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Peter Weir
Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, Dylan Kussman, Allelon Ruggiero, James Waterston, Norman Lloyd, Kurtwood Smith
Writing Credits:
Tom Schulman

He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary.

In an age defined by crew cuts, sport coats, and cheerless conformity, he not only broke the mold ... he reinvented it. Academy Award winner Robin Williams delivers a brilliant performance in one of Hollywood's most compelling and thought-provoking motion pictures of all time. Williams stars as English professor John Keating, a passionate iconoclast who changes his students' lives forever when he challenges them to live life to the fullest and "Carpe Diem" - seize the day! Keating's unconventional approach meets with irrepressible enthusiasm from his students, but the faculty at staid, exclusive Welton Academy prep school is, to put it mildly, not amused. Featuring a star-marking performance by Ethan Hawke and over three hours of never-before-seen bonus materials, this Special Edition of Dead Poets Society will captivate and inspire you again and again.

Box Office:
$16.4 million.
Opening Weekend
$340.456 thousand on 8 screens.
Domestic Gross
$95.860 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $20.00
Release Date: 1/17/2012

• Audio Commentary with Director Peter Weir, Cinematographer John Seale, and Writer Tom Schulman
• “Dead Poets: A Look Back” Featurette
• Raw Takes
• “Master of Sound: Alan Splet” Featurette
• “Cinematography Master Class” Featurette
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Dead Poets Society [Blu-Ray] (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 17, 2012)

Robin Williams took home his second Oscar nomination for his work in 1989’s Dead Poets Society. The Academy previously honored him for his role in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam. Though Williams took home trophies for neither effort, I saw a crucial difference in these nominations: he only deserved one of them. While his work in Vietnam did little more than recycle his usual manic shtick with a side order of condescension, Society actually required Williams to act.

Happily, he proved up to the task in this memorable film. Set during the late 1950s at an exclusive prep school called Welton, Williams plays John Keating, the facility’s new head of the English department. A Welton alum himself, Keating quickly establishes himself as a massive departure from the rest of the school’s staff. While the other educators are stuffy and restricted by tradition, he encourages his students to take chances and think outside the box.

We see Keating’s effect as we focus on a few students. We meet Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), a wannabe actor whose father (Kurtwood Smith) runs his life and relentlessly pushes him down a predetermined path toward med school. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) is the new kid who must live up to the legend of his older brother, a former valedictorian at Welton. Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles) falls for Chris Noel (Alexandra Powers) and tries to figure out how to woo her away from Chet Danburry (Colin Irving). Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) embraces bohemia and turns into a beatnik type. Inspired by a similar group from Keating’s day, these kids form the Dead Poets Society and recruit a few others. The movie follows what happens to them and their new organization.

Back in the fall of 1989, I was in Ed School and completed my student teaching assignment. During that semester, I learned I wouldn’t make a very good teacher, but at one point, I got fired up enough to really think I should give it a full-time shot. This brief surge of passion faded, but for a short period, I thought teaching might just be the field for me.

Dead Poets Society caused that blast of energy. I saw it over my Thanksgiving break, right when my assignment was at its lowest point. I had a rough semester, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the effects of Society helped me finish the term.

That was a long time ago, though, and I worried that I’d now see it as sappy or mawkish. I’m pleased to report that it still holds up quite well. Much of the credit goes to Williams. He probably didn’t deserve a Best Actor nomination category, as he takes on more of a supporting part, but he overcomes his usual flaws to prove convincing and true.

I suppose my only complaint about Williams’ performance comes from the odd use of his typical comic shtick. No, he doesn’t go manic as usual, but his mix of impressions and wacky remarks seems a bit out of place here. Those elements don’t distract badly; they just don’t mesh well, and they feel like an attempt to pander to the actor’s audience.

Still, director Peter Weir reins in Williams well and ensures the actor delivers arguably his best performance. Williams lacks the smug superiority that mars most of his dramatic performances. He comes across as well-meaning and intelligent but without the usual superiority complex.

A solid cast of young actors bolsters matters, but Weir is the one mainly responsible for the movie’s success. The tale of Society is nothing new. We’ve seen flicks about inspirational teachers for decades, so this one doesn’t tread any truly fresh territory.

Nonetheless, it seems fresh, largely because Weir avoids most of the usual traps. Clearly we’re supposed to side with Keating and the kids, but Weir never turns the Other Side into demons. Granted, he comes close, as both Nolan and Neil’s father lean perilously close to villain territory.

They certainly act as the movie’s heavies, but I don’t see them as bad people. The film posits that they may be misguided due to their conservative beliefs, but it doesn’t really condemn them for that. We feel these characters truly think they’re doing what’s right. This may not turn out well, but the personalities don’t actively attempt to cause harm.

Society also soars because Weir infuses true life into scenes that easily could have faltered. Consider the sequence in which Keating draws poetry from the timid, introverted Todd. Weir spins the camera around Williams and Hawke like Michael Bay after a six-pack of Jolt Cola and runs into some potentially absurd dialogue. Damned if this doesn’t turn into arguably the film’s most thrilling moment, however. The sequence evokes goosebumps, as does its climax.

That’s what makes Dead Poets Society a special film. Nicely understated but also very emotional, the movie conveys a real spirit of living absent from most efforts in its genre. Many attempt to deliver this attitude but fail. Society grabs its viewers and shakes them up, all in a quiet, unassuming manner. It’s the best kind of inspirational film, one that even works on bitter cynics like myself.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

Dead Poet’s Society appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While never a killer presentation, the image looked reasonably good.

For the most part, sharpness seemed find. Occasional examples of softness materialized, but these appeared largely a by-product of the film’s slightly mushy photographic style; I think the filmmakers desired a slightly soft feel to fit the tale’s sense of nostalgia and period. Whatever signs of iffy definition occur, they’re minor, so most of the flick delivered decent to good delineation. No issues with jaggies or shimmering appeared, and I discerned no edge haloes. Print flaws also remained absent, and we got a natural layer of grain.

The palette of Society favored muted tones, which made sense given its low-key “period” production design. Deep reds and browns dominated and seemed fine. They never popped off the screen, but they weren’t intended to do so; the colors were solid for the film’s production design. Blacks were a little inky but usually acceptable, and shadows seemed positive; though low-light shots didn’t come across as terrific, they displayed good clarity. The image replicated the source material in a positive manner.

I thought the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Dead Poets Society was fine but unremarkable. That was to be expected from such a quiet film, and the mix opened matters up only sporadically. The audio concentrated strongly on the front. Maurice Jarre’s synthesizer score usually demonstrated solid stereo imaging, though a few scenes collapsed to mono. The rest of the mix showed decent ambience. That was about all we got most of the time, as the quiet setting didn’t lend itself to theatrics.

Audio quality was reasonably good, though the mix occasionally showed its age. Speech was acceptably natural; lines could be a little thin, but the dialogue was usually pretty warm and concise.

Music worked fine. The score offered decent depth and range. Effects didn’t play a huge role, and they occasionally seemed a bit tinny. However, they mostly sounded clear and accurate. This was a restrained soundtrack that seemed fairly average for its era and the film’s ambitions.

How does this Blu-Ray compare with the Special Edition DVD from 2006? Audio wasn’t a big improvement, but I thought the DTS track was a little warmer and clearer, with less edgy dialogue. The visuals gave us a cleaner image with better definition, richer colors and other improvements. I felt the Blu-ray acted as a pretty nice jump up in quality.

The Blu-ray duplicates the DVD’s extras, and these start with an audio commentary from director Peter Weir, cinematographer John Seale and writer Tom Schulman. All three sit separately for this edited piece. We find an unusually thoughtful discussion here.

The participants touch on issues such as personal experiences and their influence on the film, other inspirations, cinematography and shooting challenges, sets and design, cinematography and editing, writing and refining the script, and casting and performances. We learn a lot about the personal issues, as we hear many notes about childhood topics that get reflected in the movie. We also find out about Robin Williams’ improv and many other useful tidbits. More introspective and intellectual than most commentaries, this one fleshes out Society well and becomes a memorable listen.

Next we find a documentary entitled Dead Poets: A Look Back. In this 26-minute and 55-second piece, we get the usual mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from actors Melora Walters, Norman Lloyd, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Dylan Kussman, Allelon Ruggiero, and Kurtwood Smith. Apparently shot around the year 2000, the program covers impressions of Weir and his style, auditions and casting, rehearsals and character development, changes in scenes, and the impact the movie had on the participants.

I worried that “Look” would be a simple lovefest, especially after a start in which everyone acclaims the greatness of Peter Weir. Happily, however, it turns out to be much deeper than that. We get many nice reflections on the filmmaking process and receive good insights into the production. Hawke’s faulty memory also offers some very amusing moments like his recollection of his initial meeting with Weir: “I remember that he was Australian and that he talked funny”. This is a fine little documentary.

In the Raw Takes area, we get seven minutes and 57 seconds of material. This essentially includes an uncut sequence from a deleted scene in which Keating leads a meeting of the Society after Neil’s play. We heard about this during the feature commentary, but it’s interesting to actually see it.

The disc follows this with two featurettes focused on technical areas. Master of Sound: Alan Splet runs 10 minutes, 59 seconds and includes comments from Weir and filmmaker David Lynch as they discuss the late sound designer Splet. We learn about his preferences and personality as well as the work he did in the movies. Long-time collaborator Lynch also provides some personal memories. This show offers a nice memorial to Splet and gives us some good information about his style.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get the 14-minute and 47-second Cinematography Master Class. This Australian program focuses on Seale and offers lots of shots from the set. We see Seale at work and learn about his production choices. It can become a bit technical at times, but it offers a nice little education in the work of a cinematographer, and all the shots taken during the production aptly illustrate Seale’s decisions.

As I watched Dead Poets Society, I felt like I was 22 again. The movie delivered a shot of momentum to me back in 1989, and I got the same buzz from it this time. Inspirational but not pandering, the film avoids genre pitfalls to soar with grace and spirit. The Blu-ray offers good picture and audio along with a nice collection of supplements. This turns into a quality presentation of a memorable film.

To rate this film visit the original Special Edition review of DEAD POETS SOCIETY

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main