The Conversation appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. While it clearly showed its age at times, I found the picture to usually look solid.
Sharpness appeared crisp and distinct most of the time. A few wide shots seemed a smidgen soft, but those didn’t become significant distractions. Instead, the majority of the movie was distinctive and accurate. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and edge haloes remained absent.
Some modest print flaws appeared. Light speckles and grit showed up on occasion, but more significant defects like scratches, hairs, blotches, tears or other concerns were absent. There were minor, but I saw more than expected; I’ve gotten used to archival Blu-rays with no defects at all, so the smattering I witnessed here stood out.
Colors looked consistently clear and accurate at all times. The Conversation often utilized a fairly drab palette - the subject doesn’t lend itself to bright, chipper hues - but they always seemed solid, and exteriors were vivid.
Black levels appeared generally deep and rich, though shadow detail sometimes appeared somewhat thick. Most low-light sequences came across as clear and appropriately opaque, but some of them were a little too heavy and tough to discern; this was mostly noticeable during the shot of Harry and Amy in bed. Despite these mild concerns, the image largely appeared to be good.
I also felt pretty pleased with the remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Conversation. This version took the original monaural audio – which also appeared on the Blu-ray - and spread it out nicely. The soundfield remained appropriately modest for much of the film.
The stark piano score echoed neatly from the front speakers, and both the forward and surround channels consistently provided gentle but involving ambiance with occasional modest panning between them. During a few scenes - such as the convention and Harry’s dream - the audio kicked in more actively and offered some engaging sound.
The quality of the sound seemed relatively positive. Dialogue came across as somewhat hollow and thin at times, but it generally appeared crisp and acceptably natural. A little edginess appeared in the speech on occasion - especially during the convention scenes - but these instances were infrequent.
Effects also showed some light distortion at times, but for the most part they were clean and accurate. The music seemed clear and rich, and also showed fine depth at times. Ultimately, the soundtrack of The Conversation appeared fine for a film of this era.
How did this Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2000? Audio was fairly similar; the DTS-HD mix might’ve been a little warmer, but there wasn’t much that could be done with such an old track.
Visuals showed the usual improvements. The Blu-ray was more detailed and vivid, so it demonstrated a more distinctive appearance. Print flaws were consistent with the 2000 DVD, though; I didn’t think the Blu-ray looked cleaner. Still, it gave us a more film-like feel and was a decent upgrade.
The Blu-ray includes the same extras as the DVD as well as some new pieces. We begin with two separate audio commentaries, and the first of these comes from director/writer/producer Francis Ford Coppola. While his running, screen-specific track has a few dead spots, they don’t appear frequently, and Coppola provides a lot of compelling details.
Coppola covers a wide variety of topics. He goes from the genesis and making of this film to some fun anecdotes to a bit of analysis to a few general discussions of his career. I find Coppola’s remarks to be consistently engaging and interesting; the piece passes by very quickly and leaves me wanting more. This ends up as a consistently terrific track.
The second commentary comes from editor/sound designer Walter Murch. While he also provides some useful remarks, I think this track is much less compelling than the one from Coppola. It features many more dead spots - so many that I occasionally wondered if Murch had passed out - and since he lacks the same high level of involvement in the project, Murch doesn’t have nearly as much to say about it.
Nonetheless, Murch covers enough interesting ground to make the commentary worth a listen. Not surprisingly, he touches upon much more technical data than does Coppola, and this is the aspect of the track that provides the best information. For example, we learn how much (or little) realism there was in the surveillance techniques used, and he also discusses some interesting ways that the story was altered in the editing room.
Murch repeats some of Coppola’s comments, but for the most part he relates new details. I don’t think this is a great commentary and it’s not nearly as strong as Coppola’s, but fans of The Conversation will want to give it a listen.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get Close-up on The Conversation, an eight-minute and 39-second program that was created concurrent with the film’s production. The show’s brevity means that it won’t be deep, but since it focuses heavily on the film itself and lacks much promotional sheen, it’s a fun artifact. We find lots of footage from the set and a few interview snippets with Coppola and Hackman. Vintage featurettes are always hit or miss, but this one’s largely interesting.
With that, we head to the Blu-ray’s new extras. These launch with two Screen Tests. We get one for Cindy Williams (5:02) and another for Harrison Ford (6:45). I always enjoy this kind of material, and these clips become more interesting than many since both actors auditioned for roles other than those they played in the final flick. Williams plays Ann – the part that eventually went to Teri Garr – while Ford takes on Mark, the character Frederic Forrest portrayed in the movie.
I guess the casting was in flux at the time, as revealed by the shoot dates. We see that the Ford test occurred on November 8, 1972, while Williams’ happened the following day. However, in Ford’s reel, he works with Williams – who plays Amy, her role from the final flick! All of this confuses me, but it’s still a lot of fun to see these tests.
With that we head to No Cigar. It lasts two minutes, 26 seconds as Coppola tells us about a very early short film that Coppola made in 1956. This was his very first flick, and we see shots from it as Coppola narrates. We get a cool glimpse of Coppola’s cinematic history.
A comparison shows up under Harry Caul’s San Francisco – Then and Now. This piece runs three minutes, 43 seconds as it lets us see shots from the film and images of the same spots today. I like this kind of opportunity to see location changes.
Within the 10-minute, 57-second David Shire Interviewed by Francis Ford Coppola, the director chats with the film’s composer. They discuss Shire’s career as well as his work on Conversation. We find an engaging, informative chat between the two men.
Another older piece, Archival Gene Hackman Interview goes for four minutes, four seconds. In it, Hackman reflects on his role, his work on the film and his relationship with Coppola. This is a loose interview that never made it to a final edit; we just get snippets of Hackman’s chat. That means it doesn’t boast great focus, but we get a few interesting observations.
Something unusual pops up under Script Dictations from Francis Ford Coppola. Before we listen to the 49-minute, 23-second audio piece, a text intro tells us what to expect. We learn that Coppola spoke into a tape recorder to narrate the script, and “Dictations” offers excerpts from those sessions. While Coppola speaks, we see the screenplay text as well as shots from the movie and photos. This is an unusual feature, obviously, and generally fun to examine. It probably works best in small doses, but it’s a cool way to inspect the script’s earliest incarnation – especially since we hear an alternate ending.
A few ads appear under Also from Lionsgate. We find promos for Apocalypse Now, Tetro, The Conspirator, Memento and Biutiful.
The Conversation is a rich and subtle experience that benefited from low-key direction and excellent acting. It gets obscured by The Godfather Part II - its more notable year-mate – but it remains a solid film in its own right. The Blu-ray offers pretty good picture and audio as well as some useful supplements. Chalk this up as a quality release of a terrific film.