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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Melodrama > Family > Royal > Conflict > Cable TV > Comedy > Romance > Austria > The Crown: The Complete First Season (2016/Netflix/Sony Blu-ray Set)/The Sissi Collection (1954 - 1957/Romy Schneider/Film Movement Blu-ray Set)

The Crown: The Complete First Season (2016/Netflix/Sony Blu-ray Set)/The Sissi Collection (1954 - 1957/Romy Schneider/Film Movement Blu-ray Set)

Picture: B+/B Sound: B+/B- Extras: C/B- Main Programs: B/B-

Netflix's new hit show centered around Queen Elizabeth II entitled The Crown (2017), finds its way onto Blu-ray in a much better presentation than streaming and finally available for those who don't subscribe to the service. The period drama stars Jared Harris, Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, John Lithgow, Jeremy Northam, and Victoria Hamilton to name a few of the fine actors here. With Season 2 on the horizon, this will help gets fans up to speed with the plot.

Episodes include Wolferton Splash, Hyde Park Corner, Windsor, Act of God, Smoke and Mirrors, Gelignite, Scientia Potentia EST, Pride and Joy, Assassins, and Gloriana.

Presented in 1080p high definition with a 2.00:1 widescreen aspect ratio and an English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 track, the show looks and sounds marvelous on Blu-ray disc. The dark colors compliment the time well and the detail in the production design and costumes shines through pretty strong. The feel of the show is very cinematic and in essence, is like watching one very long film. No digital copies are included in this edition, just the Blu-Ray discs.

Special Features: Photo Gallery

While slow and a little soap opera-like at times, The Crown offers up plenty of eye candy for fans of period dramas but will likely try on others. The show has won numerous prestigious awards (including the Golden Globe for best TV Drama Series) and spans the Queen's life from a young woman and on. Peter Morgan has been a very successful writer/producer in feature film (Frost/Nixon, Rush, Last King Of Scotland, Madame Sousatzka) and is able to keep the high quality up here.

The Sissi Trilogy is a royal series of its own of theatrical films, inspired by the success of a young, then unknown Romy Schneider as Princess Victoria in the 1954 hit Victoria In Dover, the three Sissy films (Sissi (1955), Sissi: The Young Empress (1956) and Sissi: The Fateful Years Of The Empress (1957)) put Schneider on the map as a star (rightly so) and while Dover was aimed at adults, the Sissi films were an early post-WWII Austrian attempt to create live action family entertainment with all the color and fun of what Disney was trying out as they expanded. With each film increasingly involving more money, pomp, glamour, luxury and even beauty than the film before until they quit while they were ahead, the melodrama also served as a sort of reset point for the commercial side of Australian cinema showing it could compete with any big money, big production cinema in the world.

Yes, it is about royalty from Austria, et al, but it is also about regaining and revisiting the royalty from a better past Germany and better Europe (read one NOT ruined by WWII, Hitler and the Axis powers) as well. Like most cinemas, Austria and surrounding cinemas (save Italy, which Mussolini saved by default being a film fan himself before his fall) were rebuilding and by this time, it was full speed ahead with a boom of color film (more on that later). The soapy, melodramatic plotlines are definitely the last of pre-TV storylines, who she likes, dislikes, gets together with (including Karl Boehm, a few years away from Michael Powell's highly controversial thriller Peeping Tom (1960) that ruined Powell's career!) and a sense of national pride (connected to The Church as well) is in all the films.

Unfortunately, the films are formulaic, essentially have the same ending and many of the same details. The stories then hinge on is our heroine will become happy with power, money, other wealth, the 'right' man and holding her family (and by extension, her county (or all of Europe for that matter) by a further rise to power. Will she be loved? Will we be loved? No doubt the films look good and some of the best actors they could hire are in these films. Even when the films drag, they are often beautiful to watch and live up to the idea of grand. I cannot say that about many films with much higher budgets today, but these are films are comparatively smarter and more literate. Thus, I am glad to see them (I know I have seen parts, but I bet it was from that condensed Paramount version) restored and complete just to see how these would play. Color is also an important factor, but more on that in a moment. The camera loves Schneider and the makers know this, so they play this well and give her a supporting cast that integrates well with her at the center of the start system here.

A few days later, these films were a little bit of a blur to me and if I were on a game show and asked specific questions about them, I would have failed unless I REALLY payed attention in the first place with deep study. That would not have been easy. Either way, these are family safe enough (unless your children have an aversion to subtitles) to watch (they might get bored, though) and I was glad to catch up to all four films that very rightly needed and deserved to be saved. If you are interested, you'll likely really love this set. But like me, you will at least be impressed with what they pulled off here and with that tired 'franchise' pretense we get all the time these days for films most of us our sorry we spend our time and money on.

Before we get to the specific technical performance, I must correct a tech error in the otherwise excellent essay in the booklet by Farran Smith Nehme. She states that Agfacolor was known in the U.S. as Anscocolor. That might have been accurate prior to WWII, but was not the case after WWII. To explain in brief, Ansco was one of the first film companies anywhere and they were as innovative as Kodak, Pathe, DuPont or Ilford. The split that made that no longer true was early in WWII, when the U.S. Government seized Ansco because a few years before the war, Agfa and Ansco merged, creating Agfa-Ansco. WWII killed that and when the Allies won the war, Agfa's very valuable Agfacolor formulas and patents were shared to all the Allies for free!

The U.S. Government actually held onto Ansco for a good few years before the GAF company took it over to run it (they folded it in 1977 when they could not compete against Kodak, whom they sued and won a court case over it all) and besides secret operations and things like moon shots, Ansco had their own innovations that were as good as anyone (including Kodak) at the time and their color film became more advanced than Agfa by the 1950s. You can see in the Agfacolor prints of Victoria and Sissi that there is one color (despite the angered efforts of the Nazis to compete with Kodachrome and Technicolor) that they never conquered Film Green and so, you will note costumes, production design and the like feature green sparingly, despite subtle improvements in each film in the Sissi series. Compare the final Sissi to Victoria a few years before and you can see the new free Agfa slowly catching up, but they never got it right until the 1960s.

Also, if you look at the recent Blu-ray from Warner Archive (reviewed elsewhere on this site) of Brigadoon (1954), a 100% Anscocolor film issued in MetroColor by MGM (Ansco was the original contractee with MGM for the first few interesting years of that labs long existence), the color range is actually better and wider than the four Schneider films here. That is not to say the color is not often impressive and sometimes jaw-dropping, but the greens and some of the reds just could not compete with Kodachrome, Anscocolor or three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor. Agfa even lost its original Wolfen plant thanks to WWII and the Cold War when it landed up in communist East Germany and by 1964, was renamed the name t still has today: ORWO (Original Wolfen plant) still making its own film (black and white for the most part now).

Thus, Agfa and Ansco, even if they occasionally did things with each other or even the ORWO gang, were permanently separated and unlike Germany, never reunified.

With all that said, Victoria and the Sissi films are excellent representations of the format at the time (love that the opening credits usually include the original Agfacolor logo) and the filmmakers did their best to work with the format and played very, very well on its strengths. Color was so new then, the flaws were not as obvious and whomever was involved in these four restorations, they did not tamper and try to correct the green limits to their credit. Thus, these new 2K scans are very accurate and as Brigadoon is for Anscocolor of the time, these film are excellent examples of how these films should look. some shots are soft, but other have really fine definition. All are here in their original 1.33 X 1 framing in 1080p digital High Definition, but we also get some in 1.78 X 1 (guess they cinematographer thought soft matte at this point) 1080p presentations and though they look good too, they are not as sharp, clear to as colorful as the 1.33 x 1 versions where applicable.

All the films have been upgraded for DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless surround, though the films were originally issued in mono save the first Sissi in stereo. Considering their age, they may not sound like they are new or state of the art, but the upgrades here are fine, even wen the audio shows its age. Not bad.

Extras (modifying the press lines) include FOREVER MY LOVE (1962) - The "Sissi Trilogy" presented in a condensed English-dubbed version, originally released by Paramount Pictures in the U.S. and featuring a theme song written by the legendary team of Burt Bacharach & Hal David here on DVD in a print that is in trying shape despite that film being credited to Technicolor (even off of Agfacolor to Technicolor, I highly doubt this is a dye-transfer copy), FROM ROMY TO SISSI - Making-of Featurette, SISSI'S GREAT-GRANDSON AT THE MOVIES - Excerpt from the documentary film Elisabeth: Enigma of an Empress and a Full-color, 20-page collectible booklet with new essay (as noted above) by critic Farran Smith Nehme. We'll include the Victoria film as an extra because it is not part of the actual trilogy, but this all makes for fascinating viewing and is worth your time to check it all out.

- James Lockhart (Crown) & Nicholas Sheffo



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