East of Eden appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Sporadic concerns appeared, but these failed to make much of a dent in a generally strong transfer.
Sharpness usually looked solid. Some light edge enhancement cropped up at times, and that made the image a little fuzzy in a few wider shots. Otherwise, the flick presented a nicely distinctive and detailed picture. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and the flick came with virtually no print flaws. Matters stayed remarkably clean, as I noticed nary a speck or mark.
Eden came with a slightly yellowed palette. I wasnít sure how much of this resulted from production design and how much came from the film stock, though I got the feeling both factors contributed. This tone fit the California setting and didnít restrict the colors heavily. When necessary, the hues were acceptably rich and bright. Blacks came across as nicely deep and rich, while low-light shots demonstrated very good clarity and definition. The edge enhancement and the muted colors knocked down my grade to a ďB+Ē, but I considered this to be a very positive transfer nonetheless.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of East of Eden also provided highs and lows. The soundfield fell into the ďhighsĒ category as it offered a surprisingly broad experience. A great deal of localized speech occurred, and the score presented nice stereo delineation. Effects werenít a major factor in the proceedings, but they also popped up in the appropriate spots. The whole thing could be somewhat ďspeaker specificĒ at times, but given the fact that the vast majority of movies from the era only featured monaural audio, I didnít take this as a negative.
Surround usage remained minor. Music demonstrated some light reinforcement, and occasional effects material popped up as well. Nothing too exciting occurred, but the rears fleshed out things decently. Again, the track was definitely stronger than usual for a flick from 1954.
With all those positives, why did Eden end up with a ďBĒ for sound? Because the quality wasnít up to snuff. Actually, some parts of it were pretty good. The score often sounded moderately robust, though highs turned a little rough at times.
High end was clearly the weakest side of things, and that mainly manifested itself through speech. The lines had a serious brittle tone that showed more edge and hiss than Iíd expect. Intelligibility was acceptable but could be a bit difficult on occasion. Effects demonstrated some of the same issues. Highs were too prominent and tinny. Lows showed minor distinctiveness but the track only occasionally demonstrated good range. Given the movieís age, I didnít think the quality was terrible, but the audio lacked the definition to overcome these weaknesses and match up with the relatively impressive soundfield.
This two-disc version of East of Eden includes a good set of extras. In addition to the movieís trailer, DVD One presents an audio commentary with film critic Richard Schickel. Because of his record, I greet Schickel commentaries with trepidation; heís created an awful lot of mediocre tracks. A sense of dťjŗ vu greeted me as I listened to another Schickel discussion that only occasionally became involving.
Schickel gets into notes about the cast, crew and their backgrounds, Kazanís methods, Deanís acting style, using the Cinemascope frame, and his interpretation, analysis and criticism of the film. Those latter elements strongly dominated the piece. Schickel tossed out occasional notes about the production and its participants, but he usually stayed with his critique.
As with Schickelís prior commentaries, he occasionally tossed out insightful tidbits, but not with great frequency. Instead, Schickel often just mentioned obvious elements or narrated the movie. A few of his remarks were thought provoking, but not many of them. Quite a lot of dead air marred the discussion and it became pretty tedious. Honestly, Warner needs to lose Schickelís phone number, as he never offers commentaries that are truly worth the effort.
Heading to DVD Two, we open with a documentary called East of Eden: Art In Search of Life. This 19-minute and 25-second program combines the usual array of archival materials, movie clips, and interviews with Schickel, San Jose State Universityís Center for Steinbeck Studies director Susan Schillinglaw, Steinbeckís son Tom, director Elia Kazan, James Deanís friend William Bast, and actors Julie Harris and Lonny Chapman. ďArtĒ covers Steinbeckís novel and its elements, the way Steinbeck put his personal life into his work, the characters, Kazanís personal take on the material and the adaptation of the book, the relationship between Kazan and Steinbeck, casting, work and conflicts on the set, observations about James Dean, Kazanís methods, and various legacies.
Tight and informative, ďArtĒ goes through the appropriate topics well. I like the progression from novel to film, and the program picks up on much of what we want to know. Some of this repeats from Schickelís commentary, but most of itís new to us. Thereís a lot of insight and useful information in this crisp featurette.
Referred to as a ďvintage documentaryĒ, Forever James Dean fills 59 minutes and 40 seconds. Created in 1988, it includes comments from Bast, Harris, boyhood friends Bob Roth, Rex Bright, and Bob Pulley, writer/producer Frank Worth, actors Jack Grinnage, Corey Allen, Frank Mazzola, and Beverly Long, former actress Steffi Sidney, automotive designer George Barris, teacher Adeline Nall, and artist Kenneth Kendall. The show looks at Deanís death and the reactions it inspired before it goes back to the actorís youth. We hear about the era in which Dean was born as we go through the important events of his childhood and general interests of that period. Then we see Deanís move to Hollywood, his attempts to become an actor, and related events. We follow Deanís failed attempts to land many jobs in LA before we watch him head to New York and try his luck there. This leads to his breakthrough role in Eden, its shoot, and Deanís subsequent work in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. We also learn of Deanís romances and other personal concerns until we get back to his death in 1955.
Some aspects of ďForeverĒ havenít aged well over the last 17 years; for instance, the awful song ďAmerican RebelĒ starts the show on a cheesy tone, and a montage in which it features midway works in a similarly poor way. Despite those, the whole product fares well, largely due to all the personal memories. It offers a good basic biography but only excels when we get into the details. Those make ďForeverĒ insightful and introspective.
The Deleted Scenes area lasts 19 minutes and 11 seconds. It presents a conversation between Cal and Aron about their fatherís feelings and more of the birthday party for Adam. We get multiple takes of the various shots, so donít expect a full slate of new material. Nothing revealing appears in the party scenes, but the chat between Cal and Aron works well. It fleshes out Calís character change and might have been a useful addition to the film.
Next we get six minutes and 18 seconds of Screen Tests as well as 22 minutes and 14 seconds of Wardrobe, Costume and Production Design Tests. The former shows tests between Dean and Davalos as they perform the discussion between Cal and Aron that we already saw as a deleted scene. Itís a decent tidbit, though itís too bad we donít see some of the other existing screen tests as well.
All of the ďWardrobeĒ section presents silent footage as we watch Davalos, Dean, Harris, Lois Smith and Jo Van Fleet try out different looks. This also acts as a vaguely cool archival bit, though it doesnít exactly make for scintillating viewing.
The DVD finishes with some 3/19/1955 New York Premiere Footage. This segment goes for 14 minutes and 40 seconds as it mostly focuses on the activities in front of the theater. Host Martin Block chats with the following notables as they enter: Margaret Truman, Milton Berle, John Steinbeck, Elia Kazan, Raymond Massey, Eva Marie Saint, Red Buttons, Jack Warner, Denise Darcell, Imogene Coca, Carol Channing, and Joel Grey. Of course, virtually nothing of substance occurs, but itís a fun piece to watch. I particularly like Steinbeckís very uncomfortable conversation; the author doesnít look happy to be there.
East of Eden would remain interesting simply for its historical value. Happily, despite its flaws, it offers a frequently compelling tale with a mix of positives highlighted by some strong performances. The DVD presents pretty positive picture and audio along with a good set of extras. A solid DVD for a quality flick, Eden earns my recommendation.