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A view on Hi-def discs by Gary W. Tooze

Being There Blu-ray

(Hal Ashby, 1979)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Warner Brothers

Video: Warner / Criterion Collection Spine #864

 

Disc:

Region: Free / Region 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:09:50.866 / 2:10:12.137

Disc Size: 28,131,892,840 bytes / 47,016,173,943 bytes

Feature Size: 26,385,303,552 bytes / 31,067,314,176 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.09 Mbps / 28.00 Mbps

Chapters: 36 / 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case / Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: February 3rd, 2009 / March 21st, 2017

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 / 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video / MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio English 579 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 579 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
DUBs: Dolby Digital Audio French 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, none

English (SDH), none

 

Bitrates:

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

Extras

• Featurette: Memories From Being There (14:48)

• Two Recently Discovered Scenes (1:42)
• Alternate Ending (2:03)
Gag Reel (6:15)

• Theatrical trailer (2:44)

 

New documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with members of the
production team (47:39)
Excerpts from a 1980 American Film Institute seminar with director Hal Ashby (32:54)
Author Jerzy Kosinksi in a 1979 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show (19:32)
Appearances from 1980 by actor Peter Sellers on NBC’s Today (10:31) and The Don Lane Show (11:55)
Promo reel featuring Sellers and Ashby (2:51)
Trailer and TV spots (2:51)
Deleted scene, outtakes, and an alternate ending (2:00, 0:50, 2:04, 3:25)
PLUS: An essay by critic Mark Harris

 

 

 

Summary: In one of his most finely tuned performances, Peter Sellers plays the pure-hearted, childlike Chance, a gardener who is forced into the wilds of Washington, D.C., when his wealthy guardian dies. Shocked to discover that the real world doesn’t respond to the click of a remote, Chance stumbles into celebrity after being taken under the wing of a tycoon (Melvyn Douglas, in an Oscar-winning performance), who mistakes his protégé’s horticultural mumblings for sagacious pronouncements on life and politics, and whose wife (Shirley MacLaine) targets Chance as the object of her desire. Adapted from a novel by Jerzy Kosinski, this satire, both deeply melancholy and hilarious, is the culmination of Hal Ashby’s remarkable string of films in the 1970s, and a carefully modulated examination of the ideals, anxieties, and media-fueled delusions that shaped American culture during that decade.

***

 'Being There' is based on Jerzy Kosinski's short comic novel about a simpleton, Chance (Peter Sellers), raised in isolation whose only education came from watching TV. When he's forced out of the house where he worked as a gardener by the death of the wealthy recluse who raised him from infancy, he's fortuitously struck by a limousine carrying Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the wife of a wealthy industrialist. He's mistaken, because of his well-tailored suits, for a man of means and taken to dinner with her husband, Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas). There, as Chauncy Gardner, his blank affect is taken for seriousness and his literal pronouncements about gardening for metaphoric economic predictions. Soon he's meeting the president (Jack Warden) of the United States and becoming a star on TV--where he's a natural...

 

 

 

 

The Film:

"There's an exhilaration in seeing artists at the very top of their form: It almost doesn't matter what the art form is, if they're pushing their limits and going for broke and it's working. We can sense their joy of achievement - and even more so if the project in question is a risky, off-the-wall idea that could just as easily have ended disastrously.

Hal Ashby's "Being There" is a movie that inspires those feelings. It begins with a cockamamie notion, it's basically one joke told for two hours, and it requires Peter Sellers to maintain an excruciatingly narrow tone of behavior in a role that has him onscreen almost constantly. It's a movie based on an idea, and all the conventional wisdom agrees that emotions, not ideas, are the best to make movies from. But "Being There" pulls off its long shot and is one of the most confoundingly provocative movies of the year.

Excerpt from Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times located HERE

 

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

 

Solid image with much improved color rendering from the older DVD edition. From the comparative sample below you can see the Blu-ray is brighter but seems to have less information in the frame. I wouldn't say this is a stellar Blu-ray and has some expectant areas of improvement with a smooth cleaner, tighter image that supports surprising dimensionality. Without overly focusing on one visual element I think it's fair to say that it shows less-than-usual demonstrative superiority, in all aspects, over standard definition. Technically this is a little better than a single-layered Blu-ray with the disc utilizing 28 Gig of space and the feature taking up 26 Gig of that. The bitrate is a modest 27 mbps. I'd say the Blu-ray image is consistent, competent but not of demo quality. Its reasonable but not overwhelming.

 

The Criterion is advertised as a "New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel". Upon close inspection it can look quite different from the 2009 Blu-ray. Contrast dramatically improves, colors cool and tighten and there is significantly more information on the edges - losing a hair on the bottom of the frame. Detail also improves and the overall image brightens... the Criterion 1080P uses AVC (as opposed to Warner's VC-1) and beside each other it's really no contest.      

 

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

 

1) Warner - Region 1,2,3,4 - NTSC TOP

2) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Audio & Music: The TrueHD 2.0 stereo option is more than capable of representing the audio of Being There. This is a film that is almost solely dialogue driven. There is some gentle music by Johnny Mandel supporting the narrative. Warner also has a 1.0 option and two foreign language DUBs.

Criterion go, authentically, linear PCM mono and it sounds flat but consistent. Johnny Mandel's (I Want To Live, Pretty Poison, Point Blank, Deathtrap, M*A*S*H, That Cold Day in the Park, Heaven with a Gun etc.) fitting score balances nicely via the uncompressed rendering. There are optional English subtitles (SDH) and my Oppo has identified this Blu-ray as being a region 'A'-locked.

 

Extras: The 2003 DVD was bare-bones with only a trailer and some text notes and this Blu-ray adds supplements - but they actually sound more 'full' than they are. A 15-minute featurette with Illeana Douglas leading off with some memories of visiting the set as a child. This segment is directionless with some accolades to Sellers and Illeana reflecting on her grandfather's career. The advertised 'Two Recently Discovered Scenes' run less than 2 minutes with Sellers and MacLaine, there is an alternate ending of about 2 minutes and a humorous gag reel with about 6 minutes of Sellers breaking out in laughter during a few takes. We also get the theatrical trailer. None of these extras appears to be in HD.

Criterion have produced an excellent new, 48-minute, documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with members of the production team including Andrew Braunsberg, screenwriter Robert C. Jones, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and editor Don Zimmerman. There is an audio-only excerpt from a 1980 American Film Institute seminar with director Hal Ashby running 33-minutes plus a 20-minute segment of author Jerzy Kosinksi in a 1979 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. There are two appearances from 1980 by actor Peter Sellers on NBC’s Today (10:31) and The Don Lane Show (11:55) plus an amusing promo reel featuring Sellers and Ashby as well as trailer and TV spots and the deleted scene, outtakes, and an alternate ending as found on the Warner Blu-ray. The Criterion includes a liner notes booklet with an essay by critic Mark Harris.

Warner - Region FREE - Blu-ray

 

Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

BOTTOM LINE : Again I'll credit Blu-ray, for the opportunity to see this film again after so many years. I enjoyed this Ashby offering on TV and VHS, many moons ago, but I was never a huge fan. However, the 1080P viewing gave me the warmest and most resonating expression of Being There. I seem to see much more in the film this time around and since I never owned the DVD I am quite glad I have this Blu-ray as part of my library. Being There is quite a unique film - one that I intend to revisit.

Great to revisit and it seems like a perfect time to indulge in such a stellar presentation of this masterpiece. I have nothing but accolades for the film and the Criterion Blu-ray package. The old Warner pales (literally) in comparison. I loved the extras as well especially Criterion's documentary. Positively double-dip worthy! Our highest recommendation!  

Gary Tooze

January 23rd, 2009

February 21st, 2017