Gone With the Wind appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without some very minor issues, the visuals of Wind looked radically superior to anything we’d expect from the 65-year-old movie.
Sharpness generally looked accurate and concise, with only a few scenes that showed some mild softness. Most of the film seemed quite precise and well-defined. A little lack of delineation occasionally interfered with a few shots, but not with any consistency. I noticed the slightest of moiré effects on a few occasions, but these were largely inconsequential, and I saw no signs of jagged edges.
The print itself appeared miraculously clean for such an old movie. Light grain could be seen at times but that was it. The quality of the print would seem fine for a recent movie, but for an elderly flick to look so fresh and free of faults seemed amazing.
For the most part, hues seemed wonderfully bold and brilliant. The colors of Wind were frequently a serious treat for the eyes as they virtually leapt off the screen. The movie offered a very broad palette and the film displayed these with stunning clarity and vividness. Black levels seemed terrifically deep and rich. Shadow detail looked clear and appropriately opaque. Gone With the Wind isn't the best-looking DVD I own, but it certainly looked fantastic, with or without consideration of its extremely advanced age.
Not as strong but still relatively positive was the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Gone With the Wind came from a mix that was originally monaural, and though the new version livened up the action a bit, the sound designers didn't try to reinvent the wheel. The new track remained largely stuck to the center channel, and significant portions of it didn't differ from the mono mix in the least.
I was able to gauge that last fact because this DVD also included the original mono track, and I occasionally flipped between the two, although I listed to the 5.1 mix for the vast majority of the movie. It seemed as though very few parts of the track strayed far beyond the center speaker. At times the score branched out to the sides, and a few of the showier action scenes - such as attacks on Atlanta - featured moderate effects that also move to the surrounds. However, for the most part, this remained a monaural track. The ambition on the part of the sound designers was quite modest, and appropriately so, since an old film like this wouldn't hold up to intense remixing.
Quality seemed similar for both, though the 5.1 track displayed greater depth at times. Again, a lot of it sounded identical, but it's clear that the 5.1 mix showed more range, especially during the scenes that departed from the center channel. The explosions benefited the most from the added range, as they even sparked the subwoofer mildly on a few occasions, but some portions of the score also seemed cleaner on the remix.
Dialogue sounded clear and relatively natural on both tracks. Effects displayed some slight distortion during their louder moments but they generally seemed acceptably precise. Music featured the same moderately restricted range heard in the other components - and very typical of films from this era - but it came across as adequately smooth and listenable. Not for one second will you mistake the soundtrack of Gone With the Wind for one found on a more recent film, but it worked pretty well for the material and held up nicely under most scrutiny.
So how did the picture and sound of this new 2004 release compare to those of the original 1998 DVD? The audio appeared identical. I believe that both used similar 5.1 mixes, as I noticed little that differentiated the sound between the two discs. The new audio appeared a bit bolder and better defined, but the old one was fine for a movie of this vintage. I gave this track a “B+” compared to the “B” of the previous one, as they sounded a lot alike. (Indeed, my comments for both are identical; I felt the new track sported a little more oomph but the remarks worked for the pair.)
On the other hand, the visuals of the special edition clearly improved upon those of the prior release. The new disc presented few concerns, while the old edition suffered from lots of edge enhancement and generally messy appearance. The 2004 mastering blows away the previous version.
Another area in which the 2004 special edition clearly trounces the original relates to supplements. On discs one and two, we find an audio commentary from film historian Rudy Behlmer. A frequent contributor to DVDs of this sort, Behlmer also appeared on discs such as The Adventures of Robin Hood and Casablanca.
Since Behlmer invariably provides useful, lively commentaries, I looked forward to his discussion of Wind. He starts with the score and how Max Steiner landed the gig and then goes through the opening credits, the history behind the tale, the creation of the book and changes from novel to screen, biographical notes about the main participants, a mix of controversies such as production difficulties, firing the original director and hiring a new one, and reshoots, sets and locations, production design and cinematic elements, cut sequences, the film’s reception, Margaret Mitchell’s lack of participation in the flick, and its legacy.
Whew! That’s a packed agenda, and Behlmer handles it all well. Inevitably, some dead air occurs, but not much given the extreme length of the film. At times I think Behlmer concentrates a little too heavily on biographical sketches of the participants, as I’d prefer some additional notes about the movie’s creation itself. Nonetheless, this doesn’t cause any real problems, and Behlmer cranks through the subjects well. It’s yet another informative and entertaining discussion.
Wind includes two full discs of supplements. On DVD Three, we open with The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind. This documentary runs two hours, three minutes and 18 seconds. It presents the expected mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from Selznick executive assistant Marcella Rabwin, Eastern Story editor Katherine Brown, original director George Cukor (in 1968), Selznick secretary Silvia Schulman Lardner, associate film editor James Newcom, camera operator Arthur Arling, extra Johnny Albright, assistant director Arthur Fellows, production manager Ray Klune, assistant cameraman Harry Wolf, preview audience member William Ericson, Vivien Leigh’s secretary/friend Sunny Lash, and actors Butterfly McQueen, Ann Rutherford and Evelyn Keyes. We also find old recordings from Clark Gable, editor Hal Kern and writer Ben Hecht plus quotes from historical memos and recreated comments by folks like author Margaret Mitchell, producer David O. Selznick, and screenwriter Sidney Howard.
“Legend” starts with notes about the career of producer Selznick and then continues through a look at the life of author Mitchell and the writing of the novel. We find out how Selznick acquired the property and its move to production. We romp through the adaptation of the novel, casting and the mania about the search for Scarlett, the film’s look, visual and practical effects, costume design, issues connected to the actors and their approaches to the roles, Cukor’s departure and the hiring of Victor Fleming, rewrites, general production notes, various controversies and problems, editing and post-production, audience previews, the score, concerns with the production code, the Atlanta premiere, its success financially and at the Oscars, and its legacy.
Inevitably, some of “Legend” repeats information provided by Behlmer. However, it manages to take on a lot of different sides to the issues, and we learn quite a lot from it. Perhaps because his son L. Jeffrey produced it, “Legend” largely follows Selznick’s point of view, but that doesn’t make it myopic. Indeed, it covers the film’s creation in a broad manner that makes it very engaging. It pulls few punches as it lets us know all the problems that occurred before, during and after production.
Along the way, the archival materials really flesh things out well. The plethora of screen tests come as a terrific addition, especially when we see how close Paulette Goddard came to acquiring the role as Scarlett. Other historical elements add bite as well. The program adopts some really cheesy gimmicks such as silly recreations that put now-elderly participants in various period situations. Despite those goofy moments, however, “Legend” presents a detailed and consistently engrossing look at the flick.
For a look at bringing the movie up to snuff, we go to a featurette called Restoring a Legend. It fills 17 minutes and 40 seconds as we hear from Warner Bros. senior VP of Production Technologies Rob Hummel, cameraman Richard Edlund, WB telecine colorist Janet Wilson, WB VP of mastering Ned Price, restoration and remastering engineer James Young, and WB chief technology officer Chris Cookson. After a quick discussion of Technicolor, we learn of the various challenges caused by the material and find out what steps were taken to spiff up the flick. As with most programs of this sort, it often comes across as self-congratulatory; we get a lot of notes about how amazing the work was. Nonetheless, it can be interesting to see the obstacles and the ways they were overcome.
Next we see two Newsreels. “Dixie Hails Gone With the Wind” runs four minutes and shows elements of the December 1939 Atlanta premiere. A fair amount of it shows up in “Legend”, but it’s good to get the complete clip. The three-minute and 40-second “Atlanta Civil War Centennial” follows the 1961 celebration that included a reunion of the surviving main participants from Wind. Unfortunately, it presents no narration or other speech, but it offers a decent visual record of the occasion.
The Prologue from International Release goes for 75 seconds. It shows a text scroll that preceded non-US screenings of Wind to explain the Civil War. It’s another cool archival tidbit.
A staple of animated features, the Foreign Language Sample Scenes lets us see parts of Wind in various tongues. This segment shows three different scenes. We see the first in French, the second in Italian, and the third in German. Don’t expect anything exceptional, but it creates some fun.
To prepare audiences for the historical side of Wind, MGM produced a short called The Old South. It takes 11 minutes and 18 seconds to detail the impact of cotton on the southern economy and society. Directed by Fred Zinnemann - who’d later helm a couple of his own film classics - it doesn’t exactly vilify the slave-loving ways of the Old South, but it offers a tight and generally interesting artifact.
Inside the Trailer Gallery, we find five ads. We get a 1939 “announcement” trailer that serves the same purpose as many modern “teasers”: it creates awareness but doesn’t show any actual film snippets. There’s also a “1961 Civil War Centennial”, the film’s first non-teaser, as well as the 1967 70mm widescreen version, the 1968 reissue, and the 1989 50th anniversary release. These create a good collection.
Finally, DVD Three presents an Awards section. This simply gives us a text listing of some honors taken home by the film.
As we shift to DVD Four, we begin with Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland. This presents 38 minutes and 40 seconds of comments from de Havilland, the sole surviving main cast member of Wind. Shot in 2004, she discusses why she liked the role of Melanie and how she got it, character choices and Melanie’s look, shooting the film, her co-stars, the change in directors, the premiere, and the 1961 reunion. De Havilland remains animated and engaging. Anecdotal in nature, the comments seem somewhat sugarcoated, but de Havilland nonetheless presents a good view of her perspective during this informative remembrance.
The next two pieces look at the film’s leads. Gable: The King Remembered lasts 65 minutes and uses the standard format for a piece of this sort. Created in the mid-Seventies and hosted by Peter Lawford, we get interview clips from actors Andy Devine, Yvonne DeCarlo, reporter/friend Adela Rogers St. Johns, and director William Wellman. We get a look at his film persona and then go back to his childhood and early development. We see how he got into acting, personal relationships, and professional growth and important roles.
”King” jumps from standard, narrated biography to sit-down interviews with the folks mentioned above. The program will bring in a subject for one segment and that’s it; the different people don’t pop up throughout the show, unlike a typical biography. This makes the flow of “King” disjointed. For example, we jump from basic biographical issues to Devine’s memories, and the two don’t neatly connect. Some stronger editing would have helped the show prosper.
While I didn’t like the construction, “King” merits a look due to some interesting remarks from the participants. Wellman and St. Johns prove especially intriguing. They pull few punches and give us surprisingly blunt appraisals of Gable. Devine and DeCarlo add some neat tidbits, but they don’t fare quite as well. “King” ends up as a frustrating program but one with some very good moments.
After this comes the 46-minute Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond. Hosted by Jessica Lange, it includes remarks from writer Garson Kanin, producer/director Stanley Kramer, actors Claire Bloom, Sir John Gielgud, Rachel Kempson, Kim Hunter, Elizabeth Ashley, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and journalist Radie Harris. “Beyond” follows the expected path for this sort of show. We learn of Leigh’s youth, her early career, her development as an actor and her relationships. The show progresses through the various areas succinctly, if without much flair. We get lots of shots from Leigh’s films, and those help flesh out the piece. It’s not a sizzling documentary, but it covers the requisite material in a decent fashion.
For brief featurettes about The Supporting Players, we head to that section. This area includes short programs for Thomas Mitchell (two minutes, 40 seconds), Barbara O’Neill (1:15), Evelyn Keyes (0:59), Ann Rutherford (1:17), Hattie McDaniel (2:59), Oscar Polk (0:52), Butterfly McQueen (2:07), Leslie Howard (5:24), Rand Brooks (1:09), Carroll Nye (1:36), Laura Hope Crews (1:27), Eddie Anderson (1:37), Harry Davenport (1:33), Jane Darwell (1:13), Ona Munson (1:31), and Cammie King (0:52). It’s a shame that Howard gets relegated to this category since he really acts as one of the four leads. Nonetheless, these shorts offer quick but useful glimpses of the actors’ careers.
Exit presents a quick valedictory note. The 43-second clip simply reminds us of the movie’s legacy. Incongruously, DVD Four concludes with a preview for the theatrical release of The Polar Express.
Lastly, Wind includes a nice booklet. This 20-page document reproduces the film’s original program. It’s a thoughtful and fun addition to the set.
Due to its status as a classic - perhaps even the classic - it's hard not to recommend Gone With the Wind, as I believe everyone should see it at least once. You can't consider yourself a literate film fan if you've never taken in this blockbuster. However, I think it's too flawed a movie to merit more than a screening or two. It's generally entertaining and moves well for a nearly four-hour program, but many of the characters are problematic and the attitudes dated and offensive. The DVD offers fantastic picture with solid audio and a terrific set of supplements.
Usually with reissued DVDs, I have to offer two recommendations: one for people who don’t own the movie already, and another for those who currently possess a copy. In this case, my advice is the same: buy the Collector’s Edition of Gone With the Wind. It feels odd to push a “blind buy” on anyone who’s not seen the flick, but given the movie’s stature, it’s a must-see piece, and this DVD is an amazing. It offers a great way to check out Wind.
For those with the old disc, turn it into a coaster, play Frisbee with it, or pawn it off on some sucker – you’ll definitely never want to actually watch it again. The abundance of excellent supplements will please fans with an interest in the movie’s backstory, but the greatly improved picture quality will entice even those who couldn’t care less about extras. The new DVD’s visuals greatly improve upon the messy image of the old disc and make this version well worth a “double dip”. The Wind Collector’s Edition is arguably the best “catalog” release DVD ever – go get it!