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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • New interview with Morris
  • New interview with Bailey

A Brief History of Time

Dual-Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Errol Morris
Starring: Stephen Hawking
1991 | 84 Minutes | Licensor: Fourth Floor Productions, Inc.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #699
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 18, 2014
Review Date: March 4, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

Errol Morris turns his camera on one of the most fascinating men in the world: the pioneering astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, afflicted by a debilitating motor neuron disease that has left him without a voice or the use of his limbs. An adroitly crafted tale of personal adversity, professional triumph, and cosmological inquiry, Morris's documentary examines the way the collapse of Hawking's body has been accompanied by the untrammeled broadening of his imagination. Telling the man's incredible story through the voices of his colleagues and loved ones, while making dynamically accessible some of the theories in Hawking's best-selling book of the same name, A Brief History of Time is at once as small as a single life and as big as the ever-expanding universe.

Forum members rate this film 9/10

 

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PICTURE

Errol Morris’ documentary A Brief History of Time gets a dual-format edition from Criterion, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The dual-layer Blu-ray disc delivers a brand new high-definition, 1080p/24hz transfer, while the DVD delivers an anamorphic standard-definition version of the film.

Taken from a new 4K restoration made from the original 35mm negative, the presentation looks unquestionably extraordinary. This is probably about as filmic as a transfer can look. Grain is fine but clean, naturally rendered, and every detail in the film pops through clearly. Close-ups on papers and documents reveal a staggering amount of detail, clearly presenting the fine fibers in said sheets. Colours are rich and bold, and black levels look fairly pure without crushing out details.

Even the DVD looks quite good. Detail isn’t as sharp, but the DVD doesn’t present any abnormal anomalies outside the expected

I don’t recall many blemishes in the source print, if any, with the restoration work looking incredibly thorough. Overall it looks beyond exceptional, like a projected film, easily the best I’ve ever seen the film.

10/10

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

The film receives a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD. Unsurprisingly the track is more subtle in nature, never really calling attention to itself. The film is primarily a talking-heads documentary (Morris likes to joke that Hawking is a non-talking talking-head) so most of the audio is centralized to the center speaker. The dialogue is clear and free of distortion (Hawking of course talks through a computer that uses a voice synthesizer, so there is obviously a bit of distortion there.)

Where the surround aspect of the track comes in is in the delivery of Philip Glass’ score. It’s a dreamy score, not overly robust or loud, but effective for the film. It’s split out between all of the speakers rather creatively and subtly, delivering an other-worldly feeling. Bass is low key as well, but noticeable and also effective, never overdoing it. It’s beautifully mixed and completely effective for the film.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Surprisingly there is very little on this release, which delivers two interviews. The first is a 35-minute one with director Errol Morris. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any interview with Morris before and I was caught off guard how slightly off-kilter he seems to be, and I mean that in a good way. It’s a rather amusing interview that starts with Morris covering the genesis of the project and how it came to him (disappointingly he doesn’t really talk much about Steven Spielberg’s early involvement, which, I understand created some friction.) Morris talks about Hawking and his novel, and the process of adapting it. He saw the book as a sort of biography mixed in with all of Hawking’s theories and had the film heavily lean towards biography, to Hawking’s general disapproval, creating what he considers his “most romantic documentary.” What was most surprising to me was the fact sets were constructed for Hawking’s office and all of the interviews, allowing for more control during shooting. He talks about some things he isn’t too fond of now (the computer graphics in the film probably being his biggest disappointment) and talks a little about Glass’ score and the unique way Morris had him create it. It’s an excellent interview, very revealing and honest.

The second interview is a shorter 12-minute one with director of photography John Bailey. This one concentrates on the film’s look, including more information on the construction of the sets and lighting them. There’s also a couple of other surprises to be found, like the fact there were stand ins for Hawking in certain shots (he was only available a couple of days during the shoot.) He also covers the colours in the film and Morris’ techniques in interviews. Not as in-depth as Morris’ interview for sure, but a nice addendum to it.

Criterion at least includes a booklet, which features an essay on the film by David Sterritt followed by an excerpt from Hawking’s 2013 memoir My Brief History where he writes about the process of getting A Brief History of Time. There is also a very short excerpt from the book itself.

Unfortunately that’s it. Though the material is good it still feels a little underwhelming.

5/10

CLOSING

The supplements are fine in and of themselves but I still felt a bit underwhelmed by them. But the transfer itself is a stunner, making the release one that is worth picking up.


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