The Four Feathers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The same production company created 1940’s Thief of Bagdad, and Criterion’s release of that looked pretty great. Unfortunately, Feathers offered a much more mixed bag in terms of its visuals.
At its best, the image seemed pretty good – not great, but pretty good. The picture tended to be rather erratic, and its ups and downs affected all aspects of the presentation. Sharpness varied quite a lot. Some shots demonstrated fairly solid clarity and accuracy, but others could seem somewhat soft and fuzzy. Overall definition was fine, however, as the concise shots outweighed the iffier ones.
I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and the image lacked edge haloes. Print flaws were an occasional concern, though they didn’t seem bad given the movie’s age. In early scenes, I noticed some thin vertical lines, and a few specks cropped up throughout the film. These became less apparent as the film progressed, though, so the movie usually looked pretty clean. It came with natural but not intrusive grain.
The Technicolor hues could appear bold and vivid – or they could seem messy and flat. The movie’s colors tended to be all over the place and created some distractions. As with the print flaws, these issues cropped up most prominently in the movie’s first act. Skin tones veer from brown to pink to red, and the image could take on a rather green cast. Colors also sometimes pulsed. Again, the hues improved as the movie continued; they never lived up to the vibrant highs that Technicolor could achieve, but at least they appeared better than during the first act.
Blacks were a strong element, as dark tones came across with good depth. Shadows were another relatively positive component, as low-light shots often seemed smooth and clear. Actually, the nighttime sequence with Ethne offered the first act’s most appealing segment, as the shots came across as nicely defined. Later “day for night” scenes tended to be dense, but that was an unavoidable issue related to the original photography.
Unfortunately, I never saw prior home video versions of Feathers, so I couldn’t say how this transfer compared to those. I do put a lot of faith in Criterion, especially during the Blu-ray age; while some of their DVD transfers demonstrated questionable quality, their Blu-rays have been mostly excellent. And as I noted, I was quite pleased with the DVD of Thief of Bagdad they prepared. (That release predates Criterion’s decision to “go Blu”, so there’s no high-res version of it yet.)
I can’t deny that the picture quality of Feathers disappointed me. No, I didn’t expect it to look like a film shot in 2011 – or even fellow Technicolor year-mates like Gone With the Wind and Wizard of Oz - but I thought it was reasonable to anticipate a picture that seemed at least as good as Thief.
Feathers clearly didn’t live up to that level, and in truth, the image sometimes seemed dodgy. However, it never looked bad, and it usually was adequate to pretty good. While its weaknesses disappointed me, I don’t want to paint this as a poor presentation; it lacked the consistency I expected but had enough strengths to make it perfectly acceptable.
The monaural soundtrack of Feathers also showed its age. Dialogue seemed thin but understandable, and effects and music sounded about the same. The mix appeared happily free of much distortion, though, and most audio was relatively distinct and clean. Music was a bit too dense, but the score wasn’t problematic.
Source noise could be more of a distraction; the flaws weren’t severe, but it sometimes sounded like it was raining in the background. Given the age of the material, Feathers offered an auditory experience that appeared to be average for its era, but it didn’t provide anything more impressive than that.
The Blu-ray comes with a mix of extras. We open with an audio commentary from film historian Charles Drazin. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at the source novel and its adaptation, notes related to the story’s history and the era in which the film was made, cast and crew, the work of and relationship between producer Alexander Korda and director Zoltan Korda, sets and locations, music, and a few other areas.
Expect a thorough – and thoroughly involving – chat from Drazin. He covers all the expected aspects of the production and also nicely gets into issues connected to the filmmakers’ perspectives. I especially like his discussion of the battles between conservative Alexander Korda and more liberal Zoltan Korda. The commentary delivers a lot of good information in an enjoyable manner.
Next comes an Interview with Director’s Son David Korda. In this 23-minute, 14-second piece, the younger Korda discusses his famous family, with an emphasis on his father’s work and life. David Korda lacks much first-person experience with Zoltan’s filmmaking – I don’t know how old he is, but he’s clearly too young to have been there for the shoot of Feathers - but he still delivers a good array of notes.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a vintage promotional film called A Day at Denham. With this 10-minute, 21-second piece, we take a look at the London studio circa 1938. It’s a fluffy examination, but it’s a fun look at history, and we see a few shots from the Feathers set along the way.
Like all Criterion releases, Feathers comes with a booklet. However, this one is shorter than usual, as it offers only a 10-page foldout affair with an essay from film historian Michael Sragow. Though not as good as most Criterion booklets, it’s still worthwhile.
Some story and character choices make The Four Feathers less enjoyable than I’d like, but it still does enough right to deliver an interesting adventure. It comes with a mix of positives than more than outweigh its negatives. The Blu-ray delivers erratic – and generally average – picture and audio along with a few supplements highlighted by a strong audio commentary. While the presentation of the film doesn’t excel, it seems adequate, and the movie itself works well.