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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Romance > WWII > South Pacific – Collector’s Edition (Fox Blu-ray) + The South Pacific Companion (Book)

South Pacific – Collector’s Edition (Fox Blu-ray) + The South Pacific Companion (Book)

 

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

 

 

Fox and the Rodgers & Hammerstein Estate have been fixing up the hit film versions of many of their films, but even I was surprised to hear that an 8K (8,000-line progressive scan HD) transfer of Joshua Logan’s South Pacific (1958) in Todd-AO 70mm was being made for Blu-ray.  Fox had issued a fine DVD set a few years ago that will give you all the details on the film, its extras, the two cuts of the film and more at this link:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/4545/South+Pacific+%E2%80%93+Col

 

 

Only Baraka (1992, reviewed elsewhere on this site) is another film we can think of that has had 8K treatment and ironically was also a Todd-AO 70mm production, though different.  We have enjoyed some great large-frame-format Blu-rays (2001: A Space Odyssey, Baraka, the Imax footage from The Dark Knight and expect Grand Prix to shine on Blu-ray as it did on the now-defunct HD-DVD format) but this is the oldest such film with a premium transfer we have seen to date, so we wondered what the results might be.  The DVD looked good, after all.

 

Well, the 1080p 2.20 X 1 AVC @ 31.5 MBPS digital High Definition image (to repeat) was shot in the large-frame Todd-AO 70mm format, like its R&H predecessor Oklahoma! (the very first Todd-AO film ever, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and is only the third film ever to use the format.  British 35mm prints were even issued in three-strip Technicolor, but large frame formats have color quality that is superior to shooting in 35mm and that gives the filmmakers latitude when doing reduction prints to begin with.  We expect the credits might look a bit grainy with all the optical printing, even in a large-frame and there is optical work at the beginning inside the airplane that is obviously a set, but this 51-year-old film has been leaned up and nicely preserved, resulting in often stunning images.

 

Now the color might be slightly off somewhere and there are shots where you do not get the outright definition in all shots you would expect, but fleshtones are very accurate, the print is color consistent for the most part and only some minor motion blur and soft shots here and there hold the impressive performance back otherwise.  Because of the color filters and stylizing used, I was particularly interested to see how the great Bali Ha’i sequence would play.  It is the most complex use of color in the film and holds together very well.  Unfortunately, it appears softer in a way that DVD would hide and this transfer will not, but seems to be a small price to pay for effect.  Compare to Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957, shot in VistaVision) where frames and footage are made to look like magazine photography, flattening them.

 

To recap on the longer Road Show version at its best (like the DVD version) has color that looks a bit sharper and with slightly better color, yet extra footage is almost colorless and definition also drops.  That is strange, but that is the case and helping all cuts of this film was a switch to improved lenses by Panavision for the shoot.  Leon Shamroy, A.S.C., was the cinematographer and shot three R&H features in all starting with the 1945 State Fair.  He had just shot The King & I and knew exactly what he was doing with the material.

 

While the DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.0 mix from the original magnetic 6-track stereo in 70mm, the Blu-ray has a downgraded lesser Dolby Digital 4.0 mix and much better DTS-HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix that brings out the music performances very nicely, but at the cost of dialogue recordings which were not as well recorded.  I still think the DTS is the best this soundtrack is ever going to sound and though you get some ghost imaging from folding down the five behind-the-screen Todd-AO configuration speakers to three for playback here, the music has never sounded so good anywhere, including vinyl.

 

As a companion sold separately, Fireside Books is issuing a huge, rich coffee table hardcover book by Laurence Maslon entitled The South Pacific Companion.  At nearly 200 pages, the book (from an author who had done the same with The Sound Of Music) traces its creation from the events in 1941 that started the U.S. involvement in WWII to how the principals came together to how a James Michener book became the basis of this wildly successful blockbuster musical.  A huge hit on stage, then a huge hit film, including a huge hit soundtrack that still remains one of the most commercially successful in cinema history.

 

The stills and illustrations are terrific, text thorough and legacy incredible and far from over.  If you love the film, you’ll definitely want to own this book, while we see the Blu-ray as a new high watermark for films from the 1950s.  Even if you don’t like musicals, you have to see it to believe it.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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