The Magnificent Ambersons
French DVD Review
With Warner Bros. having little interest in releasing any of their RKO holdings beyond a couple high profile titles (Citizen Kane, King Kong), those who wish copies of films like The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD will have to find other options to hold themsleves over until that far off day when Warner gets its act together. Ambersons has been released in at least four foreign editions; three are from Europe, and one from Japan. The Spanish edition has been reported as being very poor, and the version to get for the time being is the French edition, which comes with some notable extras.
Firstly, let's mention the packaging. Like the French edition of Kane from the same makers, this disc comes packaged in an oversize box (see left), the top of which comes off to reveal a booklet and the DVD, which is kept within a paper foldout case, similar to some compact discs. Not the sturdiest piece of material here. The booklet is printed on slick paper and is illustrated, but doesn't have an abundance of worthwhile information in it. Packaging like this is much more popular outside the US, and like it or not, it adds some uniqueness to a release, even if it doesn't quite fit on your shelf too well.
Now, on to the disc itself. The verdict picture-wise is that it looks alright; nothing nearly as spectacular as the Kane restoration, but solid enough, and without major flaws. See the screen captures below for a look at the film. Viewers have a multitude of audio options for viewing the film: English and French mono, and English and French Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Four separate tracks, only one of which was really necessary. The French track I sampled appears to use different music than the original score. French subtitles are obviously present as well, but can be turned on and off. I sampled the English 5.1 track, and I can't say it did much for me; considering that this was a mono film and created as such, I don't quite think trying to somehow cobble together a surround sound track is such a good idea, but that's me.
Extras? Here we have some interesting stuff. The most interesting is excerpts from This is Orson Welles. Now, before you say "they cheaped out on Lady from Shanghai and did this," let me mention that while the excerpts (which all relate to Ambersons, of course) include material from the tapes and book, it also includes never before released material as well! We can now hear Welles discuss how Dolores Costello was mentally vacant much of the time, and how Stanley Cortez behaved on set. Some of this falls into the nature of gossiping, but it's fascinating nonethless to actually hear it. Fifty-two total minutes from the tapes are presented, and the movie plays while the tapes play.
A rough-looking copy of the trailer is included, in which you can see about 2 seconds of the lost boardinghouse finale (see capture below) and interviews with critics Jean Douchet and Bill Krohn (both in French, no English subs) are also included. If you speak French, more power to you.
All in all, a good release of the film that will do until we hopefully get a better one from Warner, using original materials and hopefully also providing extras from the wealth of materials that exist for this film. Criterion did an excellent job on their CAV laserdisc set, and the DVD format needs a similarly great edition of Ambersons. One last note: as this disc is from Europe, it is in the PAL video format, and coded for region 2. This means that regular North American DVD players will not play it, but there are ways around this for those so inclined. Check on the message board here, on any number of DVD sites for more info on region-free DVD player information.