Blu-ray / DVD: ‘Snow White: The Signature Collection’

SnowWhiteSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Walt Disney Signature Collection (Disney, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)

It’s hard to grasp today how revolutionary Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was in 1937. The beautiful (and at times a little dark and scary) Grimm Brothers fairy tale of a pathologically narcissistic queen, a beautiful princess, and a lovable troupe of little men who protect her was a grand gamble, an expensive animated feature in Technicolor made a time when animated features were practically nonexistent and Technicolor was Hollywood’s expensive new toy. It was dubbed “Disney’s Folly” by the industry, until it became a massive success. Though technically not the first animated feature, the elaborately painted images and graceful execution of the Technicolor feature redefined the idea of what animation could do, pushed the possibility of color cinema into a new realm, convinced the audiences that animation could tell a story for adults and kids alike and launched the Disney legacy. Delicately shaded and delightfully old fashioned, like a fairy tale come to life from a 19th century illustration, it remains to this day one of the most beautiful animated features ever made and my favorite Disney film of all time.

It was first released on Blu-ray in 2009, a “Diamond Edition” release that has been out of print for years and commanding high prices on the collector’s market. This edition features the same HD restoration and transfer from that release, which preserves the distinctive texture of the painted cels and the thirties-era colors beautifully.

The difference is in the supplements. New to this disc is the four-minute “In Walt’s Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” an audio-only interview with Walt Disney discussing the film set to an image track, the seven-minute featurette “Iconography” that explores the film’s influences on popular culture, art, and fashion, “@DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess” with four contemporary animators discussing the design of Snow White, and an “Alternate Sequence: The Prince Meets Snow White,” plus the breezy promo-style pieces “The Fairest Facts of Them All: 7 Facts You May Now Know About Snow White” with Disney Channel star Sofia Carson and the rap retelling “Snow White in Seventy Seconds.”

Also new to this is the Digital HD copy, which you can redeem at Disney Movies Anywhere.

“Disney’s First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is an expanded version of the featurette “The One That Started It All” from the 2009 “Diamond Edition” release, running just over half an hour, while “Hyperion Studios Tour” is a condensed (30-minute) version of the virtual tour from the 2009 edition.

Carried over from the earlier disc: commentary by Roy E. Disney and animation historian John Cannemaker, two deleted scenes (in pencil animation, sketches and finished soundtrack), sketches and story notes from an unmade sequel “Snow White Returns,” audio of story meetings, “Animation Voice Talent” (on Snow White voice actress Adriana Caselotti), and “Decoding the Exposure Sheet” (on animation innovations from the film). Gone are the interaction activities and set-top games, some of the galleries and featurettes from “Hyperion Studios Tour.”

Which means what really? It’s not so much an upgrade from the 2009 release as an alternate version aimed at new buyers. Which may frustrate collectors (and for good reason—why not carry over all the previous supplements and make the new disc definitive?) but won’t matter to most casual fans. Basically, if you don’t already have the film, you can now own it without dipping into the collector’s market.

Josh Spiegel writes about why the Disney Vault (which keeps films out of circulation on disc for seven years between releases) is no longer relevant in the 21st century at Movie Mezzanine.

DVDs for 10/06/09 – High School Shamus, Direct-to-DVD Horror and the original Chinatown

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown gets a new special edition release this week. It’s hard to say if the timing is good or bad, given all the acrimony stirred up by Polanski’s arrest and probable extradition to the U.S. to face sentencing for a crime he confessed to before fleeing the country (over his fear of the rampant judicial misconduct in the case) over 30 years ago. Whatever one feels about Polanski the man (and in this case it is at the very least a disgust and revulsion for a man who raped a 13-year-old girl), it shouldn’t dim the accomplishment of the artist. Simply put, Chinatown is one of the masterpieces of American cinema of the seventies and a classic of American cinema, and Chinatown: Centennial Collection (Paramount) is a duly respectful DVD with intelligent supplements that dig into the creation of the movie and the Los Angeles history that inspired the story. Jack Nicholson strolls through the role of cynical private eye J.J. Gittes with the sneering confidence of a smart cookie in a situation far more complex than he realizes and Faye Dunaway brings an echo of tragedy to potential femme fatale Evelyn Mulwray, a socialite whose private life Gittes splashes across the newspapers. Robert Towne’s labyrinthine yet tight and resonant script, inspired by classic films noir and real Los Angeles history, won the film its only Academy Award (it was nominated for eleven, including Best Picture). Roman Polanski transformed the script into a modern film noir of sleek style, milky color, and sad cynicism, putting the corruption, greed, and moral monstrosity of Los Angeles in the thirties under the crisp light of the California sun. John Huston is brilliant as the maverick robber baron Noah Cross and Polanski gives himself an unforgettable cameo: he’s the weaselly thug who slices Nicholson’s nose.

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown
Jack Nicholson in Chinatown

“So the first thing I was struck by was how much I liked how sinister the logo treatment is in black and white,” says filmmaker and unabashed fan David Fincher to screenwriter Robert Towne, jumping right into the newly-recorded commentary without even a preamble. It’s a conversation between professionals rather than a lecture and Fincher plays the impassioned fan making astute observations and asking provocative questions of Towne. It sometimes goes silent for what seems like minutes, but all in all it is thoughtful, considered and introspective and Towne seems to get more modest with age. The two-disc set also includes the original three-part, 80-minute documentary “Water and Power,” which explores the real-life history and politics of the irrigation of California at the center of the film, and the new 26-minute featurette “Chinatown: An Appreciation,” with contemporary filmmaker and film artists discussing the film. Carried over from the previous DVD edition is a collection of three retrospective featurettes with interviews with director Roman Polanski, star Jack Nicholson, screenwriter Robert Towne, and producer Robert Evans. It’s a fine edition, but my question is: when will Paramount give it the Blu-ray treatment?

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