Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
List Price
$49.95
Amazon
$30.99 (38%)
3rd Party
$26.69
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
4 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

The Leopard

Street Date:
June 29th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
July 28th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
1963
Studio:
Criterion
Length:
185 Minutes
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Director Luchino Visconti's 'The Leopard' (1963) is adapted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's best-selling novel of 1958 by the same name. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, it is a gorgeous, engaging historical epic set during the Risorgimento (The Resurgence) when Giuseppe Garibaldi led a revolution against the aristocracy to unify Italy.

Originally 185 minutes long, the film was trimmed to 161 minutes for its American release. The Criterion Collection makes both versions available in this two-disc set, but after seeing the exquisitely restored high-definition transfer of the Italian version, supervised by director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno, and comparing it to the poor condition of the American cut, I can't imagine anyone wanting to watch the latter.

'The Leopard' of the title is Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster though his voice is dubbed by an unidentified Italian actor), and the film tells the story of how he and his family deal with the country's transition to democracy. They flee for their safety as Garibaldi's red-shirted army advances, and seek to stay above the fray. Nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon) has other plans and joins Garibaldi's forces, which angers his aunt, Princess Maria Stella Salina (Rina Morelli) because she sees this as Tancredi turning against his family.

Tancredi appears young and impetuous due to his constantly changing allegiances, including those of his heart, but he may well be a shrewd and calculating fellow. He wants to marry his cousin Concetta (Lucilla Morlacchi), which displeases the Prince, but soon becomes infatuated with the prettier and more outgoing Angelica (Claudia Cardinale). On the surface, she is the more appealing choice, however, Tancredi knows the wealth and connections of her father, Don Calogero (Paolo Stoppa), will be have its advantages.

The reunified Italy is to be run by a democratically elected Senate. Cavalier Chevally (Leslie French) comes to visit the Prince and inquire if he, an important man of great standing in his community, would be interested in becoming a member. Flattered by the offer, he has no interest. Though the task of governance sounds boring, he finds himself "straddling two worlds, and ill at ease in both," a comment not only about the changes his country is going through, but a state all are destined to find themselves in before their final rest.

At the beginning, it's difficult to muster sympathy when the opulence with which the Salinas and the aristocrats' are immersed is shown, but as the characters reveal themselves to the viewer, their story becomes compelling. Also intriguing is watching the transfer of power affect those new to the role and those jockeying for position. The Prince speaks of it, saying "Those who will take our place will be jackals, hyenas," initially appearing bitter, but also offering insightful commentary from the author's pen, who has the advantage of history.

While it may take a few scenes to get used to Lancaster's dubbed voice, he gives a very strong performance through his body and facial expressions, almost like a silent actor. He, along with the voice actor, make the Prince's emotions clear to the viewer at all times.

Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno and production designer Mario Garbuglia are two vital stars of the film as well due to their brilliant work. No matter whether the natural exteriors or the vivid set interiors, almost every frame is worth pausing to appreciate. Highlights include Chapter 6 The Battle of Palermo, an epic action sequence where the red-shirted rebels lay siege to the armed forces trying to protect it. The dinner scene of Chapter 12 is extravagant and richly detailed. Running roughly 47 minutes, Don Diego's ball is a stunning sequence filled with amazing affluence. It no doubt required a great deal of planning and a lot of work to execute, as some scenes have huge depth of fields and are filled with many extras.

Under the guidance of Visconti, 'The Leopard' is a very impressive piece of work that tells a fascinating tale about Italy's past.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'The Leopard' (spine #93 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB two-disc set housed in a cardboard, tri-fold digipack that slips into a cardboard sleeve. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a 16-page booklet containing the essay entitled "Remembrance of Things Past" by Michael Wood.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The video is presented with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer in the original Super Technirama aspect ratio of 2.21:1. According to Criterion "was created on a Spirit Datacine from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction," so it's no wonder the source looks pristine.

Along with the bright yellow credits that pop off the screen, viewers will be wowed by the bright and gloriously vivid greens and browns of the Italian countryside. Once inside the Prince's villa, the rest of the color spectrum joins the palette. There's a fantastic scene in the Prince's study when he talks with Chevally where the colors appear to fluctuate and brightness and shadow alternates due to the fireplace flames. Blacks are deep and inky. Contrast appears strong and consistent throughout.

The objects are very sharp and reveal ample detail, from the rough texture of the worn concrete walls and wooden doors to the folds and wrinkles in a sheet laid out for a picnic and Tancredi's courdoroy jacket. Depth is clearly evident in part because of the way Visconti fills the frame. There is slight grain that expectedly increases in darker scenes.

As great as it looks, there are some flaws. A young girl's dress has a pattern that causes brief aliasing during the first sequence in the villa. An isolated flicker occurs twice during pans outdoors across an area with small, fine objects and high contrast. Once as the sky and sunlight filter through the trees and foliage. Another at 1:18:45 when the Prince is out hunting rabbit on a hillside. A very odd occurrence at 1:42:31, almost as if an element got loose during a printing stage, finds a ripple pass across frame as a servant runs towards a reading room where the family is. It's most noticeable on the left edge of doorframe, which pops to the left.

There's also a source issue in Chapter 7 at 33:30 when the Prince's carriages approaches the rebels. During an establishing shot pan, the shadow of an insect can be seen moving across the lens.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

For the uncompressed monaural soundtrack, Criterion "remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack print master. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using ProTools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated audio workstation."

Isolated to the front center channel with minor support from the subwoofer, the audio elements are as balanced as can be expected. Although Italian, the dialogue appears clear and not muddled, and Nino Rota's score never interferes. However, the dubbing sounds a bit flat. The only consistent loud portions of the soundtrack is the gunfire during The Battle of Palermo, but it is restrained. This is a faithful presentation of the original source.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie - As Cowie discusses the film in a very informative way, covering areas such as the players, the history of the events related to the time, and the book. Well worth listening to.
  • The American release (HD, 161 min) - Immediately apparent in the opening frames, the condition this print is in has nowhere near the vibrancy of the colors or sharpness of detail. Also, it is marred with dirt and white and colored specks. There's also a hiss on the soundtrack. Lancaster provides his own voice. Not only do I like the Italian dubbed voice for the Prince better, but also many of actors dubbed into English sound worse than the Italian dubs. It's a curiosity and would be good if this was the only version there was, but can't imagine choosing it over Italian version.
  • A Dying Breed: The Making of The Leopard (HD, 62 min) - This feature on the film presents interviews with actress Claudia Cardinale, screenwriter Suso Ceccho D’Amico, Rotunno, filmmaker Sydney Pollack, and others.
  • Goffredo Lombardi Interview (HD, 20 min) – The producer talks about bringing the book to the screen and working with Visconti.
  • The History of the Risorgimento (HD, 14 min) – Professor Millicent Marcus explains what was happening in Italy during the two years the film is set.
  • Promotional materials (HD) – Posters, Italian newsreels, Italian trailer, and two American trailers for the film. One with Lancaster praising the film because he acts like he's speaking from the heart but his eyes never leave the cue card under the camera.
  • Stills Gallery (HD) – Professor Millicent Marcus explains what was happening in Italy during the two years the film is set.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no HD exclusives.

Final Thoughts

This is a great film. This Blu-ray comes with picture so exquisite that 'The Leopard' is sure to be on a number of "Best Blu-rays of 2010" lists for that aspect alone. Audio offers a faithful presentation of the original source. Extras, including an entire second cut of the film, are ample and informative. This is a job well done in presenting an exceptional film in the best manner possible. Highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • BD-50 Blu-ray Disc
  • Two-Disc Set
  • Region A

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.21:1

Audio Formats

  • Italian LPCM Mono

Subtitles/Captions

  • English

Supplements

  • Audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie
  • A Dying Breed: The Making of The Leopard, an hour-long documentary featuring interviews with Claudia Cardinale, screenwriter Suso Ceccho D'Amico, Rotunno, filmmaker Sydney Pollack, and many others
  • Video interview with producer Goffredo Lombardo
  • Video interview with professor Millicent Marcus on the history behind The Leopard
  • Original theatrical trailers and newsreels
  • Stills gallery of rare behind-the-scenes production photos
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film historian Michael Wood
  • The 161-minute American release

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$49.95
Amazon
$30.99 (38%)
3rd Party
$26.69
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»

Related reviews