Around the World in 80 Days appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of World looked glorious, but a few nagging concerns caused me to lower my grade.
Edge enhancement offered the primary villain. The haloes never became overwhelming, but they cropped up moderately frequently and occasionally caused the image to seem a little soft. Otherwise, sharpness looked solid. The movie usually demonstrated very good definition and delineation. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects.
Despite the age of the film, source flaws only sporadically interfered with the presentation. Occasional bouts of specks and grit appeared, but these became less intrusive as the movie progressed. They usually connected to either archival footage – like the rocket material at the start – or effects shots. Otherwise, the movie tended to look pretty clean.
World enjoyed a wide range of lush and dynamic hues, and these came across quite well. The colors mostly looked vibrant and lively. Of course, given the variety of settings, we found a nice array of tones, and the DVD replicated them with good fidelity. Black levels also appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not excessively opaque. In the end, this was good transfer that suited the source material very well except for a few minor problems.
Even better was the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield was very active. A variety of sequences made fine use of all five speakers, and the elements demonstrated good localization and movement. The pieces fit together surprisingly snugly and panned smoothly across the spectrum. Dialogue popped up from the sides fairly frequently and came across as appropriately placed, while the music showed nice stereo imaging.
The surrounds played a surprisingly active role in the proceedings. They contributed general reinforcement as well as quite a lot of unique material to flesh out the piece. Split-surround information even popped up occasionally to add a nice sense of spatial range.
The quality was also very good given its age. Speech sounded clear and intelligible and showed no problems connected to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were largely clean and fairly realistic; some bits actually featured strong bass as well. The music itself was nicely crisp and bright, and the score displayed some adequate low end. The music showed some signs of age, as it lacked the dynamic range we'd expect of a more recent recording, but it seemed very good nonetheless, as did this mix as a whole. Ultimately, I felt very impressed by this surprisingly dynamic and broad soundtrack.
Across the film’s two discs, we get a mix of supplements. DVD One opens with an introduction from film historian Robert Osborne. He chats for eight minutes and three seconds. Among other topics, Osborne gives us some basic notes about the story’s path to the screen, its casting, the development of the Todd AO process, and the film’s success. I’m sure we’ll hear more about these in the other supplements, but this intro launches matters in a good way.
Spread across both discs, we discover an audio commentary from BBC Radio film historian Brian Sibley. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that gives us a nice overview. Sibley gets into various production challenges as well as producer Michael Todd’s penchant for exaggerated showmanship; he frequently quotes bold statements connected to the film’s publicity and questions if these come from reality or actually represent “Toddisms” that stretch the truth. Sibley relates differences between the movie and the book and discusses the histories of some important elements such as hot-air ballooning and bullfighting.
Much of the commentary gives us notes about the extremely extensive cast. As I noted in the body of my review, World features an exceedingly long list of cameos, and Sibley provides biographical information on many of these folks as well as for the main actors and some crew members. Sibley occasionally goes silent, but given the extreme length of the film, these pauses occur infrequently and cause no problems. Overall, the commentary offers a lively and informative look at World.
The remaining extras on DVD One all appear in a domain called “Around the World of Around the World”. We start with the full version of Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon. Robert Osborne opens this with a 105-second intro from Osborne, and then we get the full 11-minute and 50-second version of Moon.
From 1902, Moon was the first film adaptation of Jules Verne novel, and it remains iconic; Smashing Pumpkins heavily referenced it in their excellent video for “Tonight, Tonight”. The presentation here comes with narration from some Frenchie who explains the action. Does this replace title cards from the original or was this added for modern audiences? I have no idea, but I suppose if you don’t like it, you can just turn off the audio and watch it totally silent. In any case, it’s a good addition to the set.
Another intro from Osborne opens the outtakes section. He lets us know what to expect in his 73-second opening and warns us not to expect anything “earth-shattering” from the silent clips. We then get 11 outtakes; these run a total of 15 minutes and 27 seconds. Osborne’s lowering of expectations proves correct, for without audio, these snippets seem pretty boring. They’re nice to have for archival reasons and I don’t doubt that big fans will be happy to see them, but I thought they were quite dull.
84 images appear in the Stills Gallery. This mixes publicity shots with a few photos from the set and some lobby cards. Next we find two trailers. We get the ad for the original 1956 release along with one from a 1983 re-issue. At four minutes and 15 seconds, the former’s exceedingly lengthy, while the latter whittles things down to a somewhat more reasonable 183 seconds. Both give away too many of the flick’s surprises.
DVD One concludes with a DVD-ROM feature. That presents “Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days Almanac”. This offers a program one could have purchased at screenings of the film. It includes essays, notes and photos. The interface seems like something of a pain but it’s a cool addition anyway.
On DVD Two, we get most of the extras in a domain entitled “Around the World of Michael Todd’, and this opens with a documentary entitled Around the World of Mike Todd. Yet another intro from Osborne starts the piece; he chats for 75 seconds. Then we get the 50-minute and 28-second 1968 program itself. Narrated by Orson Welles, we get archival materials, movie snippets, and interviews with Todd’s one-time wife Elizabeth Taylor, Art Buchwald, Jack E. Leonard, Ethel Merman, Gypsy Rose Lee, Toots Shor, Lowell Thomas, brother Dave, classmate Fats Libitzski, press agents Bill Doll and Max Gendel, writer/producer Jack Moss, and production assistant Leonard Gaines. Martin Balsam acts out quotes from Todd himself.
We hear about Todd’s early life and quick entry into the world of money-making schemes, his initial movement into films and other work in showbiz, his growth in the field, various ups and downs, his return to Hollywood via Cinerama and then Todd AO plus the gamble of World and its making, Todd’s romance and relationship with Taylor, the disastrous Madison Square Garden party, the birth of the couples’ only child, and Todd’s death in a plane crash. The program feels a bit fluffy at times, as it clearly acts as a positive epitaph for the showman. Nonetheless, it includes lots of excellent material and provides a pretty entertaining and informative examination of Todd’s life.
Next we locate Highlights from the 12/23/56 Los Angeles Premiere of World. The ubiquitous Osborne gives us a 48-second lead-in and then we watch the 115-second clip itself. Unfortunately, as with the outtakes, no original audio appears; we hear movie score. Still, it’s fun to see the stars turn out for the big night.
After this we get Highlights from the 3/27/57 Academy Awards Ceremony. Unsurprisingly, Osborne opens this piece with a 70-second intro. After that we see Todd’s post-Oscars press conference that he does along with Liz Taylor. It runs 90 seconds. While not as cool as actually presentation footage would be, it’s still a nice piece.
Another collection of snippets shows up via Highlights from 10/17/57 Playhouse 90 Broadcast Around the World in 90 Minutes. Osborne makes his last appearance with his 96-second intro, and then we watch the 46 minutes and 44 seconds of the show itself that depicts the celebration of World’s one-year anniversary. We hear a little about this apparently problematic production during the Todd documentary, but “Minutes” doesn’t depict any of those issues. Instead, it illustrates the party’s absurdly inflated scope and even offers some reenactments of Todd’s work to bring World to the screen that feature Mike himself. Walter Cronkite hosts the parts in the Garden, and luminaries like James Mason show up in the re-enactments. Heck, even then-Senator Hubert Humphrey makes an appearance! It’s an interesting documentation of a ludicrously promotional event.
The “Todd” area ends with a newsreel called Spain Greets a Lovely Envoy. This 35-second clip spotlights Liz Taylor’s trip to Spain. It seems to have nothing to do with World other than the presence of Todd.
Finally, DVD Two ends with a cameos menu. Unfortunately, this does nothing more than list 35 stars who showed up in bit parts. It doesn’t say where to find them or offer any useful information or pictures.
While one of the least impressive winners of the Best Picture Oscar, at least Around the World in 80 Days manages to provide a generally fun piece of work. Indeed, that’s all it has going for it, as the movie never takes itself seriously and gives us nothing more than a visually-appealing comedic romp. The DVD offers very good picture and audio plus a pretty solid and informative selection of supplements. The movie itself defines the phrase “all style and no substance”, but it remains moderately entertaining in a goofy way.