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SCHINDLER'S LIST
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagalle, Embeth Davditz
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  196 Minutes
Release Date:  March 5, 2013

“Oskar Schindler, they’ll say…everyone remembers him.  He did something extraordinary.

He did something NO ONE ELSE DID.”

Film ****

There 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.

It 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.

Before 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.

Oskar 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 wildest dream.

But 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.

That 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.

If 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.

Both 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.

Spielberg’s 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 memorable conclusion.

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 times.

Video ****

The black and white anamorphic transfer looks terrific in high definition..  At best, some of Spielberg’s images take on an almost luminous quality against the grayness.  Even the darker scenes exhibit good contrast and balance.  Nicely done!

Audio ***

This is a terrific uncompressed audio mix.  The savagery takes on an added dimension of horror thanks to the balanced mix and the low grumblings of the .1 channel.

Features *1/2

There are no extras on the Blu-ray.  If you want to see the extras, you have to insert the second DVD (the movie is spread out over two parts for the lower definition format).  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.

Apart 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.

Summary:

This is a truly great movie, and a marked improvement over Universal's shoddy previous DVD release (which is included, in case you want to see it that way...but you won't).  I wish the extras had been included on the Blu-ray disc itself, but they are all here, and this 20th anniversary presentation is a fine tribute to one of the best films of the last millennium.

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