I have always had a lot of affection for "Around the World in 80 Days", although I do recognize that the film could never be considered high art. Nowadays, modern audiences seem to have very little interest in this movie, but as far as I’m concerned, the only justifiable complaint about the movie, is that this super-production seems too eager to please the viewer. With great production values, beautiful locales and a truly amazing cast of who’s who in Hollywood, this film is a charming movie experience, especially for those young at heart.
Artistic achievements aside, the film remains much unappreciated by modern audiences. Moviegoers have changed over the year, and this film’s inoffensive and almost naive humor doesn’t fit well into today’s more cynical society. I still think "Around the World in 80 Days" is a good movie that deserves a chance, and Warner makes it possible for all us to be able to reevaluate this charming film. The transfer of this DVD edition is near perfect, and it surpasses, in every way, all previous video incarnations of the film, making this DVD the definitive version of the movie.
The film is an adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel of the same name, about an English nobleman named Phileas Fogg (played by classy British actor David Niven), that during an uneventful day at his gentlemen’s club, makes a very peculiar statement: he will bet his entire fortune on the possibility that a person could travel around the entire world in only 80 days. Of course, as a typical stiff nobleman, Fogg has no idea how he is going to prove his theory. However, unwilling to admit defeat, he and his new butler Passepartout (legendary Mexican comedian Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno), commence what soon turns into an incredible adventure that will prove that one could indeed circle the world in 80 days. Unfortunately for Fogg, the very same day he leaves England, the Bank of London is robbed, and detective Fix (Robert Newton) is set out to prove that Fogg is leaving to country to avoid being prosecuted for the robbery. And like they say, this is just the beginning of high adventure and funny situations, neatly packed in 3 hours of exquisite fun.
"Around the World in 80 Days" has an interesting background story (some say a story that has more suspense than the storyline of the actual film). The film was the brainchild of entrepreneur Michael "Mike" Todd, a man known for his endless enthusiasm and knack for making a quick buck. Part con man, part businessman, Todd decided to become film producer, eventually choosing Jules Verne’s adventure tale as his first movie, a project that soon became a big headache for most people involved in the production of the film, including Todd himself. Without any real knowledge of the dynamics of the film industry, Todd managed to somehow get people to pour money into his dream project, and he even persuaded a lot of famous movie stars to appear in cameo roles throughout the picture. The end result was a movie that soon became a box office sensation, and eventually captured many prestigious awards (including an Oscar for Best Picture); not bad, considering that Todd really learned to make a movie - you guess it - while making this one.
"Around the World in 80 Days" was originally filmed in Todd-AO, a widescreen film process that Mike Todd himself helped create, with an aspect ratio (similar to Cinemascope) that allows for a more dynamic, and wider visual composition. There is no way a TV set, no matter how good it is, could really duplicate the visual density Todd-AO gave to the film, but this transfer comes very, very close, specially if the film is projected through a Widescreen TV. Since this movie is mostly about visuals, and not about plot or characterizations, it is very important that the transfer gets it right, and it looks like Warner did their very best, coming up with a transfer that achieves a beautiful image.
The palette of colors is vibrant and accurate, making the film look better than ever before. Contrasts are also well accomplished, giving the film a clear image. Blacks are very strong and whiles are radiant. While one can see a few deficiencies here and there (mostly in the form of dust and dark specks), the truth is that this transfer is nearly perfect, specially if one considers the age of the source material.
The soundtrack basically fails to exploits the capabilities of a multi-track system. The surrounds remain dormant during most of the duration of the film, and bass response is almost nonexistent. Usually, this kind of diversity would count as a flaw, but one has to consider that the film was not really designed with a modern multi-channel system in mind. What little the track accomplishes in terms of diversity, is a welcome addition, and viewers that prefer purity above all will be happy to know that audio track tries to stay close to the capacity of the original soundtrack. One thing is clear, when Victor Young’s unforgettable score takes center stage, no one can deny that the track does its very best to deliver Young’s composition in the best possible manner.
The supplemental material is plentiful. The first disc offers a brand new introduction by renowned film critic Robert Osborne, which gives viewers some important facts about the production of the film. In addition to the introduction, if you spin the disc, you will find "Around the World of Around the World", which is divided into 5 different areas: the rarely seen silent short film "A Trip to the Moon (1902)", "Outtakes" (as the title of section suggest, a collection of outtakes), "Stills Gallery", and two Theatrical Trailers.
The main special feature that can be found on the second disc is "Around the World of Mike Todd". This supplemental material has been broken down into 5 different sections: "Around the World of Mike Todd (Introduction by Robert Osborne)", "Highlights from 12/23/56 Los Angeles Premier (Introduction by Robert Osborne)", "Highlights from 3/27/57 Academy Award Ceremony (Introduction by Robert Osborne)", "Highlights from 10/17/57 Playhouse 90 TV Broadcast Around the World 90 Minutes (Introduction by Robert Osborne)", and "Spain Greets a Lovely Joy".
Adding to the fun, the disc also offers a section titled "Cameos". It is a simple, potentially useless feature that could be transformed into a really fun game. This section gives viewers a list of all the famous actors that appear throughout the film in "cameos" (brief special appearances). My advice: grab a pencil and piece of paper and wrote down all the actors’ names and try to spot these actors – if you blink, you will miss some of them. Good luck!
Finally, both discs offer an audio commentary with by Brian Sibley. His comments are interesting and he seems very knowledgeable about the film’s production. This is a source of great information if the viewer wants to know little known facts and details about the complications behind the production of the film.
As much as I like the film, I do need to warn viewers: how much you enjoy this film, would certainly depend on the quality of your home theater equipment. This is one of those films that were meant to be seen in a movie theater. If you have a 13-inch TV and no multi-channel audio system, it is very possible that you will miss the best attributes of this film. On the other hand, a big screen TV set (preferable a widescreen one), accompanied by a multi-speaker system, will certainly help the film come alive, and while nothing can really replace a movie theater, a great home theater is the next best thing.
Warner understood the kind of visual spectacle "Around the World in 80 Days" is, and the company makes sure this DVD edition does justice to the film. The transfer is simply outstanding and the extras are fun and informative. As I said before, if you have the proper home theater equipment, you are in for a special treat, if not, my advice is that you should rent it first, before you commit yourself to buy a copy. In any event, Warner should be praised for this wonderful DVD edition of a beautiful classic.