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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interviews with director Michael Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins
  • New interview with David Ryan, author of George Orwell on Screen
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Trailer
  • An essay by writer and performer A. L. Kennedy

1984

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Michael Radford
1984 | 110 Minutes | Licensor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #984
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: July 23, 2019
Review Date: July 25, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

This masterly adaptation of George Orwell’s chilling parable about totalitarian oppression gives harrowing cinematic expression to the book’s bleak prophetic vision. In a rubble-strewn surveillance state where an endless overseas war props up the repressive regime of the all-seeing Big Brother, and all dissent is promptly squashed, a profoundly alienated citizen, Winston Smith (thrillingly played by John Hurt), risks everything for an illicit affair with the rebellious Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) in a defiant assertion of humanity in the face of soul-crushing conformity. Through vividly grim production design and expressionistically desaturated cinematography by Roger Deakins, Michael Radford’s 1984 conjures a dystopian vision of postwar Britain as fascistic nightmare—a world all too recognizable as our own.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents a new Blu-ray edition for Michael Radford’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, presented here on a dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Previously released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time, this edition makes use of an all-new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.

I didn’t see Twilight Time’s Blu-ray though I will assume it was based on the same master used for MGM’s previous DVD, which I vaguely recall seeing years ago. The colours look different here based on my memory of them on that disc, as though they’ve been completely sucked out. The film was never bright, but I don’t remember them ever being anywhere near to what’s here. Roger Deakins (who oversaw the restoration) comments on this in the included interview, mentioning that the film went through a silver tint process to give the film more of a “black-and-white” look without actually going black-and-white (I’m assuming producers would have frowned on the idea). He then mentions the film has never looked right since its release so he was delighted to work on this restoration.

The included trailer gives an idea as to how I recall the colours previously (not with 100% accuracy of course), showing more blues and reds and greens, but that is all gone now. There are grays, browns, silvers, and dirty yellows, with hints of red. But it does look really good, and if they were going for a black-and-white look without going all the way they certainly succeeded. What we’re left with looks sharp and well saturated, crisp and clean. There is some crush evident but blacks look pretty spectacular and shadow detail in many of the film’s darker shots look good.

The film is grainy and it looks unbelievably good, sharp and well-rendered. There was some minor macro-blocking in the blacks in a darker corridor shot but I didn’t notice any other artifacts. The image is incredibly crisp, absolutely crystal clear throughout (other than a handful of purposely softer moments) and damage is not an issue (not counting close-ups of the various giant screens, or the point-of-view shots from said screens). Depth is solid, textures look life-like, and this looks like a film. It’s a solid looking presentation, far better than I thought the film would ever look.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion includes two audio tracks, both in lossless PCM 1.0: one with the score by Dominic Muldowney, and then an alternate track featuring the score by the Eurythmics. Radford talks about the scores in his interview, explaining that Richard Branson (a key financier behind the film) wanted a rock score, even approaching David Bowie. Radford and crew just couldn’t take anyone they were talking to seriously so had Muldowney do the score almost last-minute. Branson, on the other hand, went around Radford and hired the Eurythmics and Radford only found out about it because Annie Lennox called him, seeming unsure about what she was doing. Radford (and others) hated the score and had the film released with the Muldowney score, but Branson pulled the film and had it re-released with the Eurythmics one, much to the annoyance of Radford. Radford admits now that the score has grown on him and he does like it in the film.

It will mostly come down to taste but rest assured both tracks sound great. Dialogue and effects sound sharp and clear on both, delivering decent range and excellent fidelity. When it comes to the score, though, I think the Eurythmics score edges out the Muldowney one, if just by a little bit. Muldowney’s score is fine but it’s more conventional (some of which appears in the other track) while the Eurythmics score has a more unnerving and suiting sound, and offers significantly more range to the proceedings. I couldn’t detect any differences between the tracks otherwise.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion provides a decent special edition for the film, gathering a couple of new interviews, one with director Michael Radfors (about 22-minutes) and another with director of photography Roger Deakins (about 20-minutes). Deakins is very technical, explaining how the look of the film was caught and the difficulty of accomplishing the film’s in-camera effects (there were no special effects, everything was done practically). He also talks about how the film was developed to get the look (which he says has been corrected here) and also expresses his excitement at working with Richard Burton (and he was shocked to learn Burton was just as nervous as him to work on the film).

Deakins’ interview is great but Radford’s is just an absolute joy. What is somewhat surprising about the film is that it sounds like it was made because everyone involved were just looking for something to do. Plus it was 1984, so why not adapt 1984!? He explains the look they were going for (the idea of what the future would look like from a person in 1948), how they planned details, including the film’s anthem, and of course talks about the casting: they went through a lot of names for O’Brien, even Marlon Brando, and he was warned not to work with Burton, infamous for his drinking (Radford has nothing but praise for him). It’s a fun, loose interview and I really wish he provided a commentary.

Criterion then digs up 5-minutes’ worth of behind-the-scenes footage, which looks to come from a news program, also featuring interviews with John Hurt and Suzanna Hamilton. The piece also stresses the, uh, stress in trying to get the film out in time for a 1984 release. Following this is a 22-minute interview with David Ryan, author of George Orwell on Screen, who gives some background to Orwell and his politics before looking at the various adaptations of 1984. The disc then closes with the film’s rather awful theatrical trailer, which uses the Eurythmics’ song “Sexcrime” and just doesn’t work at all, even though the song was done for the film.

A rather clever poster insert (which puts all sorts of Big Brother propaganda all over it) then features an essay by A. L. Kennedy on the source novel and the echoes of it in the world today, along with the various adaptations and the successes of Radford’s.

The supplements aren’t as extensive as I would have hoped, though I’m admittedly at a loss as to what else could have been covered.

7/10

CLOSING

Didn’t think the film would ever receive a 4K restoration, yet here we are and it looks great. Add on a handful of entertaining and informative interviews and the release comes with a hearty recommendation.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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