Legends of the Fall appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This package touted “completely remastered video”, and it did look like a slightly different transfer than the prior DVDs. Whether it improved on those was a different matter.
Sharpness usually looked quite crisp and well defined throughout the film. A little fuzziness crept into some wide shots, but most of them seemed clear and distinctive. Jagged edges and moiré effects presented no problems, and I detected only minor signs of edge enhancement.
Fall offered a natural palette, and these hues mostly seemed solid. At times I thought they ran a bit warm and appeared excessively saturated. Skin tones also could come across as somewhat pinkish. Usually colors were vivid and dynamic, though. Black levels appeared similarly deep and detailed, and the contrast looked clean and vivid. Shadow detail came across well; low-light scenes were appropriately dark but they lacked any excessive heaviness or thickness.
Print flaws were minor. I saw a few specks and thought grain was a little heavier than I expected. Otherwise the movie looked clean, so I had few complaints in that department.
How did this image compare with what I saw on the prior discs? In the positive category, it was cleaner, as it omitted some of the source defects that marred the earlier releases. Unfortunately, it seemed a little softer and demonstrated less precise colors. This leaves the comparisons as a wash. Both the earlier discs and this one have many positives and a few negatives, all of which end up with the same “B+”. Which one will you prefer? That depends on whether you’re better able to tolerate print flaws or slightly murky imaging.
The film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack provided a very solid affair that was identical to the audio from the earlier releases. The soundfield of Fall seemed nicely well defined and encompassing. Throughout much of the film, the audio provided a terrifically broad and engaging presence that created a wonderful sense of interactivity. This occurred during both quiet and loud scenes. In the latter category we find many shots of the idyllic panoramas; these presented audio that gently but clearly reinforced the images, and the ambiance brought the visuals to life.
For demonstration material, however, you'll have to consult some of the louder scenes. The first time I started to think the audio for Fall might be something special occurred during the first "bear attack". Not only was the sound bold and convincing, but the spatial placement appeared very precise; the way the grizzly entered and moved across the speakers worked well. And when I got to the World War I battle scenes, I thought the Kaiser was about to enter through my window! The activity level ratcheted up a notch and the frantic energy of the film came across broadly at that time. The shells and bullets flew fast and furious and really offered a solid image of the warfare.
But active soundfields on their own aren't enough; it's important that the quality of the audio seem strong, and Fall proved itself a winner in this category as well. Dialogue always appeared natural and distinct, without any signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. I found the speech to sound quite warm and clear. Music seemed bright and crisp, and the score offered positive dynamic range as well; the instrumentation appeared well defined and the music was clean and bold.
Best of all were the effects, which really added life to the mix. At all times, these various sounds seemed clean and realistic and they were completely believable and accurate. The clarity was greatly aided by the low end; while the bass of Fall didn't match up with the DTS edition of The Haunting - one of the all-time champs in that department - it worked well. All low frequencies appeared taut and deep and they provided vividness to the presentation. Again, that first bear attack signaled the bass yet to come, and the battles brought home the depth of the production. All in all, I found the soundtracks of Legends of the Fall to provide a terrific experience.
The supplements of Fall duplicate those from the 2000 special edition. We get two audio commentaries. The first comes from director Ed Zwick and actor Brad Pitt, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. They provide a generally engaging and interesting affair. The two seem to like each other and they display a solid sense of camaraderie throughout the track. Zwick and Pitt offer a nice look at the general making of the picture as they relate a series of anecdotes. We learn a lot about sets and locations, the work of the actors, story issues and changes, production design, and other concerns during the shoot. We even get information about the times that Pitt and Zwick fought on the set. Pitt has appeared on a few different commentaries, and his sense of frankness always is appreciated, though I was hoping he'd rag on Fall more than he does, which is almost not at all.
Although their discussion couldn't make me like the movie, I did understand what they tried to do better, and their comments gave me a little more respect for the film. Granted, that doesn't say much, but when one considers how much I disliked Fall, I suppose it says something. The track suffers from too many empty spots, but for the most part, it provides a pretty engaging and interesting discussion of the film.
The second track offers remarks from production designer Lily Kilvert and cinematographer John Toll. They also offer a running, screen-specific piece during which they chat together. Unsurprisingly, these two mainly stick to some of the technical details about the film, especially as they relate to the visual appearance of Fall.
Since the movie’s strengths lie in its lush photography and wonderful costumes and sets, Kilvert and Toll give us a lot of pretty useful information. For the most part, they relate the nuts and bolts of their work on the film, plus they also discuss what they attempted to do through their efforts. For example, we hear a fair amount about the moods and attitudes they wanted to convey. I didn't find the commentary to be fascinating, but it provided a pretty good look at some more technical aspects of making Fall, particularly through the way they discuss some concerns they experienced that would never occur to most of us. For example, they perseverate about a too-clean car.
A third audio feature also can be found on this DVD. We get James Horner's score presented as an isolated track. The music appears in Dolby Digital 5.0 sound; no, I don't know why it doesn't include the LFE track – perhaps the film only used the ".1" channel for effects. Anyway, the isolated score can be screened through a “Highlights" menu.
Two brief video programs appear. The Production Design Featurette lasts for four minutes and 40 seconds and it showed a variety of shots of film sets, some movie clips, plus a few historical photos. The visuals are accompanied by remarks from Kilvert and Zwick; the production designer dominates the discussion. Much of the material was already covered in her audio commentary with Toll, but this piece offers a brief but useful summary of her work on the film.
The second program is an Original Featurette. It runs for five minutes and 55 seconds and is nothing more than a glorified trailer. The promotional puff-piece provides a bunch of film clips and some interview snippets with the principals. It's worth a look if you really like the movie, but for the most part it's a dull featurette.
Three deleted scenes appear on the DVD. These run between 80 and 150 second for a total of five minutes and 10 seconds of clips. You can watch these with or without optional commentary from Zwick. Since we hear about these snippets during the audio commentaries, it was good to see the scenes. None of them are anything special, but their presence is appreciated.
A few other DVD staples finish off Fall. We get Talent Files for five of the actors (Pitt, Hopkins, Quinn, Ormond and Thomas) plus director Zwick, production designer Kilvert and director of photography Toll. Most Columbia DVDs provide biographies that are enormously basic and pretty much useless, and these are no exception; we find some rudimentary details but nothing very interesting. Note that they’ve been updated since the earlier DVD, so we get information about the participants’ work after 2000.
Finally, the DVD includes Previews for Pitt's films A River Runs Through It and Seven Years In Tibet plus “The Best of WWII Movies” and “Classic Westerns”. Oddly, it loses two Fall trailers available on the prior special edition release.
For the only element exclusive to this 2005 “Deluxe Edition”, we get a 24-page Movie Scrapbook. This includes an introduction from author Jim Harrison along with an essay about him. We find biographical notes about Pitt, Quinn, Hopkins, Ormond, Thomas, Zwick, Toll, producer Marshall Herskovitz, and actors Karina Lombard and Gordon Tootoosis. It also features a few photos and a look at the original movie poster. It adds up to a lackluster booklet.
Legends of the Fall provides a stellar example of how great DVDs can be except for one fatal flaw: the genuinely terrible movie found on the platter. I've seen less-appealing films in my life, but I still found Fall to be absurdly silly and artificially grand. It tries very hard to offer a romantic and epic tale but fails miserably. The DVD, on the other hand, is a success. Both picture and sound seem good, and the extras are also pretty strong.
Obviously I won’t recommend this film to those without a pre-existing fondness for it. For those folks, recommendations become tough. The Deluxe Edition ties for the best version of the film, as it’s equivalent to the special edition from 2000. It uses a different transfer, but neither seems superior to the other. Audio and extras remain similar, so I’d say buy the one that’s cheaper. Since the SE has a list price of around $15 and the DE retails for five dollars more, it looks like the SE is the way to go.
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