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A Star is Born(1954)
A Star Is Born marked Judy Garland's return to movies after a four-year absence, director George Cukor's first musical and first color film, and a showcase for great Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin songs in state-of-the-art stereo. Garland is singer Esther Blodgett, an undeniable talent on the rise. She catches the eye of Norman Maine (James Mason), an alcoholic actor in career decline. Their intense love transforms them both. Only one will survive Hollywood's slings and arrows.
For more about A Star is Born and the A Star is Born Blu-ray release, see A Star is Born Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan, Irving Bacon
Director: George Cukor
» See full cast & crew
A Star is Born Blu-ray Review
"It might happen pretty easily, but the dream isn't big enough."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 1, 2010
We're so easily distracted. With pixels multiplying like rabbits, groundbreaking televisions being beamed down to Best Buy from the Enterprise, snazzy Blu-ray players functioning as one-stop entertainment hubs, and 3D mounting a vicious assault on the masses, one oft-unsung hero has slipped beneath the radar: the digital restoration of beloved catalog classics. Aging films that once required extensive photochemical restorations are now being revived frame by frame, color by color. Severely degraded negatives are no longer the daunting obstacles they once were; damaged elements don't pose the overwhelming threat they once did. The future isn't just infinite pixels, advanced displays, or migraine-inducing glasses, dear readers, it's making timeless classics truly timeless. Warner Brothers has saved A Star is Born with one such restoration. Pulled back from the edge of the cinematic abyss, Judy Gardland's troubled 1954 comeback musical has been granted new life in high definition, joining a growing family of films that look as good as they did the day they first graced theaters.
An adaptation of the 1937 film of the same name, director George Cukor's A Star is Born tells the uncharacteristically bleak tale of Norman Maine (James Mason), an alcoholic celebrity who falls in love with a talented singer named Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland). Though the two are married soon after Esther becomes a famous stage and screen starlet, Norman's behavior begins to spiral out of control as his career stalls, leaving his dutiful wife with little choice but to pick up the pieces of their personal lives. And the story only gets more painful from there; almost as painful as the film's infamous production woes and subsequent studio cuts. Cukor had to deal with countless problems: casting issues, inexperience, on-set arguments, Garland's shaky reputation and substance addiction... he even had to shuffle back to square one with extensive reshoots when Warner executives ordered him to start from scratch using CinemaScope. Such troubles didn't end there. Even after Star's final cut was approved and screened, Cukor had to watch helplessly as the studio -- ignoring the film's warm critical reception -- butchered his 182-minute cut, exorcising key dramatic scenes and musical numbers to produce a 154-minute version. But their changes didn't sit well with audiences or critics, and the film's popularity faded fast. Alas, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Cukor's 182-minute cut would be lost forever.
Though disowned by Cukor, the studio's inferior 154-minute cut would survive until 1983 when film historian Ronald Haver -- with the help of Warner Brothers and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- worked tirelessly in an effort to restore the film to its former glory. While he wasn't able to reproduce Cukor's 182-minute vision, Haver culled a variety of sources to create a more faithful 176-minute cut; one that featured elements from the original soundtrack recordings, reinstated three previously deleted musical numbers, and relied on pan-and-scan production stills whenever footage was unavailable. Star would be deemed worthy of another touch-up in 1997, and a fourth, more fully realized restoration in 2010 for its Blu-ray debut. (More on Warner's most recent restorative milestone in a bit.) Through it all though, the heart and soul of Cukor's film has continued to thrive, making it worthy of all the attention and care it's garnered. Garland, despite whatever personal demons she may have been battling at the time, delivers an arresting performance, carefully drawing audiences into Esther's struggles long before the singer falls victim to the horrors that creep into her life. Garland's work seems eerily autobiographical on occasion, and her investment in the resulting consequences of Esther and Norman's storms are all the more authentic for it. Mason is just as effective. His drunkenness is riddled with theatrics -- ah, Golden Age cinema -- but he sells every stupor, mistake, and confession like a consummate professional, weaving a tattered web of destruction in Norman's path.
And boy, does Star ever get dark. (At least for a musical shot in 1954.) I wouldn't say the film is awash with modern sensibilities, but I must admit I was taken aback by the undercurrents surging beneath what I assumed would be an early Hollywood fairytale. Alcoholism, manipulation, abuse, greed, addiction, suicide, and violent outbursts enter the fray, and Esther and Norman's mental and emotional states are often in flux. That being said, a bread-and-butter '50s musical strikes me as a strange choice for exploring such themes. It's tough to reconcile Esther and Norman's personal and marital strife when challenging subject matter is disrupted by flights of sing-song fancy. The film's musical numbers are rousing, nostalgic affairs, to be sure, and the cast's dramatic turns are reasonably devastating, but the two don't always mesh, and often seem too contrived for their own good. Yet to Cukor and his cast's credit, the disconnect amounts to little more than a distraction that fails to spoil Star's stride, momentum, and more sobering wares. Similarly, the sudden appearance of still shots in the 176-minute cut is jarring, but considering the nature of Haver's restoration, isn't cause for alarm. A Star is Born has withstood the test of debilitating production woes, reshoots, executive interference, unnecessary cuts, problematic source materials and, most importantly, time. Hopefully, a new audience will discover it, embrace its place in film history, and keep its memory alive for decades to come.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Video Quality
Despite the flak Warner receives in some message board circles -- much of which involves broad, hyperbolic criticism stemming from the sheer volume of catalog titles the studio releases and the countless variables associated with each one rather than some nefarious disregard for the films involved, general laziness, or a perpetual oversight -- the quality of its treasured masterpieces and old-Hollywood classics rarely disappoint. A Star is Born has been born anew for its Blu-ray debut, arriving with a bold, decidedly impressive 1080p/VC-1 transfer derived from a snazzy 6K scan and a meticulous, five-month digital restoration. Moreover, WB Motion Picture Imaging colorist Janet Wilson was committed to staying as close to the filmmakers' original intent as possible, retiming and color-correcting each shot accordingly. The results speak for themselves. Splashes of red pop, dazzling blue dresses shine, and black levels are well-resolved. Likewise, skintones never appear flushed or washed out, embracing the warm, rosy-cheeked hues of the era without indulging in '50s cine-pomp. Contrast is vibrant and stable, the film's grain field is intact, bothersome ringing and smearing are nowhere to be found, and both definition and fine detail are noteworthy. That's not to say the picture is razor sharp from beginning to end though. On the contrary, several scenes are downright soft, overall clarity is uneven, and other inherent limitations make their presence known. But for a fifty-six year old film, particularly one plagued by severely degraded source elements and a troubled history, the presentation is incredibly faithful, sometimes to a fault. Better still, the technical transfer is clean and proficient. I didn't notice any significant artifacting, banding, or digital noise, and the print isn't haunted by any unreasonable blemishes.
My one nitpick involves the film's framing. A quick comparison between Warner's new 2.55:1 transfer and its DVD counterpart (initially released in 2000 and reissued as a Collector's Edition in 2001) reveals a number of interesting, albeit admittedly minor discrepancies. In some scenes, the far left and right edges of the Blu-ray transfer retain more of the film's original image; in other cases, slightly less. But the differences are so negligible -- a sliced sliver of shadow here, a trimmed haircut there -- that I would have never noticed had a forum member not suggested I compare the two. It's also worth noting that the culprit is most likely necessity; perhaps even a small concession made during the restoration process. Regardless, A Star is Born joins a growing collection of high-quality catalog classics that have been remastered, restored, and resurrected from an untimely grave.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Star's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track isn't going to attract as much praise as its video transfer, but it still stacks up well against lossless remixes featured on other high-quality catalog releases. Because the film's original four-track stereo mag master was erased nearly fifty years ago, Warner had to rely on several sources to compile a new mix: three mag-striped release prints (one owned by the studio, the other two in storage at the Library of Congress), a 4-track stereo music and effects track from France, and isolated vocal units of Gardland's performances, her choral accompaniment, and the film's complete orchestral scoring sessions. Surprisingly, the end result doesn't sound nearly as inconsistent as it could. Dialogue remains clean and clear throughout (a handful of muffled lines being the lone exception), both the score and the musical numbers are full and boisterous, and sound effects, though a tad pinched, have weathered the decades well. I did find myself bumping my receiver's volume up and down more often than I would have preferred, but it's difficult to get too worked up after learning how many elements were required to create a functional track. LFE output is thin (albeit within reason for a fifty-six year old film), the rear speakers are tasked with little more than instrumental support (meaning purists will cheer the tenor of the mix while modern filmfans will shrug their shoulders), and many a scene sounds older than it looks. Even so, Warner's restorative efforts are commendable. Cinefiles armed with appropriate expectations will relish the whole of the experience and easily shrug off the majority of intrinsic shortcomings they encounter.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Yes, the Deluxe Edition of A Star is Born delivers three-plus hours of special features, and yes, catalog purists will be fairly pleased. However, after exhausting everything the 2-disc set had to offer, I felt as if I had merely plowed through the latter half of a proper supplemental package. While rare, arguably invaluable archive materials abound -- no complaint there -- you won't find any industry retrospectives, behind-the-scenes documentaries, or newly produced tributes. I expected a thorough dissection of Star's elaborate production, its tumultuous existence, multiple cuts, various restorations, and other topics of interest. Instead, I found myself reading the set's (admittedly informative) 40-page Digibook to reacquaint myself with the history and legacy of the film. Hardly an ideal way to explore a classic. It's also worth noting that all of the special features have been relegated to the set's second disc, a standard DVD.
A Star is Born Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Blu-ray edition of A Classic is Resurrected... ahem, A Star is Born joins a long list of catalog titles that have been granted new life in high definition. Blessed with a faithful, technically proficient video transfer (itself the product of a magnificent restoration), a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track (compiled from multiple sources no less), handsome Digibook packaging with (gasp) a worthwhile essay, and a decent set of special features makes this 2-disc release worth every penny. Did I mention the film holds up quite well for a fifty-six-year old musical? Even if you aren't ready to come down from your Doctor Zhivago high, be sure to scoop up Warner's latest phoenix-from-the-ashes passion project post-haste.
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A Star is Born Blu-ray, News and Updates
• A Star is Born (1937) Blu-ray - November 5, 2011
Independent distributors Kino Video have revealed that they will release on Blu-ray William A. Wellman's A Star is Born (1937), starring Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander, and My Robson. Exact technical specs, special features, and region ...
• A Star Is Born Deluxe Edition Blu-ray Announced - February 28, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced A Star is Born, directed by George Cukor and starring Judy Garland, for release on a two-disc Blu-ray Deluxe Special Edition on June 22, including a 40-page booklet with rare photos, press materials and an essay by film historian ...
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