Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Special Edition (1968/MGM DVD)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.]
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.
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