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An orphan becomes a gentleman as the heir to a convict he once helped.
For more about Great Expectations and the Great Expectations Blu-ray release, see Great Expectations Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 29, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: David Lean
Writers: Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame
Starring: Alec Guinness, John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Jean Simmons (I), Martita Hunt, Finlay Currie
» See full cast & crew
Great Expectations Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 29, 2008
If you regard yourself as a serious film aficionado and you have not seen at least one film directed by David Lean you certainly need to reconsider your viewing habits. Brief Encounter (1945), Oliver Twist (1948), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Passage to India (1984), David Lean is responsible for some of the greatest films in the annals of world cinema. And they are slowly but surely starting to make their way to Blu-ray. SONY already released the British director's last feature film, Passage to India, his greatest success Lawrence of Arabia is just around the corner, and in the director's home country ITV DVD has just introduced Great Expectations.
Based on the book by Charles Dickens Great Expectations (1946) tells the story of a young boy by the name of Pip (Antony Wager/John Mills) who lives in the British countryside with Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles), a poor blacksmith, and his bossy wife Mrs. Joe Gargery (Freda Jackson). They reside in a rundown house not too far from the local cemetery.
One night Pip decides to visit the grave of his mother. He wishes to place some flowers on it. In the cemetery he encounters two convicts – the first one Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie) asks him for some food, the second one (George Hayes) runs away. Pip goes back to his home and later on returns with a pork pie and a bottle of brandy. On the following night the convict is captured by the authorities.
In the meantime Pip is asked to visit the home of Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), an old and extravagant lady, who lives in a large gothic house on the opposite side of the village. The house has known better days but nowadays it is nearly ruined by the moist and ghusty winds coming from the nearby ocean. The only other person living with Miss Havisham is a young and beautiful girl by the name of Estella (Valerie Hobson).
Pip arrives at the house and quickly falls for the lovely Estella. Unfortunately, she is extremely cold to him. Unshaken Pip keeps coming back, as requested by Miss Havisham, hoping that one day Estella will warm to him. Eventually, she allows Pip to give her a friendly kiss.
Soon after, however, Pip is told by Miss Havisham that Estella will be sent to Paris where she is expected to become a lady. Pip is heartbroken.
A few years later Pip is visited by a lawyer from London. He is informed that someone has decided to adopt him. Pip is also told that he is expected to relocate to London where he must learn proper manners and become a gentleman. Shocked Pip heads to Miss Havisham's house to bid her goodbye. Then he moves to London.
With the help of his best friend Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness) Pip becomes a gentleman. During a short trip to the countryside he stops by Miss Havisham's house to express his gratitude for her financial support and ask about Estella. He is convinced that Miss Havisham is his anonymous adopter. But Pip is told a different story. He returns to London where a letter from New South Wales awaits him.
A superb adaptation of Charles Dickens book Great Expectations is regarded by many as David Lean's true masterpiece. Some may conclude that this is a rather unusual claim given that the British director is also responsible for the much better received and highly-decorated Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai. I however tend to agree - Great Expectations captures the spirit of Dickens unlike any other film adaptation that I have ever seen. It is truly the creation of a man with an unstoppable imagination.
The film's greatest strength undoubtedly stems from its ability to mix drama with social critique in a manner largely unseen prior to 1947. Lean spends a great deal of time emphasizing the strengths and weaknesses of his characters as well as the impact the environment they belong to has on them. For example the character transformation Pip undergoes from his early years in the village to his maturation as a gentleman in London is truly fascinating. And so is Lean's depiction of the social barriers dividing the British society.
Strictly as an entertainment piece Great Expectations is as good as cinema could be. Its brilliant atmospheric composition allows for some incredibly moving visuals. Pip's first encounter with the convict at the cemetery is both frightening and mysterious at the same time. It creates that special literary feeling that only reading a book could produce.
Great Expectations Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 Great Expectations has received a stellar 1080p transfer. As it is the case with previous ITV discs we have already reviewed here the film has not received a full-blown digital restoration but the results are nevertheless utterly impressive. Detail is exceptionally strong allowing the viewer to see substantially more in comparison to any other release of this film that I have seen. For example the much treasured Criterion SDVD release of David Lean's classic pales notably next to this surprisingly solid presentation. The rich blacks, great contrast, and pleasing depth of the image are certainly going to make a strong impression on those who have seen Great Expectations numerous times. Take for example the crucial scene at the old ghotic house where Pip bids Estella goodbye. On the Criterion disc the degree of clarity is not even close to what this BD reveals. There is more vibrancy and stronger definition of the objects all around Pip – from the stairs to the worn out clothes to the lush back decors. Furthermore, I don't see any DNR application here at all. Hence, without I must state that this is very much a film-like presentation that will surely please film purists a great deal. Finally, as I noted earlier there are indeed a few tiny scratches that pop up during a few selected scenes but the overall quality of the transfer is indeed of extremely high quality.
Great Expectations Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Arriving with its original English DD mono track as the only option on this BD, Great Expectations sounds great. The distinctive lines each character is awarded with come off the speakers flawlessly. The dialog is crisp and very easy to follow, while the wonderful soundtrack by Walter Goehr is simply superb. I could not detect any pop ups, cracks, or hissings, whatsoever. Without a doubt, there is absolutely nothing here one could be unhappy with. Optional English, white, subtitles are provided.
Great Expectations Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, this BD does not offer any supplemental materials.
Great Expectations Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
David Lean's Great Expectations is part of ITV DVD's latest batch of UK-produced BDs. The film has received a deservingly strong treatment that will surely prove to be a cause for celebration amongst film aficionados. There isn't much that I could add here other than urge you to place your orders for it as soon as possible. I must admit that I was only moderately optimistic in my hopes to see such timeless classics as Great Expectations (as well as the distrib's marvelously produced Black Narcissus) this soon but now I am as enthusiastic as one could possibly be. If this is a sign for things to come, friends, we are all in for some spectacular treats in the years to come!
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