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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Teens > Dead Poet's Society - Special Edition (Disney DVD)

Dead Poets Society: Special Edition


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: A-     Film: A-



Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Don't be resigned to that. Break out!  -Mr. Keating



Usually when people talk about ‘teacher’ movies or something along those similar lines of inspiration, Dead Poets Society is mentioned.  At first I can certainly see how that might be lumped into a category as such, but at the same time this is selling the film a bit short.  Dead Poets Society is not Mr. Hollands Opus nor is it Music of the Heart, Dangerous Minds or Lean on Me; rather it is a film with deeper roots.  Most people forget about some of the subplot details that are occurring within the film.  I have found over the years since the films initial release that there are many fans of the film who completely fall to the films trance, while others feel mixed about it.  Perhaps it’s like poetry itself where some people read through a few Emily Dickinson lines or Yeates, Poe, Bryon, etc and feel very little, while others are moved deeply by the words.  Dead Poets Society at one point in my life…moved me, since then it’s held a somewhat special place in my heart, but that’s the hopeless romantic part of me speaking, which sometimes battles the film critic part.  


Dead Poets Society makes quite a few interesting points within its runtime, mostly dealing with ‘old’ and ‘new’ ways of thinking, which is reflected differently through our characters.  The film also deals with suicide and coping, but also touches on other important character traits like trust and honor.  The Dead Poets Society is a group of boys who have decided to form an underground club in which they meet together away from their college to do things like recite poetry, play music, or even hang out with girls.  In short, it’s a way for the boys to become men.  Nowadays you could substitute these rituals with smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, etc.  This is one area where the films time period certainly shows it’s innocent time in American history, but there is little difference in ‘growing up’ still.  The conflict is that this secret society is somewhat encouraged and promoted by the boys’ professor, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), which goes against the schools high standards and strict disciplines. This happens to be one of Williams’s greatest performances verging on both comedy and drama at the same time and this is clearly a fitting role for him that would forge his status as a more serious actor to eventually land parts in Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, or even Insomnia. 


Dealing with certain pressures the film also brings up formidable debate over right and wrong and also whether it is wrong to have creative freedoms in life or should all things be academic?  Where is the boundary line?  Sometimes finding out a little bit about ‘who’ you are is worth much more than learning things from a book or becoming more engulfed in knowledge of random unimportant things versus being what you are destined to become.  I am reminded of With Honors starring Joe Pesci and Brandon Frasier.  While the film wasn’t exactly the greatest film ever made, it certainly had a few highlight moments.  If nothing else the film dared it’s main characters to think about living life more than just studying the things about life.  Both of these films are a bit more complex than your standard ‘coming-of-age’ film, which people tend to typically group together as well.  Most of the time they are written off as being cliché and trite, but this film manages to evoke more of an emotional draw, which is credited to no less than the filmmaker himself as well as the overall production. 


Paramount has been reissuing many films lately to DVD, more specifically the films of Peter Weir, including this film.  The others are also reviewed on this site: Gallipoli, The Truman Show, and Witness.  All of these films are being reissued with some new extras, which certainly help in the coercion of buying or re-buying them.  The question is always whether it’s worth upgrading and so many consumers do a quick cost/benefit analysis and make up their minds, while others are fans regardless of how many times they need to re-purchase the film. 


Picture quality in this case is a mix as the picture is a shade too light and you can actually tell that the blacks are a bit too gray.  Even from the opening title you can tell, as the black in the film does not quite match the widescreen bars.  Upon further inspection you can also see this throughout the film in various places, which tell us that the film suffers from being a bit soft and black levels are not quite where they should be.  Personally I prefer a much darker more saturated color scheme, but this does no justice to John Seale's A.S.C. cinematography at all.  While the 1.85 X 1 anamorphic transfer is clean it is not nearly as detailed as one might like.  Colors are good although I question whether skin-tones are a shade too pink, but this could be more accurate than what I can recall from a theatrical experience.  In fact I almost am mindful of MGM’s DVD issue of Michael Cimino’s brilliant epic Heaven’s Gate, which also had similar issues with the color and/or detail.


The sound design for this film is always one that has stuck with me over the years.  This is worth mentioning for a few reasons, mostly because it’s always interesting when a drama has good sound design, but more than just good design the film has intensity and depth with it’s sound.  There are a few scenes that mostly stick out for atmosphere, which is common in a Peter Weir film.  Weir films rely heavily on music cues and a score that enables the viewers senses to become well aware of what they are hearing, but in a more subconscious type of way.  During the second half of the film there is a more haunting type of atmosphere that is created, which is none-the-less painted by John Seale’s camerawork in various shades of blue, which work incredibly well as a strong counter measure from the normal golden hues created earlier.  The 5.1 Dolby mix created for this DVD is good overall and certainly beats a 2.0 with surround mix, which was the case on various DVD editions around the world.  The 5.1 utilizes more of the front channels as can be expected, but music is spread throughout the surrounds in a decent fashion.  There is little .1 LFE activity happening in this film, so that’s a non-issue. 


The extras for this DVD edition seem to be the same as that of the Region 2 disc from Touchstone, which came out around 2002.  So why have we been awaiting these extras for over 3 years in the U.S.?  Good question!  The best part of this DVD is the commentary track provided by Weir and Seale, which document many interesting things about the production and their insights into certain decisions that were made throughout filming.  There is a 26-minute scrapbook featurette as well, which is a great addition along with some raw unedited footage, which is a little less absorbing.  There are also two important other features, one for the music of the film with Alan Splet and also the visual components of the film with John Seale.  These are semi-lengthy, but nothing too in-depth and will reach most peoples attention level.  A theatrical trailer is lumped into this special edition making it a nice neat little deal from Paramount that blows away the previous DVD edition in all categories. 


It’s always a great thing when a deserving film gets a special edition DVD, regardless of how long it takes for that to finally happen.  While some people may not necessarily hold the film in high regard there shouldn’t be too many complaints about the overall presentation or the extras for this film.  A great recommendation for the poet in all of us!



-   Nate Goss


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