DEAD POET’S SOCIETY – The Blu Review
The We Are Movie Geeks interview with Kurtwood Smith, who played Mr. Perry in DEAD POET’S SOCIETY, can be found HERE.
The beloved 1987 Disney drama DEAD POETS SOCIETY has graduated to Blu-ray, and to the film’s many, many fans, the new hi-def transfer is going to be a godsend. The first thing you’ll notice is that the colors are stunningly vibrant and deep. The subject did not lend itself to a wealth of coloring in the film, but every color handled by the transfer is vivid and perfectly saturated. The blue skies and reds that appear throughout the film look very good. In perfect contrast to the brightly lit interiors and exteriors are the more darkly lit scenes which feature deep black levels and never lose any detail. The film does have a few moments of film grain, but the general condition of the source materials results in the best the film has looked since it was new. Here’s a rundown of the Blu-ray’s extras: First there is a 28-minute featurette entitled “Dead Poet’s Society: A Look Back”, featuring current interviews with actors Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Melora Walters, Kurtwood Smith, Dylan Kussman, Allelon Ruggiero, and Norman Lloyd (who plunged from the Statue of Liberty in Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR in 1942 and turns 98 this year). Williams is conspicuously absent. Most talk about how excited they were to work with director Peter Weir but it’s interesting to hear what they have to say and see how they look now. It’s noteable how few of these young actors, Ethan Hawke being the exception, went on to bigscreen stardom. Robert Sean Leonard had a few good roles but faded and Josh Charles is a familiar face but while other adolescent ensemble films from this period, TAPS, THE OUTSIDERS, SCHOOL TIES, were breeding grounds for many of today’s stars, not DEAD POETS SOCIETY. There is also a very good feature-length commentary by director Peter Weir, writer Tom Schulman and Cinematographer John Seale. It’s laid-back and dry, but packed with great insights and anecdotes. The men don’t speak over each other and sound as though they were recorded separately. Weir and Seale are both old-school masters and it’s inspiring to hear what they have to say about the making of this film, as well as movies in general. Schulman gives some insights as to why the story developed the way it did. “Raw Takes” shows some raw footage of a scene that wasn’t included in the final film showing Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating attending one of the meetings of the Dead Poets Society after the performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream and leading the boys to a frozen waterfall in the woods. Two brief documentaries round out the extras: “A Master of Sound: Alan Splet” is an 11-minute tribute to the late sound man. Peter Weir is joined by David Lynch, who had also collaborated with him and they discuss the influences and impact he made on the filmmakers he worked with. It’s a nice tribute. “Cinematography Master Class” is a 21-minute clip from a television show (Produced by the Australian Film, Television and Radio School) illustrating how cinematographer John Seale lit the dorm room scenes for different seasons and times of the movie. It’s very technical but may interest some.
I recall strongly disliking DEAD POETS SOCIETY when it was new and I had not seen it again until I watched the new Blu-ray release this week. I remember finding it overly pious, full of platitudes, a shameless attempt to pander to an adolescent audience. At the time I thought Robin Williams shtick was so grating (though it’s low key compared to some of the stuff he would do over the next decade). Watching it again with a less-cynical eye, the movie has aged well and is much better than I remember. It’s a familiar story told with obvious care and craftsmanship and it clearly influenced a lot of subsequent, inferior films. The ending, with the boys standing on their chairs and applauding Williams’s Mr. Keating, is still an eye-roller, wreaking more of manipulation than it does of truth, but the film on balance is sincere and extremely well-written (it won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar).
Most of the extras on the disc are carried over from the 2006 “Special Edition” DVD. When the film was aired on the USA Network in the early 1990’s, it was padded with some deleted scenes, which are not included on this Blu-ray so, despite the great transfer and a solid set of extras, this is still not the last word on DEAD POETS SOCIETY. I’m happy to finally admit that DEAD POETS SOCIETY is a touching, involving drama with a series of great performances and moving moments so by all means, if you’re a fan of the film, seize the day and buy the Blu-ray.