Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 9th, 2010
“The hills are alive with the sound of music…”
Maria von Trapp wrote down the story of her singing von Trapp family in a 1948 autobiography. She continued to write about the family right up to the time of her death in 1987. The subject became the basis for a film called The Trapp Family in 1956. While the film received some modest attention for the events of the real family, it disappeared into obscurity until the musical writing team of Rodgers and Hammerstein created the songs for the Broadway production that the story of the Singing von Trapps entered our collective consciencness. Since that time, The Sound Of Music has gone on to become the most successful musical of all time. With only an $8 million budget the film went on to gross $168 million. Nothing of this genre has come close to it. The film received 10 Academy Award nominations claiming five of the statues for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Music, Best Editing, and Best Sound Production. Impressive credentials, indeed.
“Let’s start at the beginning! A very good place to start…”
Maria (Andrews) is about to take her final vows as a nun. But her fellow sisters are not sure that she is quite cut out for the sisterhood. While she makes them laugh, they find her unconventional and rather undisciplined. The Mother decides to send her out in the world so that she can discover for herself what her true calling might be. She is assigned as a governess for Captain von Trapp (Plummer) and his seven children. The former naval officer believes in strict protocol and runs his family as he would a naval vessel. He summons each child with a particular whistle blast and expects them to present themselves for inspection at full attention. Needless to say, governesses don’t last very long at the Captain’s house. One lasted less than two hours. It doesn’t appear that Maria will last much longer than that herself when she appears to question the strictness of the Captain. But the children soon warm to her. She teaches them music, which eventually opens the heart of the Captain once again. While he’s engaged to a baroness, the two fall deeply in love. Then there’s Uncle Max (Haydn) who wants to feature the family’s singing talent in the local festival. All appears to be rosy for the family until the Nazi occupation of Austria forces the Austrian people to pledge their loyalty to Germany, something the Captain will never do. The family is forced to flee the occupied homeland.
“Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good…”
There are times when this job is the best one in the world. A fine example of one of those times is when something like this crosses my path. The Sound Of Music holds a bit of a special place for me. When I was very young, my grandparents took me on a train trip to New York City for my first visit to Metropolis. We attended a performance of The Sound Of Music. It wasn’t the original cast, to be sure. This was the early 1970’s. I remember that the play was an immersive experience. During the climax searchlights criss-crossed the theatre and Nazi storm troopers descended upon the audience, searching for the fleeing von Trapp family. This was my first experience at theater, and I was hooked. I can remember that was the very first time I considered what it would be like to be a performer, a career choice I’ve been fortunate enough to have made a reality over the years. I’m sure that the notion would have occurred to me at some point or another. But I’ll never forget the moment that it actually did. I was watching a live performance of The Sound Of Music.
“These are a few of my favorite things.”
Robert Wise is about the most eclectic director in the industry. I had the opportunity to meet and dine with the director many years ago. Unfortunately, The Sound Of Music wasn’t really the topic of our conversation. It’s just that there have been so many of my favorite films the director has had a hand in. Who could imagine that the man who helmed musicals like this one and West Side Story could also have been responsible for the Karloff and Lugosi film The Body Snatcher or one of the most famous science fiction films of all time, The Day The Earth Stood Still? And while it was a flawed film, Wise guided the first Star Trek film through a stormy journey to reality. Wise was a devout believer in the strength of the material. He knew how to helm a project and allow it to thrive on its strong points. It didn’t matter if it was a horror scene in shadow or the landing of a saucer at the mall in Washington. Wise let the material tell the story it was meant to tell. He told me that he’d heard that the great sculptors didn’t create their art. They merely uncovered what was already in the wood or stone. He approached filmmaking that way, and it crossed over genre boundaries. Nowhere is that philosophy more on display than it is with The Sound Of Music. We never really get the sense that we’re watching a film here. We always feel like the events are unfolding before us. It happens so naturally that the three hours goes by as if it were mere minutes. Were we in our home theater seats? You’re never exactly sure. It feels like you were among the hills and estates of Austria before the second World War. That is where you were, wasn’t it? Credit Robert Wise for the confusion.
“I am sixteen going on seventeen, innocent as a rose. Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies, what do I know of those?”
The cast goes a long way in collaborating with Robert Wise to perform his little trick of celluloid magic. Julie Andrews had just finished filming Mary Poppins. The movie hadn’t even been released before she started work on The Sound Of Music. And these two characters that would define her career for decades to come were not that dissimilar. Both were governesses who came to children who had begun to feel neglected by their parents. Both served up advice in song. Instead of a spoon full of sugar helping the medicine go down, a list of one’s favorite things could dispel the fear of a violent thunderstorm. Of course, Mary Poppins was magical and Maria is not. But, is that really true, after all? One could say that Maria’s magic could be found in the music itself. It changes the von Trapp family forever. Can magic do any more? The two films were released soon after each other. It was a double blast that Andrews would carry to this very day. No other two roles have been associated with her more.
Christopher Plummer didn’t want to do the film. He couldn’t sing and was, in fact, dubbed by a another singer for his few singing lines. He does bring an authority to the role. When the Captain changes Plummer delivers the change as complete as if we were witnessing the real thing for ourselves. The children included future Penny Robinson from Lost In Space, Angela Cartwright. The shining jewel of the children cast has to be Charmian Carr as the oldest daughter Liesl. She has marvelous eyes and knew exactly how to use them. Watch her face the next time you see the film. Can you help but be enchanted? She was a 23-year-old playing a girl who was 16 going on 17.
“How do you solve a problem like Maria?”
You go to your favorite home video retailer. Might we suggest you use the link here, and go to Amazon. You treat yourself to this blast from the past.
The Sound Of Music is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.20:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of almost 30 mbps. Obviously there is age associated with this film. You would be hard pressed to find 40 years worth of it on this image presentation. The colors are wonderful, allowing the look of a stage production to seep through just a little. The best examples are some of the outdoor scenes. The staging in front of the lake is quite impressive. There is a good deal of detail when you look closely at the water. Black levels aren’t really the strongest, but you’ll rarely find dark scenes throughout the film. I think you’ll find strong evidence of restoration done with care and respect. It will never look better than this.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 takes full advantage of the wonderful score and standard songs. There isn’t an aggressive use of surrounds, nor should there be. The music receives the fullest attention here and sounds as good as any modern CD release. Dialog is also fine. You’ll be impressed with how clean the old sound is. There aren’t any hiss problems or distortion to deal with. Someone obviously spent a great deal of time to clean up this newly-mastered audio presentation.
There are three discs. One disc contains a DVD and Digital Copy of the film.
The other two are Blu-ray discs which contain the following:
Disc One contains the film and a sing-along option. There are commentaries and an advanced viewing mode which allows you to integrate bonus behind-the-scenes features into the viewing experience.
Musical Stages: An interactive feature that allows you to tour the von Trapp home. When you click on places and props, you call up short features related to the object.
A City Of Song: This is an interactive map which allows you to examine the locations of the film through additional features.
Julie And Carol At Carnegie Hall: (6:44) Julie Andrews appeared in this television spoof of the play before she had been cast in the film.
The Julie Andrews Hour – Julie Andrews and Maria von Trapp: (16:25) A segment of the Julie Andrews television show where she met Maria for the second time.
Screen Tests: (26:13) This special on the casting process was narrated by Robert Culp and features tons of audition footage.
40th Anniversary DVD Intro By Julie Andrews: (2:10)
Galleries and Trailers
“How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”
The truth is that the era of the big musical is gone forever. There will never be films like this again. The audience has grown far too impatient and a bit jaded. The budget to do something like this would be considered too much of a risk. We don’t have these kinds of entertainers anymore, actors who are more than just actors. Choreographers today are more likely to be staging fight stunts than song-and-dance routines. Maybe you can’t go back. Maybe you can’t ever hold a moonbeam in your hand. But you can own a little piece of what once was with this grand release of The Sound Of Music on Blu-ray. And, for just a second … or perhaps three hours, “I know I will hear what I heard before…”