MGM’s monumental film about the fall of the Old South is no less breathtaking today as it was upon its initial release back in 1939. That it stands the test of time this incredibly is a testimony to virtually every aspect of its inception, execution, and near-impeccable production value. For all the fruitless attempts at recreating a film in the vein of the long lost Hollywood epic, “Gone With The Wind” stands today as a film as cherished as any, arguably outreaching in classic status films the likes of “Ben-Hur” and that other indispensable Fleming cultural staple of the same year, “The Wizard Of Oz”. So just what is it that makes this such an enduring piece of cinema after nearly seven decades? There’s no simple answer to that question, but this is only the case because there are far too many reasons to list here in three brief paragraphs. The short and easy explanation is that the film simply breathes with life. Colors, sounds, and overall atmosphere simply transcend the screen. Performances are top notch. Even the score is a legendary achievement. There is not a false beat or awkward transition to be found in the nearly four hour film.
To paraphrase Leonard Maltin’s video guide, “If not the greatest film ever made, [“Gone With The Wind” is] certainly one of the greatest examples of storytelling ever filmed”. I contend to this day that, while Scarlet may get her strength from Tara, this movie has always gained its through sheer craft of storytelling. Though not always about a subject that lends itself to edge-of-your-seat excitement, this is one of the most well-paced films ever made. Much must be said for a film of this vintage that holds up so well today, especially when said film is really little more than a bloated soap opera set in historic times. It takes quite a steady hand to put together a piece like this that consistently holds fast to its audience through literally generations of drama, and yet Victor Fleming did just that. The irony is that, as it seems to be with all films destined for future greatness, the movie was riddled with production problems and almost didn’t get made at all, and Fleming wasn’t even the film’s original director. But then, that’s a story for you to learn yourself through this DVD release’s positively grand extra features.
“Gone With The Wind” has had its share of releases. Back in the days of VHS tapes, one could pick up the film for a cool hundred bucks if you were willing to fork over the dough. And for that, you got a box with two tapes inside that housed the film – and nothing else. Later on, if you had the finances to support your obsession, you could pick up the film in a special edition CAV laserdisc offering that split the film up every half hour or so (ouch). There was even an ill-conceived attempt at releasing a widescreen version of “Gone With The Wind” on the obsolete twelve-inch platters. The problem is, the film wasn’t shot for widescreen! My, how times have changed. Now you can watch the film on a shiny, five-inch disc with one intermission, dramatically improved visual and audio quality, and loads of worthwhile supplements. And all of this at a substantially reduced price. The first release of the film left a lot to be desired as it contained virtually none of the extras fans had been clamoring for for years. Fortunately, however, the powers at be at MGM have definitively retired the earlier disc with this incredible four-disc release commemorating the film’s 65th anniversary.
Video: How does it look?
The full-frame video on this release is absolutely stellar. Gone is the obtrusive edge enhancement of the previous offering, contrast and definition have been substantially improved, and the color timing of the picture has been carefully realigned to give the most accurate presentation to date. This is a definite improvement over the last disc and, while the difference may not necessarily be enough reason for an upgrade alone, it is more than noticeable. There are a few unavoidable signs of the film’s age to be found here and there in the form of debris and background noise (the opening scene at Tara is an example), but overall this is an incredible transfer that is sure to please any fan. English, French and Spanish subtitles are available.
Audio: How does it sound?
This appears to be the same Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that was available on the earlier MGM disc, but that’s not a bad thing. There is much to admire here, especially for a film of this vintage. This track isn’t going to win any awards for bombast, but it does exactly what it needs to do. It doesn’t call attention to itself during the quieter scenes and suspends belief that slight bit more in louder moments. It’s that edge that has motivated me to recommend this track over the included original mono track. Even as a purist, I know when technology (when employed subtly and respectfully) can actually take me further into a film than I’ve been before and make a classic like this feel fresh again. A French language track is also included.
Supplements: What are the extras?
First up on extras, we have a commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer. This is an engaging track, but it can be a bit dry at times if you’re not a true fanatic. This is not to fault the commentary, but it’s (understandably) a bit more about facts and historical context than your average track, and it can get a bit trying after the first three hours. On disc three, we have “The Making Of A Legend: Gone With The Wind”, an absolutely marvelous documentary that is reason enough for a double-dip. Every aspect of production is covered, along with many priceless anecdotes and photographs from the shoot. This is an extra that you’ll almost certainly watch more than once. Next on disc three we have a series of technical featurettes and archival material. These include “Restoring The Legend”, “1939 Atlanta Premiere Newsreel”, “1961 Civil War Centennial Atlanta Premiere Newsreel”, “Prologue From International Release Version”, “Foreign Language Versions”, “1940 Historical Short Subject: The Old South”, and a trailer gallery consisting of trailers from 1939, 1961, 1967, 1968 and 1989. Disc four includes two very good documentaries, one for each of the film’s two leads, “Gable: The King Remembered” and “Vivien Leigh: Scarlett And Beyond”. Both are very well done (though the narration segments of the latter can drip with a bit too much melodrama). Also included is “Melanie Remembers: Reflections By Olivia DeHavilland”, a sweet interview segment with the supporting actress. This is worth a look, but it does tend to overlap quite a bit of information from the documentary on the third platter. In all, this is the set fans of the film have been waiting for and it’s wonderful to know that a great film has been given truly great respect on DVD. This release belongs on any serious movie film fan’s shelf.