Taxi Driver appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Every time I see the film, I expect it to look awful and then feel pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the visuals.
Sharpness came across well. Only a smidgen of softness emerged, and that reflected the photographic style. Overall, the movie appeared accurate and well-defined. Jagged edges and shimmering created no distractions, and I discerned no problems with edge enhancement. Source flaws also appeared absent. I noticed some natural grain but that was it, as the flick lacked specks, marks or other defects.
Driver went with a surprisingly lively palette, and the image made them look good. Even during challenging settings, the shots were pretty dynamic and full. Blacks seemed dense and deep, however, and shadows appeared reasonably clear and smooth. All in all, the movie presented a terrific transfer.
The DTS- HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Taxi Driver also did well for itself. Dialogue and effects were somewhat flat, but not horribly so, and not any more so than one would expect from a movie that's this old and this inexpensive. The score was surprisingly dynamic, as the music appeared pretty lively and tight.
As for the soundfield, it didn’t do much to expand its horizons. The music benefited the most, as the score showed nice stereo imaging throughout the flick. Effects broadened to the sides in a moderate way but didn’t do much. Nonetheless, this was a perfectly solid piece of audio for a movie from 1976, so it merited a “B+” given its age.
How do the picture and audio of this “Collector’s Edition” compare to the 2007 SE DVD? Both demonstrated fairly similar sound. The lossless DTS-HD mix was a little more robust, but the old Dolby Digital track was very good as well, so the pair seemed a lot alike.
Visuals showed the expected improvements. Sharpness appeared tighter and more concise, and the image came across as smoother as well. This was a simply excellent presentation that made the movie look much better than expected.
The Blu-ray includes the extras from the 2007 DVD along with some new features. We start with three separate audio commentaries. The first comes from screenwriter Paul Schrader, who provides a running, screen-specific affair. He talks about the project’s roots and why it needed to be set in New York, character subjects, various personal influences, themes and story, cast and performances, script specifics and actor improvisation, and a few other tidbits.
Schrader provides an inconsistent commentary. On one hand, he offers quite a few good insights and allows us to learn some useful information. Unfortunately, he goes silent far too often, so the track comes with a lot of dead air. I like the content but the slow spots make this a moderately frustrating piece.
For the second commentary, we hear from Professor Robert Kolker, who gives us a running, screen-specific piece. Though Kolker tells us a little about some of the cast and crew, he mostly concentrates on story, themes, and cinematic techniques.
That means the commentary digs into the film’s subtext pretty deeply. We get a good look at the characters and related issues as Kolker offers a literate and intelligent consideration of the movie. Even if you don’t always agree with his ideas, he remains thought provoking.
As an aside, I thought it was interesting that Schrader and Kolker interpret some scenes in different ways. For instance, during the scene when Travis calls Betsy and the camera eventually pans from him to an empty hall, the two interpret this differently.
The third commentary is new to Blu-ray but not new in any other sense. Recorded for the Criterion laserdisc, this track features director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader. Both sit separately for this edited piece, Dierdre O'Donoghue also acts as moderator. The track covers the film's roots and development, cinematography and visual choices, sets and locations, story/script areas, cast, characters and performances, music, editing, themes/interpretation, and influences.
Expect a whole lot of Marty and not so much Paul here. Scorsese does most of the speaking, and I'd guess we only hear Schrader about 10 to 15 percent of the time. Which is fine, especially since the Blu-ray already includes a separate Schrader track.
And it's also fine because the quality of this one is so good, even with the lack of balance. We hear some of the same information elsewhere, but the commentary covers a wide variety of appropriate topics and does so in an informative manner. This acts as a solid overview of the film.
One point of confusion: when was this recorded? The Blu-ray's credits claim it's from 1986, but that's clearly not accurate; Scorsese refers to 1988's Last Temptation of Christ in the past tense, alludes to
1989's Batman and calls GoodFellas his new movie.
However, I could've sworn that some references mentioned mid-80s movies as either current or upcoming as well. Perhaps the basic commentary was created in 1986 and Scorsese added material in 1990 for an updated edition. Whatever the case, it's clear that at least parts of the track come from the 1990-91 time frame.
Next comes the film’s Interactive Script to Screen. The 2007 DVD offered a similar feature, but this version gives it a Blu-ray spin. It shows the script as the movie plays, but some options allow you to alter the presentation. You can view the movie at 100 percent, 50 percent or 25 percent of the screen size. In addition, you can examine the script in its original order or altered to more closely follow the progress of the final film. I like the feature and think it’s a fun way to examine the script.
Most of the remaining components come in the form of featurettes. Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver runs 16 minutes, 53 seconds and sticks exclusively with comments from the director. He talks about how he came onto the project as well as what he tried to do with it. Scorsese also gets into influences, the nature of Hollywood at the time, and some film interpretation. As always, Scorsese presents a thoughtful look at his work. He doesn’t dig into many nuts and bolts of creating the flick, but he adds good insight to the mix.
Producing Taxi Driver goes for nine minutes, 53 seconds, and includes notes from Schrader and producer Michael Philips. We learn how Philips got involved with the film, problems getting it made, and other issues related to his work on it. Philips dominates and offers a tight little examination of the various subjects.
For the 21-minute and 42-second God’s Lonely Man, we hear from Schrader and Kolker. Schrader starts with a little background about his early life and how it influenced Taxi Driver. From there we go through the script’s creation and an interpretation of various elements. Inevitably, some of the information repeats from the commentaries, but we still find plenty of new thoughts in this intriguing piece.
Expect praise in Influence and Appreciation: Martin Scorsese Tribute. This 18-minute and 30-second piece features Schrader, Kolker, Philips, director of photography Michael Chapman, filmmakers Oliver Stone, and Roger Corman, and actor Robert De Niro. Although “Influence” includes some of the expected plaudits for Scorsese, it manages to become something more interesting than that. We get a good feel for the era and the relationships among Scorsese and the various participants. This makes “Influence” another useful little show.
Taxi Driver Stories fills out 22 minutes, 21 seconds. It includes remarks from NYC resident Steve Baldwin, executive director Committee for Taxi Safety David Pollack, New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s Bhairavi Desai, former NYC mayor Ed Koch, and 70s cabbies “Frank”, Johnny Marks, and Erhan Tuncel. They discuss what it’s like to drive a taxi, various related topics and a mix of experiences. They also connect their work to what we see in Taxi Driver.
Of course, the program occasionally favors the tawdry tales, but it doesn’t stick only with those. It gives us a good perspective on the world of the New York cabbie and covers a lot of different aspects of the job. The show creates an interesting examination of its topic.
Next comes a one hour, 10-minute and 50-second documentary called Making Taxi Driver. We hear from Scorsese, Schrader, Chapman, de Niro, special makeup artist Dick Smith, editor Tom Rolf, composer Elmer Bernstein, and actors Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, Harvey Keitel and Peter Boyle.
“Making” starts with the origins of the project and moves to Scorsese’s involvement, casting and characters, performance issues and improvisation. We also find notes about storyboarding, Scorsese’s approach to the film, shooting in New York, story and themes, visual effects, editing, the score, a variety of scene specifics, and the film’s aftermath/notoriety.
From start to finish, “Making” provides an excellent view of the film. It touches on virtually all the important components of the various processes and does so well. The documentary offers a very thorough overview of the film's creation and impact and entertains as it goes.
In Travis’ New York (6:15) and *Travis’ New York Locations (4:25), we take a look at the city spots featured in the film. In the first, we find notes from Chapman and Koch as they discuss the past and present of Times Square. It gives us a minor glimpse of the changes but isn’t particularly thorough.
“Locations” breaks into nine smaller pieces. We check out nine different spots from the film via splitscreen. On the left, we see the locations as shot in 1975, and on the right we view them today. Some have barely changed, while others display radical differences. Except for the final one – “Belmore Cafeteria” - no narration comes with this to offer additional information. Nonetheless, it serves to present a neat little “then and now” bit.
We leave the “Featurettes” area and then find an *Intro to Storyboards by Martin Scorsese. In this four-minute and 32-second clip, the director discusses why he likes storyboards. He offers nice insights into how he uses them in this tight piece.
After Scorsese’s intro, we find eight minutes and 21 seconds of Storyboard to Film Comparisons. These cover five scenes and use a split-screen format with the art on the left – and elsewhere as needed – and the movie on the right. The presentation works well to offer a dynamic look at the boards.
In addition to a Preview for Driver - not the theatrical trailer – we find some Galleries. This area includes “Bernard Herrmann Score” (2:22), “On Location” (2:50), “Publicity Materials” (1:43) and “Scorsese At Work” (2:46). They come as filmed collections of stills. “Score” is odd since it just presents close-ups of sheet music. The others present more standard photos and include quite a few interesting shots from behind the scenes.
Finally, the package includes 12 Photo Cards. These 4X6-inch images mix promo shots and images from the film as well as a reproduction of the movie poster. They look good and end the set on a positive note.
Dark and haunting, Taxi Driver provides a rich examination of a deeply troubled character. The movie paints a full picture of its subject and remains effective after 35 years. The Blu-ray presents excellent picture and extras as well as very good audio. The Blu-ray becomes the optimal version of this classic film.
To rate this film, visit the 2007 Collector's Edition review of TAXI DRIVER