A Passage To India—Columbia Pictures (Blu-ray)
You don't really see films like this anymore. David Lean's epic take on social/political prejudice in India is not what I would call popular film, but you can't deny the outstanding production value. The problem I had with the film is its runtime. This is a movie that could easily have been a bit short of two hours but runs for nearly three. The film takes its time developing the characters, but it isn't until nearly half way through that the real meat of the story begins. While I am always a fan of character development and strong storytelling I couldn't help but get bored with the pacing of this film. I love the photography and the scale of production, but without a strong and interesting storyline coupled with it, you find yourself looking at the remaining time left too often. The film revolves around a young English woman who ventures to India with the mother of a local magistrate who she is gearing up to marry. Shortly after arriving she finds herself questioning her relationship with him and longs to see more of native India. She meets up with a local doctor who takes them on a trip to a local landmark. Things don't go well and a social battle begins when the doctor is accused of sexually assaulting her, setting the stage for a local revolt. Again the tale is interesting enough; I just think it could have been edited down substantially.
Older films tend to be very hit or miss with HD releases and I haven't been as impressed with films from the 80's compared to the older classics. Thankfully Sony has done a tremendous job with this one and the beauty of the photography and production design is a sight to behold. Detail is everywhere and depth of image is as good as any big budget new release I've seen. The print condition of this film seems to be impeccable with hardly any nicks or scratches to be seen. Fine film grain is preserved nicely giving this transfer a very natural look but there are some occasions when the matte paintings are a bit too obvious. Overall this is a spectacular example of what a classic film could look like and I hope to see the same care applied to future catalog releases as well.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and overall it is an effective soundtrack for the material. The soundstage is largely front heavy and the surround soundstage is rarely used for ambiance. The film's score has great detail and presence, but there were times that it dominated the dialogue a bit too much. Sound design does sound slightly dated at times but I was impressed with the quality of the dialogue throughout and the natural timbre of the voice work.
Sony has included some great extras on this release. There are several features that cover the story itself and the man behind it. There is also a look at legendary director David Lean. A feature commentary and picture-in-picture graphics track is also included.
Sony continues to take chances on the types of films they are bringing to Blu-ray. I really wish the other studios would be as bold with their catalog and breadth of genres. This has a stunning HD transfer that really showcases how good older films can look when done right. While I won't say I was a huge fan of the film itself, I'm glad to see Sony take these types of chances.