East of Eden

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Cal Trask (James Dean) has always been in competition with his brother, even when it came to the attention from their father, Adam (Raymond Massey). Cal has been trouble since he was a child, but now he seems to get into more trouble than ever. Cal isn’t a bad person, he wants to do good, especially by his father, but his plans always seem to take bad turns. His brother Aron (Richard Davalos) on the other hand can do no wrong, as he is loved by their father to no end. His hand seems drawn to things that make him look better in his father’s eyes, while Cal can never seem to make things right. Adam told his sons that their mother was dead, but Cal knows she isn’t. No, she is the mistress of a brothel and when times call for desperate measures, Cal even visits her to borrow some cash. He does so to help his father through some rough times, but even that gesture is outdone by his brother, as usual. As tensions mount and the pressure reaches a boiling point, what will become of this unstable family?

The hype around James Dean has always been massive, the image of this loner rebel, a bad boy who took the screen by storm. Of course, now we have these kind of guys by the dozen, but back in the 50s, the Hollywood hype machine wasn’t as refined and effective. I’ve never understood the hype either, as Dean was usually a by the numbers performer, with little emotion or insight. He could draw the women I suppose, but unlike Steve McQueen, Dean just didn’t seem to be what the studios were telling us he was. Maybe he was a bad boy who drove fast and died young, but he didn’t have the kind of mystique McQueen had. Although I don’t think much of his cinematic career, Dean’s performance in East of Eden, which kicked off his hype, was solid and deserved praise, though not in massive doses. Yes, he has the physical presence, but he overacts throughout, though not to an insane level. The movie itself is passable, uneven from start to finish and overly simple, especially when you consider the excellent source material. If you’re a fan of Dean however, you’ll want to see East of Eden, but all others can find better entertainment elsewhere.

Video: How does it look?

East of Eden is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is the first time most viewers will be able to see the film in widescreen, but Warner didn’t rest on that issue. Not only is the full image visible, but we have a restored and remastered treatment that really shines. A light amount of grain is present and debris can be seen at times, but on the whole, the print looks incredible. The image is never soft, so detail is excellent and the visuals have a good depth level. This does not look like a film made in 1954, as it is much crisper and cleaner than most movies from this period. I saw no problems with contrast, as black levels were stark and consistent, just as we’d want. All in all, a fantastic visual effort for an older picture, so kudos to Warner.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio has also been polished for this release, complete with a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 option, but the original soundtrack is nowhere to be found. The audio doesn’t leave us wanting, as all the sound effects come through very well, but even so, the original soundtrack would have been a welcome inclusion. The remix works as well as can be expected, given the film’s age and lack of dynamic presence. The surrounds do have a lot to do, but don’t expect quakes in your living room, ok? The music sounds wonderful and expansive in this new surround option, which adds a lot to the overall presentation. No worries in terms of vocals either, as all the lines are clean and clear throughout. This release also includes a French language track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Richard Schickel provides an audio commentary track, but he comes off as less than enjoyable in this session. I’ve never loved his tracks, but he usually has obvious passion for the films he talks about, but in this case, he doesn’t seem that motivated. He goes through behind the scenes stories, cast profiles, and the film’s impact, with much time spent on Dean’s presence. But he doesn’t make us want to listen, none of his information is that new and his mind seems to wander at times. East of Eden: Art in Search of Life is a new documentary that includes a lot of interviews with folks who could no longer provide them now, so it is evident that Warner has spent much time in putting this edition together. This release also includes a vintage featurette with Dean, additional scenes, production design tests, a selection of interesting screen tests, and rounding out this set is the film’s theatrical trailer.

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