The Tales of Hoffman: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Hoffmann (Robert Rounseville) is at a ballet performance, one in which his current love Stella is one of the dancers. At the intermission, Hoffmann frequents a tavern with some friends the tales of his three real loves, each one so important to him. He tells the story of a mechanical doll, a marionette that skillfully performs intricate routines, with great ease. He falls in love with the doll and while the love is unique, his emotion is genuine. The second tale concerns a woman held captive by supernatural elements. A man steals reflections from mirrors, so she has suffered this brutal fate. The third and final tale of love centers on a beautiful woman with a gorgeous voice, but one she is unable to use. She has been forced to choose between her art and her life, for if she sings, it will spell certain doom. These tales of love told by Hoffmann all have bitter ends, but what has Hoffmann been able to gain from the encounters?

I have to admit, I had some reservations on The Tales of Hoffmann, as the film is based on an opera and by and large, I dislike operas. But with Powell and Pressburger involved, I kept the faith and I also knew the film was often mentioned by prominent filmmakers as an inspiration. First of all, this is not a filmed version of an opera performance, this is a union of opera and cinema. That means the experience is more open than normal opera, with fewer limitations. In other words, the scale is grander, so this doesn’t have a confined, single stage feel, which is good news. But this is still opera and style takes precedent over substance, so the narrative is taken hostage at times by the format. As you would expect from the filmmakers, The Tales of Hoffmann is a visual feast, stylish and very impressive. You don’t eye popping color use like this much anymore, but it is perfect in this case, such rich and vivid hues. I loved the visuals of The Tales of Hoffman, but the movie on the whole never clicked for me, but it still earns a rental recommendation, on reputation and visuals alone.

Video: How does it look?

The Tales of Hoffman is presented in full frame, as intended. In the case of a film as beautiful as this one, I think the transfer needs to be graded by a tougher standard, as the visuals are so vital to the film’s effectiveness. Even by that tougher standard, this transfer passes with ease and I am very impressed here. I knew Criterion would include a wonderful presentation, but I was blown away and I think fans of the film will be as well. It all starts with a very clean source print, which allows all the other elements to prosper and that is just what they do here. The gorgeous colors seem to be bathed in richness here, which gives the entire picture swabs of bright colors, with no bleeds or smears in the least. I also saw no problems with contrast, which seems stark and well defined, not much to complain about. This is a film that demands a terrific transfer and thanks to Criterion, it now has one.

Audio: How does it sound?

This disc uses a mono track, which seems to be adequate, given the audio needs of this material. This movie makes no real demands for dynamic audio, so the mono effort here never slips much, though it isn’t too impressive either. But it is clean and crisp, with minimal age related flaws, so I can’t complain too much in the end. The music sounds good and the dialogue is smooth, so I think this track will please most viewers, if not all of them. This disc also contains English subtitles, which are always nice to have on deck.

Supplements: What are the extras?

An audio commentary kicks things off, as film historian Bruce Eder is joined by filmmaker Martin Scorsese for a discussion. Scorsese is perhaps the biggest fan of this film, as well as Powell and Pressburger in general, so he shares a lot of his thoughts. Eder is there to fill in the blanks and provide in depth insights, so there is a good balance present. Another filmmakers also provides his thoughts in an interview, as George A. Romero speaks about the film and its influence. This disc also includes The Sorcerer’s Apprentice short film, a vault of archival production elements, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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