The setting is an exclusive boys’ private school in New England, 1959. Welton Academy is deeply hidebound and conservative, and into this environment comes one of its graduates, Robin Williams, to teach English literature, and along the way encourage his students to make of their lives what they want, now what is expected of them. This approach clashes with the establishment’s ideas of how things should be done, and raises the ire of one parent in particular, whose son takes too much interes…, he thinks, in creative endeavours.
While on the one hand this film must take some blame in having helped create the Robin-Williams-Smiling-Bravely-Through-His-Tears genre, it is nowhere near as treacly as the films that followed. The performances by the boys (including a young Ethan Hawke) are excellent, and director Peter Weir’s artistry infuses every frame. There is still a little too much sentiment and romanticization for my tastes, but the film does what it does remarkably well.
Hmmm. The sound is in 5.1, and there are some very striking moments, but also some big misses. The music sounds good, and there is a very nice surround effect in the opening scene of as applause breaks out on all sides of the viewer. But the scene that immediately follows points up what becomes an ongoing issue: prime opportunities for surround (crowds, etc) are skipped over altogether. The left-right separation could also use a bit more work. The track is very clear and undistorted, but it could be more consistent in the use of the rear speakers. As things stand, when those speakers do kick in, the effect feels a bit forced.
The picture, however, is very nice indeed, with John Seale’s cinematography looking absolutely breathtaking. The colours are warm and rich. The contrasts and blacks are similarly excellent, and the print is in fabulous shape. No edge or grain to speak of here. The look of the transfer is, in fact, pretty enough to make up for the deficiencies of the surround on the audio.
Weir, Seale and writer Tom Schuluman each contribute their separately recorded musings to the commentary track. All three men are very articulate, thoughtful and informative. The featurettes are also pretty solid, if a little worshipful. This is particularly true of the retrospetive “A Look Back,” which treats the film as a sacred text. The other two featurettes are more technical, these being “Master of Sound: Alan Splet” and “Cinematography Master Class” (which is a segment from a television show). “Raw Takes” is some unused footage. The theatrical trailer is also here. The menu’s main screen is animated and scored, while the secondary screens are scored.
The sound is a little disappointing, but in most other respects, this is a very solid release.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- “‘Dead Poets’: A Look Back” Featurette
- “Master of Sound: Alan Splet” Featurette
- “Cinematography Master Class” Featurette
- Raw Takes
- Theatrical Trailer