Plot: What’s it about?
A man’s life holds more dramatic potential than any work of fiction and for Alfredo (Robert De Niro) and Olmo (Gerard Depardieu), their lives hold more than most. Both men were born in 1900, but the paths taken are quite different, though the two share a lot of common threads. Alfredo was born into wealth, as his father owns a sizable farm with numerous servants. His father thinks little of those who work on the farm, paying them very little and treating them like they’re less than human. This upsets Alfredo, who isn’t cruel like his father, so he spends much of his time with his uncle. At the same time, Olmo is born into a peasant family and is mostly raised by his grandfather. So the two came from very different backgrounds and social classes, but Alfredo and Olmo would find each other and even become friends. As you’d expect from people from such different worlds, the two compare each other’s lives often, but remain friends. But as their lives unfold, what will become of these two and will they live the lives they desire?
The version of 1900 released in theaters was a compromise, as showing the film in two parts wasn’t possible, so a shorter edition was screened. But now we can see Bernardo Bertolucci’s full vision, as Paramount has issued the complete 315 minute version. Of course, that means this is a long, long movie and to keep an audience for five hours, a movie needs to be excellent. 1900 is a more than solid movie in most respects, but the plot seems more focused on loose ideas than characters or a more traditional narrative. That is normally fine, but with five hours to cover, the approach leaves us a lot of dry stretches. I doubt anyone would watch 1900 looking for action or fast paced storytelling, but even so, things just don’t always fall into place. The cast here is an impressive one, with Donald Sutherland, Burt Lancaster, Robert De Niro, and Gerard Depardieu, but for some reason, the performances don’t stand out. I suppose the nature of the material could be part of the reason, but whatever the cause, this star studded cast doesn’t live up to its potential. The production design is superb however, with lavish costumes and a good, realistic environment. 1900 isn’t the epic I had expected, but it has its moments, so I would recommend this one as a rental.
Video: How does it look?
1900 is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The standard for transfers these days is high and while this movie looks good, it isn’t quite up to that standard. The print is clean and the additional footage is seamless, so the elements must have been well cared for. Even so, there is a general softness to the visuals, so detail isn’t high. This could be intentional, but since the level of softness varies, I find it unlikely. The softness never turns into a huge problem, but this should look more refined than this. I found colors to be natural throughout, while contrast is a touch light, due to the softness. So in the end, this is a passable transfer, but I have to think the movie could have looked better.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included 2.0 surround option is nothing to write home about, but as far as the material is concerned, this track is more than solid. I was pleased to find minimal age related defects, such as hiss, distortion, and harshness, so while the track isn’t too memorable, it never dips below an acceptable watermark, either. The music sounds good, but not great, which is the case with the sound effects also, about all we can ask here. I found dialogue to be clean and never bothered by volume issues. This disc also includes French and Italian language tracks, as well as English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The first interview is with Bertolucci and director of photography Vittorio Storaro on the film’s casting process, while the second features the same two, as they talk about the film’s production. Neither interview is that substantial or insightful, but it is nice to have supplements of some kind.