South Pacific – Collector’s Edition (Fox Blu-ray) + The South Pacific Companion (Book)
Picture: A- Sound: B- Extras: B- Film: B-/B Book: B
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:
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.
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
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
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
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