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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka "Stairway to Heaven")

http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/direct-chair/powell.htm
U
K 1946

This film solidified my appeal for Powell and Pressburger films. I personally rate it as one of their finest, along with "Gone to Earth" and "I Know Where I am Going". Like "A Canterbury Tale" (1944) we have the wartime interaction of the British and a lone American. What separates and stamps a signature of P + P's films is both the dialogue and often Jack Cardiff's stunning color cinematography. This holds rank in both areas. The premise of "A Matter of Life and Death" has classically felt overtones invoking the subtle melodrama of a heartfelt romance. It is also remarkably imaginative.

 

May 1945: Peter Carter (David Niven) is flying back to England from a bombing raid, but the crew are bailed-out with parachutes or dead and the damaged plane will imminently crash. With what he knows as his final voice he converses with June (Kim Hunter), a young American radio operator working for the RAF. Preferring a watery grave than the fireball of a crashing plane, Peter jumps into the English Channel (no parachutes left) leaving June with his final wishes and desire to meet her... one day. The universal tumblers have jammed and Peter not only survives but the first girl he meets on the beach is June. Their initial kiss supersedes life itself.

The "highest court" however, admit their error in allowing Peter to survive and an ensuing trial in Heaven is set for a final ruling. Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey) is the prosecutor, but luckily Peter has June's friend, Doctor Reeves (Roger Livesey) for the defense.

The much later U.S. remake "Heaven Can Wait" (1978) sillifies the pretext of this imaginative original film by Lubitsch (1943). Powell and Pressburger's is cinema that is as quintessential in their ouvré as one could ever define. The greatness is buried like layers that float away to compel more and more warmth of spirit. This folks, is a film worth seeing over and over again.
out of

 

Jordan tells us: "What was edited out of US version? - It was the scene where pilot David Niven, having jumped from a burning bomber without a parachute, is washed ashore at Saunton Sands, North Devon. It's a glorious day, and there is a vast expanse of beach and a wilderness of sandhills stretching for miles. A beautiful English morning in summer, rather unworldly, which seems appropriate for Niven who thinks he's dead and in Heaven. He gets up, strips off his flying gear, and wanders along the beach barefooted. He encounters a Labrador retriever, happy to know dogs are allowed in Heaven, then hears a tune being played on a reed pipe. There is a young naked boy seated on a sand dune, sunning himself while serenading a flock of goats. The goatherd was a Powell inspiration. The script called for a boy with some animals, who had to answer Niven's question when he thinks he's in Heaven: "Where do I report?" The director made the boy a naked boy, playing a tune composed by Allan Gray, while his goats nibbled the sparse grass on the sand dunes. Powell thought it gave the scene a certain charm, like a scene from  Theocritus. Niven speaks to the boy and gradually realizes that he is not dead, that he's alive, and has been washed ashore near the very  place where he will meet the love of his life. This, established in an earlier scene. Powell's charming Theocritean idyll was disliked by his American partners. The magic of the scene eluded them. They could only see sexual implications in the association of a grown man with a naked boy and rushed to protect their public. The scene was cut out in America, that's all there is to that. Never mind that there were important plot lines in it. It always riled Powell. So much for a pastoral touch of whimsy to complement a key sequence." (thanks Jordan)

Posters

Theatrical Release: November 1st, 1946 (Royal Command Film Performance)

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Comparison:

Carlton -  Region 2 - PAL vs. EPIX - Region 2 - PAL vs. Sony - Michael Powell Double Feature (Age of Consent, Stairway to Heaven)  - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray

 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL LEFT

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

Box Covers

 

 

  

Distribution

Carlton Visual Entertainment

 Region 2 - PAL

EPIX

Region 2 - PAL

Sony

Region 1 - NTSC

Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray
Runtime 1:39:54 (4% PAL Speedup) 1:39:54 (4% PAL Speedup) 1:44:04 1:44:04
Video 1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.0 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s
1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.19 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s
1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.19 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1080P Single-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 18,719,117,275 bytes

Feature: 17,127,444,480 bytes

Video Bitrate: 16.56 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

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

Bitrate:  Carlton

 

Bitrate:  EPI

 

Bitrate:  EPI

 

Bitrate: 

Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital 3.0 Mono)  English (Dolby Digital 1.0), DUB: German (Dolby Digital 1.0) English (Dolby Digital 2.0)

DTS-HD Master Audio English 2094 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2094 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

DUB:

DTS-HD Master Audio German 1823 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1823 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired, None English, German, None English, French, None German, none

Features

Release Information:
Studio: Carlton Visual Entertainment (UK)

Aspect Ratio:
Original aspect Ratio 1.37:1

 

Edition Details:

• Jack Cardiff Interview (9:59)
• Bios (text pages)

• Also Available (shows 4 other Carlton titles)
 

DVD Release Date: September 14th, 1998
Keep Case
Chapters: 12 (13 as opening is not recorded as a 'Chapter')

Release Information:
Studio: EPIX

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1

 

Edition Details:

• Text screens (in German)
 

DVD Release Date: May 12th, 2005
Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 12

Release Information:
Studio: Sony

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1

 

Edition Details:

• Commentary by Ian Christie

• Martin Scorsese discussion (7:53)

• Age of Consent disc and extras
 

DVD Release Date: January 6th, 2009
Custom Case
Chapters: 12

Release Information:
Studio: Ascot Elite
 

1080P Single-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 18,719,117,275 bytes

Feature: 17,127,444,480 bytes

Video Bitrate: 16.56 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Edition Details:

• 4 Trailers of unrelated films although one is The Red Shoes

Blu-ray Release Date: April 14th, 2015
Standard
Blu-ray Case (text in German)
Chapters: 12

 

 

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: These Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

 

ADDITION: Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray - May 2015': WOW - one of my all time favorite fantasy films. A Matter of Life and Death has come to Region FREE Blu-ray out of Germany. The color scheme supports the Sony SD but even with a single-layered 1080P transfer with a low bitrate this BD bests the other digital transfers - better and more grain texture, slight improvement in detail in spots and the colors jump to live looking deeper and richer. It has a few speckles here and there but seems to show more information in the frame. It looks solid in-motion, not perfect (not from any new restoration, me thinks) but still highly pleasing compared to the DVDs although far from its potential.

 

David tells us in email: "This appears to be a port of the same source released in France (see HERE). Even though the bitrate on the French disc is higher than this new disc, the transfers on both seem to me merely amplify all the problems with the original encode, and they are many, not least weak color saturation and to my eyes a blue bias in the timing, pulsing and density fluctuations and a considerable amount fringing (three strip misalignment) as well as a kind of green halo over a number of the later scenes. I don't like the master at all. Problems all come a video master derived from the Sony/Grover Crips photochemical restoration of 2001 or thereabouts, which was the basis for the Sony and other 2005 DVD releases. I think the video master is simply not up to scratch at all for a modern BD, especially in the stratospheric context of the other 3 strip Tech P&P tiles restored by Film Foundation et al." (Thanks David!)

 

Audio is in a DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel mono at 2094 kbps. The plane crash sequence has real buoyancy and the dramatic score by Allan Gray (The African Queen, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I Know Where I'm Going) soudns wonderful via the lossless. There is an optional German DUB (also in DTS-HD) and optional German subtitles. The Blu-ray disc is region FREE!

 

The extras consist of four trailers of unrelated films although one is P+P's The Red Shoes - although it looks pretty beat-up. I could watch A Matter of Life and Death over and over and I love showing the first half-hour to friends although they are rarely as enthusiastic as I am. Must-own in my opinion - 1080P, true running time (NOT 50i in PAL time) and the audio in lossless is to die for. Absolutely recommended!

***

ADDITION: Sony- Region 1 - NTSC - December 08' - Being brief - even though the new Sony disc is single-layered the improvement in the image is readily apparent. The EPIX and Carlton (which are pretty much the same disc) show excessive boosting beside the NTSC offering. Contrast on the black and white scenes of the new Sony has some sepia infiltration. The good?:

Skin tones have returned to a normal palette. Detail a notch better, colors appears more realistic but still don't maintain the Technicolor brilliance.

PAL versions are cropped a bit and seem horizontally stretched.

This is "A Matter of Life and Death" not the cut US "Stairway to Heaven" (as advertised in some venues).

It has a super Ian Christie commentary and 8-minute 'intro' by Scorsese. The package contains a second disc (dual-layered) with Age of Consent (and a Kent Jones commentary.)

I'm hoping to cover the entire Michael Powell Double Feature soon but wanted top get this out as we had so many e-mails about the image quality. It's far from ideal but a darn-site better than anything else available. Recommended!

***

ADDITION: EPIX (German) - PAL - November 05' - Well it appears as though my hopes for an even better transfer will not be coming to fruition in this new EPIX edition. I was told by a friend and hoping that this newer German DVD edition transfer would be from the 2000 restoration - but it is exactly the same image quality (even the same damage marks) as the original Carlton. Which is not to say the Carlton is poor - just boosted! The only differences are that the Carlton has English language menus, a 10:00 Jack Cardiff interview and optional white subtitles to the German's removable yellow and only German text extras (and a few stills and 2 posters). Other than that I thought the German edition sounded very good - quite possibly better than the Carlton, but I can't say with 100% certainty. I still suggest purchasing the Carlton - for the marvelous film and the superior extras.

***

ON THE CARLTON (written in 2000): One of the oldest DVDs from Carlton, and the boosting is a pain. Skin tones and colors are weak. There are some artifacts and damage marks. Contrast is a mess. It looks as though someone has tried to replicate the Technicolor glory. Audio is clear on 3-channel Mono. Clear, white subtitles, and a nice featurette involving Jack Cardiff.  Until Region 1 does this it remains a must-have film/DVD.

Gary W. Tooze


DVD Menus

(Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP vs. EPIX - Region 2 - PAL BOTTOM)

 

 

Sony

 

 

Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray

 


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

 

Subtitle Samples

 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


Screen Captures

 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

NOTE: The below scene was deleted in the US version "Stairway to Heaven".

 


 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


 

1) Carlton - Region 2 - PAL TOP

2) EPIX - Region 2 - PAL SECOND

3) Sony - Powell Double Feature - Region 1 - NTSC THIRD

4) Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray captures


Report Card:

 

Image:

Blu-ray

Sound:

Blu-ray

Extras: Sony

 


Associated Reading (CLICK COVERS or TITLES for more information)

Box Covers

 

 

  

Distribution

Carlton Visual Entertainment

 Region 2 - PAL

EPIX

Region 2 - PAL

Sony

Region 1 - NTSC

Ascot Elite - Region FREE - Blu-ray



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Gary Tooze