The last of James Dean’s three films, Giant is also the most ambitious. Truth be told, Dean is not the major star this time around. He takes a backseat to Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. George Stevens, Jr. provides an introduction to the film that his late father directed. He talks about how this project was very personal to his father and he even took a salary cut to make this film. Hearing that, it’s obvious to say that this was clearly a passion project for George Stevens Sr. The film follows three central characters over the course of several decades. The film is epic in both its scope, but small in the way it tells a simpler story with more emphasis on character than plot. The film is over 3 hours long, but it’s also well paced. It is not something I would revisit often, but every once and again when the mood strikes me. Rock Hudson plays Jordan “Bick” Benedict. He comes from a family of wealth and is the head of a Texas Ranch. When he meets Leslie Lynnton (Taylor), it’s love at first sight and he proposes to her. She breaks off her current engagement and marries Bick. The trouble begins when Jett Rink (Dean) shows up. He is also secretly in love with Leslie. Jett is a bit arrogant and causes a lasting feud with Bick. Jett’s ego only grows when he strikes oil and makes a huge sum of money. There are various themes throughout Giant, including racism, politics and human rights among others. There really aren’t many films like this one out there. The only film recently that resembles it in a way is “There will be blood”, not so much in the plot, but the Texas setting and its involvement with the oil business. Similarities to “Gone with the wind” are also sure to arise. I think that’s part of its lasting power. That and the fact that it’s James Dean’s last performance. He doesn’t show up until over 20 minutes into the movie and makes a lasting impression. His character is cool, mysterious and not far from his life persona. He just has that mystique that makes it so hard to take your eyes off the screen. Dean died not long after production wrapped and some of his lines towards the end of the film had to be dubbed over by other actors. There’s a haunting scene near the end of the film where we see his character at a much later time in his life. This almost becomes eerie since Dean himself died at the age of 24. Outside of the three main actors (Hudson, Taylor and Dean), the film also includes performances from Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper and Rod Taylor to name a few.
Giant not only had a long production, but it was also troubled at times. What is refreshing to see, however, is that the film shows no signs of this. These days we sometimes hear of troubled productions and stars clashing with one another and the result is often lackluster. It can never erase the gloomy cloud of James Dean’s death hanging over it, but that also adds to the film. He certainly went out on a high note here. I’d be hard pressed not to say that Jett is the most interesting character. You’re never quite sure what he’s going to say or do next (much like Dean himself). He doesn’t conform to any requirement of the world where he’s living. He and Taylor also have really nice chemistry together. The wide Texas landscape also lends itself well not just to the wide-screen format, but also to high-definition. It’s great that Warner Brothers finally released this film on Blu-ray as it really enhances the film’s look. It is only giant in its name and its scope, but the story is simple and well told. It’s also great to finally have the entire film on a single disc. The previous DVD edition was two-sided and had a pause where you’d take out the disc and switch sides. Blu-ray discs have much more space so that makes it nice to have the ability to watch it in a single viewing without having to stop and pause, though a film of this length that might be necessary regardless. Giant is an excellent film showcasing three wonderful performances and strong direction from a passionate director. It takes place during a simpler time that was also much more difficult in many ways. As I said in my other reviews of “Rebel without a cause” and “East of Eden”, fans will certainly want to add this to their collection.
I want to mention it here as well as the supplements section, this set also includes the DVD “George Stevens: A filmmaker’s journey”. This is a feature-length documentary and I feel it necessary to mention it here. Since it is feature-length and on a separate platter, I feel it necessary to mention it. George Stevens, Jr. directed this documentary and it gives a thorough history of the film and George Stevens, Sr.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner has done a fine job with this transfer. I mentioned that this film lends itself well to HD and this disc is no exception. The Texas landscape is given great detail here with the backdrop and the sun drenched setting. The image is AVC encoded and 1.66:1 ratio. This is the ratio at which the film was shot and it’s presented here properly. I see no problem with it since the image and ratio are presented as they were intended. There is a bit of grain throughout the film, but I think this was intended. There’s also some softness throughout the film, but this was likely the best they could clean it up. It shouldn’t cause a huge problem for fans. This is by far the best the film has ever looked and likely will ever look. Colors are deep and strong here and the print has been cleaned up nicely. This is a solid transfer.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The film is given a 2 Channel DTS HD track. This is as the film is supposed to sound and it works just fine. Vocals were clear and well balanced and detail was strong throughout. The heavy score also comes through strongly here, giving the track some nice texture. There are various scenes with cattle roaming around that comes out nicely. I have no issues with this track. It works nicely with the film. This track was sourced from the original mono track and helps preserve the original soundtrack as it was intended.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This release comes packaged in a 3 disc Digibook just like the other two James Dean films. The book includes plenty of nice notes, many about George Stevens and the production. It also makes note about Dean’s final moments, both on the set and following his accident. The first disc in this set is the only Blu-ray disc. The other two discs are DVD copies. It’s strange that this set just duplicates the discs found in the prior DVD edition. I would think they’d be on Blu-ray discs too, but it’s not a major issue by any means.
Introduction – George Stevens, Jr. provides a quick into to the film and its lasting legacy.
Commentary – George Stevens, Jr, Ivan Moffat, and film critic Stephen Farber provide commentary.
George Stevens: Filmmaker’s who Knew Him (46 min.) I made mention of this above. This is a very in depth documentary with interviews from Warren Beatty, Frank Capra and Robert Wise to name a few.
The next features are on the DVD discs. What’s interesting is the that the DVD features disc is the same one from the previous set, it’s simply been ported over for this release.
Memories of Giant (52 min.) Features more interviews covering the production This is broken into 16 chapters so that makes it easier to navigate.
Return to Giant (55 min.) Offers more of the same, mixing interviews and film clips. Broken into 13 chapters.
New York Premier (28:51) Offers footage from the premier.
Hollywood Premier (4:21) Shows footage of the opening at the Chinese theater.
Giant stars are off to Texas (0:38) Just a quick news item
Stills and Documents – Are just that.
Behind the Cameras: on location in Texas and A visit with Dimitri Tiomkin.
A Giant undertaking are just some factoids in text form – These were fun to see.
George Stevens filmography and awards and cast and crew notes.