Chariots of Fire
One of the disappointments of the early years of DVD was the first release of Chariots of Fire. As I recall (my copy is now sunk somewhere in my doomed DVD storage bin, and it hasn't resurfaced in years) it was a spectacularly bad 4:3 transfer. Finally, that oversight has been corrected.
The film won the 1981 Oscar for Best Picture. I still remember rooting for it. The competition that year was formidable, and I still believe it squeaked in by splitting the vote between the other nominees. But no matter. It deserved the honor, and it took home six other statuettes as well.
The film tells the story of two great British runners of the early 20th century, one a devout Scottish missionary, the other a Jewish student at Cambridge University. It follows each runner as he works his way toward the Olympics, overcomes obstacles, and crosses paths with the other. But like the best sports films, it isn't about the sport as such, but how the sport affects those who participate in it. This is an inspirational, affecting film, helped more than a little by a groundbreaking and remarkably effective Vangelis score.
The video and sound here are as good as the earlier release was bad. There's nothing startling in the sound-some may find it a bit tame by the standards of recent releases-but it does exactly what it needs to do. Like most films of the early '80s, it was recorded in non-discrete multichannel; there's not a lot of surround activity, and deep bass is largely confined to the score. But everything sounds clear, crisp, and uncolored.
It's the new anamorphic video that's the real gift here. The film was not brilliantly photographed, but what you get on this DVD appears to be what the director and cinematographer intended, minus only the cramped, pan & scan feel of the earlier release. A little softness does intrude here and there, along with some noise in large areas of more or less solid color (such as the sky in the background as the runners jog up the beach in the opening and closing shots). But overall, this is a very pleasing transfer that serves the film perfectly.
Extras on the 2-disc set include "Making of" featurettes, deleted scenes (which don't add much to the narrative), screen tests, the theatrical trailer, and a commentary by director Hugh Hudson, which is the most interesting of the bonus features. Hudson points out that the scenes at Cambridge actually had to be filmed elsewhere because the school (to its later regret) declined to give permission for the shoot. The director also notes that a very young Kenneth Branagh is an extra in the footrace scene in the "Cambridge" square. You can spot him, but he isn't obvious. And Star Trek fans may notice something familiar about Alice Krige, the actress who plays the Borg...um, romantic interest.
This release may be long-overdue, but it's nonetheless very welcome.