Review by Michael Jacobson
Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan
Sagalle, Embeth Davditz
Director: Steven Spielberg
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 196 Minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2004
Schindler, they’ll say…everyone remembers him.
He did something extraordinary.
did something NO ONE ELSE DID.”
they’ve kept us waiting for years for Schindler’s List to arrive on
DVD, you’d think Universal would have taken the time to give us a really
special offering for our patience. But
no…they’ve taken one of their proudest and most heralded catalog offerings
and treated it like some B picture. More
on that further down.
have been a number of truly great films to come out over the last twenty years,
but probably none as important or as well crafted as Schindler’s List.
In 1993, it marked one of the most powerful and unrelenting looks at
the evil of the Holocaust, while at the same time managing to tell an amazing
and true story about an unlikely hero who saved 1,100 lives in the face of last
century’s darkest evil.
also marked the arrival of Steven Spielberg as a true artist of cinema after
spending 20 years as an audience favorite.
No one ever doubted his talent; his career gave movie lovers one
thrilling spectacle after another, keeping the crowds entertained and the cash
flowing at the box office. But with
Schindler’s List, he proved he could deliver a film of enduring
critical consequence as well.
this movie, many of us knew of the horrors of the Holocaust, but had never
contemplated them on so personal a level before. The Nazi plague that swept across Europe in the 40s not only
threatened the security of the entire world, but left in its wake an indelible
genocide of some 6 million victims.
Schindler (Neeson) was a member of the Nazi party and a frequent failed
businessman who saw the second World War as an incredible opportunity:
with Jews being relocated into labor camps to give him all the free
manpower he would need, and some willing to part with their money to earn
something tangible to use in trade, he opened an enamelware factory.
His war profiteering and opportunism made him wealthy beyond anyone’s
in one of history’s great enigmatic occurrences, Schindler reacted to the
horror of the Holocaust by using up his fortune to save the lives of his factory
workers and their families. By the
time Germany surrendered to the Allies, the once wealthy Schindler was broke and
on the run, but his legacy was generations of people descended from those who
would have been erased in the fires of Auschwitz.
such a shining beacon of good could come from such an unlikely man and at such
an unlikely time is the distinctively Spielberg-ian touch to an otherwise bleak
and disheartening tale. But the
fact that the story is true, and that so many of Schindler’s Jews participated
with their stories and eventual appearance in the film is part of what makes the
picture such a remarkable event.
Schindler represents the light of humanity, the person in the story who
symbolizes its darkness is Amon Goeth (Fiennes), a bloodthirsty monster who
leads the liquidation of the Polish ghettos and who kills for amusement.
In one setup, Spielberg shows both men in their own bathrooms, shaving
and getting ready for the day that will end up defining their characters for all
history to judge.
actors earned Oscar nominations for their roles, and both gave career defining
performances that helped us understand the nature of these men.
With Goeth, Fiennes delivered an unapologetic and icy portrayal of
remorseless evil, while Neeson demonstrated the slow brewing process that turned
an opportunist into a savior.
name usually equated to commercial success, which was good in this case, because
he had a couple of potential box office strikes against him with this movie.
One, it was shot in black and white, and two, it was over three hours in
length. The stylistic decision, which resulted in an Oscar for
cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, was the correct choice.
The monochrome look added authenticity while at the same time reducing
the gore of the violence to a somewhat more palatable level.
By adding a stroke of color to a little girl’s red dress, he was also
able to step back from the grand scale of the picture and tell the sad tale of
the Holocaust in one microcosm of a story…no words, but a definite and
speaking of conclusions, the ending of this picture always reduces me to tears.
Roger Ebert has said that when he’s touched by a movie, he’s more
often touched by goodness rather than sadness.
I understand what he means, and that’s exactly the reason why the final
contemplative shots of the Schindler Jews in modern day times works with such a
naked human beauty. It’s the
proof that an indelible good could emerge from even the blackest of historical
on to the unpleasant task of addressing the disc. For starters, this three hour, sixteen minute movie is served
up on a ‘flipper’. Even though
dual layering technology has been available for years allowing up to four hours
of information on a single sided DVD, Universal opted for the lazy way out.
This is a four layered disc, but even so, they managed to not get a
well-under four hour film on one side. They even chose to cut the film right at one of it’s most startling
moments…you’ve got to wait until you can turn the disc to finish it.
of course, Universal remains infamous for not letting users change audio tracks
on the fly. Which means that when I
flipped the disc, it opted for Dolby Digital even though I was watching it in
DTS, and I couldn’t do anything except STOP the disc, select it from the main
menu, sit through the damned DTS promo clip a second time (in the middle of the
movie, mind you!), and then start side two from the START again, even though I
had progressed a minute or two into it before realizing I had to change the
audio track. With any other studio,
one push of the button would have taken care of the problem.
Then again, with any other studio, I wouldn’t have to be making my
video and audio selections a second time in the same viewing period.
know there was a shakeup in management at Universal a year or so ago, and
that’s definitely resulted in a once good studio putting out some inexcusably
shoddy product (the horrible looking The Meaning of Life, the misframing
of Back to the Future and so on), but this is SCHINDLER’S LIST.
This is a seven time Oscar winner and many fans’ and critics’
pick for best film of the 90s (myself included).
If they weren’t going to use readily available technology to present
the best home viewing experience possible, why bother?
thin bookjacket cover box didn’t do much for me either, but here’s where the
real explanation is owed: I took
the plastic wrap off my factory sealed brand new DVD and opened the case…and
there were fingerprints covering the surface of the disc. When I flipped it over to look at side B, the same thing.
There’s a quality control meltdown at Universal, folks.
of that detracts from the raw power and sheer emotional force and brilliance of
the movie, but if I were Steven Spielberg, I think I’d be a little peeved over
the lazy and lackluster DVD presentation of my masterpiece film.
Then again, I’d also be a little more involved in the DVD production
process. His lack of participation
in his own feature’s futures on disc was bound to bite him in the behind
sooner or later. He probably just
never excepted this was the film it would happen on.
The black and white anamorphic transfer (full frame also available) is mostly quite good. At best, some of Spielberg’s images take on an almost luminous quality against the grayness. A couple of scenes are too dark and a little murky, but nothing demanding a major complaint. Generally the images are clean and crisp, and the range from solid blacks to pure whites is strong and conveys well on disc.
have a choice of Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks. Both are strong and serviceable, with the DTS track offering
just a tad more dynamic range. Subwoofer
use is extremely limited, but the surrounds kick in for some of the bigger
sequences to give a sense of ambience and urgency to the proceedings.
all the inconvenience of making this a ‘flipper’ disc, you’d like to think
maybe it was done because the features package was so generous and required
room. No chance. You
get once decent extra, which is “Voices From the List”.
It’s a short film of interviews with Holocaust survivors and some
archival footage that ties in nicely with the presentation of the film.
from that, you get “The Shoah Foundation Story”, which is nothing more than
an ad with a “send money here” tag at the end.
“And more” as listed on the back of the box means talent files and a
text reading of Oskar Schindler’s story, most of which you will have already
seen, down to the girl in red.