East of Eden appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Overall, I felt pleased with the presentation.
Sharpness usually looked solid, as the flick usually presented a nicely distinctive and detailed picture. Some of the photographic techniques occasionally resulted in soft shots, but those remained in the minority; most of the movie seemed accurate and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Digital noise reduction didnít appear to mar the transfer, and the flick came with virtually no print flaws.
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 rich and bright. Blacks came across as nicely deep and rich, while low-light shots demonstrated good clarity and definition. Across the board, the movie looked pretty nice.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of East of Eden 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.
Speech was decent. Some weak dubbing made lines a bit flat and dull at times Ė and lip-synch could suffer Ė but the dialogue usually sounded fine. Effects demonstrated fair reproduction given their age; they didnít boast great clarity, but they came with reasonable accuracy and heft. Nothing here dazzled, but the audio remained more than adequate for its age.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2005? Audio sounded cleaner and clearer, while visuals were bolder and more concise. The Blu-ray gave us obvious improvements over its predecessor.
The Blu-ray replicates the DVDís extras. In addition to the movieís trailer, we find an audio commentary with film critic Richard Schickel. Because of his track record, I greet Schickel commentaries with trepidation; heís created an awful lot of mediocre chats. 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 and crew and their backgrounds, director Elia Kazanís methods, James 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 provided 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 rarely offers commentaries that are truly worth the effort.
Next we move to a documentary called East of Eden: Art In Search of Life. This 19-minute and 31-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 50 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 to his death in 1955.
Some aspects of ďForeverĒ havenít aged well over the last 25 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 15 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 21 seconds of Screen Tests as well as 22 minutes and 29 seconds of Wardrobe Tests. In the former domain, we get screen 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 disc finishes with some 3/19/1955 New York Premiere Footage. This segment goes for 14 minutes and 42 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 some flaws, it offers a frequently compelling tale with a mix of positives highlighted by some strong performances. The Blu-ray delivers very good picture and audio along with a roster of supplements that works pretty well despite a lackluster audio commentary. I doubt Eden ever looked better than it does on this fine Blu-ray.
Note that East of Eden can be found on its own or as part of a three-film ďJames Dean Ultimate Collectorís EditionĒ. This also includes Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, three bonus discs and additional paper materials. The ďUCEĒ retails for $99.98 which makes it a good deal for Dean fans who want to own all three movies.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of EAST OF EDEN