The Sound Of Music

The Sound Of Music (1965)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Eleanor Parker
Extras: Commentary Track, ’From Fact To Phenomenon’ Documentary, ’Salzburg Sight and Sound’ Featurette, Interviews, Audio Supplements, Production Notes, Produ

It has made its way into the hearts of millions and generations cherish the beauty and the music of Robert Wise’s film adaptation of "The Sound Of Music." Winner of five Academy Awards, this movie is the inspiring tale of the Von Trapp family that was forced to flee their beloved homeland Austria when World War II broke. Loosely based on real-life events that were first published as a novel by Maria von Trapp and later adapted to a Broadway play, Robert Wise’s film is a staggeringly beautiful and magical movie that went on to become a box office sensation during the 60s. It borrowed some of the Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes from the Broadway play and incorporated them in the film, accompanying them with newly written tunes and a panoramic view of the Austrian Alps that now Broadway musical could ever match. To pay proper tribute to this landmark movie – that incidentally save 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy in the 60s – the studio is now presenting the film in a "Five Star Collection" <$THX,THX>-certified 2-disc box set that features a newly remastered presentation of the movie, as well as separate disc filled with supplemental material.

Maria (Julie Andrews) is a young Austrian nun who has some problems with the strict regulations in the abbey. An energetic woman she has many of the matured nuns raise their eyebrows over her outgoing and easy-going nature. Adventuresome and somewhat stubborn, Maria spends more time climbing mountainsides, singing away happy tunes, even inside the chapel, than taking care of her chores and responsibilities at the convent. Maria’s Mother Superior (Peggy Wood) decides to see if the young woman is really destined to become a nun and sends her on a mission to become the governess for the von Trapp family.

Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) is a bitter widower and former naval officer who rules his seven children with an iron fist and a whistle. Immediately after setting her foot into the mansion of the family, frictions begin, as the lively Maria sweeps through the house to bring merriment and joy to the children. Full of life, she teaches them the playful bright sides of their world they had never seen before, disobeying the strict household rules and much to the dismay of their father. But slowly it seems as if even the bitter captain is taken in by the charm and spirited intentions Maria is exhibiting, and with renewed effort she tries to make the von Trapps a real family again.

Overwhelming the viewer with panoramic views of the Austrian and Bavarian Alps, "The Sound Of Music" was actually shot on location in Salzburg, Austria and its surroundings. The result are sweeping vistas of lush green hills nestled against rocky mountains, that are some of the most impressive sights in the world. Director Robert Wise carefully chose his locations and camera angles to create a majestic backdrop for this family saga, and coupled with the heartwarming story "The Sound Of Music" is pure movie magic.

Julie Andrews plays the lead in "The Sound Of Music," fresh off her assignment in Mary Poppins at the time, and her golden voice takes the songs of the film to new heights and her portrayal of the governess Maria is among the best performances she ever gave. Not only did the part allow her to shine as a singer, but also as an actress, as the story goes from romantic idealism to dramatic and supposed political heresy. Perfectly in tune with the children – not only in musical terms – Julie Andrews creates a governess that every child and parent would dream of. But also Christopher Plummer leaves a great impression as Captain von Trapp who gets a second chance at the bright side of life thanks to Maria’s insubordination and steadfast personality.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has created a brand new transfer of the movie for release on this DVD. Struck from a 65 mm print, the transfer is mesmerizingly clean and colorful. Without grain or noise, the level of detail found in the presentation is simply staggering and gives the film a dimensionality never before seen in any home video presentation of the movie. It is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer that restores the movie’s original 2.20:1 aspect ratio and with ease this transfer even eclipses the superb Laserdisc versions of the movie that were previously available. The colors are bold and beautiful, bringing out the best of the stunning scenery the film so adequately captures. The lush greens of the grass, the powerful blues of the skies, the vibrant interior decorations and the lucid nighttime shots, every bit of the movie is perfectly captured on this DVD and put on your screen in the most splendid colors. The disc’s black level is dead on and creates deep shadows, and the level of detail is never corrupted by the compression, which presents and image that is entirely free of compression artifacts. You will not believe for a second that you are watching a movie that is almost 40 years old, that is how clean, sharp and clear it looks.

The disc also contains a full multi-channel audio presentation, in a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 4.1 track. The audio track has also been remastered and the result is a magically rich audio experience that breathes new life in to the movie. To my surprise the audio has a wide frequency response and even the .1 subwoofer channel is engaged quite aggressively at times, giving the track a solid bottom end. But also in the high ends, the results are always crystal clear without a hint of sibilance or distortion. Dialogue is very well integrated across the front stage with a very good and active stereo field that nicely complements the scope of the movie. The surrounds, while not overly aggressive are used very effectively, creating an ambiance for the movie that brings the events to life. Whether there are subtle the sounds of insects bleeding in from the rear during the grande mountain scenes, or whether it is the reflection of the chamber orchestra during the ball scene, the surrounds are always present and active to give the film additional depth. The disc also features <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks in English and French, both of which have a noticeably less spatial quality and appear audibly tightened up.

The disc also contains the movie’s isolated score on a separate audio track as a stereo mix without vocals. This score is interspersed by an <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Robert Wise. It is the same <$commentary,commentary track> that can be found on the Laserdisc box set, but it has been remixed slightly by the folks at Sharpline Arts, who created all the supplements for this release, to give it a better consistency. The commentary is enlightening and very informative throughout, although Wise’s fast talking pace and a resonance in the recording makes it a little hard to follow him at any given time so you will find yourself concentrating heavily on what he is saying without having enough time to really enjoy the movie at the same time. An intimate knowledge of the movie is hence very helpful to get the most out of this <$commentary,commentary track>. Wise has a wealth of minute information to offer about the production of the film, both technical and entertaining in nature and the commentary is a great addition for anyone who wants to learn more about the innermost details of the film. Be forewarned however, that the details offered in this track are often going into the most intricate details, including exact shooting times of certain scenes.

On the second disc of the set you will find even more extras, such as the 1965 documentary "Salzburg Sight and Sound," which shows the production of the movie through the eyes of actress Charmian Carr, who played the eldest daughter, Liesl, in the movie. While this documentary must have been a revelation in the 60s, it comes across as overly nostalgic today without real information, other than a young girl’s fascination with a city that has a great history. The second documentary on the disc is of a very different caliber by comparison. Running 87 minutes, "From Fact To Phenomenon" offers a look at the real events surrounding the von Trapp family, including interviews with actual members of the family. It also includes an excursion in the Broadway productions and then comes around to cover the film. With a lot of enlightening interviews and some behind-the-scenes footage and photos, this documentary covers a lot of ground and gives viewers the rare opportunity to learn the truth behind the myth. It is a well-rounded documentary that leaves no questions unanswered, including some bloopers and production problems, and only the uneven audio level of the production distracts from its overall quality a bit.

A large selection of teasers, trailers and TV Spots from throughout the years are also part of this disc. Coupled with a selection of radio spots and an 8-minute radio interview with Julie Andrews and Robert Wise, this is a great segment the helps to see how the film was initially perceived and promoted.

There is another selection of radio interviews on the release, featuring actors Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Peggy Wood. These are the original interviews directly from the set of the movie that helped at the time to promote the movie. These are complemented by another selection of radio interviews, such as a 35 minute segment with writer Ernest Lehman that contains anecdotes and other information about Lehman and the movie.

A textual segment nicely rounds off the disc with plenty of information about Austria, and Salzburg in particular, its history, the Benedictine Order and many other aspects. It is a very detailed and well-researched excursion that has been compiled by Sharpline Arts’ Michael Matessino. As you go through this segment you will get deeper and deeper into the story of the movie, including the von Trapp family history, the development of the movie itself in the form of production diaries, timelines, bibliographies, and countless other informative pages that exhaustively cover the film and the true story behind it.

The disc also contains some DVD-ROM content, such as weblinks and a lot of other material, as well as wallpapers. Sadly these wallpapers are neither color corrected nor professionally scanned, giving them an overly noisy and soft look without detail that will hardly be appealing to fans of the film, I am afraid. The selection of resolutions is also very, limited and hardly reflects today’s monitor resolutions.

"The Sound Of Music" is a great movie that captivates and inspires and I had very high hopes for this 2-disc Special Edition from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Fortunately I have not been disappointed, and this is the best home video version of the movie ever. Although there are practically no new extras on the DVD compared to the Laserdisc box set, other than some DVD-ROM gimmicks, this DVD offers significantly more value. The feature presentation is absolutely staggering and the audio quality is simply amazing. The bonus materials are well produced and add immense value to the release, making this a wonderful Special Edition that no fan of the movie can afford to pass on. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has done an incredible job to make sure the hills remain alive for generations to come, so make sure to pick this DVD up!