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The Thief of Bagdad(1924)
A thief falls in love with the Caliph of Bagdad's daughter. The Caliph will give her hand to the suitor that brings back the rarest treasure after seven moons. The thief sets off on a magical journey while, unbeknownst to him, another suitor, the Prince of the Mongols, is not playing by the rules...
For more about The Thief of Bagdad and the The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray release, see the The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 6, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher, Sôjin, Brandon Hurst
Director: Raoul Walsh
» See full cast & crew
The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray Review
Earn some happiness with this exceptional release.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 6, 2013
Modern day audiences have become almost numbly immune to fantasy elements in films. Especially with the advent of CGI, technology that is literally able to create whole new universes at the veritable click of a mouse and swipe of a virtual paintbrush, films have exploded with such a riot of special effects that audiences are almost nonplussed at times. Everything from Avatar 3D to the new The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to a hundred (and probably easily more) other films have whisked viewers away on flights of fancy to magical realms where our mundane everyday existences can be swept aside in favor of the incredible illusions afforded by this particular medium. (It's perhaps instructive to note that the American Film Institute's Top 10 "fantasy" films, one of its seemingly unending lists of genre bests, features several inclusions that many would hardly consider prime "real" fantasy movies, though all of them have certain fantasy elements.) But imagine now an audience coming to a film in 1924, an epoch when just going to the movies in and of itself seemed magical, even unbelievable to some. While the fantasy genre certainly had had its share of notable entries as early as Georges Melies' iconic A Trip to the Moon, the idiom, while popular, still was rather only sporadically filled with new productions in the intervening two decades or so. 1924, though, proved to be something of a watershed year for fantasy, for among several films that debuted, it was that year that Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen opened and it also was the year that one of the most fondly remembered films starring Douglas Fairbanks also premiered. The Thief of Bagdad is often cited as the most outstanding fantasy film of all time (though it placed a relatively meager ninth on the aforementioned AFI list), and whether or not you personally agree with that assessment, there is no denying the magic and whimsy, as well as the considerable technical achievement, that this formidable silent offers even to today's jaded, fantasy-proof audiences. One can only imagine what 1924 audiences must have thought when seeing a film like The Thief of Bagdad, a film rife with fantastic sets, outrageous overall production design and some still rather appealing (if quaintly "old school") special effects.
A different Thief of Bagdad, namely the 1940 Korda version with Sabu, played a seminal role in my film upbringing, for I saw it as a young kid on the veritable big screen in a San Francisco revival house which was in and of itself an ornate and perfectly spectacular setting in which to view an undeniably romantic and magical film (one hopes that this version of the venerable tale will make it to Blu-ray sooner rather than later, for it is a visually spectacular production). For those of you who still have the Rococo palaces in your hometowns that once were their era's "cineplexes" back in the day (though they've probably been converted into something else by now, much like my home town of Portland's former Paramount, which is now the Schnitzer Concert Hall), imagine just for a moment what 1924 audiences experienced. First, they were walking into an incredibly luxurious, over the top environment that was distinctly at odds with what most of them were experiencing in their day to day home and work lives. And then when the thick velvet curtain parted to reveal a shimmering silver screen, imagine for a moment the wonder, even the awe inspiring majesty, that greeted their unbelieving eyes as they witnessed Douglas Fairbanks as Ahmed, lying (in both senses of the word) around and wreaking havoc with innocent bystanders in sets that simply have to be seen to be believed (and maybe not even then).
The film is rather forward thinking in positing an anti-hero of sorts, a lovable scoundrel whom we first meet as he is lifting purses off of unsuspecting passersby who happen to stop at a fountain where Ahmed is lounging. Ahmed is a fast thinker, as becomes evident almost immediately in a showdown with one crime victim, but more importantly, Ahmed is a fast mover, a character brought stunningly to life by Fairbanks' almost audacious athleticism, a physicality that is all the more remarkable when one realizes that the actor was not exactly a spring chicken when this film was shot, having just turned 40. The irony here is that Fairbanks has probably never been more youthful in appearance, or at least in implication, than he is in The Thief of Bagdad. The actor leaps, glides, climbs, and literally flies through the air (more than once) in a physical display that is about the nearest thing to a filmic representation of ADHD you're likely to see in any film of this (or possibly any) era.
The rest of the film largely plays out as a magical quest, for before the Princess will marry any of her suitors, she demands (nicely, of course) that all of them seek the rarest gift they can find to prove their love. There are several inventive set pieces that Fairbanks (whom many credit with directing the film as much as ostensible helmsman Raoul Walsh) stages with incredible élan. There's no denying that some of the special effects look hopelessly old fashioned compared to today's glisteningly perfect creations, but that is in fact part of the charm of this particular Thief of Bagdad.
Special note must also be made of the truly stupendous production design of future luminary William Cameron Menzies. While Menzies would go on to become one of the most famous and lauded production designers in history, he was not that well known of a property when Fairbanks hired him to work on The Thief of Bagdad, and the incredible sets he conjured up for this production put him on the filmland map in a very big way. This film still is rather awesome in its pure visual sweep, and it's instructive to realize it was a huge financial blockbuster despite running around two and a half hours (meaning fewer screenings per day). There are very few films from this era which still retain the power and magic that The Thief of Bagdad does, and it's one of the singular joys of the high definition era to revisit the film in such a stunning new presentation.
The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Thief of Bagdad is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Cohen Media Group (and its distributor, Entertainment One) with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.32:1. A lot of classic film lovers have been eagerly anticipating this release, as it is the first example we've had of Cohen Media Group's well publicized acquisition of several legendary catalog titles, as well as their restoration and conversion to high definition. The results here are largely immaculate and should certainly give fans reason to be excited for future Cohen Media Group releases. The restored Kino DVD of The Thief of Bagdad clocks in at around 152 minutes according to the not always reliable internet, while this new Cohen restoration is a slightly shorter 149 minutes. I frankly went on a snark hunt for my Kino DVD of this film and simply could not find it to do a side by side comparison, and have decided to post this review in the meantime since interest in this title is so high. If I find it, I'll update the review with thoughts on the differences (and in the meantime if some kind reader who can find their copy and can confirm the running time, that would be great). That said, I have a clear recollection of the Kino version, and as excellent as it was in many respects, this new Blu-ray is a massive step up in quality. The Kino still had several (admittedly minor) emulsion issues as well as other minor print damage, while this Cohen version, culled from a 2K scan of two different 35mm negatives, is largely damage free aside from some persistent but extremely minor scratches that tend to run along the left side of the frame. In fact about the only two things that may bother the most persnickety videophile is occasional minor flicker in several sequences as well as occasional warping which is most evident in some segues between scenes (perhaps due to shrinkage at edit points). (There is also some very minor telecine wobble at times, but it's virtually negligible.) Otherwise this is a spectacular looking release, including restored original tints. The image is not as sharp as more contemporary films (not to state the obvious), but given the age and filming techniques (extreme close-ups were a relatively rare commodity in this era and this film tends to exploit midrange and wide shot which best show the expansive sets), things look excellently sharp and well detailed. There is a natural fine grain apparent throughout the film (see the first screenshot for a great example, but most of the screenshots here show ample fine grain), though some may feel that there may have been (emphasis on may) some very minor noise reduction applied. I say this only because a few of the tinted sequences, most notably the blue ones, seem to be somewhat "smoother" looking than those without the deep tones, but that may in fact simply be a by product of the actual tinting process.
The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Thief of Bagdad features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that revels in the sumptuous glories of Carl Davis' fantastic score. Davis is perhaps best known to television viewers for his memorable theme and underscore for the British documentary series The World at War . If Davis' work on that piece, especially the theme music, seemed to channel Sergei Prokofiev, here he utilizes themes by another legendary Russian composer, Rimsky-Korsakov, most especially some of the lustrous, faux Orientalism of Scheherazade. Davis impeccably weaves little snippets of Rimsky-Korsakov's tone poem in and out of Davis' own original work, and the result is one of the most satisfying "modern" scores appended to a preexisting silent film. The 5.1 mix here is admittedly rather front heavy, with the rear channels offering added depth and ambience, but the sheer breadth of the soundfield here is really amazing, and Davis' score has never sounded better. For the record there's also an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo fold down available on the Blu-ray.
The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Thief of Bagdad is one of those films that any serious film lover absolutely must see at least once in their lives. An unending series of spectacular sets, incredible stunts and charming (if decidedly lo-fi by today's standards) special effects make this film a visual spectacle that in its own way remains unmatched. This new Blu-ray offers superior video and audio and some appealing supplements, and it comes Highly recommended.
The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: February 19-26 - February 16, 2013
For the week of February 19th, HBO Home Entertainment is bringing Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season to Blu-ray. With its attention-grabbing sex and violence and complex fantasy enviroment, the first season proved itself one of HBO's breakout hits, and ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: The Thief of Bagdad - February 9, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Cohen Media Group are offering ten members a chance to win a copy of The Thief of Bagdad. This 1924 silent starring Douglas Fairbanks is considered one of Fairbanks' best films and has recently undergone substantial restoration as well as ...
• The Thief of Bagdad Blu-ray - January 23, 2013
Cohen Media has detailed the upcoming Blu-ray release of director Raoul Walsh and icon Douglas Fairbanks' classic adventure The Thief of Bagdad, newly restored and remastered in 2K. The 1924 fantasy epic makes its Blu-ray debut on February 19, 2013.
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