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Steamboat Bill, Jr. [Blu-ray]
(Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton, 1928)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: Joseph M. Schenck Productions
Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)
Disc Size: 41,356,953,125 bytes
Feature Size: 19,062,847,488 bytes
Video Bitrate: 29.82 Mbps
Case: Standard Blu-ray case inside cardboard case
Release date: July 6th, 2010
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 matted to 1.78
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
DTS-HD Master Audio English 3673 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3673 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps / DN -1dB
Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps
• Alt version of the film (Killiam)
• Visual Essay - documentary on the making of the film (12:20)
• Stills Gallery (37 images)
• Why They Call Him Buster (1:11 montage of pratfalls)
•Two vintage recordings of the folk song Steamboat Bill (Edward Meeker - 1911 + Irving Kaufman - 1919)
Description: The last of the independent features made in the prime of Buster Keaton's career, STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. is a large-scale follow-up to The General, substituting a Mississippi paddlewheel for the locomotive, and replacing the spectacle of the Civil War with a catastrophic hurricane. Keaton stars as William Canfield, Jr., a Boston collegian who returns to his deep-southern roots to reunite with his father, a crusty riverboat captain (Ernest Torrence) who is engaged in a bitter rivalry with a riverboat king coincidentally, the father of Willie s sweetheart (Marion Byron). Keaton s athleticism and gift for inventive visual humor are in top form, and the cyclone that devastates a town (and sends houses literally crashing down around him) is perhaps the most ambitious, awe-inspiring and hilarious slapstick sequence ever created. In the silent era, it was common practice for filmmakers to create two separate negatives of their films, each comprised of differing takes and camera angles. This definitive Blu-ray edition contains both versions of STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. the Buster Keaton Estate version and the Killiam Shows Archive version each mastered from archival 35mm materials. All new Special Features include: Complete alternate version of Steamboat Bill, Jr., comprised entirely of variant takes and camera angles, Music by The Biograph Players presented in DTS-HD, Master Audio 5.1, Organ score by Lee Erwin, Piano score by William Perry, Documentary on the making of the film, Stills Gallery, Why They Call Him Buster (a montage of pratfalls), and Two vintage recordings of the folk song Steamboat Bill.
It's possible to not love Buster Keaton, I suppose. Maybe it's even
easy; all you have to do is have a limited, modern conception of what
movies should be - driven by dialog, plot, and characterization, with
visual effects used only to forward those things. I feel sorry for those
people, because they can't understand the sheer delight of a movie like
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Despite not reaching the lofty heights of City Girl on Blu-ray I have to admit Steamboat Bill Jr. looks mighty impressive in 1080P. I'm not a fan though of rounded corners showing - I doubt any projectionist would show a film this way - but they didn't bother me too much. Predictably, there are speckles and scratches - perhaps a shade more than The General. Contrast and visibility of grain are excellent on this dual-layered transfer. There is no tinting - occasionally whites may be excessively bright. Black levels are generally very strong but titles cards aren't pitch nor opening credits. This is were I noticed some blotchy noise-like weaknesses. The overall image is quite strong and seeing an 80+ year old film showing this level of detail and grain is a true treat. There are even instances of depth. I was pleased with the video transfer.
Sent by MW in email: "I have seen original prints of Keaton's films (although not of STEAMBOAT BILL) and they were not as flat looking as the captures. The captures are too low in contrast and not dense enough. This may be the fault of the source material. Most of Keaton's negatives survived at least into the 70s." (Thanks M!)
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
Audio gives three options - a strong DTS-HD Master 5.1 at 3673 kbps by The Biograph Players as well as the same score in 2.0 stereo and a mono organ score by Lee Erwin with feisty piano by William Perry. I sampled the HD and the mono and couldn't state a preference at this stage - I tend to be a fan of the lone channel but the surround was nicely mixed. Both main scores were clean and crisp. There are no subtitles and the titles cards and, obviously, in English.My Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.
Supplements have some depth offering the Alternate version of the film (Killiam) unique in that it is comprised of many variant takes and camera angles. There is a 'Making of..." entitled a Visual Essay - running about 12.5 minutes as a documentary. There is an extensive stills gallery with 37 images and a hilarious Why They Call Him Buster montage of pratfalls that runs for only a minute - but you wish was 10 times longer. Lastly there are two vintage recordings of the folk song Steamboat Bill - by Edward Meeker from 1911 + Irving Kaufman from 1919.
July 6th, 2010
About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.
Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who
focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I
find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be
it, but film will always be my first love and I list my
favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible
Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD
Gary W. Tooze