East of Eden (Blu-ray)

December 13, 2013 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

The first of James Dean three film legacy, East of Eden is also the only one of Dean’s films released before his death on September 30th 1955. Dean stars as Cal Trask. He tries desperately to win the love of his father, Adam (Raymond Massey) who seems to strongly favor his brother Aron (Richard Davolos). The film takes place in 1917 in Salinas. As the film begins, we see Cal following a woman. He follows her for what seems like several miles until he’s told that she doesn’t want to be bothered. His father has lied to the two brothers, telling them that the mother died when they were young. This role must’ve hit close to home for Dean, who’s very own mother died at a young age. Cal is always getting on his father’s nerves. He is asked to read entire bible scriptures at the dinner table and it’s clear that his father does not care for him by the way he talks about him to his friends and such. The dad runs a vegetable shipping business that eventually collapses. Cal sees this as the perfect opportunity to finally win over his father’s love. He borrows $5,000 and turns it into a successful business. He is able to grow beans with a strong turnaround rate. After all his hard work all Cal wants is for his father to be happy with him. His father still doesn’t approve and this leads to one of the films most effective sequences in which he confronts his father. Not everything works in the film. Some moments are a bit too heavy-handed and forced. The scenes with Cal and his father are effective, but the film does try a bit too hard to show that Aron is the favored child. I think a more subtle approach would’ve worked better. Still, that’s a minor complaint and it isn’t a huge flaw. Another minor issue is the films score. At times, it’s just a bit too much. It doesn’t help that it’s vamped up most of the time. Again, this is only a minor issue. Julie Harris stars as Aron’s girlfriend, Abra. She eventually forms a relationship with Cal. Julie Harris died this past August and surely the memory of working with James Dean was one she cherished greatly. The two of them share many great scenes and have nice chemistry together. There’s quite a bit of tension throughout the film with the characters and their relationships. I cared about the people in the film and it held my interest throughout its running time. The film holds up remarkably well almost 60 years since its debut.

In 2009 I recall reading that a remake of East of Eden was in the works. I am not sure if the project was postponed or put off all together, but I can only hope it’s the latter. Hollywood is all too eager to remake classic films (especially recently) and Eden is an easy target. The film works just fine as it is. I won’t say it’s prefect by any means, but what film truly is perfect? The most important thing is the central role of Cal Trask. James Dean is an icon and for good reason. There’s not a single actor today that could make quite an impressions like him. Also, I can picture (though I don’t want to) the melodrama being pushed to the max if a remake is ever made. The film works because it treats its premise with respect and doesn’t try to lessen it with plot twists among other things. The folks at Warner Brothers must’ve heard my cries. I always wondered why it took so long for James Dean’s films to be released on the HD format. I am also glad that they’ve given us Blu-ray book packaging. These are a great companion piece to the films and provide interesting background notes. James Dean was often said to have provoked the people he worked with to add to the performance. There was much made about the relation between he and Raymond Massey and some tension on the set. This only works in the films favor as it makes the relation between the two that much more authentic. For fans of James Dean, picking up this set is an easy call.

Video: How’s it look?

Warner has done a fine job with this transfer. The print used was created from a 4K scan and it shows. The film just looks clean now and has a smooth look without much softness. The image is AVC encoded with a 2.55:1 Aspect Ratio. The Salinas landscape is given great detail here and is evident in the film’s opening sequences. There are a lot of darkly lit scenes throughout the film, but that is more of a deliberate matter and not so much a flaw. Colors were well saturated and offered a smooth look. Black levels were strong and deep. I feel pleased with this transfer and fans will too.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The DTS HD remix is nice, but don’t expect anything too robust. It’s very much a front loaded track. Vocals were strong and concise and offer a smooth tone throughout. The rear channels kick in at times, and add a nice touch. I no longer have the previous DVD edition to compare to, but this track accompanies the film well.

Supplements: What are the extras?

All of the extras from the previous DVD version have been carried over. There aren’t any new supplements though. This is one of Warner Brother’s Blu-ray book editions and offers some nice factoids and other notes inside the package. I’m still not sure if I would prefer a standard case with the book as an insert though. I like Blu-ray books, but sometimes I’d just prefer to have a separate booklet.

  • Commentary – Richard Schickel provides a nice commentary track. Schickel is a film critic and keeps the track interesting.
  • Forever James Dean (59:50) – This is a great documentary highlighting James Dean’s early life and short career. Some of the most interesting bits discuss Dean’s car accident and how many refused to believe he died despite photos being released from the accident. For those even remotely curious about James Dean, this documentary is worth a look. It includes several interviews with family and friends as well as Co-Stars. Some of the cheesy 80’s music is also fun to hear.
  • Art in search of life (19:31) – This isn’t as in depth as the previous documentary, but it still offers some great notes. It discusses the novel and offers comparisons to the story of Cain and Abel.
  • Deleted Scenes (19:15) – Are mostly extended bits, but there are some that are better than others. The quality is a little rough though. I also wish we could choose the scenes individually. They’re all played together in a long reel.
  • Screen tests (6:21) – For James Dean and Richard Davalos.
  • Wardrobe Tests – These total about 22 minutes worth of footage.
  • 3/9/55 Premier – We see footage from the premier of the film.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Digibook packaging

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