Jean Renoirís The River is presented on a dual-layer DVD in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1. The new high-definition transfer is based on a new 2004 restoration of the film.
It is an older DVD transfer but it still looks really good, probably one of the better Technicolor presentations Iíve seen on DVD. The image is quite sharp, managing to deliver rich textures and cleanly defined edges, while also nicely rendering colours, keeping their Technicolor look. Black levels are also nice, and detail levels remain strong even in the darker sequences.
Compression and noise is nicely managed and never distracting, and the print has also be nicely cleaned up, with only a few blemishes remaining along with some slight pulsating and fluctuations in areas of the screen. On the whole itís a strong looking standard-definition image. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion delivers a rather decent special edition for what is more of a budget release. It starts with an introduction by Jean Renoir, recorded for television in the 60ís. Renoir gives a brief history of the production, starting with how he came by the novel (he just happened upon a review of it) and then talks about the wonderful experience he had India, from scouting locations (he needed to make sure he could film there) to actual filming. He has a clear affection for the film, even calling it his favourite. The intro runs about 8-minutes.
The filmís theatrical trailer is next, followed by a 13-minute interview with Martin Scorsese where he talks about The River, which he calls one of his favourite films. He recalls the experience of seeing it with his father at a young age and the huge impact it had on him, mainly in showing him a culture he was completely unaware of. The film is one of the ones that influenced him into making films, and he talks about the framings and the use of colour. Itís also the film that eventually led him to discover some of Renoirís other films, particularly Grand Illusion (he also admits he never could relate to Rules of the Game). Scorsese is always energetic when he talks about film, particularly his favourites, and this one is just as engrossing and entertaining as his others. Unfortunately he doesnít talk about the restoration, which he was the primary backer of, and was hoping to hear more about that (this release surprisingly features next to nothing on that subject) but it is otherwise a good interview.
Criterion then provides an audio interview with producer/florist Kenneth McEldowney, and recorded by Criterion in 2000. I suspect the 47-minute recording was meant to be edited into a possible audio commentary with other participants, as it plays like one at times. At any rate, McEldowney, who can be a bit hard to understand at times, talks about the production, going over some of the difficulties that arose while working on the film, and talks about Renoir and the experience working with him. Thereís a few interesting stories, particularly about casting, making for a rather entertaining track. Criterion then provides a short text note section that gives a brief bio about McEldowney and offers a few more facts about the filmís production.
Criterion the supplies a small stills gallery with some cast and crew photos along with production photos. Following this, though, is probably the best feature of the release, a 60-minute BBC documentary about Rumer Godden, the author of The River, called Rumer Godden: An Indian Affair. Having grown up in India, the documentary revisits where she grew up, her daughter in tow, and Godden talks about her family and young life, and what it was like growing up in India. Though it samples passages from The River is doesnít have a lot specifically about the book or the film adaptation, concentrating a bit more on Black Narcissus and its success, as well as the period that follows. Itís a wonderful documentary and a great inclusion on this release.
The included booklet then features an excellent essay on the film by Ian Christie, followed by an essay on the making of the film by Alexander Sesonske. The booklet then concludes with a short note on the film, its location and people, and the characters written by Renoir. The booklet nicely rounds out the excellent supplements. 7/10