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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Both the theatrical cut and director's cut
  • New program on the film’s cinematography featuring a conversation between Walter Lassally and critic Peter Cowie
  • Excerpt from a 1982 episode of The Dick Cavett Show featuring actor Albert Finney
  • New interview with actor Vanessa Redgrave on director Tony Richardson, to whom she was married from 1962 to 1967
  • New interview with film scholar Duncan Petrie on the movie’s impact on British cinema
  • Illustrated archival audio interview with composer John Addison on his Oscar-winning score for the film
  • New interview with the director’s-cut editor, Robert Lambert
  • An essay by scholar Neil Sinyard

Tom Jones

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Tony Richardson
1963 | 256 Minutes | Licensor: Woodfall Film Productions Ltd.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #910
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 27, 2018
Review Date: February 25, 2018

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SYNOPSIS

In the early 1960s, at the height of the British New Wave, a movement whose gritty realism they had helped establish, director Tony Richardson and playwright John Osborne set out for more fanciful narrative territory. Tom Jones brings a theatrical flair to Henry Fielding’s canonical eighteenth-century novel, boisterously chronicling the misadventures of the foundling of the title (Albert Finney, in a career-defining turn), whose easy charm seems to lead him astray at every turn from his beloved, the wellborn Sophie Western (Susannah York). This spirited picaresque, evocatively shot in England’s rambling countryside and featuring an extraordinary ensemble cast, went on to become a worldwide sensation, winning the Oscar for best picture on the way to securing its status as a classic of irreverent wit and playful cinematic expression.


PICTURE

Tony Richardson’s winner of the 1963 Academy Award for Best Picture, Tom Jones, receives an all new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. This 2-disc set features both the original theatrical version and the 1989 director’s cut—which runs 7-minutes shorter—each appearing on their own dual-layer disc. Both cuts are sourced from the same 4K restoration, sourced from the 35mm original camera negative, with a 35mm interpositive and two 35mm internegatives filling in where the negative was missing frames or was too badly deteriorated. Each cut is also presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

My memory of the film—based on a VHS tape of the director’s cut, the last way I saw the film—is that of a fairly dull looking one with a weak colour scheme while also looking a little washed out and muddy. Of course, to be fair, that was a VHS release so the presentation was never going to be all that optimal, yet even considering that I was still taken aback quite a bit by what we get here. First, there is still a certain muddiness to the look of a handful scenes. The film has a lot of day-for-night shots, but how they were done, while lending the film an interesting look, rarely pass as evening shots and really just come off flat and washed out. The blacks take on a milky gray and the colours become more muted. Any depth present in the film previously is now gone. But cinematographer Walter Lassally, in one of the included interviews of this release, does talk about how this was done and the end result is certainly more a product of the cinematography and nothing to do with the transfer or restoration. Adjusting black levels would most certainly have thrown things off more so it was probably best that this aspect was left as is.

Outside of these moments the rest of the presentation is stellar. The colour scheme is still not something to write home about, the image laced with lots of browns and such, though the blue skies manage to look striking. Despite that saturation is still very good and there’s far more life here than what that old VHS could ever dream of having. Black levels, outside of those day-for-night shots, also look pretty strong.

The image also delivers an exceptional amount of detail throughout, even in those day-for-night shots. As mentioned earlier the negative was used for most of the restoration but other sources were also used to fill in gaps or replace badly deteriorated portions. There are a couple of fuzzier, less detailed moments where it’s obvious the source has changed (and it can eve jump between them in the same shot!) but I can’t say all that many stood out. Film grain is also rendered incredibly well, looking sharp and natural without any signs of compression or noise, and even when the grain gets a bit more obvious when the source changes it still looks good. The restoration work has also cleaned up most everything and nothing significant ever stands out.

All of this also applies to both versions of the film, with neither standing out as worse (or better) than the other, and both featuring the same minor issues but ultimately delivering a sharp looking image.

8/10

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AUDIO

Interestingly each version of the film presents a different audio track: the theatrical version features a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural track while the director’s cut features a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo track created for that version of the film. In terms of general quality both are very good and there isn’t much to complain about. They are both fairly dynamic, dialogue sounds good, and the music has some decent fidelity. The stereo track does spread the audio out a bit in the fronts, with some noticeable pans and such, but ultimately it doesn’t offer too much of a different experience from the mono track.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

For a Best Picture winner, and 2-disc set for said Best Picture winner, the supplements feel surprisingly sparse, though at least strong in actual content. The big feature, though—and the one that I think most will appreciate—is that this release features both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut, each presented on their own dual-layer disc. The odd thing about this director’s cut, created in 1989 by Richardson, is that it is 7-minutes shorter than the original film instead of longer, which is usually (though not always) the case. I know some despise the newer cut, but since it is the version I first saw I admit I don’t share the same animosity. Watching the theatrical cut I only saw a handful of moments that actually stood out (a couple of shots early on and the Tom/Sophie montage is missing a couple of moments in the director’s cut, like Tom reciting from a book, the only dialogue to originally appear in the sequence) whereas everything else are more simple trims here and there, even removing some lines, in an attempt to just tighten the film up (which one feature suggests is what Richardson was trying to accomplish). The film is fun, I like the fourth wall breaks, Finney is good, and the food scene is still really, really funny, but I don’t have a true affinity towards the film and for me either version actually works. But since the theatrical version was so hard to come by before since the 1989 reedit (MGM did, probably mistakenly, release the theatrical cut on DVD at one point) getting it here, fully restored, is definitely a huge benefit of this release.

The special features themselves are then spread over the two discs. The first disc, which hosts the director’s cut, starts off with one the release’s best and most rewarding features, a compilation interview with director of photography Walter Lassally taken from interviews with him filmed in 2004 and another (with Peter Cowie) filmed by Criterion in 2017. Between the two Lassally talks about Richardson and their early work together before getting into Tom Jones, a film he admits he was horrifically afraid of because it was more of an “epic” in comparison to previous works like Taste of Honey, though he learned things weren’t all that different once he actually started working on the film. From here he gets more technical, talking about the equipment, the handheld work, and then how he went about shooting day-for-night sequences, a technique that differed from what was usually done at the time. It’s a rich amount of material from the man, loaded with great details about Woodfall films and then the technical details behind filming Tom Jones. It’s a pretty swift 24-minutes.

Film scholar Duncan Petrie next talks about the influence of Tom Jones in his 22-minute segment, looking at the film’s playfulness and meta moments, how it broke into the North American market and helped other British films to do the same (it also made it easier for other independent British films to find funding). He also talks a little about Woodfall films and the working class films the production company was most known for, and even talks a bit about Tom Jones’ actual production. I was expecting this feature to really focus more on an overall impact the film had but it seems to be more of an all-encompassing look at the film and its creators, thought a decent one in the end.

The first disc then closes with Reediting “Tom Jones” featuring Robert Lambert, who helped Tony Richardson with the director’s cut. The original goal at the time was just to do a restoration of the film but after revisiting it Richardson wanted to tweak and tighten the film up, feeling these changes would have been things he would have done anyways (it sounds like he had been rushed a little when originally putting the film together). Lambert then talks about working with Richardson and some of the changes. It runs 10-minutes.

Disc two, featuring the theatrical cut, has a few more interviews. Criterion first digs up a 4-minute excerpt from The Dick Cavett Show featuring Albert Finney. It’s an amusing little bit with the two talking about period pictures and recalling Tom Jones’ infamous food scene. I was disappointed the full segment wasn’t included, though since it was filmed in 1982 I’m guessing it was focused around Annie so that might be why.

Criterion then digs up an 8-minute audio interview with composer John Addison, who explains the unconventional choices (for a period film) made throughout, the more playful nature to the score, and gives extra focus to a couple of specific sequences in the film. But one of the nice surprises here is a new interview with Vanessa Redgrave, who was married to Richardson at the time. She recalls the time quite fondly (even getting a bit lost in those memories at one moment) and reflects on Richardson’s work and what it was like visiting the set. It’s short, at only 10-minutes, but it is a truly lovely addition to the release.

Neil Sinyard provides a pretty solid essay on the film in the included insert, covering its surprise success, which could be attributed to it using an 18th century to capture the mood of the 60s. He then goes into detail about Richardson’s reservations about the film, despite its success and helping fund future films, and why he would go back and reedit it over 25 years later. It’s a short essay but a good read.

In the end the material is really good and does a nice job in covering the film, but it contains, somewhat shockingly, barely even 80-minutes’ worth of material.

7/10

CLOSING

The supplements are good, though for a Best Picture winner I would have thought Criterion would have churned out more material (there isn’t even anything about the book). At the very least, though, they do include both versions of the film, which will definitely please those that prefer the theatrical cut, and they both contain sharp looking presentations.


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