Houdini (Blu-ray)

October 23, 2014 5 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I, like most other people, have always been fascinated by magic and illusion. I realize it’s not real and just a matter of trickery, but those who can do it and do it well still take my breath away. A friend of mine gave me a wand from the Harry Potter store, you see, and it’s still yet to work – that’s how I know magic isn’t real. Figured I’d throw that out there.  All kidding aside, there are really only a few names known the “rest of us” outside the world of illusion. The first, and most obvious, would be Harry Houdini who made a living defying death and becoming a world renown master of illusion. I’d wager that every magician and illusionist ever since has Houdini as their bar.  Still, like most great people, Houdini had some inner demons and this new miniseries by The History Channel takes an Academy Award winning actor in Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and throws him into one of the great performers of the last century. Brody, a magician growing up, not only looks the part but does a fine job as well.  For those who haven’t yet had the chance, let’s dive in (chained and in a straightjacket, of course) and embrace all that’s Harry Houdini.

Life is rough for Erich Weiss (Adrien Brody). His parents don’t pay him much attention and don’t seem to believe in anything he wants to do. So it’s with an alluring eye when Erich witnesses a magician at a traveling carnival. Erich is enthralled and knows that this is his true calling. Changing his name to Harry Houdini, we see (in montage form, no less) how Harry manages to become one of the world’s best illusionists. Of course, just as every sports movie doesn’t have a lot of sports, this too doesn’t really focus on the actual performances. Harry struggles with a lot of inner demons and we see his wife, Bess (Kristen Connolly) as well as his best friend Jim (Evan Jones), the one responsible for the elaborate set designs that Houdini uses. This is, for all intents and purposes, a biopic of Harry Houdini with a  focus on his inner psyche. It’s well-made and for anyone with even a passing interest in the man, myth and legend – a must see.

Video: How’s it look?

The 1.78:1 AVC HD transfer is second to none.  The miniseries is obviously high budget and it shows. Contrast and blacks are rock solid and though a few of the special effects aren’t up to some of those that I’ve seen.  Detail is amazing, showcasing some of the scenery and we see the pores on the actors’ faces.  Truthfully, this is about as good as I’ve seen from a television series and Lionsgate has done a fine job with this release.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Complimenting the video is a rather impressive DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack.  I think we’re past the days when a television series has to sound dated and this is certainly not the case as this mix simply resonates in some of the episodes.  Vocals are strong and concise, surrounds are used often and the LFE come into play from time to time. Though the miniseries is mainly dialogue driven, there are some scenes that really make use of the surrounds.  Again, a fine job.

Supplements: What are the extras?

There isn’t a wealth of supplemental material to be found unless you count the extra 20 minutes of footage in the extended version (on Disc 1).

  • Extended Version – The first disc contains the extended cut of the miniseries with 24 minutes of footage. The original broadcast version can be found on the second disc.
  • Featurettes
      Houdini the Greatest – Aside from the archival footage of Houdini, the rest is your standard behind the scenes footage as well as some very brief chats with the cast.

      The Real Houdini – As the title suggests, this is some more archival footage of the real Houdini.

      The Great Escapes – Adrien Brody talks of some of the stunts that Houdini performed and what made him (and the stunts) so memorable.

      Cheating Death – Brody, in character, is shown working with some of the tricks of the trade of Houdini.

Disc Scores