Sybil is one of those movies that has turned into something of a running joke. It certainly didn’t start out that way, though. Probably no other made-for-TV movie is as famous as this one, based on a true story about a woman that had an astonishing 13 distinctly different personalities. Looking back on the film now, there are some definite cheesy moments. However, the vast majority of the film is really quite compelling, especially when the viewer reminds themselves that this is a true story.
Sa…ly Field, who plays the nut-job in question, won an Emmy for best actress for her work in the film. She really is extraordinary here, essentially playing thirteen different roles at once, many of them intertwined and overlapping. It is a role that would have made the film nothing more than a glorified After School Special in the hands of a lesser actress. Instead, Field plays the character(s) deftly and flawlessly, making the movie’s three-hour running time fly by. This is an amazing film even by today’s standards, and I hope this new edition brings an all-new audience to the film.
The audio track here is actually much better than I was expecting it to be. Let’s be honest; we’re talking about a 30-year-old made-for-TV movie. The odds of the original film elements being in great shape are extremely slim. While I can’t attest to what the DVD producers started out with, I am happy to report that they ended up in a great place. Dialog is very clear, and the ambient sounds are very well balanced. This is one of those films that relies heavily on ambient sound to convey plot points, and the pertinent sounds are mixed in extremely well. This is a fantastic stereo mix under any circumstances.
The video quality is also surprisingly well done. It is a shame that it is only available in full screen, but it is understandable under the circumstances. Color is good, and black levels are also quite nice. I was very surprised to see how clean the transfer is as well, with no problems with grain, scratches or dust. Not to keep bringing up the same thing again and again, but it is really quite remarkable how great this disc looks when you consider the original source. Warner Brothers has proven yet again that they are the studio that sets the standard when it comes to classic film restorations.
There are some really fascinating extras included on this title. The big attraction here is a documentary called Examining Sybil. This is something of a “making-of” documentary which features interviews with Sally Field, Joanne Woodward, the film’s writer and producer, and friends of the real life Sybil that the film was based on. The Sybil Therapy Session is a fascinating (albeit short) look at an actual therapy session with the real Sybil. Finally, there is a gallery of Sybil’s paintings. These little windows into the world of the actual patient are truly fascinating. I only wish that there were more of these segments here. For a special edition, the special features are a bit on the short side.
I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did. I really wasn’t expecting this disc to look and sound as great as it does. The inclusion of a second disc of extras, while a bit on the short side, is just the icing on the cake. This is the kind of movie that is ripe for a remake. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this story show up again at the local Googolplex, and I would be more than happy to attend. This is probably not the super-deluxe edition that fans of this film were hoping for, but it is certainly a worthy offering nonetheless.
Special Features List
- Retrospective Documentary: Examining Sybil
- Sybil Therapy Session
- The Paintings of Sybil