Box sets of unrelated films are often hit or miss; at best a collection of strong movies alongside a few duds or, at worst, an obvious way to force viewers looking to purchase only a couple of titles into dropping more cash. Fortunately, the Columbia Classics: 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 1 bucks this trend and provides a wonderful collection of six excellent films with superior presentations. The titles include plentiful legacy bonus materials and a few new items, and the handsome, sturdy packaging is attractive and functional. Given the wealth of material in this set, I have chosen to provide the highlights below; short film critiques and examinations of the set’s technical merits that will end with my highest recommendation: DVD Talk Collector Series.
The eldest film in the set, Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is relevant political commentary for today’s times some 81 years after its initial release. When a governor is tasked with finding a replacement for a deceased United States Senator, he skips over a political lackey and instead selects Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), a good, idealistic man the governor determines will be easy to control. Smith is an outsider in a hostile Washington D.C., and unwittingly becomes involved in a political grafting scandal involving a boy’s camping site when pressured to reveal his political aspirations. Released in 1939, often dubbed the “greatest year in movies,” the film is justly recognized as a seminal work for both Capra and his star. Stewart plays his character like a fiddle, taking Smith from naive hometown favorite to D.C. pariah to determined idealist with ease. The direction here is spot-on, and the film really cracks the lawmaking process without losing entertainment value. Edward Arnold is memorable as corrupt politico Jim Taylor, who goes as far as hurting children for the cause, and Jean Arthur has her hands full playing Smith’s secretary in the District. The film whips itself into a political frenzy in the final act, some of which feels a bit forced, but Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remains effective, entertaining and relevant political commentary. ****1/2 (out of *****).
I first watched Lawrence of Arabia as a boy and have loved this movie since before I knew it was near universally acclaimed as one of the greatest epics of all time. In 1916 Egypt, British and French allies attempt to turn Arabian tribes against the Turks who back Germany. T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is a British Army Lieutenant sent to simply gather intelligence on an Arab leader, Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness), but winds up becoming the man’s advisor. Lawrence impresses the prince with his integrity and valor and encourages Faisal to allow his men to engage in bold, guerilla assaults against the Turks instead of being swallowed by the British Army. Calling Lawrence of Arabia a spectacle is probably an understatement, and David Lean’s (The Bridge on the River Kwai) film excels on every front. The direction is impeccable, F.A. Young’s cinematography is gorgeous, the Maurice Jarre score is stirring, and the cast, which also includes Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif, is impressive. The scope and scale of Lawrence was unmatched upon its release in 1962, and O’Toole’s performance is a thing of cinematic legend. Lawrence is passionate, skilled and flawed, as was the real British army officer, and this nearly four-hour epic is a sweeping canvas of action, emotion and triumph. ***** (out of *****).
Two years after Lawrence of Arabia came Stanley Kubrick’s biting political satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Like Lawrence, Dr. Strangelove is a timeless, practically ageless film. If not for the black and white photography and primitive effects, the film could be mistaken for a modern satire. Its cautions and concerns are no less impactful today, and the pitch-black comedy has not lost its bite. Kubrick initially set out to make a thriller about the “balance of terror” between nuclear powers during the height of the Cold War but decided to transform the film into a dark comedy when writing the screenplay. Paranoid and mentally unstable U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders his base locked down and issues “Wing Attack Plan R,” which sends all the base’s aircraft to attack the USSR. Ripper then locks himself in a room with Capt. Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) and refuses to stop the attack. At the Pentagon, the President (also Sellers) learns of the impending attack, which will surely trigger nuclear war, and warns the Soviet Premier. A Russian ambassador (Peter Bull) soon tells the President of a doomsday device that will trigger if the USSR is attacked, destroying the planet, and the President looks to ex-Nazi advisor Dr. Strangelove (Sellers, in a third role) to extricate him from the catastrophe. The comedy here is absurdist; each character digs himself a hole so deep he will never see the light of day, and Kubrick plays the worst-case scenario of nuclear conflict like a spring ballet. A movie this funny should not be able to provide such salient advice on large-scale nuclear conflicts and modern politics, but hey, it’s Kubrick. ***** (out of *****).
My personal least favorite film in a set full of gems, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi is certainly well made, earnest and moving, but can at times be dramatically stagnant. Ben Kingsley plays the title character in this biopic, and he certainly looks the part. The film follows political ethicist Mahatma Gandhi from his early 20s in South Africa, where he begins a non-violent campaign for the rights of Indians in South Africa. He returns to India in 1915 and is recognized as a hero, and Gandhi advocates for India’s independence from the British Empire. The man’s teachings and non-violent advocacy speak to millions of Indians and others across the globe, and Gandhi calls upon members of all religions to use common values to find common ground on contentious issues. The film opens with a depiction of Gandhi’s assassination and concludes with his burial and ruminations on his legacy. Kingsley’s performance is memorable and respectful, and he provides the grace, dignity and gravity Gandhi’s legacy demands. My biggest criticism of the film is that it often coasts on the real-life accomplishments of its subject. I wish Attenborough provided a bit more drive and colorful direction for the film instead of wafting between events like a light breeze. Still, Gandhi is handsomely shot and nicely acted and is mostly successful in telling its story. **** (out of *****).
Penny Marshall’s 1992 sports drama A League of Their Own is wonderful entertainment highlighted by the performances of Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. Set during World War II when men’s baseball is placed on hold, A League of the Own sees Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) convince other teams to join him in funding a women’s league. Former Cubs powerhouse Jimmy Dugan (Hanks), now a drunk and far from fighting shape, is tapped to manage the Rockford Peaches, with players recruited by Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz). Dorothy “Dottie” Hinson (Davis) has a husband overseas but is a hell of a catcher, and only agrees to go on the road if her sister Kit Keller (Lori Petty) can join, too. The supporting cast, including Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Tracy Reiner, is as colorful as the characters they play, and A League of Their Own is altogether dramatically involving, with plenty of humor and emotion to boot. The women come together as the world falls apart; many face the loss of loved ones and uncertain futures. The performances from Hanks and Davis are excellent, and the film reminds us how important national pastimes like baseball can be in times of tribulation. ****1/2 (out of *****).
The final film in the set, Jerry Maguire, offers a lightning-rod performance from Tom Cruise as the lead, and memorable supporting turns from Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. Director Cameron Crowe makes all 139 minutes of the film compulsively watchable, and Cruise brings an energy to his sports-agent character that is unmatched by many movie stars. When Maguire is canned from his agency for writing a manifesto critical of the entire industry, he hangs out a shingle with his only supporter, single-mom Dorothy Boyd (Zellweger), with whom he eventually falls in love (much to the chagrin of her sister, Laurel (Bonnie Hunt)). Maguire’s client Rodney Tidwell (Gooding Jr.) sticks by him even as rival agent Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) tries to poach his clients. Tidwell is not happy with his contact with the Arizona Cardinals, and Cruise juggles Tidwell’s cries to “show me the money” with courting a superstar quarterback prospect (Jerry O’Connell) that is poised to go number in the NFL Draft. Jerry Maguire does many things well: it’s funny, the romance is believable, and it is flat-out entertaining from start to finish. Cruise is excellent, but Zellweger and Gooding Jr. often steal the show. Jonathan Lipnicki gives a strong child performance as Dorothy’s son Ray, and Regina King is a livewire as Rodney’s wife Marcee. Mixing sports recruiting with a romantic comedy might have crashed and burned with a lesser director, but Crowe brings a deft hand, crafting a quotable film with endless replay value. ****1/2 (out of *****).
THE 4K ULTRA HD DISCS:
This handsomely packaged box set will likely be a highlight of your media shelf. The tri-fold outer box is made of sturdy cardboard. Both sides hold three films, each packed in its own case and featuring handsome slipcovers, and an 80-page hardcover book slides into the back of the packaging. The book offers stills, production notes and information on the films and is quite well done. Unlike many box sets, this packaging is neither flimsy nor cumbersome. Giving each film its own case will please collectors, as will the matching slipcovers that, once removed, reveal unique cover artwork underneath. Sony also includes a DVD bonus disc and HD digital copies for each film in this set.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:
Each film in the set is remastered, and we kick off with a gorgeous 1.37:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that is culled from a native 4K source and features HDR10. It is hard to believe this film is over eighty years old, as the black-and-white image is crystal clear, with beautiful detail, natural grain and wonderful, lifelike movement. Object texture, shadow detail and skin tones are exceptional, and the HDR pass improves contrast and depth. The accompanying 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack offers clear dialogue and appropriate depth for surrounding elements. Other than some very minor hiss I noticed no other issues like crowding or distortion. A plethora of dubs and subtitle options are included.
This is a two-disc set that includes the 4K Ultra HD disc and a Blu-ray, which contains all of the bonus materials. Those include an Audio Commentary by Frank Capra Jr., who discusses his father’s film in fascinating detail; Frank Capra Jr. Remembers Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (11:51/SD), with insights similar to those in the commentary; Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: The Golden Years (19:20/SD), about Hollywood’s “golden years” in the 1930s; Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: A Family History (25:56/SD); Frank Capra’s American Dream (1:49:02/SD), a documentary about the director narrated by Ron Howard; The Frank Capra I Knew (13:05/SD), with remarks from the curator of the Frank Capra archives; and two Trailers (5:38/HD).
Lawrence of Arabia:
Good lawwwwd does this 2.20:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image with Dolby Vision and HDR10 from a native 4K source look amazing. Split across two 4K discs, the image unspools in absolute perfection. The Blu-ray released a few years back looked amazing, but this surpasses it easily. Detail and texture are off the charts and the grain, which is such a vital part of this film’s presentation, is perfect. The desert landscapes offer gorgeous wide shots and contrast never wavers. Black levels are inky, shadow detail is abundant, and colors are gorgeously saturated. Every grain of sand, costume detail and facial feature is visible in gorgeous, cinematic clarity. The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is similarly impressive. The score is presented richly, dialogue is crystal clear, and the surrounds are used effectively throughout. This includes supporting the instrumentals, thumping during action sequences, and allowing subtle effects, like footsteps and outdoor sounds, to envelop the viewer. This package also offers plentiful dubs and subs.
This is a four-disc set that includes two 4K Ultra HD discs and two Blu-ray discs. There was an initial issue with missing bonus features for the film due to a technical error. Sony has issued replacements, and, if your set appears to be missing items, make sure you contact their customer support at [email protected] On the first 4K disc you get one new extra: Unused International Prologue: (1:00/4K), a brief text intro to the film. The rest of the extras appear on the Blu-ray discs: Secrets of Arabia: A Picture-in-Graphic Track appears on the first Blu-ray disc and presents occasional descriptive texts, passages from T.E. Lawrence’s book, and still photographs as the film plays; Peter O’Toole Revisits Lawrence of Arabia (21:07/HD) sees the legendary actor discussing the film’s legacy; Marking Lawrence of Arabia (1:01:29/SD) offers a strong overview of the film’s production; A Conversation with Steven Spielberg (8:49/SD) sees the director discussing the impact the film has had on him; Ma’an, Jordan: the Camels are Cast (2:00/SD) is a vintage piece about the animal actors; In Search of Lawrence (5:00/HD) discusses shooting in the desert; Romance of Arabia (4:37/HD) discusses the history of the region; Wind, Sand and Star: The Making of a Classic (4:32/HD) is a vintage discussion with cast and crew; New York Premiere (1:08/SD) offers footage from the event; and Advertising Campaigns (4:51/SD) review the film’s promotional materials.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb:
Sony provides an excellent 1.66:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with HDR10 from this native 4K source that is, I suspect, an excellent recreation of the theatrical experience. Like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dr. Strangelove’s black and white image benefits greatly from a skillful HDR pass that gives enormous depth to the proceedings. Everything is just clear and gorgeously rendered; from costumes to sets to backdrops. Contrast and black levels are spot-on, grain is resolute, and, most impressively, even small lettering and other text on screen is crystal clear. I think I might have seen one bit of debris on the image, but those looking for flaws won’t find them. This film has a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track; though there is not too much difference between the two outside some slightly increased ambience in the surround mix. Dialogue is clear throughout and the mixes support the depth of the surroundings, especially in the cavernous war room. The score and effects are nicely supported with some LFE boom, too. The expected list of dubs and subs is available here also.
This is a two-disc set with a 4K Ultra HD disc and a Blu-ray. The UHD disc offers a host of newly available bonus content, including Stanley Kubrick Considers the Bomb (5:38/HD), which includes Kubrick’s thoughts on nuclear war; Mick Broderick Interview (19:14/HD) offers nice background information; Joe Dunton and Kelvin Pike Interview (12:13/HD) concerns Kubrick’s photography; Richard Daniels Interview (14:15/HD) reveals thoughts from a Kubrick archivist; David George Interview (10:56/HD) discusses influences on this film; Rodney Hill Interview (17:25/HD) is from a film professor; Archival Stanley Kubrick Audio Interview (2:50/HD); The Today Show Clips (16:38 total/HD); Exhibitor Trailer (16:53/HD); and a Theatrical Trailer (3:23/HD). The included Blu-ray includes previously available features: The Cold War: Pop-Up Picture-in-Picture and Trivia Track; Inside Dr. Strangelove (46:04/SD); No Fighting in the War Room or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat (30:04/SD); Best Sellers or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove (18:27/SD); The Art of Stanley Kubrick (13:50/SD); An Interview with Robert McNamara (24:26/SD); and Split Screen Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott (7:17/SD).
The 4K debut of Gandhi offers a 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image with HDR10 from a native 4K source. As with Lawrence of Arabia, Gandhi is split across two discs in each format, so the image is given plenty of room to shine. Fine-object detail and texture are immaculate, the grain structure is pristine, and colors are bold and nicely saturated. Skin tones, black levels and contrast all are excellent, and wide shots stretch for miles. The HDR pass makes the lush colors even more impressive without altering the intended look of the film, and it gives contrast a welcome refinement. The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is strong, too, and it supports the largely dialogue-driven film with perfect dialogue reproduction. Conversations are never crowded, and the track handles ambient noise, like crowds, weather and nature, with ease. The score is given full use of the sound field, and the LFE supports when expected. Like all the discs in this set, Sony includes many alternate soundtrack and subtitle options.
This is a four-disc set that includes two UHD discs and two Blu-rays. The UHD does not contain extras outside of two Trailers (8:00 total/HD), as those are found on the Blu-rays. On the first Blu-ray you get a Commentary by Director Richard Attenborough; Gandhi’s Legacy: A Picture-in-Graphics Track and an Introduction by Sir Richard Attenborough (1:24/HD). The bulk of the bonus content is found on the second Blu-ray. You get Interviews including Ben Kingsley Talks About Gandhi(19:23/SD), From the Director’s Chair: On Casting (7:03/SD), and From the Director’s Chair: On Music (2:54/SD); In Search of Gandhi (9:26/SD), in which Attenborough discusses his meetings with Gandhi; Looking Back (18:21/SD), about the film’s legacy; Madeline Slade: An Englishwoman Abroad (9:41/SD), about the actress’ performance; Reflections on Ben (9:23/SD); Shooting an Epic in India (17:56/SD); Designing Gandhi (5:40 total/SD); The Funeral (13:34/SD), about the powerful sequence; The Words of Mahatma Gandhi (1:58/SD), which are text quotes; Newsreel Footage (10:04 total/SD); and a Photo Montage (5:24/SD).
A League of Their Own:
Marshall’s film receives a 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with HDR10 from a native 4K source that offers a gorgeously filmic presentation and benefits from an HDR pass. Everything looks great across the board: fine-object detail, texture in fabrics and on set dressings, color saturation, black levels, contrast and skin tones. The HDR pass provides viewers bold, lush colors. Just check out those colorful uniforms, ballfield grass and blue skies. Black levels and shadow detail are more satisfying in 4K, too. Those looking for edge enhancement, noise reduction or print flaws need not apply. This film receives a Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix. The track is quite immersive, and really places viewers amid the fans during the baseball games. Dialogue reproduction is excellent, and the instrumental soundtrack is given full support of the surrounds. Ambient crowd noise is incredibly realistic and immersive, as are the sharp cracks of bats and slides into home plate. Plentiful dub and subtitle options appear here.
This is a two-disc set that includes the UHD disc and a Blu-ray. The UHD only contains trailers (7:09 total/HD). The Blu-ray includes The Enduring Legacy of A League of Their Own (12:13/HD) is a brief retrospective; the Deleted Scenes (33:46/SD) are plentiful; the Audio Commentary by Director Penny Marshall and Actresses Lori Petty, Megan Cavanagh and Tracy Reiner is solid; Nine Memorable Innings (52:27/SD) serves as the disc’s making-of, and you also get Madonna’s “This Used to be My Playground Music Video (5:02/SD). One new extra appears: 1993 TV Series Episodes (70:56 total/SD), which are three of the six episodes in a series that premiered in 1993 and quickly disappeared.
Of course Sony does not drop the ball with the final and newest film included in the set, providing the Cruise vehicle a wonderful 1.85:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image with HDR10 from a native 4K source. The busy sets and surroundings of Jerry’s office come alive thanks to the UHD’s abundant texture and fine-object detail. Backgrounds are deep and clear, close-ups reveal intimate facial features, and sharpness is excellent. The HDR pass offers bold, gorgeously saturated colors, pleasing highlights, lifelike skin tones, and inky blacks. Contrast is excellent and the grain structure is natural. The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, offers strong dialogue reproduction, whether from the center or surround channels, pleasing ambient effects, and a weighty popular music soundtrack. Those environmental effects surround the viewer frequently, and you do feel like you’re right in the middle of a crowded meeting in those scenes. This disc also provides a ton of subtitle and alternate soundtrack options. One thing to note: I have an issue with my 4K disc and am seeking a replacement from the studio. At approximately 54 minutes into the film, the picture becomes pixelated and the image freezes. This affects about 15 seconds of film and is likely a manufacturing defect.
This is a two-disc set that includes the 4K disc and a Blu-ray. The UHD contains a new extra: Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin podcast (41:20/HD), which is an audio-only interview between the actor and Cameron Crowe about his career. The Blu-ray includes a Picture-in-Picture Commentary with Crowe, Cruise, Zellweger and Gooding Jr.; We Meet Again (39:03/HD), a three-part look at the making of the film; Deleted and Alternate Scenes (55:38 total/HD), which are expanded from previous releases; The Making of Jerry Maguire (7:14/SD); Drew Rosenhaus: “How to be a Sports Agent” (3:46/SD); Rehearsal Footage (1:58/SD); My First Commercial with Rod Tidwell (0:51/SD); a Photo Gallery (HD); and Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” Music Video (4:30/SD).
The final disc is a DVD that arrives in an envelope that is tucked in between some of the other cases. It contains two bonus features: Excerpts from the Columbia Pictures 50th Anniversary TV Special (44:45/SD), an event hosted by Orson Welles, and Mr. Attenborough & Mr. Gandhi Documentary (50:45/SD), an excellent 1983 documentary about the pair’s relationship and the making of the film.
If it was not readily apparent from this lengthy review, the Columbia Classics: 4K Ultra HD Collection Volume 1 is a must-own item for film buffs. From the handsome packaging to the hours of bonus content to the remastered presentations to the legendary films, THIS is how you do a box set. There is not a dud in this set, and I appreciate Sony including films of several genres. The studio is already seeking input for a second collection, and I will certainly welcome further releases. Sony continues to prove physical media is alive and well. Film buffs will be very pleased. DVD Talk Collector Series.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.
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