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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > TV Mini-Series > Hollywood Studio System > MGM: When The Lion Roars (1992/Warner DVD/Documentary Mini-Series)

MGM: When The Lion Roars (1992/Warner DVD/Documentary Mini-Series)


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: B



As it becomes more distant, the amazing story of how in the Classical era of Hollywood, MGM was the biggest studio around and as much of a brand name for adults as Disney always has been for children is fading outside of the many great presentations of the TCM Network and the terrific Blu-ray and DVD releases Warner keeps issuing of those films from their Turner Catalog holdings.  Back in 1992, they hired Patrick Stewart to tell the story with the multi-part MGM: When The Lion Roars now on DVD.


In two long, detailed parts on two DVDs, the story is told with surprising candor about the peaks as well as the valleys and changes at the studio.  Inheriting the vast Triangle Studios space from D.W. Griffith’s peak days, the new owners brought big money, huge ambition and heavyweight talent to make MGM the biggest, most lavish and wealthiest studio in the world.  After WWII, they would even exceed Germany’s UFA Studios, which was the biggest until that turn of events.


Though they would make dramas, comedies, melodramas and other kinds of features, shorts and animated shorts, MGM especially became the epitome of the Dream Factory with their stunningly lavish musicals, which kicked in for them soon after they picked up the sound film ball from Warner Bros. and ran with it.  Nobody put money into their films like MGM, even when they only shot in black and white.  Their monochrome was some of the glossiest of all time and with stars like Joan Crawford, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly among a very vast pool of talent, their claim that they had more stars than in heaven seemed viable.


With fancy break moments for Stewart to address the audience, the never boring 366 minutes is through in explaining how it was at the studio, a city in itself like all the majors (including Paramount, Fox and Warner, as Columbia and Universal were much smaller companies at the time) that had its own unique look and style.  We see the big hits and classics, including Gone With The Wind keep the studio on top, while other films that do not do initially well go on to classic status, like Wizard Of Oz which initially lost money for the studio.  After the original studio system’s peak year of 1939, they had trouble regrouping after WWII, losing their theater chains, the 1950s blacklisting fiasco and arrival of TV, but MGM did an about face and moved from the declining musical to big screen epics and big budget projects intended as hits.


Many were, others were not, but the studio stayed viable into the late 1960s with 2001, Grand Prix and risks like Zabriskie Point that was their attempt to cash ion on the Easy Rider wave after its director (Michaelangelo Antonioni) delivered a hit for them in Blow Up.  The Sound of Music also had them trying Musicals again, but like al the studios, trying to go back was a mistake, especially in the Rock era.  But MGM was still a brand name into the 1970s before mergers, acquisitions and too many ownership turnovers broke the giant into bits and pieces.  It is one of the greatest stories of industry you will ever see and that is why this is a must see mini-series, especially for serious film fans.


This 1.33 X 1 full frame image is softer than I would have liked it, showing this transfer is an old analog master of some kind, but some of the newer footage is supposed to look diffused, though not this much.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo has faint Pro Logic surrounds and plays back best in two channels.  There are no extras.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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