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David Lynch
John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft
Writing Credits:
Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch

A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English PCM Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/29/2020

• “Terrible Elephant Man Revealed” Featurette
• “Room to Dream” Book Excerpts
• 1981 AFI Q&A
• Interview with Actor John Hurt
• Interview with Still Photographer Frank Connor
• Interview with Producer Jonathan Sanger
• Interview with Director David Lynch
• “The Real Elephant Man” Featurette
• Mike Figgis and David Lynch Conversation
• “Clapper Board” Featurette
• “Skintricks” Featurette
• Radio Spots
• Trailer
• Booklet


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-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
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-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


The Elephant Man: Criterion Collection (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 13, 2020)

One of 1980’s Oscar Best Picture nominees, The Elephant Man comes based on a true story. Set circa the late 19th century, the film introduces us to Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), a London surgeon.

Dr. Treves scours a carnival freak show in search of subjects he can research. Along the way, he finds an attraction known as “The Elephant Man”, one that focuses on a radically deformed young man named John Merrick (John Hurt).

Though Dr. Treves’ initial interest stems from his work, he soon discovers the real human beneath Merrick’s disfigured exterior. Treves works to redeem Merrick and allow him to prosper in society.

Going into Elephant Man, director David Lynch enjoyed one feature film credit: 1977’s odd and surreal Eraserhead. Given that background, it seemed natural to expect Lynch to play Elephant for freakish horror.

Happily, Lynch reins in his traditional tendencies and makes Elephant an almost shockingly restrained effort. Whereas the Lynch of Eraserhead would feel likely to explore the grotesque, here he focuses wholly on the humanity.

Of the title character, that is. Elephant comes with horrifying behavior, but it all stems from the actions of so-called “normal people”, the ones who continually treat Merrick like a sub-human.

This theme seems obvious to the point of triteness but Lynch ensures that Elephant doesn’t feel preachy or condescending. The film gets to the heart of the subject matter with a sense of insight.

To a degree, that is, as I think the film lets off the “upper crust” too easily. While Elephant vaguely condemns the patronizing manner in which they attempt to use Merrick in a 19th century form of “woke” behavior, the movie seems disinterested in that domain.

Instead, Elephant focuses more on a brutal depiction of the lower classes. They come across as mainly horrible and feel like the villagers from Frankenstein.

This seems intentional, as Elephant can often reflect the 1931 James Whale classic. Lynch uses cinematic techniques that echo Frankestein, and Merritt gets treated as the misunderstood “monster”.

Of course, Frankenstein focuses on a creature only semi-human, whereas Elephant brings a real person, one who simply looks monstrous. As the film’s most famous quote reminds us, Merrick is not an animal – he’s a human being, and the movie makes that humanity a strong element.

While Lynch’s tasteful, subdued direction does a lot to create the film’s impact, Hurt’s performance becomes the most important factor. Buried under an intense amount of prosthetics and makeup, Hurt still manages to create a remarkable amount of emotion.

With all those appliances, Hurt easily could’ve gotten lost. However, he evokes real feeling as Merrick and allows the role to become much more engaging than could’ve been the case.

It also helps that Lynch largely avoids potentially preachy tendencies. Elephant reminds us what the smallest moments of kindness can mean to someone in need, and it gently encourages us to be better people.

Arguably the best movie David Lynch ever made, The Elephant Man endures as a humane classic. Deep, rich and heartbreaking, the film cuts to the core.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

The Elephant Man appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray disc. The movie came with an appealing transfer.

Sharpness seemed good. Low-light interiors – of which we found many – could feel a little on the soft side, but those reflected the source. Overall, the movie brought appealing accuracy and delineation.

I saw no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects. Print flaws remained absent, and the film brought a light layer of grain.

Dark elements looked deep and firm, while shadows offered solid clarity and smoothness. The film delivered a strong visual presentation.

As for the film’s PCM stereo soundtrack, it seemed satisfactory. Given the movie’s scope, the soundscape didn’t come with much to do, but it expanded horizons reasonably well.

This mostly meant ambience, especially in street, industrial or crowd shots. Music also demonstrated breadth. Nothing here dazzled in terms of the soundfield, but it felt fine for the material and came across as broader than I expected.

Audio quality appeared positive for its age. Music demonstrated nice range and impact, while effects seemed accurate and clean.

Speech felt natural and concise, and the lines remained intelligible. Given the parameters of the story and the era in which it was made, this felt like a pretty good mix.

How did the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the original DVD? That release came with a 5.1 remix that worked fine, but the stereo presentation seemed more natural, and quality appeared richer and more dynamic.

Visuals brought substantial improvements, as the Blu-ray looked tighter, cleaner and more film-like than the DVD. The latter offered plenty of problems, whereas the Blu-ray depicted the film to its best advantage.

The Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and in the latter category, The Terrible Elephant Man Revealed runs 30 minutes, 11 seconds. It brings comments from producer Jonathan Sanger, executive producer Mel Brooks, director of photography Freddie Francis, makeup designer/creator Christopher Tucker, and actor John Hurt.

“Revealed” looks at the project’s roots and development, cast and performances, photography, makeup effects, and general thoughts. Despite the notable absence of David Lynch and Anthony Hopkins, this becomes an informative overview.

Under Room to Dream, we get a one-hour, nine-minute, 52-second piece that provides excerpts from director David Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna. Both co-authored a 2018 book called Room to Dream, and hear they read excerpts from it. McKenna covers the first 40:55 and Lynch takes the remaining

“Dream” concentrates on Elephant Man, as it follows Lynch’s pursuit of a project to follow Eraserhead and how he wound up on this film. We also learn about casting, technical areas, and various other aspects of the production.

All of this becomes a solid examination of Elephant Man. We learn quite a lot about the film’s creation, and although the format risks a dry tone, McKenna and Lynch deliver the content in an engaging manner. Lynch does repeat a little of the content we get from McKenna, but this nonetheless turns into a solid overview.

Another audio feature, we get a 1981 AFI Q&A with Lynch. During this 50-minute, 45-second recording, Lynch addresses various notes about his then-young career, with a strong emphasis on Elephant Man.

Inevitably, Lynch echoes some of the material we get in “Dream”, and some of the audience questions feel contrived. Still, I like the ability to get notes from Lynch in Elephant Man’s era and without 40 years of hindsight, so this offers a useful session.

From 2009, an Interview with Actor John Hurt spans 20 minutes, four seconds. Hurt discusses his character, his performance and aspects of the production. Hurt gives us a decent glimpse of his experiences.

Next comes a 2019 Interview with Still Photographer Frank Connor. During this 25-minute, 18-second chat, Connor talks about how he got into his career as well as his work on Elephant Man. We don’t normally hear from people in Connor’s position, so this becomes an interesting view of his POV.

Recorded at the BFI in 2018, an Interview with Producer Jonathan Sanger fills 24 minutes, 27 seconds. Sanger goes over how he found the script, aspects of the development and production, and thoughts about various participants. Sanger offers his own take on these topics, and he makes this a useful program.

Another 2009 reel, we find an Interview with Director David Lynch. This one lasts 24 minutes, 40 seconds and brings Lynch’s thoughts about his follow-up to Eraserhead and how he came to Elephant Man, the screenplay, and other thoughts about the film.

Given all the prior programs, some reputation here becomes inevitable. Nonetheless, Lynch provides an efficient overview.

Joseph Merrick: The Real Elephant Man runs 19 minutes, 50 seconds and involves notes from Royal London Hospital Museum archivist Jonathan Evans. As expected, we get a factual look at Merrick’s life, with a contrast against the depiction seen in the movie. This becomes a brief but informative summary.

A piece from 2006 features directors Mike Figgis and David Lynch. It occupies 19 minutes, 51 seconds and covers Lynch’s early interest in film and his philosophies about movies.

Figgis becomes a passive presence, as he does little more than grunt while Lynch speaks. Lynch manages decent insights, but the program feels a little rambling.

An excerpt from a 1980 episode of UK show Clapper Board takes up 11 minutes, 42 seconds and features a chat with John Hurt. He looks at aspects of his performance and the shoot. This turns into a good contemporaneous chat.

A Dutch series, Skintricks comes from 1988. The excerpt spans 13 minutes, 39 seconds and features Christopher Tucker and John Hurt.

As expected, they talk about Hurt’s physical transformation into Merrick. They offer nice insights into the work.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc concludes with three radio spots.

The package concludes with a booklet. It includes credits, photos, excerpts from a 2005 interview with David Lynch, and an 1886 letter to the editor from the chairman of the London Hospital. This becomes one of Criterion’s better booklets.

Given the subject matter and David Lynch’s reputation, one might expect The Elephant Man to present a dark, grotesque experience. Instead, Lynch brings surprising subtlety to the project and makes it a moving investigation of humanity. The Blu-ray comes with solid picture and audio as well as an informative compilation of bonus features. A memorable film, the Criterion Elephant Man becomes a winner.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of ELEPHANT MAN

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