Plot: What’s it about?
The last of James Dean’s three films, Giant is also the most ambitious. Truth be told, Dean is not the major star this time around. He takes a backseat to Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. George Stevens, Jr. introduces the film that his late father directed. He talks about how this project was very personal to his father and he even took a salary cut to make this film. Hearing that, it’s obvious to say that this was clearly a passion project for George Stevens Sr. The film follows three central characters over the course of several decades. The film is epic in both its scope, but small in the way it tells a simpler story with more emphasis on character than plot. The film is over 3 hours long, but it’s also well-paced. It is not something I would revisit often, but every once and again when the mood strikes me. Rock Hudson plays Jordan “Bick” Benedict. He comes from a family of wealth and is the head of a Texas Ranch. When he meets Leslie Lynnton (Taylor), it’s love at first sight, and he proposes to her. She breaks off her current engagement and marries Bick. The trouble begins when Jett Rink (Dean) shows up. He is also secretly in love with Leslie. Jett is a bit arrogant and causes a lasting feud with Bick. Jett’s ego only grows when he strikes oil and makes a huge sum of money. There are various themes throughout Giant, including racism, politics, and human rights among others. There really aren’t many films like this one out there. The only film recently that resembles it in a way is “There will be blood”, not so much in the plot, but the Texas setting and its involvement with the oil business. Similarities to “Gone with the wind” are also sure to arise. I think that’s part of its lasting power. That and the fact that it’s James Dean’s last performance. He doesn’t show up until over 20 minutes into the movie and makes a lasting impression. His character is cool, mysterious, and not far from his life persona. He just has that mystique that makes it so hard to take your eyes off the screen. Dean died not long after production wrapped and some of his lines towards the end of the film had to be dubbed over by other actors. There’s a haunting scene near the end of the film where we see his character at a much later time in his life. This almost becomes eerie since Dean himself died at the age of 24. Outside of the three main actors (Hudson, Taylor and Dean), the film also includes performances from Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper and Rod Taylor to name a few.
Giant not only had a long production, but it was also troubled at times. What is refreshing to see, however, is that the film shows no signs of this. These days we sometimes hear of troubled productions and stars clashing with one another and the result is often lackluster. It can never erase the gloomy cloud of James Dean’s death hanging over it, but that also adds to the film. He certainly went out on a high note here. I’d be hard pressed not to say that Jett is the most interesting character. You’re never quite sure what he’s going to say or do next (much like Dean himself). He doesn’t conform to any requirement of the world where he’s living. He and Taylor also have nice chemistry together. The wide Texas landscape also lends itself well not just to the wide-screen format, but also to high-definition. It’s great that Warner Brothers finally released this film on Blu-ray as it really enhances the film’s look. It is only giant in its name and its scope, but the story is simple and well told. It’s also great to finally have the entire film on a single disc. The previous DVD edition was two-sided and had a pause where you’d take out the disc and switch sides. Blu-ray discs have much more space so that makes it nice to have the ability to watch it in a single viewing without having to stop and pause, though a film of this length that might be necessary regardless. Giant is an excellent film showcasing three wonderful performances and strong direction from a passionate director. It takes place during a simpler time that was also much more difficult in many ways. As I said in my other reviews of Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, fans will certainly want to add this to their collection.
Video: How’s it look?
Now, here is the big selling point of this disc. I will state that I am by no means one who claims to know it all in terms of what to look for or terminology when it comes to the 4K disc format. What I can tell you all is that to my eyes, I have never seen this film look so good. Purists may want a more thorough breakdown of just what will be the high points and low points of this disc, but I didn’t detect any serious issues. I couldn’t see any washed-out colors or over-saturation; grain was virtually nonexistent as well. The ratio is once again 1:66:1, and according to the notes I received with this disc, this transfer was completed using original camera negatives and RGB separation master positives. Warner clearly put a lot of care into this, and it shows. I will be interested in reading other reviews if for no reason than to see if they have the same thoughts or not.
Audio: How’s it sound?
We are treated to the DTS HD 2.0 track, which is just fine to my ears. In my review of the Blu-Ray from 2013 I mentioned the vocals being clear and balanced, and that is the case here. Part of me wants to say this is the same track as before, but I am not 100%. Still, it presents the film in a positive manner.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – George Stevens Jr, Ivan Moffat and Stephen Farber provide their notes on the film. This is a previously released track but is well worth listening for fans as there are tons of great insights.
The Bottom Line
It is such a treat to have Giant on 4K. I was very impressed with the new transfer, and I almost want to rewatch it again soon just to admire the visuals. Purists may have their own reservations, but to my eyes this remained impressive. I’d give a full recommendation, but the lack of new extras or carryover ones (which were plentiful) from the previous release is disappointing. So, while I recommend the disc, if you care about the features then you may want to hold onto the previous release as well.