Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
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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
5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition

Street Date:
March 27th, 2012
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
March 15th, 2012
Movie Release Year:
1942
Studio:
Warner Brothers
Length:
102 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

'Casablanca' is more than a classic. It's an institution. It contains so many famous lines, characters and scenes that even those who have never seen it feel like they have by sheer osmosis; it is that ingrained in our shared cinematic consciousness.

The iconic moments from Michael Curtiz's 1942 masterwork are what cineastes remember most -- "We'll always have Paris," "Here's looking at you, kid" -- but what continues to startle, sixty years on, is just how well constructed and eminently watchable 'Casablanca' is. Yes, the famous parts are justifiably classic examples of writing, directing, performance, and editing, but check out all that lies between the film's obvious masterstrokes: Curtiz's subtle use of camera movement, the expressive melancholia of Max Steiner's musical score, Claude Rains' shady but lovable turn as Ingrid Bergman's would-be suitor -- these may not be the moments that continue to get spoofed on retrospective TV specials and American Express commercials, but they do confirm that it is impossible to imagine ever getting tired of watching 'Casablanca.'

Bergman and Humphrey Bogart deserve a lot of credit for the success of the film, for it is their indelible chemistry that continues to send hearts soaring six decades on. Never has emotional pathos and barely contained physical longing been so eloquently apparent. And when they have to say good-bye to each other at the end of the film? There is not a dry eye in the house.

'Casablanca' is more than just a movie; it is also a place, and a state of mind. Its misty, darkly-lit streets and haunted piano bars remain figments of our lost dreams, and glimmers of our future hopes. Bogart and Bergman have, despite changing tastes, fads and fashions, remained our romantic ideal, the perfect pair of lovers who must -- as fate decrees -- part for now, but perhaps not forever. It is one of those rare movie moments when all of the planets aligned perfectly, to capture the pure essence of human fragility, love and longing in a single, iconic shot. It may be a predictable choice for Best Movie of All-Time, but 'Casablanca' really is that good, that important and that seminal.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Casablanca' 70th Anniversary Edition arrives on Blu-ray in a 3-disc set (2 BD50s and 1 DVD) in a large box (akin to the 'The Wizard of Oz' 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) that includes a 1942 French Theatrical Mini-Poster, a 60-Page Photo Book (with Production Notes, Rare Set Drawings, and Behind-the-Scenes Photos), and 4 Drink Coasters in a Keepsake Box. The two Blu-ray Discs do not appear to be Region Locked, but the DVD is Region 1.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

According to its packaging, 'Casablanca' has an all-new 4K scan and remaaster, which results in this 1080p/AVC-MPEG 4 encoded Blu-ray, framed at 1.37:1. The previous remaster was done in 2003 and used for the HD-DVD and Blu-ray releases, both of which received 5 Star ratings.

Having toured Warner Bros. Home Entertainment for the 'Wizard of Oz' Blu-ray, I can personally say how much these people love the classics in their catalog, and how much care goes into remastering and preservation. But how does this new Blu-ray differ? Did Warners Home Video top themselves? Is it worth buying again?

Yes and no. For many, the previous version will remain good enough (Mr. Bracke called it "the the finest black and white transfer I've seen on high-def, period, and up there with the best remasters ever created for the home theater environment."). And yet I would argue this 4K scan made the film grain finer and even more filmic, and that the contrast range has improved, bringing to life some details lost in previously crushed blacks. But is this holy-crap-it-blows-the-previous-remaster-out-of-the-water good? I don't think most will be able to tell, save for the slight difference in brightness levels. Some might even prefer the previous version.

This new release has a lot to love about it, though. It features abundant resolution that, while soft compared to modern films, is a sight to behold. For the first few minutes, I kept thinking there was something horribly wrong with the transfer, until I released I was seeing wafting cigarette smoke (something I had never seen this clearly before). Black levels are inky, and save for a few night scenes dripping in shadow, never crush. Shadow detail is exquisite, bringing out people and props, allowing the noir style cinematography to shine. All the light and darkness, and the entire grayscale in between, make for very complicated and richly detailed shot compositions, which drag your eye forwards and backwards in every frame.

Film grain lovers rejoice; this is like watching the film on celluloid projected on the silver screen. There are no signs of noise reduction or artificial sharpening. What we see is what we get. And I was unable to find any blemishes (except for the B-roll footage of the war and some locations); no rips, tears, or scratches.

In terms of the star rating, I'm torn. As I said above, previous release was given 5-stars by Mr. Bracke, and this one is just as good, if not noticeably improved in terms of grayscale and shadow detail, and yet I normally reserve my 5-star video ratings for the type of perfection only possible with Pixar movies. So what to do?

In deference to Mr. Bracke, I'm going to log this as 5 Stars, but would most likely, in a vacuum, rate it a high 4.5. 'Casablanca' is 70 years old and, thanks to the preservation efforts of Warner Bros., looks as good now as it did upon its original release.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

For the first time on home video, 'Casablanca' receives a lossless soundtrack, in the form of English DTS-HD MA 1.0.

Like the video, I don't think there's dramatic improvement over the previous lossy Dolby Digital tracks. With a film this old, there's only so much one can squeak out of the original elements, which still clip when pushed as far as they can go (the dueling national anthem scene, for instance). That being said, 'Casablanca' sounds terrific. Other than some minor tape hiss, this film has a surprising amount of clarity and range. Dialog is crisp. The music is full, with highs fairing best. Midrange seems a little squashed (again, when pushed), and though there's nothing guttural in terms of LFE, low end muscial notes had a little more bass than I remembered.

The biggest improvement comes in sound effects -- dice dropping, clinking glasses, footsteps, the fluttering of envelops and other papers. They all seemed alive and present in a way I've never noticed before.

For a 70 year old mono experience, 'Casablanca' sounds about as good as it can. Though not leaps and bounds better than the previous lossy soundtracks, this lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track really allows the original elements to breath, highlighting smaller details I've never fully appreciated.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Dropping for the third time in high definition, 'Casablanca' 70th Anniversary Edition is loaded with more special features than ever before, including most of the content from the previous 2003 DVD, 2007 HD-DVD, and 2008 Blu-ray. The only thing that I found missing is the Production History and/or Research Gallery, which was an archive of studio memos, rare production documents, still photos and publicity materials. If you have a previous version of the film, and like looking through those materials, you'll need to hang onto it. Otherwise, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has added even more to the 'Casablanca' on home video cannon, making what was already highly rated in terms of special features that much better. And if that weren't enough there's the second Blu-ray disc, which has three documentaries that run a combined 7 hours.

Disc One -- Blu-ray (New Special Features):

  • Special Feature: "Warner Night at the Movies" - What a fun idea! This special feature recreates what it would have been like to see 'Casablanca' upon its original theatrical release 70 years ago by including all the pre-show entertainment. Press Play All and you're treated to: the 'Now Voyager' Theatrical Trailer (SD 2mins); a 1942 Newsreel highlighting the growing threat of World War II (SD 5mins); the short film 'Vaudeville Days' (SD 20mins); Merrie Melodies cartoon 'The Bird Came C.O.D' (SD 8mins), 'The Squawkin' Hawk' (SD 7mins), 'The Dover Boys at Pimento University' (SD 9mins); and finally the feature film itself. Now I finally know what my grandparents say used to cost a nickel. If the whole experience isn't for you, each segment can be viewed individually.
  • Featurette: "Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic" (HD 35mins) - Film historians and filmmakers like Peter Bogdanovich and Steven Spielberg team up to discuss and look back on how 'Casablanca', one of 50 movies produced by Warner Bros. in 1941, became one of the greatest movies of all time. A must watch for 'Casablanca' fans, though some may be upset to see the film cropped to fit this widescreen production.
  • Audio - Forgive me if I'm wrong here, but the previous Blu-ray included both "Scoring Stage Sessions" as well as the April 26, 1943 "Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast" version of the film, but new to this release we also have the Streamlined for 1947!November 19, 1927 "Vox Pop Radio Broadcast", which includes a behind the scenes "listen" with a Jack Warner interview. Oddly, you can't fast forward through any of these, which could be a problem for the longer radio broadcasts.

Disc One -- Blu-ray (Previous Special Features):

  • Introduction - The supplements begin with a predictably sappy if heartfelt introduction by Lauren Bacall (aka Mrs. Humphrey Bogart). Thankfully, the majority of the rest of the extras are exemplary.
  • Audio Commentaries - Two separate audio commentaries tracks -- the first by Roger Ebert, and the second by historian Rudy Behlmer -- excel by virtue of the passion and knowledge of both participants. Behlmer's, however, may be the more engaging discussion, as his ability to dissect even the smallest details is almost awe-inspiring -- it is hard to imagine someone who had no connection with the production of a film knowing so much about how it was made. Ebert, as always, is animated about a film he is passionate about and offers a more all-encompassing perspective on 'Casablanca's impact and influence, as well as a compelling argument for why it should be considered one of Hollywood's all-time classics.
  • Documentary: "Bacall on Bogart" (SD, 90 minutes) - Leading the pack of extras is the first of three generally strong documentaries. "Bacall on Bogart" is the best of the bunch, an extensive 90-minute discussion with the legendary actress, who reminisces on Bogie and how he made his trek from lowly Broadway character actor to Hollywood legend. It's way better than the introduction, and only it's length begins to grow a bit tiring on the behind.
  • TV Special: "You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca" (SD, 30 minutes) - Next we have this television special originally produced for Turner Classic Movies. Compact but comprehensive, it examines in brisk fashion the film's legacy, and features a wealth of lovely recollections from various historians and collaborators.
  • Featurette: "The Children Remember" (SD, 12 minutes) - Finally, a third featurette, "The Children Remember," is a bit lacking. The offspring of Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Stephen Bogart and Pia Lindstrom, talk about what the film meant to them growing up, and how it has affected their lives since. Unfortunately, genuine insight into the real Bogart and Bergman is painfully slight.
  • Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (SD, 12 minutes) - There are two deleted scenes and a montage of outtakes -- all pretty scrappy in quality.
  • TV Excerpt: "Who Holds Tomorrow?" (18 minutes) - I found this feature to be a bit surreal -- a 18-minute condensation of a Warner Brothers made-for-television update of 'Casablanca' set in the Cold War, entitled "Who Holds Tomorrow?" This one you just have to see to believe.
  • Cartoon: "Carrotblanca" (SD, 8 minutes) - I love Bugs Bunny as Rick! Also, this has a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD) - Finally, the video extras conclude with the film's original and re-release theatrical trailers. Whew.

Disc Two -- Blu-ray:

  • Documentary: "You Must Remember This: The Warners Bros. Story" - Directed by Richard Schickel, this is a 5 part series produced for 'American Masters' on PBS that chronicles the studio from 1923-2008. The five episodes are 'A Rising Power (1923-1937)', 'War and Peace (1937-1949)', 'Age of Anxiety (1950-1969)', 'Starting Over (1970-1990)', 'A Living Tradition (1988-2008)'. Despite it only being available in pillar boxed standard definition, this series was made for cinema lovers who want to learn about a studio's creation and culture.
  • Documentary: "The Brothers Warner" (HD 1h, 34mins) - Another episode of American Masters, this one is directed by Cass Warner Sperling (Harry Warner's granddaughter) in 2008, which takes an intimate look at the studio's founding four brothers. Narrated by Cass, there is tons of family home movies as well as classic Warner Bros. pictures.
  • Documentary: "Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul" (SD, 104 minutes) - This documentary was also featured on the Ultimate Collectors Edition Blu-ray, but not the HD-DVD release. Here's what Peter wrote about it for the Blu-ray: "Dubbed "The Epic Story of the Man Behind the Movies," this 1993 doc is the sole extra new to the Blu-ray versus the HD DVD (though it has been previously released on home video). Produced by the mogul's grandson, Gregory Orr, "The Last Mogul" documents the rise of Warner, from the early blossoming of the studio system pre-"talkies," well into the '50s when the popularity of television would see movie attendance erode precariously. Though 'Casablanca' is only marginally featured in the doc, this is a fascinating story in its own right and certainly well worth a view for any film history buff."

Disc Three -- DVD:

  • 'Casablanca' Feature Film.
  • Lauren Bacall Introduction.
  • Roger Ebert Audio Commentary.
  • Rudy Behlmer Audio Commentary.
  • Documentary: "Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of".
  • Documentary: "Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic".
  • Theatrical Trailer.
  • Re-Release Trailer.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no HD exclusives.

Final Thoughts

'Casablanca' is one of the best movies ever made, a film that improves with each viewing. A true classic. Because of this status, it finds its way onto home video every few years, which leaves us with the question: is the 70th Anniversary Edition worth it?

That depends. On the surface, this is an excellent, albeit bulky, release. If you haven't picked up 'Casablanca' in high definition yet, then you'll be enthralled by the reference video, clean audio, and hours upon hours of old and new special features. Even the physical materials -- the book and poster and drink coasters -- are fun. For those who own previous HD 'Casablanca' releases, this complete package might be the main reason you want to grab this.

However, if the extra cost, over what will more than likely be a single-disc release in the next year or so, seems a bit pricy, you'll probably want to hold off. And, while there are some noticeable improvements over the previous HD releases, I doubt the differences will blow many minds.

'Casablanca' remains Highly Recommended in any package; it's up to you whether or not you need this version.

Technical Specs

  • 3-Disc Set
  • Limited and Numbered Edition
  • Full size reproduction of the original 1942 film poster
  • 62-page production art book
  • 4 Collectible Drink Coasters

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG 4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.37:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD MA Mono
  • Francais Dolby Digital Mono
  • Italiano Dolby Digital Mono
  • Castellano Dolby Digital Mono
  • Espanol Dolby Digital Mono
  • Portugues Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Italiano
  • Castellano
  • Espanol
  • Portugues
  • Dansk
  • Suomi
  • Norsk
  • Svenska
  • Francais

Supplements

  • Introduction by Lauren Bacall
  • Two audio commentaries: - Film critic Roger Ebert & Film historian Rudy Behlmer
  • Roster for Warner's A Night at the Movies viewing mode
  • Eight behind-the-scenes documentaries
  • Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
  • Who Holds Tomorrow?
  • Carrotblanca Looney Tunes cartoon
  • Scoring the Casablanca stage sessions
  • Two vintage Casablanca radio broadcasts

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.

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