This Week’s DVD Vault: Audio Visual
Welcome once again to a fabulous new edition of the DVD Vault. This week’s films share the common thread of having audio components that exist hand in hand with their visuals.
Since the beginning of cinema history, movies have been accompanied by sound. At first it was just live music played along with silent films, but it would only be a matter of time until technology caught up with filmmakers’ dreams and allowed for sound to come from the movie itself.
‘The Jazz Singer,’ released in 1927, was the first motion picture to feature synchronized sound and audible dialogue including the now- immortal line ‘You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.’ And indeed we hadn’t.
The DVD format has many advances built into it, and one of the foremost is its capacity to play back several varieties of high-quality sound. So sit back and crank it up, because these discs are guaranteed to give your ears one hell of a ride.
Walt Disney was no stranger to innovation in his animated films. ‘Snow White’ proved that feature-length animation was possible, and ‘Pinocchio’ showed that the medium was capable of true artistry, but ‘Fantasia’ was Disney’s biggest early gamble. It has to be remembered that Disney paired sound with animation for the first time in ‘Steamboat Willie,’ the 1928 debut of Mickey Mouse, so he was no stranger to the appeal of matching sound to hand-drawn art.
But ‘Fantasia’ was different. This wasn’t going to be the sort of family-friendly, musical theater fare that characterized previous Disney efforts. This was to be a showcase of vivid color and the then-new process of stereo sound, and it was designed to impress. The amazing part is that it succeeds on every level and still stands as a fantastic bit of artistry.
Though it can be hard to find for purchase, as part of Disney’s routine of releasing titles on DVD for a short time only, ‘Fantasia’ can be readily found in a spiffy 60th Anniversary Special Edition for rental. Definitely check it out.
And, yes, it is true that the shortest segment of ‘Fantasia’ is longer than the longest segment of ‘Fantasia 2000,’ which I find as good an argument as any for the shrinking of attention spans.
Fast forward 31 years (the quick version of movie history for those with short attention spans). A promising film school graduate named George Lucas was given some money by friend and colleague Francis Ford Coppola to reshoot his student film ‘Electronic Labyrinth THX-1138:4EB’ as a full-length feature.
Lucas set to work with Walter Murch to craft the new film. They were both writers and editors and, together with composer Lalo Schifrin, they ultimately created a film so dependent on sound that it sometimes goes minutes at a time with no dialogue. Every last sound, from the softest background whisper to the most overbearing government propaganda is precisely crafted to add to the story and propel it along in Lucas’ first fully-realized future world (and we all know what the second one was, right?).
It should go without saying, since ‘THX-1138’ is the only film so far to lend its name to a sound system (and, to be fair, an image quality standard to boot), that the soundtrack will blow you away. It is a boldly experimental film even by today’s standards, and the new two-disc DVD is fully loaded with gems that include a typically dry but fascinating commentary by Lucas and ‘Bald,’ a film shot in early production that features cast members shaving their heads on city streets. Pick this up, unplug your consciousness for a few hours and enjoy the ride.
In space no one can hear you scream, but in a movie theater every hiss, rustle or pop can drive you to the edge of your seat in abject terror. Ridley Scott’s film started as one of the many space movies that attempted to cash in on the success of ‘Star Wars,’ but it wound up quite differently. Rather than another airy adventure, or even a sci-fi opera like ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture,’ ‘Alien’ was a conceptual horror film. Truckers in space hunted down one by one by a merciless alien may sound clich