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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Sound of Music

November 1st, 2010

The Sound of Music - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo or Limited Edition Collector's Set

It's The Sound of Music's 45th anniversary this year and the studio is celebrating by releasing the film on Blu-ray for the first time. I know the 45th anniversary doesn't sound like something a studio would celebrate, but at least fans won't have to wait another five years for it to make its High Definition debut.

The Movie

Julie Andrews stars as Maria, who at the beginning of the movie is trying to be a nun. She's wanted to be a nun ever since she saw them singing at the monastery as a little girl. However, now that's she an adult, she's having trouble fitting in and following all of the rules. The mother superior suggests she sees a bit of the world before deciding if being a nun is right for her, and with that, sends her to Captain Georg Von Trapp, a widower and father of seven children, who is in need of a governess. It seems he goes through a lot of governesses, and the latest one lasted a mere two hours.

When she gets there, it seems the problem isn't necessarily the kids, who might be a little rambunctious at times, but the father, who runs the house like it is a military ship and he's the captain. The kids are called by a boatswain's call, each with their own unique call, so he doesn't have to yell their names, or use their names. The only activity the kids get is marching around the estate, which they have to do every day. There's no playing, no dancing, and no singing. At first the kids try to drive Maria away, just like they did with the other governesses, but after she comforts the kids during a thunderstorm, they start to like her.

The next day, the father leaves to travel to Vienna to be with Baroness Elsa Schraeder for a while and he plans to return with her to his home. While he is away, Maria starts to bring fun back into their lives with singing and dancing, which is when she learns Georg Von Trapp has been the kind of father he is because he misses his wife and is trying to avoid everything that reminds him of her. Fortunately, it seems there might be a woman in his life that will help him get over these memories, Baroness Elsa. The Baroness is a little jealous over how well Maria gets along with the kids and convinces her to return to the nunnery, but Maria returns to take care of the kids, until a replacement is found.

However, it's not just the Von Trapp kids she's become attached to.

Director Robert Wise, who won an Oscar for this movie, originally passed when offered the chance to direct the film, because he felt the film was "too saccharine". My first thought upon learning that was, "Thank goodness it's not just me." The film earned ten Oscar nominations, including five wins, it became the highest grossing film of all time, and it has appeared on number AFI Top 100 lists. That said, I found it overly nice with conflicts resolved way too fast.

For instance, the kids initially try to get Maria to quit. But the first night she's there, there's a thunderstorm and suddenly the kids rush to her to be comforted (all but the eldest, who snuck into Maria's room from the outside for a different reason). First of all, I find it hard to believe that half of these kids would be scared of a storm, or that they would go to a stranger instead of each other. The change in attitude was just to great and too fast. They had a conflict that they needed to resolve, but they couldn't do it in a realistic manner, because that would have been too... dark? Edgy? Nope, instead Maria wins over the kids with pluck and a song. Likewise, Georg Von Trapp in infuriated with Maria for trying to add fun into the kids' lives and fires her on the spot. But hearing just a few notes of a song she taught his kids and suddenly all is forgiven. He's an entirely different person. The change happens to fast that it defies suspension of disbelief. And it is not like the filmmakers didn't have time to deal with these issues in a more realistic manner, the movie is 3 hours long, after all. I'm sure they could have trimmed a lot of this movie to give time for much needed character development.

I will admit that the film is beautifully shot and you can tell no expense was spared. There are a number of songs that are great, but there are also a number that are not, and at three hours the schmaltzy nature of the movie is just too much for me.

However, I feel the need to point out again that I am in the minority here, and for many people having this film on Blu-ray might be worth upgrading to High Definition if you haven't already.

The Extras

This three-disc set includes two Blu-ray discs and a DVD copy of the movie. The first Blu-ray has the film, obviously, with two audio commentary tracks, that were from the previous DVD release, plus a Your Favorite Things mode. This allows you to choose between a Picture-in-Picture track, trivia track, trivia game, and sing-along track. You can choose any or all of the extras, but picking up all four does mean the screen is pretty crowded. You can watch just the songs with Music Machine with or without the lyrics.

Over on disc two there are many extras starting with Musical Stages. This is an interactive look at the film's history, from the real life events that inspired the movie, to the restoration that took place for this release. It also looks at each of the songs, and the parts they play in the movie, as well as the story's many runs on the stage. And if you don't feel like exploring, there are play all buttons. A City of Song is another interactive feature, this time focusing on the city of Salzburg and the locations that were used in the movie. There are a huge number of extras found here, although I found the technical featurettes the most interesting.

There are also many, many Vintage Programs, including a feature-length documentary on the making of the film; an hour-long interview with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and others; a half-hour look at the kids and what they are doing now; and a whole lot more. Rare Treasures includes, among other things, a parody skit of the Broadway show starring Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews, that was made before Julie Andrews was cast in the film.

The studio went all out to make sure the film looks and sounds as good as can be, and the results will not disappoint. The video is near perfection with detail levels unseen even in the previous restoration, while the colors have never looked sharper on the home market. I doubt the film has looked this good since its theatrical debut. As for the audio, with a new 7.1 surround sound mix, it arguably sounds better than it did originally.

The regular Blu-ray costs just $20, which is an excellent deal for this type of release. The Limited Edition set comes with a book, postcards, and more, but at $60, it is for hardcore fans only.

The Verdict

The Sound of Music is an amazing production, I will grant it that, but perhaps I'm just too cynical to be drawn into the film. I'm not alone in feeling this way, but I am in the minority. And while I am not a fan of the film, I can recommend buying it on the Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo if you are a fan (or the Limited Edition Collector's Set if you are hardcore fan). While if you have never seen the film, at least give it a rental.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Sound of Music