To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Robert Duvall
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentaries, Featurettes, Clips, Trailer, Booklet

Based on the classic Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, "To Kill A Mockingbird" is a legendary movie, uniquely strong and sensitive about racism and the ways of the Old South during the Depression in the 1930s. It has been turned into a memorable movie masterpiece in 1962 by producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan that nicely captures the book's essence.

Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a successful lawyer in Alabama, raising two children (Scout, played by Mary Badham, and Jem, portrayed by Phillip Alford) without their mother. When a black man is accused of raping a white woman, Atticus steps up to defend the man. Fully convinced of the man's innocence, he causes a stir as he actually fights against the trial's foregone conclusion. With growing admiration and fascination his children watch as their father tries to break with prejudices and biased traditions, exercising in person the kind of compassion and values he has been teaching them throughout their childhoods. Though Atticus is pressured and harassed on all fronts, and though he loses many friends over the course of the trial, he earns the respect and admiration of both his motherless children and the black people in this dusty, sleepy small town.

What makes this movie so special Рapart from its touching upon a taboo of the time Рis the fact that we witness the story's evolution through the eyes of children. The threats, the injustice, the pain, the fears, the hopes Рeverything takes on new proportions when seen through the eyes of Scout and Jem. It highly enhances the movie's impact and, while dealing with a melodramatic subject, it never feels clich̩d at all. The racial prejudices and the blatant stupidity that come with the times are greatly amplified by the children's natural impartiality and innocence. This view also introduces some interesting themes on the side, such as the haunted house next door and the old lady that supposedly eats children, that could only be sparked by the imagination of a child.

It is very hard to imagine the adaptation of this movie without Gregory Peck's fantastic, award-winning (an Oscar and a Golden Globe) performance as Atticus Finch. He is intelligent, strong, charismatic, eloquent, sympathetic, pensive, responsible, compassionate, and very human. His acting is so natural and his interaction with the children so authentic that it seems the movie is taken from his own life. The portrayals of his children are completely stunning, too. Both were "original" Southern kids with no previous acting experience. Still, they behave so naturally in front of the camera that it truly surprises me that neither of them has furthered their acting careers, aside from one or two additional supporting parts. The movie also features a very young Robert Duvall in his first movie role. His enigmatic, somewhat disturbed, yet still sympathetic portrayal of Boo caught everyone's eyes, building the foundation for a lasting, fruitful career.

The Blu-Ray Disc of "To Kill A Mockingbird" is part of Universal's 100th Anniversary celebration and arrives in a glorious book-style packaging that includes not only the film, but also a 44-page booklet with reprints of Gregory Peck's personal letters, script pages and other memorabilia.

The transfer is wonderful, to say the least. Well balanced and sharply defined, the movie looks clean and clear and exhibits a surprising amount of detail in many shots. There is a level of grain evident on numerous scenes, but once again, the high definition transfer does a great job reproducing it faithfully with the look of real film.
The contrast and black level on this release has been meticulously balanced, offering us an image that has visual depth without ever looking harsh. Grays run the entire gamut from the brightest of highlights to the deepest of blacks. All in all, this is a great transfer of a fantastic classic movie. The brand new restoration that Universal did for this release certainly paid off.

Like the previous DVD version of the film, this Blu-Ray Disc contains a commentary track by director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, in which they discuss the movie, its history and impact in quite some detail.

The bonus highlight of this disc is a 90-minute long documentary about the movie, the background, the people involved, and many other things that made the movie great. It is the 1998 piece "Fearful Symmetry", and it is one of the most in-depth documentaries I have seen on any movie. The fact that it is shot entirely in black & white, like the movie itself, and its detachment from the actual production of the movie due to the difference in time make it even more interesting and memorable. The way the people involved remember the movie and its creation, the feelings they had and still have for it, and the poetic interpretation and analysis of many of the film's scenes is highly recommended. It is an elaborate, nearly self-contained work that focuses more on the content and intentions of the movie per se, as opposed to displaying the latest FX gimmicks and showing actors and crew reciting marketing tirades, trying to sell the movie – a thing too many "Making of" documentaries concentrate on these days, degrading themselves to cheap and all-too-obvious marketing tools for my taste.

There is another feature length documentary on the disc, entitled "A Conversation with Gregory Peck," covering the many aspects of Gregory Peck and his long-lasting career. It is filled with interviews, home movie clips, film clips and much, much more, and marks a rare glimpse into the life of the actor.

Also included on the disc is the Academy Award Acceptance Speech by Gregory Peck and his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award Speech.

Further included on the release is an excerpt from the Academy Tribute to Gregory Peck that was given in tribute of the actor's life as a farewell by his daughter Cecilia after his passing in 2003.

Also look for "Scout Remembers," a featurette in which actress Mary Badham remembers her experience working with Gregory Peck. The movie's trailer and a look at the restoration of the film round out the release.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" is a masterpiece that belongs in every movie collection. It features a number of memorable visuals and story elements, as well as outstanding performances by both actors and contributors. Universal's release of the movie on this Blu-Ray Disc is everything we could have hoped for. It is superb, with a stunning transfer and first-class supplemental materials on the disc, so don't miss it.