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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Drama > Comedy > Poverty > Theft > Literature > England > Ballet > History > Opera > Biography > Polit > Oliver! (1968/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Ashton Celebration: The Royal Ballet Dances Frederick Ashton (Opus Arte)/Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti)/Moby Dick (Heggie/San Francisco

Oliver! (1968/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Ashton Celebration: The Royal Ballet Dances Frederick Ashton (Opus Arte)/Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti)/Moby Dick (Heggie/San Francisco Opera/EuroArts)/Philip Glass: The Perfect American (Opus Arte/Davies/Teatro Real/Naxos Blu-rays)

Picture: B- (Oliver!: B) Sound: B (Oliver!: B-) Extras: C+ (Oliver!: B-) Main Programs: C+

PLEASE NOTE: Oliver! is a Limited Edition Blu-ray release from Twilight Time with only 3,000 copies produced, is only available from the Screen Archives website and can be ordered from the link below.

Making music programs that work, even when you have great material and a great idea, does not mean you will totally succeed. In each of the following cases, this was true, though they are are at last successful to a degree and the following releases all oddly have that in common.

We start with Sir Carol Reed's hit film version of the Lionel Bart musical version of Dickens' Oliver Twist, Oliver! (1968), which amazingly beat the likes of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for the Best Picture Academy Award. Thrilled with the big box office of The Sound Of Music (1965), all the major studios went into musical overdrive to duplicate the blockbuster success, but landed up mostly with disappointments, duds and some serious bombs. Oliver! managed to somehow buck the trend despite its 153 (!!!) minutes running time. Made by a rising Columbia Pictures, it as a British film production all the way and would be influential on more such films and TV shows to follow.

However, the film itself does drag out, musical numbers can look too staged for their own good and like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Britishisms become a sort of schtick that dates the film, a dynamic some will embrace while others will pass on. It is worth seeing once because of the cast, craftsmanship, the classic songs and some good moments. Mark Lester is the title character, wondering about with no friends or money in an England of long ago until The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild) finds him and he gets involved with Fagin (the great Ron Moody, stealing every single scene he is in) with crime and mischief ensuing. Backing them are Oliver Reed, Leonard Rossiter, Hugh Griffith, Sheila White, Shani Wallis, Norman Mitchell and a huge cast that also has uncredited turns by Anthony Kemp, Norman Pitt and Elaine Page.

Then there are the songs, including the title song, As Long As He Needs Me, Where Is Love?, I'll Do Anything, Boy For Sale, Consider Yourself, My Name, Reviewing The Situation, Who Will Buy?, Be Back Soon, It's A Fine Life, You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two and Food, Glorious Food, which became part of an anti-hunger campaign in the 1970s in part thanks to this film. Bart's songs all work and it is sad he was not able to make more musicals, as like some of the stars of this film, fell into substance abuse. Any dark overtones have odd resonances which work for the film, but hit closer to home than some might have wanted.

Thus, it is still significant enough a work, but hard to believe it will not be a general release Blu-ray. Reed helms this well enough, but if anything, it seems like a long goodbye to the genre in England and as color TV was just arriving in the US and about to in the UK, the end of an era of big screen color exclusivity. Fans of the film and musical will want to get this disc while supplies last, especially with the isolated music score, but more on that below.

Next up is Ashton Celebration: The Royal Ballet Dances Frederick Ashton which is a live stage ballet release celebrating the choreography and work of Mr. Ashton. It only runs 84 minutes and in an odd twist, this is in subsections that do not run smoothly and non-stop like virtually all the dozens of other Naxos-distributed ballet titles we have covered over the years. The dancers are great with set-ups and costumes that try to show and do something different, but this is so different all around that it becomes one of the most fragmented ballet Blu-rays we have ever encountered. Good, but uneven.

Next we have two entries from the San Francisco Ballet that offer up two lesser-known operas on familiar themes and subjects. Fist we have Lucrezia Borgia (composed by Gaetano Donizetti) has the great Renee Fleming as the historical title woman out for power at any cost and she is great here, as are her supporting singing cast. Costumes are nice, the sets are not bad and yet, this is not always as dark, effective or overall as convincing as it could have been. Still, it has some good moments and is definitely ambitious enough, but have moderate expectations if you decide to take it on. It runs 127 minutes.

Moby Dick (music by Jake Heggie) adapts the Herman Melville novel into a musical opera epic of sorts (running 142 minutes) that is faithful to the book, has a good cast, more good singing and a solid ship set. Unfortunately again, not everything is as fleshed out as I would have liked, the subject here had been covered more often than that of the Borgias and it finds itself competing with those many variant interpretations. Faithful as it is, I was hoping for something more, some new points. It is not necessarily playing it safe, but it only has so many places to go. It does make for a nice alternate version of the story, though.

Finally we have Philip Glass: The Perfect American in which the famed composer goes after icon Walt Disney the man, focusing on his last days of life, deconstructing him, criticizing him for being anti-union and anti-Semitic, plus being darker than he was in real life. He then starts to add the likes of Andy Warhol and Abraham Lincoln into the picture to make what he sees as the big statement, but I was not convinced, did not agree, think this is one of the composer's big misfires (like the unfortunate theme to the unfortunate revival of The Night Stalker in 2005) and there is something, surreal, uninformed and ultimately unconvincing about the 120 minutes of presentation which lands up being more like an alternate universe comic book than anything I could ultimately take seriously. Now you can judge for yourself, but I was disappointed.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Oliver! has some good shots and good color, but also has some grain and can show the age of the materials used, yet this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film on DVD. This has been issued on Blu-ray overseas already. Guess sales were only so big. Issued in 70mm blow-up film prints as well as dye-transfer, 35mm, three-strip Technicolor versions of the film (as shot in real anamorphic 35mm Panavision) on both sides of the Atlantic, you can see how good that color must have looked often in this presentation. The great Director of Photography Oswald Morris, B.S.C., (David Lean's 1948 Oliver Twist, The Man With The Golden Gun, Beat The Devil, Our Man In Havana, Kubrick's Lolita, The Guns Of Navarone, Fiddler On The Roof, The Wiz and John Huston's 1956 Moby Dick) is another one of the reasons the film was a hit with its great use of widescreen compositions and color. Despite its age and some minor print issues, it is still the best presentation on the list.

The rest of the Blu-rays have their stage performances recorded in 1080i digital High Definition and also have some good color, but Video Black can get crushed, there is minor detail issues on these discs and that can break into the good shots at bad times. Still, they all look good for the format they were recorded in.

All five releases offer their main soundtracks in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes that offer fine soundfields in the case of the four newer performances, but Oliver! has some sonic limits in its mix and it id likely that the 5.1 soundmaster is an older one, even if it does a good job of recreating the 6-track magnetic stereo from the 70mm blow-up prints. However, when you switch to the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 4.0 lossless isolated music score tracks sounding so dynamic and superior, the main soundtrack suffers by comparison but will be favorites of audiophiles and fans of the film's songs.

Extras with all releases include booklets on the respective main programs including informative text with Ashton adding two introductions and an Ashton Foundation clip equaling 15 minutes, the two San Francisco releases have 4 previews for related releases and American adds a Cast Gallery. That leaves Oliver! with by far he most extras, including that isolated music score we already covered, a solid Julie Kirgo essay in its booklet and a bunch of extras from the best DVD versions of the film including a Behind The Scenes featurette, the Original Theatrical Trailer, 8 sing-alongs, 3 dance instructions, 3 dance & sing-alongs and two more clips in Meeting Oliver! and Meeting Fagin!

To order the Oliver! Limited Edition Blu-ray while supplies last, go to this link for more information:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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