, who was "like a kindly uncle," often required 50-60 takes before he was satisfied. Lester shares a couple of anecdotes as well, such as a practical joke he played on Harry Secombe, and his memorable trip to the Oscars with Jack Wild. Film clips and photos enhance this interesting look back.
Documentary: Meeting Fagin! [HD] [13:00] Also from 2007, this equally absorbing piece allows actor Ron Moody the chance to reminisce about his 'OLIVER!' experiences. Though he originated the role of Fagin on stage, Moody couldn't believe Reed cast him in the film version, because he wasn't at all well-known. Among other things, he remembers Lester as "a sweet little boy" and "surprisingly professional," compares Wild to Mickey Rooney, and calls Oliver Reed "the biggest kid I ever met." The ebullient Moody also goes into detail about how his Fagin look evolved, and sings a few bars from the score.
Finally, another Best Picture winner finally gets a Blu-ray release, and though 'OLIVER!' and definitely one of the finest movie musical ever made, and it remains a stellar adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens tale. Distinguished by a terrific Lionel Bart score that features a number of instantly recognizable tunes and robust performances by a top-notch British cast, 'OLIVER!' rightfully earns its exclamation point and continues to be grand family entertainment 45 years after its initial release. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray presentation does the film proud with a sparkling transfer that improves upon the previous inferior DVD format, with solid audio, and a small array of supplements. Whether you're young or old, 'OLIVER!' will wend its way into your heart, and this multi-Oscar winner comes high praise and endorsement especially from me, Le Cinema Paradiso and has now gone pride of place in my ever expanding Blu-ray Collection. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
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