Legends Of The Fall

Legends Of The Fall (1994)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn
Extras: 2 Commentary Tracks, Isolated Score, Deleted Scenes, Making Of Featurette, Production Design Featurette, Talent Files, Trailers

"Legends of the Fall" was a very early DVD release from Columbia TriStar that featured a stellar transfer but was lacking any notable extras. Realizing that this bare-bones package just did not do the film justice, the studio has re-released the movie in a new DVD special edition that features a fair number of bonus materials that enhance the experience of watching this remarkable film.

"Legends of the Fall" is the story of the Ludlow family as recalled by One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis), a trusted Native American friend who witnesses the tragedy that seemingly stalks the family. Lead by the patriarch, Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), the family moves to Montana at the turn of the century to live off the land and escape what the Colonel views as an increasingly corrupt and brutal U.S. government.

But the rural life does not agree with Colonel Ludlow’s wife, Isabel (Christina Pickles), and her annual winter retreats gradually grow longer until one year she simply doesn’t return. Left to raise his three sons alone, Colonel Ludlow tries to instill in them the same sensibility that led him to turn his back on civilized society and seek refuge away from the evils of the modern world.

One fateful day the youngest son, Samuel (Henry Thomas), returns from college and introduces the family to his new fiance, Susannah (Julia Ormond). Having lived so long as a family of men, the introduction of this beautiful and mysterious woman into their midst causes jealousy among the older brothers, Alfred (Aidan Quinn) and Tristan (Brad Pitt), and even affects their father, an incurable romantic himself, who is both apprehensive and pleased by her presence.

After a bitter argument with his father, Samuel announces that he plans to go to Canada to enlist in the fight against Germany as World War One is now well underway. While his father is vehemently opposed to this course of action, Alfred and Tristan decide to join up as well in order to keep watch over their little brother.

This episode marks the last time the three brothers will be united on any issue and what ensues is a classic tragedy that pits brother against brother and father against son as all fall prey to envy, lust, greed, and pride.

Over analyzing the plot would not only reveal far too much of the story, it would also color the perceptions of anyone who has yet to see the movie. Director Edward Zwick very capably lays out a story in which there are no easy answers for the audience and every action and reaction is colored in shades of gray rather than black and white. There are no pure heroes or villains and everyone will likely view the main characters in slightly different ways based on their own experiences. So, instead of rehashing a complete plot synopsis, I will instead briefly touch on the primary characters around whom the film revolves.

Colonel Ludlow is a disillusioned romantic who wants the best for his sons but not at the price of them becoming instruments of the very government machine he so despises. In the end, he realizes that he has driven away those who love him most and must decide at what point his own family must take precedence over his sense of honor.

Alfred is the eldest son and the most level-headed of the bunch. He refuses to heed his father’s warnings and instead becomes a politician who is beholden to those who support him. He believes that the only way to secure his own position is by turning his back on his family yet he is never quite able to completely break that bond.

Tristan is the middle child, and his father’s favorite, who has always marched to the beat of his own drummer. During a fit of youthful madness he attacked a sleeping grizzly bear and cut off one of its claws. It is this same madness that always threatens to consume him and Tristan is never quite able to adapt to a normal life. Constantly abandoning those who love him to do his soul searching alone, he refuses to recognize the fact that his acts are selfish and hurtful to his family.

Samuel is the youngest son and the most emotional of the bunch. Overshadowed by the strong personalities around him, he is ever impetuous and takes great risks to prove to himself that he is his own man. It is almost as though he is the glue that holds them all together as his family is united in its efforts to keep his headstrong nature in check.

Susannah is the catalyst that causes the family to come apart and her quest to simply be loved leads her into unhappy relationships with all three brothers and to the very brink of madness. She acts almost as a reverse reflection of the brothers as her personality seems to take on the very aspects that they most despise in themselves.

As you can see, "Legends of the Fall" is not a simple film by any means. Based on the novella of the same name by Jim Harrison, it is a character-driven drama that provides no easy answers or happy endings. If you’ve never read Mr Harrison’s work, let it suffice to say that the major theme he explores is the role of man’s basest, most primal instincts in the modern world. In "Legends of the Fall" each member of the Ludlow family embodies a facet of that which makes up a complete man and only as a family are they whole.

Having won the Academy Award for cinematography, it is imperative that the transfer live up to the vision that director Edward Zwick and cinematographer John Toll had for the film. Fortunately, Columbia TriStar does not disappoint and the video on this DVD is nothing short of amazing.

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the <$16x9,anamorphic> picture is uniformly sharp and clear throughout. Some scenes do appear a bit gauzy but this is an intentional device and not a problem with the transfer itself. Colors are deeply saturated and are simply stunning to behold. While not as vibrant as some films, the selected color palette lends a very faint hint of sepia to the picture that reinforces the fact that this story is coming from the memories of one who lived it (One Stab). I don’t mean to say that everything is overlayed in shades of brown just that the selected colors, while staying natural and true, tend toward the warmer natural hues.

Black level is spot on and even the deepest shadows display fine detail. The only mark against the transfer is that there are a few compression artifacts that pop up on rare occasions. Given the length of the film and the abundance of extras this isn’t terribly surprising and doesn’t detract much from the picture as a whole. While maybe a notch below the very best video transfers, "Legends of the Fall" is quite an achievement nonetheless.

The audio is presented in a very full-sounding <$DD,Dolby Digital> D <$5.1,5.1 channel> mix. James Horner’s wonderful score in particular benefits greatly from the broad soundstage. The surrounds and LFE channel appear to be purposely muted throughout much of the film but when they do kick in they have a very noticeable impact. The scenes of fighting in World War One make fine use of split effects and deep bass as artillery thunders and bullets zip overhead. Dialogue is always clear and ambient effects actually enhance the soundtrack rather than overwhelm it. All in all it’s a great soundtrack that nicely complements the picture.

As a new special edition DVD, "Legends of the Fall" is graced with a number of very interesting bonus features. First up are three deleted scenes with optional commentary by the director. While all do provide further character development and are quite engaging, Ed Zwick does a good job of explaining why he decided to cut them. Next is a <$commentary,commentary track> with Ed Zwick and Brad Pitt that is filled with personal memories and thoughts on the film. While it is fairly lively for parts, the movie is just too long to keep the discussion flowing and there are a fair number of long gaps between comments. Also included is a second <$commentary,commentary track> featuring cinematographer John Toll and production designer Lilly Kilvert. This track is very technical in nature and, as a result, probably doesn’t lend itself to a complete, dedicated listen.

Two short featurettes are also provided. The first is a promotional behind-the-scenes feature while the second focuses on the production design. Since they both clock in at about six minutes there isn’t really much time to get too in-depth which is a real shame as these could have been the perfect complement to the <$commentary,commentary track>s.

Probably the most enjoyable bonus feature on this disc is James Horner’s wonderful score presented in all its 5.1 glory. Fans of isolated scores are sure to appreciate this unique presentation. As with most such scores you can elect to listen to the entire movie with the isolated track enabled. While this does present the complete score, it also features a great deal of dead air in which no music is accompanying the action on screen. As a nice alternative, the DVD offers a menu with ten track selections that, when selected, jump directly to specific musical pieces within the film. I found this feature to be quite useful and wish that more DVDs with isolated scores made use of it.

Rounding out the extras are talent files for the major cast and crew members, the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers, and trailers for "Seven Years in Tibet," "The Devil’s Own," "A River Runs Through It," "The Mask of Zorro," and "Bram Stoker’s Dracula." All of the trailers are in non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and a few are in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well.

"Legends of the Fall" is a very moving film that can be appreciated on a number of different levels. The cinematography alone makes it a remarkable viewing experience. Coupled with the fine score and strong cast what you have is a very engaging movie. But, if you care to dig deeper, you’ll find a film that is true to the story from which it was adapted and that rather capably tackles many of the issues that make Jim Harrison’s writing so powerful.

Fans of the film certainly need no convincing. For those who may be searching for something a bit different than the average blockbuster film, "Legends of the Fall" may be just what you’re looking for. Columbia TriStar has to be applauded for revisiting this title and giving it the special edition treatment it deserves. The video and audio are simply stunning while the varied extra features are a most welcome addition. I can’t say that everyone will enjoy this film as much as I did but you can rest assured that its presentation on this DVD is without fault.