Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Blu-ray Review: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Comparing the Blu-ray transfer to the DVD release.
I reviewed this Blu-ray for Next Projection.

Cast: Gloria Swanson, William Holden and Erich von Stroheim
Director: Billy Wilder
Country: U.S.
Genre: Drama
Official Trailer: YouTube

Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080 p
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1

English: Dolby True HD Mono
French: Dolby Digital Mono
Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
Portugese: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portugese

Sunset Blvd. finally gets its close-up on Blu-ray. As one of the most cynical glimpses of Hollywood to ever hit the silver screen, Billy Wilder's satiric masterpiece is classic cinema at its finest.

Long revered as one of the finest films ever made, this seminal work marks a career high for Wilder who, at the time, was Hollywood's most celebrated director, having recently won the Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay for The Lost Weekend (1945).

With its assortment of colourful characters both fictional and real, Sunset Blvd. delves into the dark side of movie-making -- from the desperation of those who seek a life in the spotlight to those jaded figures who work behind the scenes. It's a dirty business and Wilder wasn't afraid to shine a light on its dark corners.

Struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) is down on his luck in Hollywood and, after a series of misadventures, finds himself in a ramshackle mansion on the outskirts of town. Once inside the oppressive house Joe meets Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), an aging former silent screen star, and her solumn German butler Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). When Norma shows Joe a script she plans to use as her "return" to the silver screen, she enlists him as her screenwriter in exchange for money to pay off his creditors. Lost in her delusions and exaggerated sense of self-worth, Norma showers Joe with money and jewellery -- lavishing the man she believes will be her gateway back to fame.

Sunset Blvd.'s theme of opportunism and its consequences narrows in on what making movies does to people in the business.

The transfer and digital reconstruction is gorgeous, capturing the luscious light and shadows in every shot. Paramount clearly appreciated the importance of preserving this classic and celebrating its place in film lore.

There is a wealth of supplemental features, many of which were brought over from the DVD restoration that was released a decade ago. Featuring the likes of film historian Ed Sikov, actress Nancy Olson and film historian Andrew Sarris, the extras give tidbits on the behind-the-scenes issues in bringing this classic to the big screen.

The only complaint is that, after clocking in at more than two and a half hours of extras, the information doled out in the interviews tends to get a bit repetitive. Perhaps had some of the smaller supplemental features been edited together into one longer finished product than viewers wouldn't suffer from a sense of deja vu. 

This Blu-ray release includes featurettes on "Sunset Blvd.: The Beginning", "Sunset Blvd.: A Look Back", "The Noir Side of Sunset Blvd.", "Paramount in the 50s" and a deleted scene, among other bonus supplements.

Final grade: A