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

Walk the Line [Blu-ray]

 

(James Mangold, 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Tree/Line & Catfish

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:15:52.144

Disc Size: 40,176,013,368 bytes

Feature Size: 30,028,603,392 bytes

Video Bitrate: 22.87 Mbps

Chapters: 36

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 2nd, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3416 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3416 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio French 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary by Co-Writer/Director James Mangold

• 10 Deleted Scenes w/ Optional Commentary (23:07)

• Folsom, Cash & The Comeback (11:40)

• Celebrating the Man in Black - Makig of Walk the Line - in SD (21:30)

• Ring of Fire: Passion of Johnny & June (11:25)

• Extended Musical Sequences (5:35)

• Theatrical Trailer - in HD

 

 

The Film: 8
For Fox's new Blu-ray edition of Walk the Line, they have settled on (rather than settled for) the original theatrical cut, rather than the later "Extended Cut". The DVD was pretty good, but what it lacked, primarily, that the Blu-ray makes up for is a dynamite audio track – and, for a movie awash in concerts, rehearsals and auditions, it's a much appreciated course correction.

At the time of its release in 2005, there was some concern as to the public's readiness to pay for a ticket to see yet another biopic about a singer with a well documented addiction. It really didn't help matters that Jamie Foxx won his Oscar for his performance as Ray Charles (my feeling was he was acknowledged for the wrong movie – it should have been for Collateral, though in either case my vote would have been for Di Caprio as Howard Hughes), making it that much harder for us to root for a performance by guy playing another damaged artist. But it turned out that Walk the Line was more than a story about overcoming guilt and childhood emotional abuse, it was a love story front and center, a story about redemption because of the love of a woman.

Stories about addiction are now commonplace, and the concept of "co-dependence" is generally understood, if a little abused itself - a familiar tale of how one person in a relationship, despite intentions as often as not, encourages the addiction. What's not so common is a story where one person holds fast, not so much out of the principle of "tough love" but because it's fundamentally the right thing to do – they were, after all, both married to other people for much of the time they were colleagues on stage before they married in 1968. To Johnny Cash, June Carter was not only the girl of his boyhood infatuation, but an angel that would become the means to a second (and a third and a fourth) chance.

It was a bold move on the part of director/co-writer James Mangold to have both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do their own singing (which Jamie Foxx did not do for the most part). Even more than Ray Charles, Johnny Cash has a sound that is not only iconic, but gets into one's very bones. Phoenix was not going to be able to convey anything like that with his voice, so it was left to his stage presence and Mangold's direction and cutting to bring off the impossible. It's amazing they came as close as they did. As for Witherspoon, her performance on stage goes beyond mere mannerism. She exudes the kind of confidence that only a veteran since childhood (meaning June) could muster. It is within that universe of professionalism that she responds to or resists Johnny's intensely passionate, but sometimes near out of control, invitations to connect – on stage and off. Under Mangold's direction, June Carter is portrayed as something of a saint, and perhaps that is even more difficult to bring off in today's cynical world.

 


 

Image: 8/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
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.

I would describe the Blu-ray image as strong and generally unremarkable. There is little about the transfer that brings attention to itself – either because of any shortcomings or due to any attempts to enhance the film for home viewing. The Blu-ray looks decidedly filmic and not less like a video, except for bright scenes such as the open fields in what is taken to be Arkansas, which are curiously grainy. Blacks are deep, flesh tones in the proper light are remarkably lifelike, as is sharpness and resolution. Contrast handles the extremes of concert stage lighting as well as the shadows of despair that Cash's depressive drug use would visit. I found no defects in the source elements, or disparaging DNR or other artifacts.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/8
I looked over my notes about the movie when it came out in 2005:

I wonder if anyone besides me appreciated the effect of Ted Caplan's sound design for Walk The Line. Not only did he and his engineers manage to capture just the right timbre for Joaquin Phoenix to sound even more like Johnny Cash, without it seeming contrived, but they also nailed the ambiance of every venue Cash and his fellow travelers played in. If you know the Folsom Prison LP, then you ought to be amazed at how like that sound the movie is.

One thing we can do at home that we can't in the theater is to advance quickly to another scene to compare audio quality. What I was looking for was adequate distinction among the various concert venues which is what I thought I heard in the theater. Alas, except for Folsom Prison, this was not to be. The impression is that every number was recorded separately in much the same circumstances but with only slight changes in balance, but nothing like what would have been the case in reality. This may be an unfair test because we absolutely accept each venue as it comes along because the visuals are so remarkably different. That said, the impression of a live performance is palpable, especially with that fat bass that generally fixates itself into concert audio – which is, by the way, the main reason why I can't abide concert performance despite the live musicians. The Folsom Prison concert goes to the trouble of acknowledging the effect of a low ceiling in a large room.

As for the rest of the movie, the surrounds are largely used for ambiance. Dialogue is always clear and centered. And, if I haven't made this clear, the surrounds are well used to place us in the audience at the concerts.

 

 

Operations: 6
There are many chapters (36) but, oddly enough, they don't typically sort themselves out with the musical numbers. A second chapter menu that would have done just that would seem obvious. On the other hand, I loved the menu design, which is as informative and efficient as it is graphically affecting.

 

Extras: 6
There is a two disc DVD of this movie that incorporates a few more extra features. It passes understanding that all of them do not find their way into the Blu-ray. Mangold's commentary is quite good. I like how he starts out by reading his screenplay behind the opening scene outside the prison, making the point that a screenplay isn't just dialogue. As expected, he visits all aspects of production and casting with equal intelligence.

Besides the deleted scenes, with or without Mangold's comments, there are four extras, one about how the Folsom Prison concert became the turning point in Cash's career; another that concentrates on the relationship between Johnny and June; and one titled "Celebrating the Man in Black" that looks more at the present movie, with a few scattered remarks from the leads and crew. A familiar cast of characters are seen and heard from throughout these segments: friends; Johnny and June's son, John Carter Cash, who exec-produced the movie; Kris Kristofferson and other musicians and historians; but, we see little of Johnny or June except a fragment or two of archive footage and a few photo stills.

But my big gripe, as it is with every Blu-ray I've come across, is that the musical bonus feature is done with conventional audio. It matters little if it's stereo or 5.1, the flattening out of the sound is appalling – and so easily corrected. While it's nice that three numbers are given are given a more extended treatment in 1080p (and I could ask: how extended could they be if the total time granted is under six minutes), but the sound is good only to demonstrate how excellent the DTS-HD MA is on the main attraction.

 

 

Bottom line: 8
Walk the Line is a pretty good movie by any standard you care to measure it. It's a moving, personal story. The music is invigorating. The performances of its leading actors and the support of others less in the foreground are outstanding: Both Robert Patrick as Johnny's abusive, secretly guilt-ridden father and Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash's first wife, Vivien, who gets seriously and, possibly unfairly shat on in the film, get special mention. The Blu-ray image is quite good, with the exception of some unexpected grain here and there. The uncompressed audio does a convincing job of suggesting the live concert experience. The extras are a little repetitive, but worthwhile. Warmly recommended.

Leonard Norwitz
February 6th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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