It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.76:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a stunning visual presentation.
Sharpness was solid. Virtually no softness cropped up here, as the movie looked amazingly tight and concise. Even with its super-broad aspect ratio and many wide shots, the picture showed consistently excellent definition. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects arose, and I witnessed no edge haloes. A handful of tiny specks popped up but the vast majority of the movie lacked source flaws.
Colors seemed terrific. The movie went with a natural palette that showed fine vivacity, as the hues always seemed lively and dynamic. Blacks were dark and dense, while shadows showed nice clarity and delineation. It may only be January, but this may go down as the best transfer of 2014.
As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of World, it held up very well after all these years. The forward soundfield offered a very broad setting for the action. Lots of localized speech appeared, and the dialogue was well-placed. Effects also demonstrated good breadth, as those elements popped up in the correct spots and blended together well. Music featured positive stereo imaging.
Surround usage was limited. On a few occasions, I heard vehicles from the rear, and music also spread to the back speakers at times. Otherwise, a smattering of elements – like the bucket kicked early in the film – moved to the rear channels, but these moments remained rare. Nonetheless, since the front channels worked so well, I didn’t mind the absence of strong surround information.
Audio quality appeared good for its age. Speech was consistently concise and natural, with only a little edginess on a few rare occasions. Music offered nice life; the score was pretty bright and full. Effects sounded reasonably full and tight; we didn’t get the most impressive range, but those components showed better than average heft. I really liked this track, as I thought it worked nicely for a 50-year-old flick.
How did this Blu-ray compare to the 2008 DVD? Audio came across as more natural and dynamic, while visuals were a tremendous improvement. The image seemed radically better defined and also looked cleaner with superior colors. I thought the DVD looked pretty good, but it couldn’t remotely compare to this demo-quality image.
While the DVD included no extras, the Criterion edition packs a bunch of components. Of greatest significance, the package provides both the film’s general release version (2:43:27) and an extended version (3:17:35). A lot of the added material extends existing scenes, which can be good and bad.
On the positive side, the extended cut includes a fair amount of amusing material. In the negative vein, a much of this can seem a bit redundant, as many of the moments simply reinforce areas already related to us.
So which do I think works better? I prefer the general release version, as it moves faster and provides a more concise film. That said, I like the longer one as well and think it makes for an enjoyable experience. I suspect it’ll appeal more to the film’s biggest fans, though, and less enthusiastic viewers will probably prefer the shorter cut.
Note that the extended version doesn’t come as a seamless experience. According to the disc’s notes, the film’s original roadshow edition ran 202 minutes but much of that footage got lost when it was edited down to 163 minutes for general release. This version brings back as much material as the producers could find, but it occasionally uses stills and audio to reassemble some scenes.
This means inconsistency in terms of the extended cut’s visuals. I noticed color fluctuations, occasional loss of audio, specks, jumps, and flickering in addition to those stills. Heck, some foreign subtitles even pop up as part of the permanent image at one point!
These changes can become semi-jarring because the rest of the film looks so awesome, but I think it’s worth the effort. It’s a delight to be able to see the much longer cut of the film, so I can forgive the flaws; they’re not subtle but they don’t take me out of the story. Actually, I got used to the variations pretty quickly, so after a little while, I barely noticed them.
Alongside the extended cut, we find an audio commentary from film aficionados Mark Evanier, Michael Schlesinger and Paul Scrabo. All three sit together to discuss the project's roots and development,
cast and performances, story/character areas, different versions of the film, sets and locations, music and audio, cinematography, stunts, trivia and a few other domains.
Criterion's description of the participants simply as "aficionados" seems misleading, as I think it implies this will be a basic "fan commentary" chock full of praise for the movie. Sure, the guys clearly love Mad and they do speak highly of it, but they do much more than that. This becomes more like a track from film historians, as we learn a ton about the production's ins and outs. The piece moves well and delivers a great deal of useful material. I like this commentary a lot and think it serves the movie nicely.
Within Promotional Spots, we get a few components. Under “1963 Original Release”, we find six radio ads, four TV ads, the “original road show teaser” and the general release trailer. As noted in his four-minute, 20-second intro, comedian Stan Freberg worked on these promos, so they took a different slant than they otherwise might.
Indeed, the various ads seem much more creative than we might expect. Actually, the two trailers seem ordinary, but the radio and TV ads are a hoot. I especially like the TV promos because they include unique footage with many of the movie’s stars.
Within “1970 Re-Release”, we locate three radio ads and one trailer. Surprisingly, the radio clips don’t just reuse the 1963 Freberg elements, so they’re entertaining in their own right. The trailer isn’t bad but it’s still not as clever as the Freberg stuff from 1963.
The next few pieces come from the era in which the movie hit screens. Telescope offers a 1963 TV program aired in Canada. Across two parts, we get 50 minutes, 18 seconds of material. Part one includes press junkets, while part two concentrates on the film’s premiere. Both are interesting, though they can get a bit tedious after a while. Still, the producers have the good sense to spotlight Jonathan Winters, so he makes much of it entertaining.
During a 35-minute, eight-second 1963 Press Interview, we hear from director Stanley Kramer and actors Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Mickey Rooney. This provides an “open-ended interview”, which means it originally came without recorded questions; this allowed local TV reporters to pretend that they chatted with the participants. Don’t expect a lot of content here, as the piece revolves mostly around comedy, much of which comes from Winters again. While the piece lacks much real information, it offers another fun archival reel.
From 1974 comes Stanley Kramer’s Reunion with the Great Comedy Artists of Our Time. In this 35-minute, 46-second show, Kramer chats with Caesar, Winters and actor Buddy Hackett. The show discusses aspects of the World shoot and delivers a bit more information than its predecessors, but it still emphasizes comedy. As a twist, though, Hackett works the hardest to garner laughs; Winters still does some shtick but he seems subdued next to Hackett’s broad personality.
With 2000’s AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs, we find something more modern. The 11-minute, 10-second piece features World cast members Carl Reiner, Milton Berle, and Mickey Rooney as well as celebrity fans Janeane Garofolo, Whoopi Goldberg, David Alan Grier, Charles Grodin and Alan King. This tends toward an appreciation of the film, though the World veterans offer some decent notes about their experiences.
The Last 70mm Film Festival occupies 37 minutes, 38 seconds and focuses on a 2012 screening of World by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hosted by Billy Crystal, it offers a panel with script supervisor Marshall Schlom, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, Kramer’s widow Karen, and actors Barrie Chase, Stan Freberg, Marvin Kaplan, Carl Reiner, Mickey Rooney and Jonathan Winters. They discuss the project’s origins, casting, and various experiences. You probably won’t learn much here, but it’s enjoyable to see these folks together and this becomes an entertaining piece.
After this we locate a featurette entitled Sound and Vision. It fills 36 minutes, 28 seconds and gives us notes from visual effects expert Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt. As one would expect, they chat about the movie’s effects and its audio. One of the set’s meatier programs, this show offers a good examination of the related issues.
The Blu-ray ends with a five-minute, 19-second Restoration Demonstration. This shows/tells us the challenges that went into the creation of the Blu-ray. It gets technical, of course, but it offers an interesting view of the difficulties involved in the presentation.
Three additional discs give us DVD copies of all the Blu-ray content. That means both cuts of the film and all the bonus materials.
A booklet offers an essay from film critic Lou Lumenick, art and credits. We also get a location map that shows many of the spots used in the film and explains their significance. Both add value to the set.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World boasts an astonishing cast and actually manages to use them well. Though the wacky romp sputters on occasion, it usually delights and amuses. The Blu-ray delivers excellent visuals, very good audio and a nice set of bonus materials. Fans will feel exceedingly pleased by this terrific package.
To rate this film, visit the original review of IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD