Plot: What’s it about?
MGM’s monumental film about the fall of the Old South is no less breathtaking today as it was upon its initial release back in 1939. That it stands the test of time this incredibly is a testimony to virtually every aspect of its inception, execution, and near-impeccable production value. For all the fruitless attempts at recreating a film in the vein of the long lost Hollywood epic, “Gone With The Wind” stands today as a film as cherished as any, arguably outreaching in classic status films the likes of “Ben-Hur” and that other indispensable Fleming cultural staple of the same year, “The Wizard Of Oz”. So just what is it that makes this such an enduring piece of cinema after nearly seven decades? There’s no simple answer to that question, but this is only the case because there are far too many reasons to list here in three brief paragraphs. The short and easy explanation is that the film simply breathes with life. Colors, sounds, and overall atmosphere simply transcend the screen. Performances are top notch. Even the score is a legendary achievement. There is not a false beat or awkward transition to be found in the nearly four hour film.
To paraphrase Leonard Maltin’s video guide, “If not the greatest film ever made, [“Gone With The Wind” is] certainly one of the greatest examples of storytelling ever filmed”. I contend to this day that, while Scarlet may get her strength from Tara, this movie has always gained its through sheer craft of storytelling. Though not always about a subject that lends itself to edge-of-your-seat excitement, this is one of the most well-paced films ever made. Much must be said for a film of this vintage that holds up so well today, especially when said film is really little more than a bloated soap opera set in historic times. It takes quite a steady hand to put together a piece like this that consistently holds fast to its audience through literally generations of drama, and yet Victor Fleming did just that. The irony is that, as it seems to be with all films destined for future greatness, the movie was riddled with production problems and almost didn’t get made at all, and Fleming wasn’t even the film’s original director. But then, that’s a story for you to learn yourself through this DVD release’s positively grand extra features.
“Gone With The Wind” has had its share of releases. Back in the days of VHS tapes, one could pick up the film for a cool hundred bucks if you were willing to fork over the dough. And for that, you got a box with two tapes inside that housed the film – and nothing else. Later on, if you had the finances to support your obsession, you could pick up the film in a special edition CAV laserdisc offering that split the film up every half hour or so (ouch). There was even an ill-conceived attempt at releasing a widescreen version of “Gone With The Wind” on the obsolete twelve-inch platters. The problem is, the film wasn’t shot for widescreen! My, how times have changed. Now you can watch the film on a shiny, five-inch disc with one intermission, dramatically improved visual and audio quality, and loads of worthwhile supplements. And all of this at a substantially reduced price. The first release of the film left a lot to be desired as it contained virtually none of the extras fans had been clamoring for for years. Fortunately, however, the powers at be at MGM have definitively retired the earlier disc with this incredible four-disc release commemorating the film’s 65th anniversary.
Video: How’s it look?
Five years ago we were treated to a 70th Anniversary Edition (and I’m sure that in five years we’ll be presented with an 80th Anniversary Edition) that looked stunning. Warner pulled out all the stops for that version. It sported a new 8K VC-1 encoded transfer and is, by far, the best the film has ever looked. Looking at this version, the two are identical. I guess if it ain’t broke (anymore, that is) then why fix it? Having said that, Gone with the Wind has never looked better. The 1.37:1 image won’t fill your screen like today’s films, but colors are rich and robust, blacks are dark and deep and contrast gives the film a very 3D like look and feel. Did I say that this is the best the film has ever looked? Because it is. Even considering the gargantuan running time of the movie (232 minutes), there’s still ample room on the disc and it’s never challenged. I could go on and on, but for a film that’s now 7 decades old – this looks amazing.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Again, the previously-released 70th Anniversary Edition contained a very robust Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix that’s present here. Is there any other way to hear “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” than in uncompressed sound? No. No there isn’t. Everything about Gone with the Wind is epic and this soundtrack is no exception. The fire in Atlanta, the score, the effects – all sound amazing. Now don’t go and think that this will in any way, shape or form compare with today’s modern soundtracks as it won’t, but given the age of the film and the elements available, well, you get the idea. Honestly I could go on and on, but this soundtrack has been reviewed by many five years ago and I was amazed at how good it sounds.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Ok, now this is where it gets fun! Warner obviously had to provide some incentive for folks to once again pony up their hard-earned cash, so there are a few new supplements that have been added for this release. We’ve also lost a couple of things. There’s new cover art as well if that matters to anyone. Since the 70th Anniversary Edition wasn’t covered here, we’re going to dig into all the supplements. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a….wait, wrong movie. Essentially what we’re lacking here is the soundtrack CD which has been replaced by a new Blu-ray with the newer supplements. It’s easier (for me, anyway) to just list what each disc has, so we’ll do it like that. Let’s get started.
Disc One (Blu-ray)* – This is the exact same disc that appeared in the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray release and nothing new has been included.
- Audio Commentary – Film historian Rudy Behlmer has provided some great commentary tracks for some of Warner and MGM’s finest films. Admittedly I didn’t listen to the entire 230 minute track, but enough to know (and I already knew) that Behlmer knows his stuff. Chock full of interesting tidbits about the production, it’s a good listen (though it is the same track that was on the previous editions of the film).
Disc Two (Blu-ray)* – This is the exact same disc that appeared in the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray release and nothing new has been included.
- The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind – Running just a tad over two hours, this was included on a previous DVD release of the film. And if you look for it on TCM, you might have seen a bit of this here and there. Nevertheless, this is probably the defacto documentary about the making of this film. Everything you’d want to know is jam-packed in this two hour feature.
- Gone With the Wind: The Legend Lives On – More of a companion piece to the above, this focuses on some of the fans of the film, their collections and has a message about the importance of film preservation.
- 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year – With films like Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights and this it’s hard not to argue that this was probably the best year for films in Hollywood. This 70 minute feature takes a look at some of the aforementioned films and their impact.
- Gable: The King Remembered – I personally share a birthday with Mr. Gable, so I’ve got that going for me…which is nice. However this documentary on the “King” of Hollywood, hosted by Peter Lawford, is pretty impressive and gives us a look at the man, myth and legend.
- Vivian Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond – This is essentially the same thing as above, though a bit shorter and doesn’t delve quite as deep. Hosted by Jessica Lange, we get some insight into the mysterious Vivian Leigh.
- Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland – It’s odd to think that for a film of this age, we’d actually get some remarks from someone who was in the film, but we get just that. De Havilland provides some interesting insight and perspective on the film and as of this writing she’s still with us at the age of 98! Wow.
- The Supporting Players – Looking at the IMDb page for this film, it’s clear that this movie went well beyond Gable and Leigh, this segment gives us some insight into the rest of the cast that made this such a memorable film.
- Restoring a Legend – I love these. I’m always impressed at how much time, effort and energy goes into the restoration of a film and, in particular, one of this magnitude. Granted this is focused on the 65th Anniversary DVD release, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.
- Newsreels – Some vintage newsreels show some footage from the premiere.
- International Prologue – A brief one minute feature that was shown overseas.
- The Old South – I felt like I was in 7th grade history class while watching this, but it gives us a historical depiction of plantation life and life in general of the pre-Civil War era South.
- Foreign Language Versions – Just that – we get a sampling of some of the international versions of the film.
- Movieola – A made for television film starring Tony Curtis as legendary film producer David O. Selznick.
- Theatrical Trailers – Some trailers as well as re-release trailers.
Disc Three (Blu-ray)* – This is the exclusive to the 75th Anniversary Blu-ray set.
- Old South/New South – As mentioned, they needed some new material to sell this to us again, and with this new documentary we’re treated to a history lesson. All kidding aside, this is actually a pretty informative look at the time when the film takes place contrasted to the “new” South. Having spent a majority of my life in the South (Arkansas, to be exact) I can say that this glosses over the issues a bit as racial prejudice is still alive and well in the South (no matter how much people want to believe it’s not). Still, a nice and new supplement.
- Gone with the Wind: Hollywood Comes to Atlanta – This is a curious entry as it’s just premiere footage with some spotty audio and video quality. Still, better to have than have not…
Disc Four (DVD)* – This is the exact same disc that appeared in the 70th Anniversary Blu-ray release and nothing new has been included.
- MGM: When the Lion Roars – This 6 hour (yes, really) documentary is hosted by Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. It’s been divided up into three parts: “The Lion’s Roar,” “The Lion Reigns Supreme,” and “The Lion in Winter.” Each segment focuses on the rise (and eventual fall) of the studio and is a must see for any fan of film or interested in the studio system.
- Forever Scarlett: The Immortal Style – Fans of Project Runway might recognize Austin Scarlett. And non-fans won’t. Still Scarlett is a fashionista in every sense of the word and in this 36 page book, he takes a look at Scarlett and her timeless sense of style.
- Handkerchief – Yes, that. The initials “R.B.” are embroidered on it. This is perfect if your initials are “R.B.” and you use a handkerchief.
- Music Box – Complete with a picture of Scarlett and Rhett, this plays Steiner’s “Tara” theme.
Though not included with the set, Warner also sent along a book: Ruth’s Journey: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Gone with the Wind. I didn’t read it, but I guess it’s a good companion piece to the film. And if you’ve braved all of these supplements, I’m willing to bet that a 370 page book is child’s play.