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Blu-ray Review: North by Northwest 50th Anniversary Edition

Posted on Friday, November 27th, 2009 5:29 PM by Scott Jentsch

Front Cover ArtworkNorth by Northwest 50th Anniversary Edition
Blu-ray
Warner Home Video
136 Minutes

List Price: $34.99 (Check Price at Amazon.com)

This movie is also available from Amazon on DVD.

Available 11/3/2009

Not Rated

Click here for additional movie details, including the full plot summary, cast listing, trailers and videos, photos, reviews of the movie, and links to the official movie web site and more.

  TheatricalThis Disc
Video Format:
35mm
1080p VC-1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1.78:1
Audio:

Mono

Dolby TrueHD
Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Other:  

Movie: BD-50 (x1) BD-J

Disc Contents

  • No Upfront Ads!
  • Movie
  • Special Features
    • Audio Commentary by Screenwriter Ernest Lehman
    • Cary Grant: A Class Apart (1:27:12, SD, 2 ch)
    • The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style (57:00, SD, 2 ch)
    • Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest (39:27, SD, 2 ch)
    • North by Northwest: One for the Ages (25:29, SD, 2 ch)
    • Stills Gallery (HD)
    • Music-Only Track
    • Trailers
      • TV Spot (1:02, SD, 2 ch)
      • A Guided Tour w/ Alfred Hitchcock (3:14, SD, 2 ch)
      • Theatrical Trailer (2:13, SD, 2 ch)

About the Movie

Cary Grant teams with director Alfred Hitchcock for the fourth and final time in this espionage caper judged one of the American Film Institute's Top-100 American Films and spruced up with a new digital transfer and remixed soundtrack. Grant plays a Manhattan advertising executive plunged into a realm of spy and counterspy and variously abducted, framed for murder, chased, and in a signature set piece, crop-dusted. The cross-country road trip ends with a finale on Mount Rushmore!

How Does it Look?

Still from the movie (not an actual screenshot)

Unlike the release of new movies, where pristine copies of the source materials are readily available, older movies can be a challenge for movie studios to get right, especially when it comes to a demanding format like Blu-ray.

Fortunately for movie fans, Warner Bros. Home Video did a pretty decent job of restoring North by Northwest for its 50th anniversary release. The expectations are high, given that this is a Hitchcock movie that was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color.

According to the press materials included with the review copy we received, the movie received a "meticulous restoration and remastering" by scanning the original VistaVision production elements in 8K resolution (8192x6144 pixels).

The result is pretty good. What's that, you say? How could it not look fantastic? Well, for a 50-year old movie, it does look very good, and I do commend the studio for doing a fine job. But, in the end, the result is not quite as impressive as other classics that have been brought to the high definition format, including The Searchers and Casablanca. Maybe the sources for those movies were in better shape, or perhaps what I am seeing in North by Northwest is a perfect representation of what the movie looked like when it was released 50 years ago.

I'm not complaining, I'm just trying to convey a relative comparison between some releases of classic movies from a similar era. That said, however, there are no visible artifacts that mar the presentation in any way. We get treated to film grain without softening as a result of noise reduction, a complete lack of edge enhancement halos that come from someone with an itchy sharpening finger at the controls, and a great picture that most likely looks exactly as it did when it was in theaters.

How Does it Sound?

Being a 50-year-old movie that had a mono soundtrack, you're not going to be getting demo material here. We should be very glad that someone didn't try to tinker with the sound mix to such a degree that it created a distracting bouncing effect as surround sound mimicry can sometimes do.

The soundtrack on this title is provided in the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless format. Since the IMDb lists the original soundtrack as being mono, it would have been nice for there to be an option to select a mono track as well. Perhaps there is little interest in such purist desires, so what we have is a "re-purposed" soundtrack that does a good job of supporting the movie. The sound mixers practiced welcome restraint in not trying to hard to make this more than it is, and the result is subtle and effective.

A welcome sound-related addition on this title is the presence of a music-only track! This is something that I have been asking for, and it's nice to see the option to watch the movie with only Bernard Herrmann's score to keep us company! This option gives you the ability to enjoy the movie on another level, and you can gain an appreciation of the effect of the music soundtrack on the feel of the movie and you can hear and see how the on-screen action and the soundtrack correspond. A big thank you to Warner Bros. for including this feature!

Extras

I like to see the theatrical trailer included with movies, so I was happy to see that one was included here. Being able to watch the trailer helps one to appreciate how the movie was marketed during its theatrical release, and it's a nice extra to have. Along with the theatrical trailer are a TV Spot in Black & White and a "Guided Tour" by Alfred Hithcock himself that appeared in movie theaters to promote the movie. Definitely a nice touch! My only wish is that they would have given them the high definition treatment to compliment the high definition movie.

Four documentaries/featurettes are included in the package, all in 2-channel standard definition. Cary Grant: A Class Apart is a documentary aired by Turner Classic movies in 2003. It provides a lengthy biography of the man behind the actor and how he struggled with what people thought was Cary Grant, but who was for the most part yet another part being played by a man born as Archie Leach. It's long but interesting. Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest is a typical making-of documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint from 2000. The other two videos are new to this Blu-ray release and are worth watching as well. There's a lot of details to be found in these videos, so you'll be spending quite a bit of time with this disc if you watch everything!

Also included is a running audio-only commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who received one of the movie's three Academy Award nominations for his work. He starts out a little slow and mundane, but it gets more interesting as the movie gets going. This is another example of how the enjoyment of the movie can be extended to another level, and it's a welcome feature.

A gallery of stills is one of the extras included for the movie. 45 photos in high-definition are matted with geometric shapes to go with the theme of the movie, but I would have preferred them to be larger, and include captions whenever possible to increase their meaning to the viewer.

Other Aspects

The Blu-ray case is actually a 44-page book that includes photos, backstory, and other information on the movie and its cast. It is definitely worth looking through, and it makes for a nice addition to the overall package.

This disc is BD-J formatted, and our PlayStation 3 was able to support auto-resuming the movie, even after the disc is ejected. This is one of the biggest usability problems with the Blu-ray format that studios need to recognize and support, so it's good to see that perhaps this tide is turning. Bookmarking is not supported.

Conclusion

Hitchcock fans are prime targets for this release, and I don't think that they will be disappointed with what is provided here. The movie presentation is good and the extras really make owning the disc worthwhile, so you can enjoy them at your leisure. The inclusion of the music-only track means that you can have the movie playing with that soundtrack running and still do other things and enjoy the soundtrack with the video playing as well.

The purchase price on Amazon.com is quite attractive, so it's a good value for a purchase. If you're not sure about buying this title, put it on your Netflix list and check it out for yourself!

Recommended Reading

Don't just take our word for it, check out these resources for more reviews of the movie and of the disc.

RentBuy


Check Prices on Amazon.com

A copy of this title was provided at no cost by the movie studio/distributor for the purpose of this review. No expectation of the results of this review were set as a condition of receiving the item.



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