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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Musical > Children > Large Frame Format > Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Special Edition (MGM DVD set)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Special Edition (1968/MGM DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: B+     Film: B-



PLEASE NOTE: This film has been issued on Blu-ray and you can read more about it at this link:





A wacky inventor decides to put his talents to good use on a car with many gadgets that someone else, who is the hero, goes out on a great adventure (written by Ian Fleming and produced by Albert R. Broccoli) that takes him to exotic places.  This could be the plot of several James Bond films, especially since the pre-equipped car comes from a character played by actor Desmond Llewellyn, who is the most successful “Q” in the entire Bond series.  However, Llewellyn’s appearance is an in-joke, and this film is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


Released in 1968, Broccoli had five Bond films under his belt and with Sean Connery gone from Bond, he decided to take on this project while his co-producing partner Harry Saltzman was dealing with his Michael Caine/Harry Palmer franchise.  It was a big risk for Broccoli, who had already been burned on such a huge 70mm production before, with the critically respected but financially underwhelming The Trials of Oscar Wilde in 1960.


As a gutsy move in response to that film, Broccoli hired its director, Ken Hughes, to helm this film.  The result was more successful, just based on the fact the film is more well-known today.  Broccoli also made sure he assembled the best talent he could get, as always.  Roald Dahl, himself a legendary writer of children’s classics, co-wrote the screenplay with director Hughes, but Broccoli still had James Bond veteran Richard Maibaum doing dialogue to add even further dimension.  Dahl had just written the under-appreciated screenplay for the 1967 Bond You Only Live Twice.


Add Art Designer Harry Pottle, already capable of fantasy-type work from his years on TV’s The Avengers, Special Effects whiz John Stears (an Oscar winner for the 1965 Bond film Thunderball, who did everything but the matte work) Production Designer Ken Adam, and you have a grand-scale film bound to be interesting.


However, the film is not always as successful as it could be.  The actual inventor is Caractacus Potts, played to the hilt by Dick Van Dyke.  The great physical comedian does some of the most challenging work of his entire career here.  His grandfather is played by the great British character actor Lionel Jeffries, filling in the role of the old eccentric well.  Sally Ann Howes is Truly Scrumptious (an light, confectionary variant of all the Bond girl names, if you think about it,) giving a performance that owes more than a bit to Deborah Kerr’s Anna in the 1956 The King & I.  Her best moment is in the musical number “Doll On A Music Box” which many others simply do not pull off as well.  Gert Frobe, best known as Bond villain Goldfinger (1964) and the inspector in the Dr. Mabuse series, gets to send up his bad guy image as the funny Baron Bomburst, accompanied by the terrific British actress Anna Quayle as his Baroness wife.  Benny Hill is more than right as The Toymaker, and the rest of the cast and extras seem to fit together very well.


The problem is that it is so grand and tries to do so much that the film gets lost.  For one thing, the music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman is not always memorable and each song is actually a sampling of a thought or idea that is actually incidental to the progress of the story.  That plays against Film Musical convention right there, but the songs are consistent in form, meaning they are as laid-back as the time in which the story takes place.  A little of this can go a long way, and the dance numbers are often more interesting that accompany them.  Another possibility would be to have done this as an operetta, but no one would have bankrolled that kind of project on this scale.  The film is also very busy being European, which is fine, but it is a fantasy version and this gets far too carried away with itself to the point of being a plot-breaker more than the poorest songs.


It would also be fair to say the score was trying to recapture every musical before it that was recent, from The King & I, to My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and the film also wanted to absorb non-musical/vehicle-obsessed productions like The Great Race, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Broccoli may have been able to juggle many things in each Bond film, but it just never coheres here.


Still, it never sells out to crudeness and also keeps a consistent idea of child-like wonderment, even when the film falls short.  When it works, it is worth watching, but it is muddy otherwise.  It is a children’s classic, but in recent years, it has become two things to adults: a cult item and a collector’s prized desire.  Besides a set like this, toys and memorabilia on the film go for high sums of money, proving this film reached more kids in more generations than current “hip” thinking would have us believe.  Because of its sincerity, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang defies even its own complications and continues to reach for new generations of fans.  That is testament enough to its popularity and endurance.


When MGM first released the film on DVD, they shocked fans and buyers all over by assuming that only young kids would want to have it, and issued a pan & scan butchering of the film.  In one of the greatest retaliations in the DVD-era, fans boycotted that version, MGM was flooded with one of the highest number of complaints on a title in DVD history, and the entire industry saw what happens when a children’s title is treated childishly.


This new set offers a double-sided DVD, with the first side offering that awful transfer, while the flip-side has the film in an anamorphically enhanced 2.20 X 1 image.  The film was shot in Super Panavision 70, or 65mm negative using some of the best equipment Panavision ever made.  Along with Ice Station Zebra, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 marked the final year the format was used on any productions of major note.  At the time of the older DVD, the no-brainer question was: where is the master MGM used for the letterboxed LaserDisc?


This transfer is from a print that is usually clean, but has some softness trouble in its transfer, but also has problems with color correctness and fidelity.  The film was originally printed in three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor, but you could not tell that form this transfer, off of 70mm materials that need more work.  Daylight scenes look overcast too often, but video black and red are consistent otherwise.  There is depth, but it is limited by dullness, but that dullness still cannot mask the large frame format’s superiority.  This is the best this film has looked on home video by default, but is a disappointment form a standpoint that 65mm negative is superior to standard 35mm used on 99% of all feature films.  Cinematographer Christopher Challis, B.S.C., delivers some fine images, but the most memorable thing about the film often tends to be its poor matte work.


In a restoration, the dye-transfer process could help fix that.  If the original negative materials could be found, re-matte work could really help scenes of the title vehicle flying, among other unique travels it is taken on.  This is not to say that the visual effects should be updated, especially noting that the D-word has not been spoken, but that restoration on film like this goes beyond just fixing each frame alone.  This was an ambitious early effects-laden film and that must never be forgotten in fixing or criticizing it.  [The negative was used for the Blu-ray, but the color is still an issue.  See link above.]


If you are simply buying this set for your kids, and expect to walk into another room until it is over, home theater owners will want to hear the sound.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 remix offers a nice rendering of the 6-track magnetic stereo from the film’s original release.  Pre-Dolby, five of those tracks were behind the screen, giving the audience traveling dialogue and sound effects.  This mix retains that very well, and it is tragic that MGM did not offer DTS here, because this would have increased sales more and made the film more watchable.  Despite that, this is a mix that could become a curio for home theater owners.  It is obvious the sound elements survived better than the film used here.  The box credits the soundtrack as being available on Rykodisc, but that went out of print a while ago.


The many extras include games, sing alongs, coloring book pages via DVD-ROM, a nice 34-page booklet inside the case, a U.S. theatrical trailer, 5 U.S. TV spots, an exceptional French theatrical trailer, some vintage featurettes, and new interview footage with Dick Van Dyke himself.  That is loaded, and all in all, this set should satisfy everyone form the curious to the most rabid fan.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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