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PARAMOUNT

MOVIE INFO

Director:
William A. Wellman
Cast:
Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, Richard Arlen, Jobyna Ralston, El Brendel, Richard Tucker, Gary Cooper
Writing Credits:
John Monk Saunders (story), Hope Loring, Louis D. Lighton, Julian Johnson (titles)

Tagline:
The war in the air from both sides of the lines.

Synopsis:
Director William A. Wellman’s masterpiece is the first film to win the Academy Award® for Best Picture. Featuring a meticulous restoration and a newly recorded soundtrack based on the original score, Wings comes to Blu-ray for the very first time. This timeless story of love and loss follows two men who go to war and the girl they leave behind. Popular Twenties “It” girl Clara Bow stars in this unforgettable World War I epic alongside Richard Arlen, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and the legendary Gary Cooper in a cameo appearance. The aerial battle sequences still rank among the best in motion picture history.

Box Office:
Budget
$2 million.
Opening Weekend

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles:
Portuguese
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Portuguese

Runtime: 144 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 1/24/2012

Bonus:
• “Grandeur in the Sky” Featurette
• “Restoring the Power and Beauty of Wings” Featurette
• “Dogfight!” Featurette


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Wings [Blu-Ray] (1927)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 23, 2012)

Back after I’d worked on this site for about a year or so, I decided it’d be fun to generate a special page devoted solely to Oscar Best Picture-winning films. Because I don’t remember when we first posted this page, I can’t say how populated it was, but over time, we slowly filled it out and made it nearly complete – or as complete as it could be given that every year adds a new movie to the list.

For quite some time, two missing titles have marred the page: 1927’s Wings and 1933’s Cavalcade. The potential opportunity to review Cavalcade occurred in late 2010 when Fox put out a massive – and expensive – “75th Anniversary” package. To the surprise of no one, they didn’t send out review copies, so I didn’t get the chance to check out Cavalcade - and more than a year later, Fox still stubbornly refuses to make the movie available on its own.

Well, at least Cavalcade now stands as the only empty slot on the page, for Wings - the first-ever Best Picture winner – has finally emerged on a shiny little disc! Though technically, Wings was a co-winner that year, as the Academy didn’t offer a clear-cut “Best Picture” award like they do now. That wouldn’t occur until the second ceremony, when 1929’s The Broadway Melody won the prize.

Instead, the first Oscars delivered two similar awards. Wings won “Best Picture, Production”, while Sunrise nabbed the trophy for “Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production”. What’s the difference? I have no idea, and it seems that most people simplify the situation to regard Wings as the actual “Best Picture” winner – heck, the Blu-ray’s case calls it the “first Academy Award Winner Best Picture” - but to be fair, both movies should probably deserve consideration for the honor.

In any case, I’m glad to finally post a review of Wings. Set in 1917, we meet a handful of characters. Mary Preston (Clara Bow) loves Jack Powell (Charles Rogers), but he barely notices the wide-eyed “girl next door”. Instead, he moons over the more exotic Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), who in turn focuses all her attention on David Armstrong (Richard Arlen). Ain’t love complicated?

Outside matters put a snarl in all these shenanigans, as the US enters World War I and both David and Jack head off to the military, where they train to be pilots. Due to their mutual affection for Sylvia, they enter the situation as rivals, but they eventually develop respect for each other and turn into pals. We follow their paths through the war and also how their relationships with the various ladies develop.

When I review older movies, I do my best to view them from the mindset of their era. I put limits on this in one way: I still want to connote whether or not the film boasts any modern entertainment value, as a flick that might’ve been great for its day could be a total dud now.

But I think it’s most fair to judge movies based on how well they match up with other efforts from their time period. The farther back we go, however, the more difficult this becomes. At 44, I’m approaching “old fogey” status, but I can only recall the cinematic landscape as far back as the mid-1970s. Anything else I need to view based on experiences with other films, and the older they are, the tougher I find it to put myself in those particular shoes.

This turns into a more prominent problem for films or the silent era. That’s partly because I simply haven’t seen as many movies from that period; I’d estimate I’ve probably watched 20-25 flicks “pre-talkies”, which gives me 20-25 more than the average person but still means I’m not nearly as experienced with them as I’d like.

Based on my general preconceptions of silent films, I believe Wings holds up well. Perhaps I recall incorrectly, but I thought I’d heard negative comments about it over the years, indications that it wasn’t very good, even when viewed through “apples/apples” comparisons with other films of the era.

Do I think Wings matches up with the best silent flicks? No. It lacks the artistry of Chaplin or Griffith or even Sunrise; while I thought the latter was somewhat dull, it delivered a strong sense of visuals that still impresses many decades later. Sunrise feels like an actual artistic statement, while Wings does little more than entertain.

But it does entertain, and given the clunky feel that comes with so many silent movies, I regard it as a minor miracle that Wings seems as fresh and fun as it does. While Sunrise offered a forerunner to art house fare, Wings heralds the coming of the “popcorn flick”. I won’t claim that the film has no greater ambition, but if it does, it subsumes those desires under its action and melodrama.

The battle sequences work the best, and they remain quite strong even within the constraints of the era. Actually, our knowledge of the primitive nature of filmmaking circa 1927 makes the depiction of aerial warfare all the more impressive. The various dogfight shots seem convincing and exciting; on their own, they make this an enjoyable movie.

As for the melodrama, it fares less well, but it works better than expected given the styles of the era. The characters are all pretty likable and the actors don’t ham it up; they seem surprisingly restrained, actually, when one thinks of how broad and over the top so many silent performances were. The character drama never becomes terribly engaging, but it keeps us with it, at least, despite the film’s occasional missteps like a long, silly scene with a drunken Jack.

It all comes back to the action, though, and the movie’s popcorn elements make it entertaining. While I can’t claim Wings compares with the best war films of the last 85 years, it holds its own and turns into a pretty likable flick.

Footnote: look for Gary Cooper in a brief appearance as a doomed pilot.


The Disc Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus C

Wings appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. As detailed elsewhere on this disc, the years hadn’t been kind to Wings, but you wouldn’t know it based on this borderline spectacular presentation.

Normally I don’t award “A”-level grades to anything that’s not virtually timeless in terms of visuals, and I can’t claim that’s the case here. Wings did look like a movie from the 1920s, and it showed its age at times.

But just barely, as the image was radically superior to anything I expected. Sharpness had uneven elements and could be slightly soft at times. Nonetheless, overall definition was quite good, as even the occasional instances in which the movie was a bit fuzzy didn’t cause real distractions. Clarity held up nicely during most of the flick, as even the wide aerial shots looked pretty accurate and concise.

I noticed no signs of jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes were absent. Given all of the work required to make Wings watchable, I wouldn’t be surprised if various forms of processing were used, but they don’t seem apparent in a negative way. The film lacked any print flaws outside of maybe the occasional small speck, but it still featured a good layer of grain – not as heavy as one would expect for an 85-year-old movie, but enough to remind us that this was a film.

Wings went with a monochromatic palette, though the nature of that “one color” varied. Much of the flick opted for a sepia tint, but some shots gave us a more standard black and white feel. Aerial fights added a touch of orange via flames and gunfire as well. These tones seemed accurate for what they intended to represent.

Blacks appeared reasonably tight and dense, and low-light shots were pretty clear. Some opacity came with the latter, but not to a substantial degree, so the shadows remained clear and viewable. The sepia shots were the most attractive; actual black and white elements tended to be a little uglier, though still more than acceptable.

Given what I said earlier, I did feel a little reluctant to slap an “A” on this transfer, as it clearly didn’t offer an objectively excellent visual presentation. However, sometimes I do need to grade on a curve more than others, and this was one of those instances. Wings so greatly exceeded my expectations that I felt it deserved the high praise that comes with an “A” rating.

In terms of audio, Wings delivered two soundtracks: one “traditional”, one modern. The latter provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that gave the movie a different feel than it would’ve had in 1927 via the inclusion of effects and an orchestral score. The music dominated and focused on the forward channels, which offered good stereo presence.

An effects track created by Oscar-winner Ben Burtt opened up the movie’s action sequences. In these, we got planes and other vehicles as well as gunfire and explosions. A few more mundane audio elements also appeared, but Burtt’s work focused largely on the military moments, and iit did so pretty well. While the track didn’t go nuts, it featured smooth movement around the channels and a positive overall level of involvement.

Sound quality was as good as one would expect of a brand-new recording. Music was bright and peppy, while effects sounded concise and dynamic. Again, Burtt didn’t make this an action spectacular to suit a modern film, so the effects didn’t blast us like they might if he’d gone whole hog, but they sounded clear and accurate.

As for the alternate soundtrack, it gave us a Dolby Digital Stereo mix that focused solely on music. This brought us a pipe organ performance that presumably would approximate a score that would’ve accompanied most theatrical exhibitions of Wings. (As we learn in the supplements, the 5.1 track’s score adapted orchestral work that played for some screenings of the film, but I suspect most people saw it with a simpler organ player.) It filled the front channels well and also showed nice vivacity and life; the track reproduced the music in a warm, rich fashion, so it was an appealing presentation.

Did I have a preference for one track over the other? Yeah – I thought the stereo pipe organ score worked better because it delivered audio that seemed more appropriate for the film; it offered the sort of music that would’ve come along with the movie back in 1927. Still, the 5.1 track provided a fun alternative, and I thought it worked fine in its own right, so I’m glad it’s here as an option.

Only a few extras pop up here, which comes as a disappointment given the film’s historical value. Paramount couldn’t take the time to at least line up a film historian for a commentary? Boo!

Whining aside, here’s what we find. Grandeur in the Sky runs 35 minutes, 56 seconds and includes notes from film historians James V. D’Arc and Frank Thompson, Paramount Pictures VP of Archives Andrea Kalas, director’s son William Wellman, Jr., Air Force Personnel Center historian Rudy Purificato, Paramount producer AC Lyles, author Katherine Orrison, Fort Sam Houston director John Manguso, Academy Film Archive film preservationist Brian Meacham, Academy Film Archive director Michael Pogorzelski, and sound designer Ben Burtt. “Sky” traces the film’s financing and path to the screen, cooperation from the US military, sets and locations, cast and crew, stunts and shooting aerial sequences, thoughts about director William Wellman and the movie’s release/reception/legacy.

While I remain disappointed that the Blu-ray doesn’t include a commentary, “Sky” manages to cover the relevant subjects pretty well. It touches on a good array of subjects and does so in reasonably positive way. It’s not the most thorough show but it’s a solid overview.

Restoring the Power and Beauty of Wings lasts 14 minutes, 21 seconds and provides info from Kalas, Pogorzelski, Meacham, Burtt, Orrison, Lyles, Wellman, Technicolor executive director Tom Burton, pianist Frederick Hodges, arranger/orchestrator Dominik Hauser, photographer Philip Makanna, and sound designer Dustin Cawood. As implied by the title, this piece looks at the film’s restoration. It avoids much of the self-congratulation that mars featurettes like this and provides an interesting examination of the challenges – and solutions – that came with this movie.

Finally, Dogfight! goes for 12 minutes, 54 seconds and features airshow historian James Hare, Old Rhineback Aerodrome Air Shows president Hugh Schoelzel, Spad pilot Chris Bulko, and Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome pilot Bill King. They talk about the state of aviation circa World War I and tell us about planes, innovations and developments. We get a nice take on the subject and learn a lot here.

As I’ve watched 83 Best Picture-winning films, I’ve suffered through some that didn’t hold up well after however many years. I expected 1927’s Wings to be as dated as The Broadway Melody and Cimarron but found it to be surprisingly enjoyable; while it shows its age, it still delivers a fun popcorn flick. The Blu-ray boasts stunning picture quality as well as very good audio and a handful of informative supplements. I’m glad to finally have Wings on Blu-ray, and this release brings it home in spectacular fashion.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main