Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Blu-ray)

April 8, 2016 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

It shook up the stage and the screen and had a system up in shambles and trying to figure how to regulate movies then to formulate a system that is used now. The rating system was started because the questions arisen of one film about four people and the disturbing meeting they all have one night. All went on to big things and all had the idea of going to a party gone terribly wrong with one question posed at the beginning, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Meet George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor). Both are tired of each other and one favors alcohol to loosen up more than she should. One night starts out normal for them criticizing yelling and screaming until a door opens and two houseguests arrive in the form of Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) in the wee small hours of the night at the request of Martha. What to the viewer should be a happy occasion becomes a regular night at the household of George and Martha and one of disturbing effect to Nick and Honey.

The effect that this movie had in the decade it was made remains so today thanks to the performance by all the players and the gritty reality of the dialogue (by Edward Albee, adapted by Ernest Lehman) in that there are two people who go on and on and on without a care in the world of who is in the same room with them or how they don’t care about being judged in the world but what they have goes far beyond the average couple without the smiles on the faces.

This is certainly not the feel good hit of the season as whoever is expecting to have a jolly time with two couples can find the most recent soft comedy to hold them over until they forget about it five minutes later. This is more of a character piece of two couples and the fears and woes they have looking at the past and most disturbingly into the future. There is no sunshine and for good reason for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? brings the disturbing and the downership of reality to all involved and still remains to have a powerful impact on the viewer from start to finish.

Video: How’s it look?

They seem to keep playing with the aspect ratio for this one. The previous DVD was 1.66:1 and this is now 1.78:1 (to my closest approximation). Still this AVC HD image, shot in black and white, looks in good shape and I can’t tell you how much I love black and white films on Blu-ray. The picture appears to have a clearer look to it than the previous DVD and though no new 4K restoration was done, this does appear to have benefitted from technology. Contrast and black levels show varying degrees of shadows and shade, the outdoor scenes (the one on the swing) look rich and crisp while the interior show a depth of field that I’d not noticed in previous incarnations. Suffice it to say that this is a step up from the previous versions, though it’s not a night and day difference.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The Dolby Digital Mono track from the DVD has been replaced by a DTS HD Master 2.0 mix. And while it is not geared for the action crowd in this film for with the exception of Alex North’s score and a few effects now and then, the film is mostly dialogue driven and has the slight muteness of the time attached but for this film it’s not a bad thing. However it manages to have the dialogue come out clearly through all channels as well as the little hints here and there of effects and score and it’s retained nicely. This disc also has a French mono track as well as English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Korean subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

It appears as if all of the supplements from the 2006 two disc edition have been ported over to this Blu-ray. While it’s a bit distressing that there are no new supplements, those that want to retire their old DVD may now do so.

  • Audio Commentary – Soderbergh asks the questions and Nichols provides the answers along with an experience or two in between and both share a superb session where the audience learns about casting, how Nichols got the job in the first place along with what measures Mike took to translate the play to screen. There are few gaps but overall a very good look back at the film that is informative and entertaining.
  • Audio Commentary – Haskell Wexler chats up about the technical aspects of the film but had its share of gaps but remains informative nonetheless. The far better of the two tracks is with Nichols and Soderbergh.
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Too Shocking for its Time – This gives a brief look at the material of the film and how it shared and influenced the ratings of the time.
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: A Daring Work of Raw Excellence – A series of interviews with Nichols, writer Edward Albee and others give their .02 on the film (Albee loved it).
  • 1966 Barbara Walters Interview – A much younger Barbara Walters interviews Director Mike Nichols from 1966 and he takes questions and gives most interesting answers during the time and his viewpoints towards films and the material.
  • 6 Sandy Dennis Screen Tests – Sandy Dennis (which a little was shown during the first featurette) shot wide and it provides what got her the role with a different Nick (played by Roddy McDowall) and it makes for a test worth noting but makes one curious if anyone else was tested for the role before her.
  • Intimate Portrait: Elizabeth Taylor – This special hosted by Peter Lawford and with an array of Taylor’s colleagues and friends and family goes into looking at her work from years past and stories about the actress herself. At first, the title almost hinted this viewer of a Lifetime half hour special. Although it’s double in length, the result is a piece of nostalgia chatting up about the legendary star which is a most curious piece.
  • Trailers
      The Comedians

      The Sandpiper

      The V.I.P.’s

      Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (HD)

The Bottom Line

This is one of those films that really was ahead of its time and it’s one that I watch about once a year. It’s just…nearly perfect. The black and white photography, the subject matter and the performances by all four lead actors are all something everyone should aspire to when it comes to filmmaking. It’s about time this movie came to Blu-ray which sports a better-looking transfer than the DVD and with the same features. I love this movie.

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