DEAD POETS SOCIETY
Review by Mark Wiechman
Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Kurtwood Smith
Director: Peter Weir
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 129 Minutes
Diem. Seize the day.”
have all had teachers who molded us and inspired us for good or ill.
Some teachers can make any subject interesting and inspire a lifelong
appreciation for literature, music, science, math, or even history.
Robin Williams plays one such teacher in Dead Poets Society and as
Professor John Keating, he even attempts to change the way his students look at
their lives, using comedy, physical activity, and literature itself.
He wants them to lead extraordinary lives no matter where their road
takes them. Many poems masterfully
capture this longing and he imparts it to them by having them read a
particularly exhilarating line of poetry out loud instead of just reading it,
then kicking a ball as hard as they can while listening to symphonies.
He asks another student to comment on Walt Whitman’s picture after
reading about his “barbaric yawp” and forces him to open up emotionally.
In fact, my own love for Walt Whitman began with this very movie.
the boys write their own poems and share them around a campfire in a cave at
their “meetings.” They memorize
immortal poems and passages from Thoreau and other rebels.
Unfortunately, much like rock music, this artistic pursuit opens their
minds and leads them into trouble. These
were the “beats” in a rigid prep school.
Unfortunately, seizing the day and trying to live extraordinary lives are
not priorities of these parents, who simply want their sons to get perfect
grades, lead perfect lives, and go to an Ivy league school before producing lots
of money and perfect children. Whitman
and Emerson were merely to be memorized, not understood, loved, or lived.
Every teacher has a stiff upper lip, a cold heart, a swift reflex to
punishment, and seems as easily frazzled by disorder as Mr. Neal (played to
perfection by Kurtwood Smith) who makes sure his slippers are perfectly together
next to the bed before he gets in. I
wondered why the camera shot of this was so long, or even why it was in there,
but now I understand.
find this film to be very original and fascinating because it shows how young
men can be “cool” in their literary pursuits.
That appealed to the writer in me, obviously!
great question raised by the film is whether young people have the right to
determine what kind of lives they should lead.
This is asked in many excellent movies, but here the setting is a
boarding school attended by sons of the wealthy, not an arts school.
One of the best lines in the entire movie is when the headmaster tells
professor Keating that when the young men realize they are not Shakespeares or
Picassos they will hate him. What a
sad but common attitude for an educator to have!
is a film which was marketed as a comedy vehicle for Robin Williams but was in
fact a drama about a remarkable teacher who used humor in the classroom.
I think that many viewers were surprised at how dark and serious the
movie actually was.
members and writers say over and over that Peter Weir filled them all with
visions of what cinema could be and inspired great work from them all.
He preserved their egos while still bringing out the best in them.
have not viewed the original DVD release so I am unable to compare them, but I
see no flaws in this serviceable transfer.
the rear channels are used mainly just for ambience, the sound mix overall is
excellent and shines in 5.1.
release has many wonderful features which were worth waiting for.
“Dead Poets: A Look
Back” is wonderful and has interviews with most of the leads including
Kurtwood Smith, who is best known as Red Foreman in “That 70’s Show.”
He is chilling as Neal Perry’s controlling, dominating father.
Takes” is amazing because it shows a deleted scene in which the boys share
poems and thoughts after the play. “Master
of Sound: Alan Splet” is a set of interviews with Peter Weir and David Lynch
who discuss the adventurous techniques of one of their favorite sound creators,
who might spend three days getting the sound of leaves.
Lynch appears just in a scary picture with his narration.
“Cinematography Master Class” presents John Seale discussing
cinematography in general and work on this film in particular.
It is from a training video on the subject.
The original theatrical trailer is here, which does seem to make the
movie seem more comedic than it is. The
commentary with Weir, Seale, and writer Schulman is a bit dry but very
insightful. Weir had actually
attended a school like this in
Gentlemen, we have the technology, and finally one of the best movies of the 80’s is presented in a worthy format. Enjoyable for all ages, a literary and cinematographic adventure even Uncle Walt Whitman would love