L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz


(aka 'Der Vorleser')

Directed by Stephen Daldry
USA / Germany 2008

 

Could two Oscar-nominated films from the same year have been more different! Slumdog Millionaire – a story, teeming with life, exuberantly told, public in its declamation, its characters shouting to be heard above the din. By its very title we anticipate a certain level of restraint from The Reader. A conservative estimate, it turns out, for its subject is secrets, guilt, conscience and reconciliation. In the hands of its director, Stephen Daldry (The Hours) it is about borders and contact – the point where one leaves off and another begins, inviting us to consider the question Cain asks of God about his responsibility for his brother. The Reader is nothing if not thoughtful and thought-provoking. In its relative silence – subtly acted by its three principals (Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross) and, up to the penultimate scene between Fiennes & Lena Olin, directed with restraint – there is enormous emotional tension.

The Reader tells the journey of Michael Berg (David Kross) who leaves home in his way, as teenage boys will do, engaged in a secret love affair – in his case, with a much older woman. The woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), is working class, unlike Michael, and lives alone in a very circumscribed life. Hanna appears to be psychologically damaged. Needy and strong by turns, she takes pains to keep Michael at a distance. She also takes a curious and extraordinary pleasure in Michael's reading to her from the books he studies in school. Their affair lasts little more than a summer when she suddenly leaves town and Michael without a word. Not something he can discuss with anyone, Michael holds onto his loss like a life preserver in an open sea. (The degree to which he seems to have been hurt by this was for me a major stumbling block to our believing his story.)

Six years later, while in law school, Michael attends a trial where, to his astonishment, Hanna is a defendant in a highly publicized murder case. As he watches the trail over the course of days he comes to realize a truth about her that has the potential of turning the tide of the proceedings, but for that to happen he would have to reveal himself and Hanna as well.

Leonard Norwitz

 

Product Description
The Reader, set in post-WWII Germany, follows teenager Michael Berg as he engages in a passionate but secretive affair with an older woman named Hanna. Eight years after Hanna s disappearance, Michael is stunned to discover her again as she stands on trial for Nazi war crimes. The Reader is a haunting story about truth and reconciliation and how one generation comes to terms with the crimes of another. Kate Winslet won and Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance.

***

The film centers on a sexual relationship between Hanna (Kate Winslet), a woman in her mid-30s, and Michael (David Kross), a boy of 15. That such things are wrong is beside the point; they happen, and the story is about how it connected with her earlier life and his later one. It is powerfully, if sometimes confusingly, told in a flashback framework and powerfully acted by Winslet and Kross, with Ralph Fiennes coldly enigmatic as the elder Michael.

The story begins with the cold, withdrawn Michael in middle age (Fiennes), and moves back to the late 1950s on a day when young Michael is found sick and feverish in the street and taken back to Hanna's apartment to be cared for. This day, and all their days together, will be obsessed with sex. Hanna makes little pretense of genuinely loving Michael, who she calls "kid," and although Michael has a helpless crush on Hanna, it should not be confused with love. He is swept away by the discovery of his own sexuality.

What does she get from their affair? Sex, certainly, but it seems more important that he read aloud to her: "Reading first. Sex afterwards." The director, Stephen Daldry, portrays them with a great deal of nudity and sensuality, which is correct, because for those hours, in that place, they are about nothing else.

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

Posters

Theatrical Release: December 10th, 2008

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DVD Comparison:

 Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Weinstein - Region FREE * - Blu-ray

* Blu-ray is Region FREE (verified by the Momitsu)

DVD Box Cover

Distribution Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray
Runtime 2:03:44  2:03:58.305
Video 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 4.78 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s  

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Feature: 44,699,132,328 bytes

Disc Size:  36,353,021,952 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Bitrate: 39.10 Mbps

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

Bitrate:

Bitrate:

Audio English (Dolby Digital 5.1), DUB: French Dolby TrueHD Audio English 2957 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2957 kbps / 24-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio English 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Subtitles English, Spanish, None English, Spanish, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Weinstein

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1

Edition Details:

• Twelve Deleted Scenes
Five Separate Making of... Featurettes

• Adapting A Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader (23:01)

• A Conversation with David Kross & Stephen Daldry (9:46)
• Kate Winslet On The Art Of Aging Hanna Schmitz (12:49)
• A New Voice: A Look At Composer Nico Muhly (4:07)
• Coming To Grips With The Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch (7:20)
• Theatrical Trailer (2:32)

DVD Release Date: April 14th 2009

Keep Case
Chapters: 24

Release Information:
Studio: Weinstein

1080P Dual-layered Blu-ray

Feature: 44,699,132,328 bytes

Disc Size:  36,353,021,952 bytes

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Total Bitrate: 39.10 Mbps

Edition Details:

• Twelve Deleted Scenes
Five Separate Making of... Featurettes

• Adapting A Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader (23:01)

• A Conversation with David Kross & Stephen Daldry (9:46)
• Kate Winslet On The Art Of Aging Hanna Schmitz (12:49)
• A New Voice: A Look At Composer Nico Muhly (4:07)
• Coming To Grips With The Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch (7:20)
• Theatrical Trailer (2:32)

• Exclusive to Blu-ray: (none)

Blu-ray Release Date: April 28th 2009
Standard
Blu-ray Case
Chapters: 24

 

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

ADDITION - Region 'A' Blu-ray - April 09': Image : 9/10
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Gary raised a number of minor concerns about the DVD image that he suspected would be corrected on
Blu-ray. I suspect he will be surprised by the difference. Possibly influenced by the recent deluge of digitally processed movies of late, I found the experience of watching this movie, at least for the first half hour or so, to be surprisingly relaxing. I was keenly aware that the medium itself, Blu-ray, is digital, but that it did not deter from my feeling engaged by its original source: film. There is something tangible about an image derived from a properly exposed negative, and this one is among the best. When I could take my mind off the movie to seek them out, I was aware of no artifacts, only some trifling edge-enhancement. Surfaces, from plaster to flesh, have a substance to them that makes one almost swoon with pleasure. Hair has a lightness that you can feel. Shadow and highlight detail is always assured. Of course, it helps that the movie is relatively devoid of post-processed visual effects, at least for the first act.

Audio & Music : 7/9
As Gary rightly points out, The Reader is mostly a dialogue driven movie that doesn't engage the surrounds very much. Indeed one would necessarily come to this impression when listening to the DVD's DD 5.1. But once again, uncompressed audio scores: Every word is now clear, even those spoken in hushed whispers – and there are many - so that we can go with the flow of the language without strain or complaint. Atmospherics, such as in the rotunda of the court building, make its case without bringing attention to themselves. The church choir slowly envelopes us as it does Hanna. Restraint is the order of the day in the score by 27-year old American composer Nico Muhly. Relying on the subtlest of music cues, often just a piano and strings, the Dolby TrueHD mix conveys the shifting moods with just enough clarity to ensure it doesn't turn into mush.

Extras are duplicated (see below).

Blu-ray Recommendation : 9
Despite its modest, even paltry extra features – no new ones beyond those on the DVD, nor any in HD – I give this release a high recommendation. The movie is a provocative, well-intentioned, if not problematic drama, and the image is reference quality.

Leonard Norwitz

 

ON THE DVD: I liked The Reader, but while I don't believe I loved it - it certainly is worthy of deep respect and even adoration. This is a very well crafted film - from an impacting story and performances are all quite memorable.

The Weinstein DVD has some issues that I am sure will be corrected on the Blu-ray - conveniently due out just 2 weeks later HERE.  While the overall bitrate is very low - it seems the feature video portion itself takes up less than 4.5 Gig of space on this dual-layered disc. The image is not overly weak or fraught with intense artifacts but I imagine it could look (and will) far superior - possibly showing more grain and depth. As far as standard-definition goes - detail is acceptable with some minor softness issues. Perhaps I am being too picky but expect a big difference (tightening up) in the 1080P version - which we will add to this review as soon as we can. This DVD is expectantly progressive and has the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85. It is coded for region 1 in the NTSC standard.

Audio is 5.1 but the film rarely supports dynamic separations with a mostly dialogue driven track. There isn't much 'surround' in the mix (a few subtle instances) but audio levels are consistent and clean. There is a French DUB and subtitles in English or Spanish.

Supplements contain 12 deleted scenes (over 40-minutes worth) - that I can't say would enhance the 'puzzle' factor or ingratiate anyone towards the pacing of the film. But there is some interesting acting and character development that obviously got left on the cutting room floor. One interesting segment is entitled "German Guilt" with Ganz which may be worth the 4-minutes invested.  After that there is close to an hours worth of 5 separate production featurettes - covering the usual (Making of, Interviews, Make-up, music etc.).  These have a modicum of interest but this is probably directly proportional to your enjoyment of the film and Winslet's fine performance. 

While it is common-place to be blasť about the central issue of the plot - the film is so brilliantly realized that it gives a denser meaning to its conclusion.  The DVD gives wholly decent presentation but consumer's tastes seem to be elevating these days and some may expect more from the transfer. Hopefully the Blu-ray will be a stunner. There is some wonderful cinematography and I look forward to seeing it in high-definition. As for the film - I'm very positive on its cinema value and encourage everyone to watch it when they have the opportunity. The Reader is vastly better than most films I watch as a DVD reviewer. 

Gary W. Tooze

 



DVD Menus / Extras


 


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

 

Subtitle Sample - can't get subs for Blu-ray yet!

 

(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)

 

 


 

Screen Captures

 

(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)

 

 


(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)

 

 


(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)

 

 


(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)

 

 


(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)
 

 


(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)
 

 


(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)

 

 


(Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC TOP vs. Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM)
 

 

 


About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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DVD Box Cover

Distribution Weinstein - Region 1 - NTSC Weinstein - Region FREE - Blu-ray




 

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