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(aka 'The Thief of Bagdad: An Arabian Fantasy in Technicolor')

Directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan,
Alexander Korda (uncredited), Zoltan Korda (uncredited) and William Cameron Menzies (uncredited)
UK 1940

 

Legendary producer Alexander Korda's marvel The Thief of Bagdad, inspired by The Arabian Nights, is one of the most spectacular fantasy films ever made, an eye-popping effects pioneer brimming with imagination and technical wizardry. When Prince Ahmad (John Justin) is blinded and cast out of Bagdad by the nefarious Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), he joins forces with the scrappy thief Abu (the incomparable Sabu, in his definitive role) to win back his royal place, as well as the heart of a beautiful princess (June Duprez). With its luscious Technicolor, vivid sets, and unprecedented visual wonders, The Thief of Bagdad has charmed viewers of all ages for decades.

****

A delightful hocus-pocus of colour, dashing adventure, and special effects, this Korda-produced epic for grown-up kids is basically Star Wars meets The Arabian Nights with its plot of an all-seeing eye stolen from a Tibetan temple. The highlight has to be the genie (Ingram) who escapes from the bottle, though Sabu the elephant boy lends just that dash of imperialist sentiment to lift it into camp. Magical, classically entertaining, and now revalued by Hollywood moguls Lucas and Coppola, it was made fitfully in Britain during the World War II Blitz (but completed in Hollywood) by a team of directors spearheaded by the remarkable Powell.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

Posters

Theatrical Release: December 5th, 1940

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Comparison:

Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC LEFT vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray RIGHT

Box Cover

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine #451 - Region 1 - NTSC Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray
Runtime 1:46:20  1:46:07.750
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 8.45 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 36,813,917,466 bytes

Feature: 26,549,680,128 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Average Bitrate: 29.69 Mbps

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Bitrate: Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital mono)  DTS-HD Master Audio English 824 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 824 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 1.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio German 823 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 823 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 1.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit)

Commentary:: Dolby Digital Audio German 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / DN -4dB

Subtitles English, None German, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Two audio commentaries: one featuring renowned directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, and one with film and music historian Bruce Eder
• Visual Effects, a documentary about the technical achievements of The Thief of Bagdad, featuring interviews with special-effects masters Ray Harryhausen, Dennis Muren, and Craig Barron (31:03)
• The Lion Has Wings (1940), Alexander Korda's propaganda film for the English war effort, created when The Thief of Bagdad went into production hiatus (1:15:42)
• Excerpts from co-director Michael Powell's audio dictations for his autobiography (11 parts)
• Excerpts from a 1976 radio interview with composer Miklos Rózsa (6 parts)
• Stills gallery featuring rare images of the film's production and photos shot in Dufaycolor Optional music and effects track
• Theatrical trailer
• 22-page liner notes booklet featuring new essays by film scholars Andrew Moor and Ian Christie

DVD Release Date: May 27th, 200
8
Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 16

Release Information:
Studio:
Anolis

 

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 36,813,917,466 bytes

Feature: 26,549,680,128 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Average Bitrate: 29.69 Mbps

 

Edition Details:
• Commentary (In German) with Dr. Rolf Giesen

• Documentary: Sabu the Elephant Boy (English with German subtitles) - 52:37 in 1080P

• Gallery

• Trailers

•  Trailer with commentary (English) by Ernest Dickerson (3:11)

Blu-ray Release Date:  November 15th, 2012
Standard
Blu-ray Case
Chapters:
24

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Anolis - Region 'B' Blu-ray - November 2012': Skin tones cool off and detail marginally rises - it looks brighter and more film-like but I doubt there will ever be an edition that satisfies those who remember the brilliance of the Technicolor. It seems like Criterion have digitally tried to recreate that exuberance. I enjoyed the Blu-ray - quite a lot. Some scenes you can really notice the hi-def improvement and there is quite a bit more information in the frame.. It is 1080P with a solid bitrate. There may be a few more speckles but overall - on a larger screen - it is a superior presentation - if less than some may have anticipated. What a great film experience - so much boyhood fun!

The audio is lossless - mono - and no real depth but has a few uncompressed benefits. There is an optional German DUB and optional German subtitles. Yes, you can see the film in original English WITHOUT the subtitles. It is region 'B'-locked.

Supplements consist of a commentary (in German only), a 52-minute documentary on Sabu in 1080P - and some trailers/gallery.

We can hoe a better Blu-ray will come along but I have my doubts. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the 1080P experience. Many fans will appreciate this Blu-ray, although it pales to the theatrical.

***

ON THE DVD: Firstly, I should apologize; although MGM released this film on DVD in December of 2002. Unfortunately, my edition refused to play today, but I can assuredly state that the Criterion image towers above it and if, at all possible, we will add some comparison captures in the near future. Stay tuned!

Highly important to many fans will be that this transfer is NOT pictureboxed (see our description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). Criterion have apparently abandoned their policy of including a thick black border around the edge of the frame to counter overscan on production television sets. There is a very slim border circumventing the image but, for the most part, information fills the screen at approximately the 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

How does it look? - quite marvelous. I would say that although it maintains Criterion's high standards for image quality - there are certain scenes that look acutely pristine and it would seem improbable that they are from a film made in 1940. Colors are muted - not tending to over vibrancy (compared to other Technicolor of the same time), detail has impeccable moments, and contrast maintains Criterion's hallmark standard of perfection. Overall, it is an unbelievably strong presentation with some extremely inconsequential minor scratches and noise here and there. Fans of the film should be quite overwhelmed although I can't vouch for the color accuracy.  

Audio is original mono and sounds adept without major flaw. Actually the track has some bombastic moments and the mono filled my room quite adequately. It's great to have this in the manner it was shown as opposed to some phony 5.1 bumps that seem to be so popular nowadays. As usual, Criterion have added optional English subtitles (see sample below) in a clear off-white font with black border.

The extras are extensive with two, count'em two, audio commentaries. The first features separately recorded inserts by luminary directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. They give alternating tidbits on the impact on the film as they started in the field (also mentioning it was championed by others as well, like Spielberg and Lucas). It's good but there are some gaps where the film is left to run and it doesn't flow particularly smoothly. If you prefer there is a more in-depth, professional commentary from film and music historian Bruce Eder who packs in extensively more. He talks at a leisurely, slow and continuous pace but is able to identify more closely who directed which scenes etc. as well as some fascinating production details. He is obviously well-prepared and thorough in his dissemination of information about the film, including tidbits on Korda, Powell, Sabu and others associated with the production. We are also given a 4th audio option - to listen to the music and effects alone. The first disc also includes a 2.5 minute theatrical trailer.

On disc 2 we start with a 30 minute documentary entitled simply Visual Effects, a featurette about the technical achievements of The Thief of Bagdad. It includes interviews with special-effects master Ray Harryhausen, supervisor and founder of California's Matte World Digital Craig Barron, and Oscar wining effects designer Dennis Muren. Good information for the tech-minded and those curious about the incredible extent they went to 65 years ago to produce F/X which can done to day digitally without that expense. One can also see 2 minutes of a Blue-Screen demo - simulated footage to outline the 'blue-backing' process utilized in The Thief of Bagdad

There are two audio only segments - a rough sounding one (akin to a phone conversation) with Michael Powell dictating for his autobiography and a much clearer one with composer Dr. Miklos Rózsa from 1976. I found this latter one most interesting. Rózsa's English is quite excellent and he elucidates his personal evolution into film scores with an anecdote or two on people he has met with some other highly interesting circumstances imbedded from his fascinating career.

Some may be keen at the inclusion of The Lion Has Wings (1940), Alexander Korda's propaganda film for the English war effort, created when The Thief of Bagdad went into production hiatus. It runs 1:15:42 and is a "documentary" style effort made at the start of World War II praising the R.A.F with a smattering of 'Michael Powell' deftness to it. Interesting viewing.

Finally, on the digital front, we have a Stills Gallery featuring a few rare images and photos of the film's production. Criterion have included a 22-page liner notes booklet featuring new essays by film scholars Andrew Moor and Ian Christie.

I gained an immense amount of appreciation for the film through this Criterion package and the purity of the transfer presentation added to the fantasy element and amusement of the film. Really, like Martin Scorsese says, 'a child-like - not childish - film' of adventures and grandiose events. I predict this package will get some much deserved votes in our year-end poll. Criterion have, expectantly done a miraculous job and we give our strong endorsement of this digital edition. Magnificent.

Thomas says: 'Thanks very much for the review of Criterion's "Thief of Bagdad." I, too, own the MGM DVD, and compared to your screen captures of the Criterion, the MGM looks much more vibrant, like Technicolor looked in the forties, in the way of (albeit 1939) Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind. The Criterion in your captures looks much more muted, almost as if it was a colorized black and white image. In the MGM, the scene were June Duprez looks into the pool is a lovely shot, with fresh colors in her face and a vibrant lush background. The look of the Criterion disappoints me as looking rather drab.' (Thanks Thomas)

Paul says: "The Criterion disc reflects the British Technicolor pallet much more accurately than the MGM disc. American Technicolor tended to amp up the primary colors to the detriment of the overall image. I welcome this new transfer to my collection." (Thanks Paul)      

Gary W. Tooze

 


Menus


Disc 2

 

Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 


CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE BELOW TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample

 

Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


 

Screen Captures

 

Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM
 

 


Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM
 

 


Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM
 

 


Criterion Collection (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM
 

 

More Blu-ray Captures

 

 


Box Cover

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine #451 - Region 1 - NTSC Anolis Entertainment - Region 'B' - Blu-ray




 

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