Oliver! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of Oliver! looked pretty good, but some nagging issues caused distractions.
For the most part, sharpness seemed satisfying. Partially due to mild edge enhancement, wife shots could appear a little soft and tentative. Otherwise, the movie was generally crisp and well-defined. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws remained minor. Occasional specks and bits of debris appeared, but these failed to present real problems. Grain was a bigger issue; I didn’t think the grain was excessive, but it appeared a bit heavy at times.
Colors varied. Sometimes the hues looked warm and vibrant, but they could be a little heavy and murky. Skin tones came across the worst, as they seemed slightly ruddy. In general, the colors were fine; they just felt like they were amped up a wee bit too much. Blacks were dark and tight, though, and shadows worked quite well; despite the grain, low-light shots demonstrated nice definition. I wasn’t wild about the transfer, but I thought it seemed strong enough for a “B-“.
Similar thoughts greeted the mildly ambitious Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Oliver!. Audio quality was the weak link. Dialogue and effects sounded clean, but the music seemed tinny and less full. The music didn't appear terrible, but it definitely should have sounded more robust and dynamic. Effects also could be somewhat rinky-dink, but they weren’t as important to the mix, so I didn’t mind their trebly tones as much.
The front soundstage was nicely broad; music and some effects emanated from the right and left channels in a positive manner. The surrounds also got a fair amount of attention. Oliver! reserved the rears for occasional effects like rain, street scenes or tweeting birds as well as for vocal choruses during songs; no actual music other than massed vocals appeared to come out of the back speakers. I admit that I found the sound to be a bit disappointing. Still, while the audio wasn't great, it's definitely pretty good for a 40-year-old film.
How did the picture and audio of this 2008 “Columbia Best Pictures Collection” edition compare to those of the 1998 edition? The audio appeared similar for both. I thought the new release was a little louder, but overall fidelity and the soundfield remained similar.
Visuals differed, however. On the negative side, the 2008 transfer seemed grainier and suffered from slightly muddier colors. However, it boasted better definition, less edge enhancement, and significantly fewer source flaws. The 2008 disc wasn’t great, but it acted as a definite improvement over its decade-old predecessor.
A handful of new components accompany the movie. We start with a Dance and Sing-Along feature. This provides the traditional Karaoke presentation of lyrics on the bottom of the screen but adds an interesting twist: on the side, a dancer demonstrates the steps for each number. The feature accompanies “I’d Do Anything”, “Food Glorious Food!”, “Be Back Soon”. I have no idea how many viewers will want to dance along with the flick, but it’s kind of a clever component.
Three Quizzes come with varying levels of difficulty. These go from “Oliver’s Nice and Easy Quiz” to “Fagin’s Tricky Quiz” to “Bill Sikes’ Fiendishly Hard Quiz”. Is one actually tougher than the others? I don’t think so. I took all three without having seen the film in at least eight years, and I got identical 10 of 12 scores on all of them. They give you no reward for successful completion.
Next comes an Oliver! Interactive Map. It allows you to click on various parts of London and learn a little more about them via video clips. These provide interesting basics about the locations found in Oliver! and their use in the film.
Three featurettes complete the DVD. Charles Dickens: A Life goes for five minutes, 12 seconds and includes facts about the author. Actually, it simply presents a running video of a timeline. This shows dates and Dickens’ accomplishments in those years. It delivers rudimentary details in a tacky, cheap format.
For the final two featurettes, we concentrate on the movie’s lead actors. Meeting Oliver! goes for 14 minutes, three seconds, and looks at Mark Lester, while Meeting Fagin! runs 12 minutes, 44 seconds and concentrates on Ron Moody. Each one offers an interview with the respective actors. The performers talk about their casting in the flick and their experiences during the shoot. Both men give us many interesting and fun thoughts about their time on the film; you should definitely check out the interviews.
Does the 2008 release drop anything from the 1998 disc? Yup. It loses a short vintage featurette, a nice photo gallery, a trailer, and production notes. None of these materials were essential, but they were useful, so it comes as a disappointment they don’t reappear here.
If one were to write a short list of “Worst-Ever Oscar Best Picture Winners”, 1968’s Oliver! demands to land on it. Even when I try to account for my general dislike of musicals, I can’t find much here to appeal to the viewer. The DVD offers decent picture and audio as well as a few minor extras highlighted by some informative interviews with the lead actors.
As I write this in November 2008, this particular edition of Oliver! can be found only as part of “The Columbia Best Pictures Collection”, an 11-movie set that also includes It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take It With You, All the King’s Men, From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All Seasons, Kramer Vs. Kramer and Gandhi.
Because of that, Oliver! fans face a potential dilemma. The film comes with a moderately improved new transfer, but partisans will have to decide if they want the other movies as well; obviously no one will spend $135 just for one flick. The 2008 disc offers a step up in quality, at least, when compared to the original 1998 DVD.
Footnote: in addition to Oliver!, the “Columbia Best Pictures Collection” includes four other exclusive transfers. The versions of From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront, All the King’s Men and Kramer Vs. Kramer all appear here and nowhere else.
As I write this in January 2009, the 2006 transfers of It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take It With You may or may not be bound to “The Premiere Frank Capra Collection”; Columbia released remastered editions in December 2008. I expect those are the same as the “Premiere” editions, but I don’t know that for a fact. Kwai and Lawrence provide the same versions found in their 2008 Special Editions, while A Man For All Seasons and Gandhi come from 2007 SEs. At least this means the “Best Pictures Collection” never relies on transfers from the early 2000s or earlier; none of the set’s editions were produced before 2006.
To rate this film visit original review of OLIVER!