Giant appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though it came with more good than bad, the image remained inconsistent.
Many of the problems related to sharpness. A lot of the movie looked just fine and depicted accurate and concise images. Unfortunately, substantial amounts of the film came across as more than a little soft and fuzzy.
That tendency occurred most often in scenes that led toward transitions to other sequences. That wasn’t a perfect rule, as we found softness in shots that didn’t move toward fades, but that was a consistent offender. Again, much of the movie delivered good – and sometimes great – sharpness, but quite a few exceptions occurred. I saw no shimmering or jaggies, and with a fair amount of grain, I didn’t suspect digital noise reduction.
Edge haloes were a different matter, though a) not as severe as they were during the 2003 DVD and b) likely an artifact of the original photographic processes. The haloes tended to show up most during those problematic transitions, and they could be unappealing. That said, they came down from the crazy levels seen in that earlier DVD, and like I mentioned, I suspect they’re just part of the original image. While I believe the DVD made them worse, they’re still here to stay.
At times, colors looked a little faded and muted. However, most of the time hues were vibrant and rich, and they suffered from no bleeding, noise or other issues. Black levels worked quite well, as they appeared tight and deep. Shadows also were effectively displayed.
Low-light images looked clear and appropriately opaque. Print flaws created virtually no concerns, as this became a clean presentation. With all its ups and downs, I found it tough to assign a grade, as a lot of Giant could be unappealing, but I thought it was good enough for a “B-“, warts and all.
The DTS-HD MA Stereo soundtrack of Giant was more consistent and relatively satisfying given its era. The sides showed light stereo imaging for the music and spread out effects for occasional scenes. For example, the dust storm and the segment with the actors amidst a herd of cattle demonstrated decent general use of the different speakers. Overall, the audio remained pretty much stuck in the center, though.
Audio quality seemed fine for its age. Speech appeared pretty natural and distinctive, without obvious edginess or other issues. Music was a little heavy on reverb but usually came across as reasonably full. Effects lacked great heft but seemed fairly accurate and concise, without problematic distortion. Nothing here impressed, but I thought the audio worked well given the vintage of the film.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2003? Audio appeared more natural and smoother, as the DVD’s track tended to be thin and brittle. Visuals were also tighter and more dynamic; even with the concerns, the Blu-ray’s picture offered a strong step up over the mushy image found on the DVD.
When we shift to extras, we start with an introduction from George Stevens Jr. Taped in 1996, he chats for two minutes, 55 seconds and gives us a general overview of the film. It’s nothing spectacular but it helps set the stage for the film.
Spread over the length of the movie, we get an audio commentary from film critic Stephen Farber, screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and George Stevens Jr. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific track. They cover a lot of ground, as the piece fills most of the movie’s length; occasional gaps appear, but these remain insubstantial given the flick’s running time.
Some topics discussed include the casting and others they wanted for the roles, changes from the book, Stevens and his working style, and many general anecdotes. We learn of author Edna Ferber’s negative reactions to some alterations, and we hear how the cast and crew reacted to the death of James Dean, an event that occurred during the shoot. The junior Stevens dominates the track, but all three men add some good notes. Overall, this piece helps flesh out the movie and provides a satisfying listen.
Next we find a program called George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him. Clocking in at 45 minutes and 40 seconds, this piece also appeared on the Place In the Sun DVD and it offers a discussion of Stevens’ work by a slew of cinematic notables.
Apparently filmed in 1983 for little George’s A Filmmaker’s Journey - his tribute to dad – this program consists entirely of other folks’ remarks about Big George. We hear from Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Rouben Mamoulian, Joe Mankiewicz, Alan J. Pakula, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, and Fred Zinnemann. Each man’s comments last between three minutes, six seconds (Mamoulian) and 11 minutes, 34 seconds (Pakula).
Not surprisingly, the statements from the older filmmakers relate mainly to their personal experiences with Stevens, while the younger men talk more about their feelings toward his work. While the former can be quite entertaining, the latter offer the greatest substance. I liked most of the material here, but the bits from Beatty and especially Pakula were the most compelling. All in all, this was a good package of information.
Disc Two offers a standard-def DVD that exactly replicates the same platter from the 2003 release. Memories of Giant offers a 51-minute and 36-second documentary. It mixes archival materials and interviews with George Stevens Jr. plus actors Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Earl Holliman, and Rock Hudson. “Memories” doesn’t really attempt to tell the creation of the film. Instead, it relies on scads of anecdotes, as the participants discuss all sorts of topics from the set. We learn about casting, Stevens and his style, how the actors got along together, being on location, and many other issues. It’s a warm and entertaining remembrance.
Next we find the 55-minute and seven-second Return to Giant. Narrated by musician Don Henley, this program includes movie clips, archival footage, new images of the locations, and comments from George Stevens Jr., Don Graham of the University of Texas, actors Earl Holliman, Rock Hudson, Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Dallas Morning News writer Bryan Woolley, Presidio County Judge Jake Brisbin, Texans/extras Darlyne Freeman, Clay Evans, Lucy Garcia, Bill Christopher, Fran Bennett, Monte Hale, Bob Hinkle and Bettie Jo White Spitler, and crewmember son Dan Molina, and caterer Wally Cech.
The documentary starts with a brief history behind the story as well as reactions to the book and some casting notes. However, “Return” resembles “Memories” in that it mostly acts as a compendium of anecdotes. These take a different turn, however, as they largely focus on the parts of the shoot that took place in Texas. We learn how the actors dealt with that location and get a feel for what the locals thought of the whole thing. Too many movie clips pop up here, but otherwise “Return” adds to our perspective about the film and it seems consistently informative and engaging.
For a piece of historical footage, we go to the New York Premiere TV special. Hosted by Chill Wills and Jane Meadows, the 28-minute and 51-second piece shows film participants and other notables as they arrive at the theater. They chat about nothing much in particular, though the premiere did benefit a good cause. Nothing terribly interesting occurs, but it’s still a fairly cool addition to the set.
A shorter program, the Hollywood Premiere featurette lasts a mere four minutes and 20 seconds. This one shows a few seconds of the New York opening and then presents narration with snippets of arriving stars and others. It’s also of decent archival value but it’s not anything more than that. Project Kickoff simply includes a 37-second newsreel clip called “Giant Stars Are Off to Texas”. This shows the cast at a meal and that’s about it.
The Production Stills and Documents Galleries launches with 54 good behind the scenes photos. As for the “Documents”, this area includes letters between George Stevens and Jack Warner plus other correspondence, budget notes, and promotional material. It’s a nice set.
Next we get two Behind the Cameras segments. The five-minute and 56-second “On Location in Marfa Texas” comes hosted by Gig Young, and it apparently ran after a TV program. It discusses the construction of sets, the arrival of the actors in Texas, the casting of local extras, and the company’s departure from Marfa. Young also hosts “A Visit with Dimitri Tiomkin”, a six and a half minute feature that does exactly what the title states. Both include a lot of contrived moments, but they offer enough interesting footage to merit a look. The Tiomkin piece is especially fun, as we hear the composer talk about his work and play some of it.
In the trailers section, we find two ads from 1956 plus reissue clips from 1963 and 1970. Lastly, some text materials complete the disc. A Giant Undertaking splits into six subdomains. All except the first (“The Giant Behind Giant, a biography of George Stevens) simply present single quotes from the director and a couple of the actors.
We learn more about the director through the George Stevens Filmography, and Awards details the various honors accorded the flick. Finally, Cast and Crew presents a list of many participants; no biographies or filmographies appear here, however.
On Disc Three, we get the full George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey. It runs one hour, 51 minutes, 24 seconds and includes comments from Beatty, Capra, Mamoulian, Mankiewicz, Pakula, Vellani, Zinnemann, filmmakers Hal Roach and John Huston, RKO executive producer Pandro Berman, ex-wife Yvonne Stevens, choreographer Hermes Pan, author Irwin Shaw, screenwriters Jack Sher and Ivan Moffat, and actors Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Cary Grant, Joel McCrea, Millie Perkins, and Max Von Sydow. We also get some archival remarks from Stevens himself.
We learn how Stevens got his first high-profile directorial gig with 1935’s Alice Adams. From there, we go back in time to hear of his childhood interest in photography/film and how he came to movies. After that, we head back to the 1930s and follow Stevens’ career as he rises in Hollywood., shoots during World War II, and resumes his successful filmmaking career, all with an emphasis on a few specific projects, though we get some detours such as Stevens’ actions during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s.
On the negative side, “Journey” comes with way too many film clips. These don’t add a ton to the experience, and they fill an awful lot of the documentary; I’d rather hear more about Stevens’ life and work than see these unending snippets.
Even with those, though, “Journey” becomes a pretty good program. It covers the director’s life in a fairly sober manner, without the excess of goopy praise that often dominates shows like this; sure, we hear a lot of positives about Stevens, but these lack the kiss-butt feel we usually discover. The inclusion of so many Hollywood legends helps, too, as they give us nice stories and thoughts. I’d like a tighter version with fewer film clips, but “Journey” still works well as it is.
A generally excellent movie, Giant works well after almost half a century. The film comes with some flaws, but it moves briskly despite its extended running time, and it boasts some good performances and an interesting perspective. The Blu-ray offers erratic but acceptable to good picture and audio along with a strong set of supplements. In the end, the Blu-ray gives us a solid release.
Note that Giant can be found on its own or as part of a three-film “James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition”. This also includes Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, two bonus discs and additional paper materials. The “UCE” retails for $99.98 which makes it a good deal for Dean fans who want to own all three movies.
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