Philadelphia: Anniversary Edition

Philadelphia: Anniversary Edition (1994)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Antonio Banderas
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Featurettes, Music Video, Deleted Scenes and more

It’s been 10 years already since "Philadelphia" hit theaters and looking back at it, I have to admit that I look at the film with mixed emotions. While there can be no doubt that the film itself is a powerful and emotional look at the impact AIDS has on people’s lives and that it was marvelously well directed and acted, earning Tom Hanks his first Academy Award, it is also sadly the film that marked a change in direction in Tom Hanks’ career, steering him away from the comedy genre into the dramatic domain. Don’t get me wrong, I think Hanks is one of the greatest actors of our time but in all honesty, I have to say that I miss Tom, the boyish and side-splittingly funny comedian. No doubt, it was a smart career move that ensured his longevity as an actor, regardless of his physical age, and the subsequent films have certainly proven that Tom Hanks is more than just a capable dramatic actor. He is, in fact, an all-round talent who performs at the top of the game no matter what he does.

All that aside, "Philadelphia" was a movie that had to be made in the early nineties at the height of the AIDS awareness during a time when the world suddenly realized that it can in fact affect everyone. The story is that of Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) a young lawyer who is infected by the HIV virus and, of course, tries to hide the fact from his employer. When the firm finds out about it they immediately fire him. Determined to make a dent in the attitude of the self-congratulatory suit establishment Beckett sues the prestigious law firm for AIDS discrimination. With the help of attorney Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) the ailing Beckett takes the case to court but the omnipresent question is, will he live long enough to see the outcome?

"Philadelphia" was a landmark film at the time and even today it plays pretty strongly. It is a bit stereotypical in retrospect but the caliber of Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington helps to elevate the film above mere cliché. They bring their characters and motivations to life, giving the film importance and weight, were any other production could easily have become simply another sob story. While there is plenty of emotion in this film, it is never used self-servingly, and director Jonathan Demme always made sure that pity is not something we delve into at any time. Instead we admire Beckett for his courage, his strength and live through the ordeal with him that forces him to lay bare every little piece of his life.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is now re-releasing "Philadelphia" on this DVD as a Special Anniversary Edition with on two discs a number of great supplements. The movie itself is presented in a spotless transfer in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. No blemish or mar is visible anywhere and the presentation reveals a phenomenal level of detail throughout. Colors are absolutely faithfully rendered with natural skin tones and vivid hues. Contrast and black level are meticulous, rendering the cold world of Beckett in all the harshness there is with deep solid blacks and highlights that are bright but without blooming. No edge-enhancement distracts form the viewing experience and the compression is also without flaws.

A 5.0 channel <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track is provided on the DVD as well that is making very effective use of the format. With good a bass extension and well-defined high ends, the track is balanced at all times, bringing out the best of the atmospheric score and sound mix. Dialogues are well integrated and never drowned out. Additional language tracks in French, Spanish and Japanese are also included on the DVD and are supplemented by subtitles in a variety of languages.

To commemorate the film, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has included a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Jonathan Demme and writer Ron Nyswaner on the first disc of the release. It is an insightful commentary that sheds a lot of light on the production, the characters, the ideas and ideals behind the production, and of course the incredible cast that helped make the films such a success.

On the second disc of the DVD set you will find a set of featurettes and documentaries. "People Like Us: Making Philadelphia" allows cast and crew members of the production to share their thoughts about the film and the subject matter.

"One Foot on a Banana Peel, the other Foot in the Grave" is a full-length documentary on the subject of AIDS that has been included here. It is a 1994 documentary that gives real AIDS patients the chance to talk about their experience and share their individual stories. It is as touching and heart-breaking a documentary as it is insightful.

A series of deleted scenes is also included on the release, as well as some of the staged news and advertising footage that was created for the film and is seen during the movie, such as the legal services TV spot and the protest footage.

Bruce Springsteen’s music video for "Streets Of Philadelphia" is also included on the release as well as the film’s theatrical release featurette, promoting the film during its theatrical launch.

"Philadelphia" is a great film with a wonderful story, cast and production. I am glad that Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has finally taken the time to create a Special Edition for this movie and the result is a release that adds a lot more information and weight to the already powerful film. Giving a part of the proceeds from the sale of this DVD to an AIDS foundation would have been a nice touch, I think, but even without the philanthropic touch this is a DVD I think everyone should own.