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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition

January 30th, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

To Kill a Mockingbird is a film that came out 50 years ago and was immediately seen as a classic and was one of the biggest winners at the Oscars that year. (Only Lawrence of Arabia won more Oscars that year.) Now it is making its debut on Blu-ray on a anniversary edition Blu-ray, as well as DVD. Is it worth owning? Is it worth upgrading to if you had a previous version on DVD?

The Movie

Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch, a lawyer living in Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930s. We are introduced to the town by Scout, who was six years old when the story starts in 1932. Atticus also has a son, Jem, and he's been raising the two since his wife died. The film begins with Scout and Jem meeting their new neighbor, Dill. They get talking about the neighborhood and warn him about Boo Radley, who they think is a maniac, they are not alone in that opinion. Even Dill's Aunt tells him to stay away from the Radley house. They also warn him about Mrs. Dubose, who is liable to shot you if she doesn't like you. When Scout says hello, Mrs. Dubose is upset, because she didn't say it right and then calls her ugly. Fortunately, Atticus arrives in time and he really knows how to flatter her and defuse the situation.

That night, Judge Taylor comes to see Atticus Finch. A black man, Tom Robinson, was accused of raping a white girl and was arrested. Tomorrow he's going to be arranged, and they need someone to defend him in court. Not a lot of people would be willing to be the defense attorney in a case like this, not in the deep south in the 1930s. But Atticus is a man of principal, so he takes the case. The next day, Scout, Jem, and Dill, decide to go to the courthouse to see the room where Boo Radley was allegedly chained up. They instead decide to see Atticus in action in court. It seems the town isn't happy he's defending Tom. The father of the victim, Bob Ewell, tells Atticus he wishes he'd killed Tom. And when Atticus refuses to give up defending Tom, Bob even goes so far as to make veiled threats against Scout and Jem.

Atticus does his best to defend Tom, and to keep Scout and Jem from feeling the effects of the town's racial prejudices. This proves impossible, especially as the trial heats up.

The film looks at racial prejudices in a small town through the eyes of a young girl, Scout, whose father is in the center of the storm. The film has a lot going for it, including Oscar-worthy performances by Gregory Peck and Mary Badham. Gregory Peck won his only Oscar for his performance in this movie, while Mary Badham was at the time the youngest nominee for Best Supporting Female (Tatum O'Neal broke that record years later). Although, in reality, she's a lead character. The father-daughter chemistry between the two leads is absolutely the best part of the movie.

It's not the only part of the movie that works. It's one of the best courtroom dramas of all time and Atticus Finch's closing statement is one of the best in film history. The way it deals with poverty and discrimination makes the movie as important as it is compelling. The simple coming-of age story is also worth watching. Every other element of the movie could have been removed and it would still work.

The Extras

Extras start with an audio commentary track with the director, Robert Mulligan, and the Producer, Alan Pakula. There are a few too many dead spots here and there, but even so, it is worth checking out for the wealth of information. You can also watch the movie with a Picture-in-Picture track with images, interview clips, etc. Next up are two feature-length documentaries. The first, Fearful Symmetry is about the book and the movie, while the second, A Conversation with Gregory Peck, is an interview with / retrospective of Gregory Peck. We also get to see his Oscar acceptance speech, a ten-minute AFI Lifetime Achievement Award presentation, and the Academy tribute to Gregory Peck. Mary Badham sits down to talk about this movie and working with Gregory Peck. And finally, there's a nine-minute look at Universal's 100th anniversary, specifically on the restoration projects. It touches on To Kill a Mockingbird, but only briefly.

As for the technical presentation, the film looks phenomenal, for the most part. There were a couple of scenes that were lacking in details due to soft focus, or where shadows sucked up details. A few scenes had "optical pushins", which is where you film a scene with a static camera and then zoom into the image in post-production. This causes a pretty extreme amount of grain, which needed to be cleaned up. The restoration team did an excellent job in these scenes. I figure the only way to see the movie look better than it does on this Blu-ray is with a time machine, either to go into the past and see its original run, or to go into the future when they have some major technical breakthrough. The audio is quite good, with excellent clarity, but with rather limited use of the surround sound speakers. There's not a lot of ambient noises or dynamics, while your subwoofer might as well take a vacation. That said, clarity is the most important aspect for a film like this, and as I said, it is amazing in that regard.

Finally we get to the price, which is just $18 on Amazon.com. That would be a disappointing price for shovelware, but for a movie that was restored, has new extras, and extras that push the technology, it's a bargain. It's only 20% more than the DVD, which makes it a steal.

The Verdict

This week, To Kill a Mockingbird comes out on a 50th Anniversary Edition, both on DVD and on Blu-ray Combo Pack. The DVD is worth owning, if you haven't made the leap to high definition yet, but the Blu-ray is a contender for Pick of the Week.


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Filed under: Video Review, To Kill A Mockingbird