Tuesday, 12 June 2012

“The Sting Collector’s Series” on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 1973 Film Now Fully Restored And Reissued In A ‘Limited Edition BLU RAY Book Pack’ As Part Of Universal’s 100th Anniversary Celebrations.



In April 2012 Universal Studios was 100 years old - and to celebrate that movie-making centenary - they've had 13 of their most-celebrated films fully restored for BLU RAY. But it doesn't stop there. As many as 80 other titles will be given US re-launches across the year each featuring distinctive "100th Anniversary" gatefold card-wrap packaging - and in some cases a host of new features. 1973's "The Sting" is one of the thirteen singled out for full restoration (see list below) - and like the other BLU RAYS in this series so far - is very tastefully done.

UK released Monday 11 June 2012 - "The Sting Collector's Series" comes in a gorgeous limited edition 40-page 'Book Pack' (Barcode 5050582893151). The outer hardback holder has an awkward card wrapped around it which is attached at the front with a flimsy circular sticker - not the most eloquent of objects it has to be said and it contains info that isn't on the back sleeve of the book pack - so you don't want to lose it. It's hard to keep in place without damage - so I put the whole shebang in a plastic sleeve for protection. It's also worth noting that most of the AMERICAN issues are 'two-disc' sets containing the BLU RAY, the DVD and also means to obtain a Digital Copy via download. It appears that the UK issues will contain ONLY the BLU RAY in the Book Pack. However, if you want say "Out Of Africa" or "Buck Privates" (which have yet to be given UK releases) - then the US issues will do because their non-region coding will allow them play in all machines.

PICTURE QUALITY:
Digitally remastered and Fully Restored from Original Film Elements - Universal are reputed to have stumped-up over $300,000 for the restoration - and the results are wonderful for about to 90 to 95% of the time. The opening four minutes will worry fans because the definition is slightly hazy - but once past that - there is a steady stream of moments that are truly breathtaking throughout the duration. Filmed largely on sets on the Universal lot - the quality lighting is consistent throughout even in those difficult and darkly lit night sequences. There is (it has to be said) slight blocking and grain at some points - but mostly you're enjoying the overall sparkle of the print too much to notice.

And because it's uber clean - it accentuates so much. We finally get to see the immaculate costumes and suits of the legendary EDITH HEAD (ties, shirts, hats, overcoats). Then there's the awesome sparkle of Paul Newman's famous blue eyes and Robert Redford looking so handsome in every shot that you just want to hit him! The clarity continues right through the plot cards to the closing credits - which are so clean it could have been done yesterday. The transfer is not all perfect by any means - but at times - this is as beautiful and as filmic as I've ever seen. The audio is crisp and clear too.

FILM ITSELF:
You also forget why it received 10 Oscar nominations and won seven - including Best Picture. Everything about "The Sting" works - the charisma of the three principal leads - Paul Newman as Henry Gondorff the master of the 'big con', Robert Redford as the reckless and wild small-time hustler Johnny Hooker and Robert Shaw as the vicious and egotistical Chicago mobster Doyle Lonnegan. Then there's the fantastic ensemble cast - Charles Durning as the corrupt Lt. Snyder, Eileen Brennan as the madam Billie who runs a bordello over an amusement arcade and Harold Gould as the dapper Kid Twist who hires the crew that will bring down Lonnegan on a racetrack scam (he wants the crew to be "The Quill..." which is Grifter-speak for the best). Aiding Gondorff in this endeavour is Jack Kehoe as Eric The Kid - a small-time Grifter who wants revenge for a friend's death at the hands of the mobster Donegan, Ray Walston as J.J. Singleton who helps in the poker game scam and reads out the wire in the bogus betting parlour, John Heffernan who quits his dreary bank job in a heartbeat to join Gondorff's crew as a teller and Dana Elcar as the supposed FBI agent. You may even recognize the dulcet tones of Robert Earl Jones as Harvey the Grifter at the beginning of the movie who gets killed - his son is James Earl Jones - the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars. The other big ingredient of course is the superlative and evocative film score by Marvin Hamlisch that brilliantly reintroduced Scott Joplin's ragtime music to the world.  

BOOKLET:
The 40-page booklet is pure eye candy as you can imagine. It opens with a 2-page appreciation by film-critic and historian Leonard Maltin, a pictorial actor/character "The Players" list, 2-page spreads on Newman, Redford, Shaw and George Roy Hill, reproductions of the script, Edith Head's design drawings, Advert campaigns, a piece on the composer Marvin Hamlisch and the music, Oscar nominations, telegrams of congratulations etc. Lovely to look at...

EXTRAS:
Having directed Redford and Newman in "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" - GEORGE ROY HILL was the Director of choice for "The Sting". His almost army-like style is discussed in the pleasingly long and detailed principal extra "The Art Of The Sting" which is divided into 3-parts. He was clearly admired by the actors who trusted his vision (he won the Oscar for Best Director) - it's just such a shame there's no interview with him to illuminate the proceedings. It's also clear that both Redford and Newman who mention each other in the present tense were filmed just prior to Newman's sad passing in 2010. Charles Durning and newcomer Dimitra Arliss give telling and superb recollections of the shoot (how Shaw got his limp) - and both speak highly of the three principals - and the sheer 'fun' it was making the film. They also quite rightly keep referring to David Ward's almost 'perfect' script - which he'd worked on for a whole year. 

To sum up - I've loved re-watching this timeless caper movie in such top-notch quality. And it's heartening to see Universal Studios finally throw some proper money at the preservation of their movie legacy - and be proud about doing so too. I'm collecting the whole series - and live in hope that other studios respect their past in the same glorious way.

In 2013 "The Sting" will be 40 years old and has (not surprisingly) stood the test of time.
This 2012 BLU RAY is a lovely reissue of it - and for fans of this glorious Americana piece - a must buy.

BLU RAY Specifications:
EXTRAS:
1. The Art Of The Sting - A 3-Part Documentary. Features interviews with Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Dimitra Arliss, Marvin Hamlisch (Music) and David S Ward (Script) (55 minutes)
2. 100 Years Of Universal: Restoring The Classics. A look at the intricate process of fixing the fading negatives (scratches, tears, colour loss, grain) and audio (overbearing hiss) by the experts involved (10 minutes)
3. 100 Years Of Universal: The 70's. A look at the iconic films and moviemakers of that time - Spielberg, Landis etc (11 minutes)
4. 100 Years Of Universal: The Lot. A behind-the-scenes look at what was done on the famous Universal Studios lot (10 minutes)
5. Theatrical Trailer

VIDEO: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 1.85:1
AUDIO: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French, Italian, German, Spanish DTS Mono 2.0 and Japanese DTS 5.1
SUBTITLES: English SDH, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Traditional Mandarin




PS: The 13 Restored Titles in this Limited Edition Book Pack 'Collector's Series' are:

1. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
Released 13 Feb 2012 in the UK. Restored, Remastered and comes in a beautiful 40-page Book Pack. SEE DETAILED REVIEW.

2. The Birds (1963)
Release date to be advised...
NOTE: the UK 23 April 2012 'DVD' with Universal 100th Anniversary packaging does NOT contain a restored print - it will be in the BLU RAY book pack later in the year.

3. (Abbott And Costello in) Buck Privates (1941)
Released 17 April 2012 in the USA (will play on UK machines). A 2-disc Book Pack with Blu Ray, DVD and Digital Copy. It's fully restored and digitally remastered.

4. Dracula (1931)
Release date to be advised. Will contain both Spanish versions. NOTE: the UK 23 April 2012 `DVD' with Universal 100th Anniversary packaging does NOT contain a restored print - it will be in the BLU RAY book pack later in the year.

5. E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Release date to be advised...

6. Frankenstein (1931)
Release date to be advised...

7. The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)
Release date to be advised...

8. Jaws (1975)
Released August 2012 in the USA/September 2012 in the UK. BLU RAY Book Pack. Fully restored print with Spielberg's involvement - new extras.

9. Out Of Africa (1985)
Released 6 March 2012 in the USA (will play on UK machines).
Early reports say the BLU RAY is 'beautifully restored' - no UK release as yet. 

10. Pillow Talk (1959)
7 May 2012 UK release. BLU RAY in a 48-page hardback Book Pack. Fully restored print and remastered sound. SEE DETAILED REVIEW.

11. Schindler's List  (1993)
Release date to be advised...

12. The Sting (1973)
Released 11 June 2012 in the UK. BLU RAY in a 40-page Book Pack. Fully Restored Print/Remastered Audio.
NOTE: there's an American 'card-wrap' version of this also - so check which issue you're buying.
The card wrap is B007N31ZLA. The 'Book Pack Collector's Series' is B007UOWM6E (SEE DETAILED REVIEW).

13.  To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Released 10 January 2012. BLU RAY with 44-page Book Pack. SEE DETAILED REVIEW.

PPS: For a list of the 60 or so titles in the "100th Anniversary" series to date (June 2012) see the 'comment' section attached to this review

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