Plot: What’s it about?
Whether it’s John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or the occasional Curious George, many of us that were once students got to read a book in school at any grade or age that had an impact on them. In many cases, these great pieces of literature have turned into feature films that usually would follow reading the book (or watching it to get ahead start or avoidance of the book). Some reached an average level as the book despite some differences but some had the rare quality to equal or go beyond the reading experience. Such is the case of this film that depicts a family in a small town, a case, and the world seen through the eyes of children in glorious black and white and is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
A young lady looks back at her childhood. Through her narration, Scout (Mary Badham), as she was called then was a little girl with a tough side and seem to find herself in a mess of trouble during many of her school days. The people that she relied on in her life the most were her brother Jem (Philip Alford) and most of all her attorney father Atticus (Gregory Peck) who just so happens to be balancing being a single father and defending a black man (Brock Peters) on a case involving the rape of a young woman.
From watching this movie many years, it’s easy to see why this film connects with an audience so much. Deep down we remember the curiosities and the struggles we had as kids and living in small towns as some of us have. For that we share a connection with the Finch family. To Kill A Mockingbird also does the great thing of having a lot of grown up material seen through the eyes of children which is never artificial or sugar coated.
Gregory Peck gives a well deserved winning performance as Atticus Finch, a man who will stand by his principles and the children shall follow along with being a father who doesn’t talk down to his kids and is encouraging even in the down side of vantage. The other great bit of casting are the children (Mary Badham and Philip Alford) themselves who play the roles almost as themselves without giving in to the cliche of child acting and mugging with a air of the obvious, and the audience is there for these kids even at their slightest curiosity of the grownups.
Along with the great cast, To Kill A Mockingbird has a great story about looking back at having a childhood one summer when the change in innocence came and the growing up process began. It has also become equal on cable to The Wizard of Oz and It’s A Wonderful Life in that it has a place where anyone can watch and anyone can appreciate a few times a year. No matter what time or place in life, there is always room for not only Jello but the experience that is To Kill A Mockingbird in the seriousness of the subject matter and going to show looking back sometimes is not so bad as one might think.
Video: How does it look?
It’s somewhat surreal when watching a movie in black and white – at least it is for me. I think we’re so spoiled by color that when I watch a film in black and white, it really makes me sit up and take notice. That might sound odd, but then again, so am I. The 2012 Blu-ray was sourced from a 4K image, but now we’ve got a “true” 4K version of the film and it’s marvelous. The main draw with the 4K image is the HDR that really brings out the contrast and black levels in the film. I feel that it gives the image more depth, but at the same time retains the cinematic quality that we all know and love. Grain is present, but it’s been cleaned up a bit from the Blu-ray (also included). It’s a nice, well-rounded presentation that is, by far, the best the movie has ever looked.
Audio: How does it sound?
While the possibility exists for a Dolby Atmos (or DTS:X track), the same DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack found on the previously-released Blu-ray is what we’ve got here. And that’s fine. The movie is now half a century old and anything associated with “older” films isn’t present. Any annoying hiss or breaks in the soundtrack have been replaced by a seamless score that resonates through the 5.1 channels. Gregory Peck’s booming voice sounds clear and strong through the entire movie, particularly during the courtroom scenes. Suffice it to say that Elmer Berstein’s score has never sounded better. Very impressive.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Most of the supplements are ported over from the previous Blu-ray, but we do get a new feature on this version.
- To Kill a Mockingbird: All Points of View – Delve deep into the impact and legacy of To Kill a Mockingbird in this new documentary as film historians, scholars, and Gregory Peck’s grandson, Christopher Peck, reflect on the message of hope, courage and integrity that are still relevant 60 years after the film was released.
- Fearful Symmetry – A feature-length documentary on the making of To Kill a Mockingbird with cast and crew interviews and a visit to author Harper Lee’s home town.
- A Conversation with Gregory Peck – An intimate feature-length documentary on one of the most beloved actors in film history with interviews, film clips, home movies and more.
- Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech – Gregory Peck gives a speech at the Academy Awards® after winning for his performance as Atticus Finch.
- American Film Institute Life Achievement Speech – Gregory Peck’s speech after receiving the AFI Life Achievement Award.
- Excerpt from “Tribute to Gregory Peck” – Cecilia Peck’s heartwarming farewell to her father given at the Academy in celebration of his life.
- Scout Remembers – Actress Mary Badham talks about her time acting alongside Gregory Peck.
- Audio Commentary –Robert Mulligan and Producer Alan Pakula
- Theatrical Trailer
- 100 Years of Univesal: Restoring the Classics – Join in on the in-depth look at the film restoration process.
The Bottom Line
In 2003, the American Film Institute named Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch as the #1 hero in film. That’s saying something. There’s not a down side to this movie other than the events depicted within are still prevalent today. And that’s pretty sad. But there are movies that come around like this and Schindler’s List that simply must be seen. Universal’s new 4K offering ups the ante with a new supplement and an improved picture. No matter which version you own, this movie belongs in every collection.