Raging Bull: Two-Disc Special Edition

January 28, 2012 12 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

When the decade of the eighties finished, many critics named films that were their favorites. One of the films that was on most of their lists (many at the top of it) was a film that lost Best Picture to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People and told the struggle, rise and fall of a boxer who’s whole world is a fight in itself. In glorious black and white, the story of Jake LaMotta in the wonderful hands of Martin Scorsese, gives a lot of tough and rough times but rises up above it as best he can as the fighting Raging Bull.

A fairly big man is going down his life as he waits in this one room with his cigar in 1964. That man is Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) who many years earlier was a middleweight who had his own share of peaks and valleys. He wishes to be champion of the world but knows he can never make it to heavyweight. With his fighting brother Joe (Joe Pesci) as his manager, Jake fights his way both in the ring and outside the ring, much to the dismay of some around him who would expect him to be a more respectable human being and it’s this part of him that gives him the eternal struggle to the title in his weight class and the effects both before and after that title shot.

At first, this viewer always wondered how this movie blazed to the top of many best list when it came to a span of ten years. It was until after sitting down and watching it that I realized how ambitious and great this film is, especially on its second viewing. This is thanks to everything in the film from the directing by Scorsese to the editing to the structure and to the cast and look of the piece.

One of the smartest things this film did was that it didn’t try to be like the popular boxing films like Rocky (which share the same producers with this film). There is no come from behind story and there is no big fight at the end. The filmmakers did the wise thing of starting with Jake as he’s older and coming back to him later to look back at everything in between without going back to the elder LaMotta during that in between time.

It has the advantage of being in black and white and being a great looking film as a result of it and has an effect that wouldn’t have been the same had it been shot in color. It also signified on how most of the world was imagined through these monochrome eyes during this 17 year span (1947-1964). Also, after being through a lot of fights, a viewer can imagine that things aren’t seen the same after many fights with boxers so there can be trouble seeing with color so the look of black and white is a great plus.

Granted, this is not a film for everybody thanks to the rough status of the main character, the gritty material and the brutal look the fights that our characters are involved with both with and without the round bell. La Motta in this film is not always a likable character but the audience is hooked as to where he and the people around him will go to next no matter how lively or dreadful the results may be. It also didn’t hurt that something that’s evident in a lot of Scorsese’s work is here like the occasional crazy close up and one scene that has a long take that both Goodfellas, The Color of Money and Casino benefited from.

From beginning to end, Raging Bull is unlike any film about boxing or a boxer and the difficulties one would have in between what they do best and in the best they can survive despite the most negative of situations.

Video: How does it look?

This is the second release for Raging Bull and in it’s anamorphic treatment in 1.85:1, the results are one of the best clean jobs of a black and white movie on DVD has had ever. If there was a speck of black or white or any kind of dusting of debris on the film, I didn’t notice it on this transfer as it has a clarity that some of the movies of the era of the eighties lack in color and shot with soft colors. One part of this DVD explains also that at least with this movie if the film lasted years, that black and white was hard to fade as opposed to color and it works effectively here on DVD.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track captures everything amongst all channels in the surrounds from the crowd noise, to the loud boom of the punches in the ring to the music playing around the film. The dialogue is locked into the center channel while the outer channels carry the score and effects and all come out surprisingly better than expected. It sounded more like a film that was made today as opposed to a film around that time that would have certain limitations. Overall, a very good track for a very good film. This disc also has an English Stereo Surround and a French Mono track along with English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

With this 2 Disc Collector’s Edition (there’s also a single extraless disc version which by all means avoid), on Disc one there are 3 commentaries recorded and they will take some time to listen to, but all three are very much worth it. The first is with director Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker and their comments chat up about casting and how the structure of the film came about along with how one scene turned into a happy accident.
The second gets a bigger bunch with the Cast and Crew commentary (players: music producer Robbie Robertson, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, Theresa Saldana (who plays Joe Pesci’s wife), John Turturro (who shows up at a round table in the film) and supervising sound effects editor Frank Warner) and their stories of casting, music and production and the approaches to the material in, and last but not least is the Storytellers commentary track with screenwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader and Jake LaMotta and his nephew Jason Lustig.

For the most part all participants are viewing the film while they’re commenting and their tracks are all something special to listen to going from all angles of the shoot to the filming and the overall reaction both at the time and years later. It’s also a treat to hear the real Jake LaMotta’s take on the film and the differences between the film and his real life.

Onto disc 2 is more the featurette DVD starting with a four part documentary by Laurent Bouzereau captures all elements from all players (if only there was a play all function for this great piece).

Before The Fight covers the evolution spawned mostly by De Niro to Scorsese to get the film made and all the main players of the film both in front and behind the camera are covered here chatting up about the casting and how they came into place and how the producers handled selling the film.

Inside The Ring goes into the filming and the staging of the fight scenes and the choices that were made familiarizing Scorsese with how to shoot boxing matches for this film and the choice that was made in the preference of black and white to color.

Outside The Ring has more from the actors and producers during the making of the film and the approaches they made to becoming their characters and a bit from Thelma the editor and what was also brought to the film in how LaMotta is looked about.

After The Fight takes the results and the post production into play on how the reaction is today, how it was then, and what the film did for everybody and their careers.

Altogether it’s a great four parter with lots of stories, lots of reflection and an entertaining watch about this film.

In addition, there is The Bronx Bull, which is like an abbreviated version of the four part Bouzereau piece but this time with participation with the real Jake LaMotta along with critics who talk briefly about the lasting effect the film had on them. There is some of the same information shared but it’s a treat either way.

DeNiro vs. La Motta is a brief shot by shot take showing the comparison on how Scorsese and Co. delve into getting everything right in terms of the look of the fights and the shots and results. This is shown both with scenes in the film and a newsreel (which is featured on it’s own as the next extra as La Motta Defends Title). Seen from both angles it’s a great comparison to show how everything was done on the money during one of the fights in the film.

Lastly, there is the film’s theatrical trailer in 1.85:1 along with promos for other MGM dvds as well as The Rocky Collection.

If there is any justice for a movie to match the greatness of it on DVD, it’s certainly served here. With all the commentaries about making this picture along with giving it the solid transfer treatment both audibly and visually, Raging Bull is certainly one champion on DVD in 2 discs and highly recommended by this viewer in its Collector’s Edition form.

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