Michael Powell’s The Edge of the World makes its debut on Blu-ray courtesy of BFI Video, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
The transfer is adequate, though I have to express a little disappointment in it, especially given BFI’s track record on the format as of late, which is exceptional. Detail is pretty good when the source materials allow it, best evident in the landscapes that appear throughout. Contrast and gray levels are excellent, and blacks also come off looking fairly deep if not perfect.
Unfortunately I felt there were instances where the image did look digital and not completely film-like. Some sequences present grain that looks a little pixelated and unnatural and there are a few instances where the image can look smoothed over because of this. The transfer has a surprisingly low bitrate that hangs in the mid-to-high teens, which is lower than most of the supplements included on the disc. I’m not completely sure if this has to do with the problem but I can only figure it doesn’t help.
There’s still some damage present in the source, and some optical effects present some problems with the image, making it soft or fuzzy, and it looks like frames are missing, but overall it’s been restored beautifully and this is by far the best condition I’ve seen the film in.
In the end it certainly looks okay but I find it the weakest hi-def transfer from BFI I’ve yet come across. 6/10
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.
BFI loads some supplementary materials with the film, with the video features all presented in 1080p/24hz.
First up is an audio commentary featuring film scholar Ian Christie, and Michael Powell’s widow Thelma Schoonmaker-Powell, along with actor Daniel Day-Lewis reading excerpts from a book by Powell that includes details about the shoot. I usually like Christie’s commentaries but must admit, despite all the great information, this one is particularly dry. Christie goes over the general shoot, which was particularly difficult with every force of nature on the island working against Powell and his crew. Day-Lewis’ readings, presenting Powell’s first-hand accounts, back these statements up, and Schoonmaker-Powell also recalls stories by Powell about the shoot, and also talks about the excitement he experienced later in his life when he saw newer generations discovering his films, particularly this one, which was apparently his favourite. Despite everything being offered in the track, which is actually quite fascinating material, and even surprising, Christie’s delivery of is just stuffy, with only the other two participants occasional chiming in relieving it.
Next up is Michael Powell’s Home Movies, which is 7-minutes worth of home movies recorded in colour by Powell during a trip to the Scottish highlands. Thelma Schoonmaker-Powell narrates (with a faint bag pipe score in the background,) talking about Powell’s love of Scotland, influences Scotland had had on his films, reads excerpts from his autobiography about Scotland, and even introduces many of the people that pop up in the footage, even Powell’s dog. The footage is great and I enjoyed the narration, making it a worthwhile feature.
Following this piece is The Return to the Edge of the World, a 24-minute 1979 film by Powell chronicling the return of himself and members of his cast and crew to Foula island, where The Edge of the World was filmed. In it Michael Powell talks about the origins of the project and how its eventual success led to him striking a deal with Alexander Korda and going on to make The Thief of Baghdad. John Laurie, now 81, also appears and he, along with others, pays tribute to the various cast and crew members no longer with us. The film/documentary then looks at Foula Island and its current economy, and islanders talk about the pros and cons with having had the film made on their island over 40 years earlier. It’s a fantastic inclusion and certainly the best one on here.
Another excellent feature dug up from the archives is St. Kilda: Britain’s Loneliest Isle, a 15-minute silent film made possibly around 1923. An optional audio commentary by Kathryn Howden explains the film’s possible origins and talks about the subject matter, giving a history of the island of St. Kilda, which was the basis for Powell’s The Edge of the World, and had been evacuated not too long after this film would have been made. It’s an incredibly fascinating historical document, and amusing at the expense of the islanders (it really does treat the inhabitants as primitives, who get freaked out by simple machine.) You can also watch the film without the commentary, presenting the film with a simple score.
The disc also includes an alternate opening title, which looks to have been used for a reissue years later, after Powell started working with Emeric Pressburger since the titles open with both the J. Arthur Rank logo and the Archers logo. You also get four alternate sequences running a total of 7-minutes (and without audio.) The disc then closes with a 2-minute theatrical trailer.
BFI of course includes another one of their fantastic booklets, opening with an essay on the film and Powell’s early career by Ian Christie. Next is an article written in 1937 about The Edge of the World followed by brief biographies about Michael Powell and producer Joe Rock. The booklet then has photos of lobby cards, posters, production stills, a shot of the press book, a reprint of the article that influenced Powell, and even a cool little section about a technique to colourize black and white production photos for magazines. It’s a brief booklet but it’s still filled with excellent material.
In the end the commentary may be the most disappointing feature, but it’s still filled with great material. The rest of the material is all fantastic material, and should please anyone fond of the film. 8/10