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page added: 11/17/10

Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits

The Sound of Music: 45th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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The Sound of Music: 45th Anniversary Edition
1965 (2010) - 20th Century Fox (Fox)
Released on Blu-ray on November 2nd, 2010
Limited Edition also available. Previously released on DVD
Blu-ray also available from


Film Rating: A+
Video: 20
Audio: 18.5
Extras: A+

The Sound of Music was not always the virtually universally loved film that it has now become. Upon initial release in 1965, critical reaction was positive on balance, but there were definitely non-disciples among the ranks. The film's Best Picture Academy Award was also not greeted with solid enthusiasm, with Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, and even non-nominated titles such as The Pawnbroker and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold having vocal adherents.

There are of course always going to be those who dislike musicals, and age is a factor as well. When you're a teenager or young 20-something male, the prospect of a young nun cavorting about the screen with a group of singing kids doesn't always seem to offer the appeal of something a little more testosterone-charged. Over the years, however, the film's incredible level of artistry has managed to transcend the objections, it seems. Perhaps it's a reflection on what passes for talent nowadays, particularly musical talent both in writing and performance, but a musical like The Sound of Music - particularly its film execution some 45 years ago - is now recognized for the sheer skill and professional execution that it exudes in all aspects.

The film is of course based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that debuted on Broadway in November 1959 and starred Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. It depicts the story of the Von Trapp family as it attempts to flee Austria just before the start of World War II. Central to the musical is a young postulate named Maria who leaves the abbey where she lives to become the governess to the seven children of the widowed Von Trapp, a retired Austrian naval officer. Von Trapp runs his family like he would the crew of one of his ships, but Maria gradually repairs the relationship between father and children and finds a relationship of her own developing with the handsome officer. For the film version, Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel were replaced by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Andrews is a luminous presence who brilliantly lights up the screen every time she's on it. Plummer is a good foil, providing a strong masculine counterpart as well as more than looking the part of the handsome prince (as it were). The children are all winningly cast and able veterans such as Richard Haydn, Eleanor Parker, Anna Lee, Peggy Wood, and Marni Nixon (finally allowed to sing for herself rather than dubbing someone else) all appear to good effect. The songs are of course now standards and few if any musicals have yielded so many - "The Sound of Music", "Maria", "My Favorite Things", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "Do, Re, Mi", "Edelweiss".

Director Robert Wise had already demonstrated his ability with musicals with 1961's West Side Story for which he won an Oscar. The Sound of Music effort was altogether a much more complicated, longer production requiring all Wise's skill to bring all the elements together. The songs are all carefully yet straightforwardly photographed in most instances yet also dazzlingly opened up when appropriate (such as in the opening "Sound of Music" number and the delightful "Do, Re, Mi"), always allowing the music to shine. Conversely, Wise defies convention when it comes to the love scenes between Andrews and Plummer, filming them dramatically in shadow and silhouette. Wise's greatest accomplishment, however, is his ability to maintain our attention. For the virtually three hours that is required to tell what is after all a fairly simple story, he judiciously handles the juxtaposition of drama and music that keeps us in thrall.

Prior to its current release on Blu-ray, The Sound of Music had appeared on DVD twice before - 2000's 2-disc Five Star Collection edition and 2005's 2-disc 40th Anniversary Edition. Both releases had healthy sets of supplements for their time, but the 2000 one was plagued by edge enhancement. The 2005 release was an improvement, doing away with most of the edge effects, but still looking a little soft. The new Blu-ray edition is a revelation. It's a 2.20:1 presentation derived from an 8K scan of a 65mm interpositive. The 8K scan was reduced to a 4K master that was then subjected to extensive digital restoration. The finished product exhibits absolutely no evidence of untoward digital tampering. The overall impression is of a product that has received loving attention to even the smallest detail. And detail is what we see more of in this image of The Sound of Music than we've ever seen before. The texture of grasses and flowers, the sparkle of light on the smallest drop water, the intricate patterns of clothing textures, and the realistic detail of facial features are all clearly reproduced on an image that's been spectacularly cleaned up. Colours are bright and accurately presented with a slight hint of a golden glow that's in accord with Robert Wise's expectations for the best presentation of the film. This does give a slight ruddiness to skin-tones at times. Most of the film looks very sharp indeed and there is undeniable depth to many of the scenes. Some sequences look somewhat softer than others due to filters that were used at times in the original filming. The bottom line, however, is that on a large screen, this Blu-ray image looks spectacular - probably better than it ever did in the theatre due to the vagaries of film projection. Congratulations indeed are due to Fox for its efforts.

We get a new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that, as one might expect, sounds better than anything we've had in the past. Obviously one is not going to be as blown away by the surrounds in such a reconstructed audio mix as one would be by a more recent film, but the effort has been a worthwhile one. The musical numbers have an added dynamicism and a greater sense of envelopment as a result. Meanwhile, across the fronts, the directional character of the mix is well developed and very evident in its matching to the source of dialogue, singing, and sound effects. Dialogue is clear and concise, and the music itself sounds more lush and better developed in both lower and higher registers than ever before. I did direct A/B comparisons between the Blu-ray audio and the 2005 DVD audio and there's no comparison. One hears precise sounds where before there was smearing and one experiences a sense of body to the music not previously evident. Also provided are an English 4.0 Dolby Surround track, and French and Spanish 5.1 lossy tracks. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.

The release's extensive suite of supplements is spread across two Blu-ray discs. On the same disc as the feature, there are the two audio commentaries (one by Robert Wise - the better of the two - and a second by Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews and others) that appeared on the 2005 DVD release. Additionally there's a Music Machine feature that allows one to skip directly to just the musical numbers and listen to them selectively or all together. Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration offers various picture-in-picture streams about several aspects of the film (production photos, song lyrics, location info, and trivia). With all turned on at once, it gets a little difficult to see the actual film, but there's certainly plenty of information there. On the second disc, there's a Musical Stages feature that, simplified, offers access to some two dozen featurettes on the film's stage background, film production, songs, and the film's legacy (about 90 minutes in total). A City of Song provides an interactive map of Salzburg which accesses information, pictures, and video clips for some 15-20 of the film's locations. A Vintage Programs section gives you a whole raft of documentaries and featurettes that appeared on the previous DVD releases. Notable inclusions are the 87-minute Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon, the 63-minute My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers; and the 96-minute Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of Movies. Rare Treasures includes a spoof involving Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, a segment from the Julie Andrews Hour, screen tests, various photo galleries, and the Julie Andrews intro for the 2005 DVD. Various publicity material (trailers, teasers) and a Fox Movietone newsreel sequence on the Academy Awards round out the second Blu-ray disc. There is also a third disc - a DVD of the film.

Fox's Blu-ray release of The Sound of Music is a superb package in all respects and is very highly recommended. If the track record is maintained, we can expect another release in five years for the 50th anniversary, but it's hard to see how this current one can be improved on.

Barrie Maxwell
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