Lee Daniels’ The Butler appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a solid visual presentation.
Overall, I felt sharpness seemed positive. A smidgen of softness occasionally appeared; most of that came from the stylistic looseness that matched the period visuals – and attempts to make various actors look younger. Despite those moments, the movie usually displayed fine delineation. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and I witnessed no edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent in this clean presentation.
Like many period films, Butler went with a semi-sepia feel, though it also tended toward teal and orange at times. Within those choices, the colors seemed fine. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows looked smooth. I felt pleased with this transfer.
Given the movie’s character focus, I didn’t expect a lot from the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, but it offered occasional zing. Most of the livelier moments revolved around the civil rights sequences, as they gave us some dynamic moments. A thunderstorm or two also brought out broad, engaging material.
Otherwise, one should anticipate fairly atmospheric material. Music spread across the speakers well, and environmental elements added a good sense of place. There wasn’t a lot here to dazzle, but the mix suited the story.
Audio quality came across as positive. Speech seemed natural and distinctive, without edginess or other problems, while music appeared full and rich. Effects rarely taxed my system, but they were accurate and showed good range. The movie brought us a solid “B” soundtrack.
Despite the film’s box office success, it lacks a ton of extras. An American Story goes for 22 minutes, four seconds and includes comments from director Lee Daniels, journalist Wil Haygood, writer Danny Strong, producer Pamela Williams, character inspiration’s son Charles Allen, and actors Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, James Marsden, Robin Williams, David Oyewelo, Yaya Alafia, and Jane Fonda. “Story” looks at story/characters, cast and performances, and Daniels’ impact on the production. Along the way, a few decent notes emerge, but te program tends toward the hyperbolic and promotional. It also strongly suggests that the film presents a more accurate portrayal of the “real butler” than it does, which makes it rather deceptive.
Nine Deleted Scenes fill a total of 21 minutes, seven seconds. The most prominent extra segments focus on young Cecil, as we see more of him on the plantation as well as his journey after he leaves. These can be interesting to fill in gaps but they tend to slow the tale.
We also get a bunch more material during the Kennedy administration. We see Cecil read to Caroline Kennedy, and we also watch a glimpse of the Cuban Missile Crisis. None of these tend to be especially fascinating.
Otherwise, a few short tidbits flesh out the collection. We observe a bit more of Louis and his activities, and we check out some other events like the aftermath of MLK’s assassination. Again, these have some interesting elements but don’t really contribute to the overall film – and can become completely superfluous, as during one minute of Gloria as she feeds her fish.
A short featurette called The Original Freedom Riders occupies three minutes, 52 seconds and offers notes from original Freedom Riders Julia Aaron Humbles, Dr. Ernest Patton, Larry F. Hunter, Dr. William Harbour, and Charles Person. They give us a hint of their experiences during the civil rights movement. The show’s brevity is a shame, as I’d like to hear much more from these folks; “Original” has good moments but it goes by too quickly for the desired impact.
Next comes a Music Video for Gladys Knight and Lenny Kravitz’s “You and I Ain’t Nothin’ No More”. The video mixes footage and photos from the recording session with movie shots, so it’s a snoozer. The song is short and unmemorable.
Finally, we find a Gag Reel. This goes for five minutes, 12 seconds and shows the usual goofs and silliness. A few funny ad-libs occur, though, so it’s not a bad collection.
The disc opens with ads for Fruitvale Station and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. No trailer for Butler appears here.
A second disc provides a DVD copy of The Butler. It includes all the same extras as the Blu-ray.
Well-intended but erratic, Lee Daniels’ The Butler turns into an awkward history lesson. At its core, it boasts a potentially fascinating tale, but it veers too much from reality and ends up as little more than a “greatest hits” reel of political events from the 1950s to 1970s. The Blu-ray offers solid picture and audio along with a handful of decent bonus materials. The Butler does manage occasional glimmers of intrigue, but it’s too superficial to succeed.