There's no denying 'Gone With the Wind' stands as one of the classic motion pictures of all time, and it's easy to see why. It's got everything movie fans love – scope, grandeur, romance, war, history, melodrama – and magnifies all of it to epic proportions. These days, though, it seems many take this 70-year-old bastion of Hollywood's Golden Age for granted, even minimize its importance. And while it may be easy for some cynics to dismiss producer David O. Selznick's masterpiece as an overlong soap opera dominated by an insufferable heroine who makes life miserable for family, friends, and lovers alike, those with any historical perspective and appreciation for craftsmanship realize just what a monumental achievement 'Gone With the Wind' is. To think such a massive, meticulous production was mounted a mere 12 years after the advent of talking pictures is truly amazing. Say what you will about Margaret Mitchell's plot, ideology, and Southern bias – none of that can detract from the sumptuous nature of almost every frame of this highly lauded and revered film. 'Gone With the Wind' is Hollywood moviemaking at its finest, and thanks to the herculean efforts of director Victor Fleming, it defined Hollywood moviemaking for well over a generation. Sure, it's now a bit of an antique, but its artistic worth and impact on audiences and the industry at large remains immeasurable.
Mitchell's 1,036-page magnum opus opens at the close of the antebellum period, before Southern arrogance and swagger incited a misguided civil war that nearly destroyed our country. Headstrong, selfish, ravishing Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), arguably the most famous heroine in American popular literature, enjoys the undivided attention of practically every eligible gentleman in Georgia, but the one with whom she's madly in love, the weak-willed, noble Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), is affianced to marry his cousin (and Scarlett's antithesis), the plain and sickly sweet Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Scarlett's feminine wiles can't convince Ashley to forego duty for passion, and she spends her life pining away for him, despite the intense interest of the roguish, macho Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), a "visitor from Charleston" who relentlessly pursues her, and to whom she's better suited. War, reconstruction, poverty, famine, and enough interpersonal strife to rival a daytime TV drama keep the story afloat for almost four hours, and by the end, some may share Rhett's wry, blunt sentiment as he bids Scarlett farewell. But the truth is most of us do give a damn about this epic tale of love, lust, duty, honor, family, will, and perseverance, and though we may know it backwards and forwards, it never ceases to captivate our senses.
The film, however, is not without faults. Some of the acting is overly stylized, and the movie's melodrama becomes excessive during the final half-hour, as Sidney Howard's Oscar-winning screenplay struggles to pack in a flurry of tragic plot developments. And it's not without controversy either. In its portrayal of slaves, 'Gone With the Wind' does perpetuate negative stereotypes, and some of the exchanges and characterizations on screen can be uncomfortable to watch. But before we cast too many aspersions, we must remember this is a film made in 1939 that depicts events in the 1860s and '70s, and the perspective of society in both of those bygone eras was, unfortunately, much different and far less enlightened than it is today. Like many Hollywood films from the '30s and '40s, we must view 'Gone With the Wind' as a film of its time (and, in this case, told from a firmly entrenched Southern point of view) and not judge it on how it fits or doesn't fit into the context of our current generation. Slavery will always be a hot-button, deeply emotional issue, and our opinion of 'Gone With the Wind' shouldn't be irrevocably slanted by how the film treats this shameful episode in our nation's history.
To do so would nullify the many exceptional elements of this epic. In its production values, 'Gone With the Wind' epitomizes class, and Selznick spared no expense with regard to set design, costumes, and scenes of thrilling spectacle. From the lavish plantation barbecue at Twelve Oaks and garish opulence of Scarlett and Rhett's residence to the burning of Atlanta, the chaotic shelling that precedes it, and, of course, the makeshift hospital at the rail yards – all these are indelible images that help loft 'Gone With the Wind' into the upper echelon of American cinema. Few other films rival the sense of time, place, and attitude that 'Gone With the Wind' so completely evokes, and present it with such unwavering attention to detail. Like a good novel, the film immerses us in the period, and makes us reluctant to leave it, even after the final scene has been played.
Of course, the film's central driving force is Scarlett O'Hara, and without a pitch-perfect performance from Vivien Leigh, 'Gone With the Wind' surely would be one of Hollywood's biggest turkeys instead of one of its crown jewels. Leigh's contributions cannot be underestimated, nor does her justly deserved Best Actress Oscar begin to sum up what she accomplishes on film. From an imperious Southern belle to a courageous, poverty-stricken war survivor to a shrewd businesswoman to a conflicted wife and mother, Leigh is never less than brilliant, and so magnetic she can even steal focus from her hunky co-star. Gable, of course, will be forever identified with Rhett Butler, and he beautifully captures the character's charisma and devilish sense of humor, yet the actor impresses most during some intense dramatic scenes late in the picture, proving he's far more than virile beefcake. Howard and De Havilland portray their parts well, but it's Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American ever to win an Oscar, who steals our hearts as the irrepressible, big-hearted Mammy, and the emotional impact of her performance hasn't waned one whit over the years.
Nor has the impact of the film as a whole. 'Gone With the Wind' remains a brilliantly told, dazzlingly mounted story populated by interesting characters and set against a rich historical fabric. Is it the greatest film of all time? Probably not. But its lofty place in American cinematic history is secure, and this spectacular Blu-ray edition reinforces both our love of and respect for this timeless saga.
Just the idea of seeing 'Gone With the Wind' in the splendor of 1080p sets many classic movie lovers' hearts aflutter, and Warner Home Video has made sure those pulse rates remain high with a superior transfer that more than lives up to expectations. Lest we forget, though, Selznick's epic is 70 years old, and no matter how advanced the technology, it's impossible to completely erase the film's age. That age is immediately evident during the opening credits, as heavy grain and several print marks dominate the background. Thankfully, however, both elements substantially diminish once the narrative begins; the source material cleans up nicely, while the grain reverts to pleasing levels that represent the natural texture of celluloid and never look overly processed. Some scenes, of course, appear fresher and more alive than others, but there are never any jarring moments where the picture quality feels inferior. A bit of softness does creep in now and then, especially in dimly lit sequences, but doesn't detract from the integrity of the whole.
Clarity is superb, and a big step up from the previous DVD. In a side-by-side comparison, the Blu-ray close-ups are sharper and more dimensional, colors flaunt a more natural and vibrant look, far fewer speckles and marks dot the print, grain is less pronounced, and fine details are easier to discern. The biggest difference, however, is in long and wide shots, where the Blu-ray outclasses the DVD by a wide margin, exhibiting a much clearer image and allowing us to palpably experience the setting instead of feeling as if we're observing it from afar. The enhanced resolution of the 1080p/VC-1 encode outclasses any prior transfer, making this version of 'Gone With the Wind' indisputably the best.
The Technicolor photography is a joy to behold. Hues possess terrific saturation without appearing garish or overblown. The colorful accents of various costumes pop, fleshtones are spot-on, and black levels are always rich and deep. Contrast, especially in exteriors, is perfectly modulated, so the image achieves wonderful depth, and the various textures of gowns and upholstery stand out nicely. Shadow delineation is excellent, too, and any digital doctoring is so judiciously applied, it escapes notice. Thankfully, no banding, noise, or other anomalies distract from the purity of this exceptional presentation.
Like 'The Wizard of Oz' before it, 'Gone With the Wind' is another painstakingly restored, beautifully rendered transfer of a classic film, and the team at Warner deserves the highest praise for taking such great care of our most treasured films. Bravo!
An upgrade to Dolby TrueHD 5.1 distinguishes this Blu-ray disc from its standard-def predecessor, and the audio is surprisingly enveloping for such an antiquated picture. Of course, much of the sonic action is anchored up front, but Max Steiner's iconic score enjoys a lovely surround presence, punctuated by robust, textured tones and excellent fidelity. Dialogue is crystal clear and always easy to comprehend, and bass frequencies, especially during the shelling of Atlanta, exhibit appropriate power and presence. There's not much ambient activity – you won't hear such subtle atmospherics as birds chirping or trees rustling – but that's completely understandable given the limitations of the source material.
The greatest problem with audio from the 1930s is surface noise, and I'm happy to report Warner technicians have scrubbed the track clean, leaving nary a trace of hiss and no pops or crackles. The sound also lacks the tinny quality that pervades lesser productions of the period. Despite several shrill exchanges and the predominance of swelling strings, distortion is never an issue. Purists will appreciate the inclusion of the original mono track (found in the special features menu), but the lossless option is so good and respects the original's integrity so completely, I can't imagine anyone finding fault with it.
'Gone With the Wind' is a lavish production and it gets the lavish treatment in another of Warner's signature anniversary editions. This four-disc, individually numbered set (mine is 58,080 of 150,000) is housed in a fancy red velvet box (measuring 11-1/2" wide x 8" high x 3" deep) with gold embossed lettering on all sides and across the front image of Scarlett and Rhett, which no doubt inspired thousands of bodice-ripping romance novel book covers. Open the lid, and the first item you'll encounter is an 11" x 7-1/2" hardcover commemorative book. Short on text, but long on beautifully reproduced color and black-and-white photos, sketches, and poster art, this 54-page tribute looks at the film's cast, costumes, and sets, and includes some rare behind-the-scenes stills. Beneath the book lies six pieces of reproduced archival correspondence from producer David O. Selznick – telegrams, letters, and interoffice memos – regarding the picture, all printed on high-quality paper of varying shades. Included within are discussions about Leslie Howard's advanced age, the deteriorating health of director Victor Fleming, the possibility of Errol Flynn portraying Rhett, a brief note to Margaret Mitchell, and some of Selznick's earliest musings about mounting 'Gone With the Wind.' The next discovery is a reproduction of the movie's original 1939 program. (This was also included in the 2004 DVD collector's edition, but in miniature form.) The 7-1/2" x 11" booklet features full-color illustrations, a cast list, production trivia, bios of the four principals, and personal reminiscences (probably penned by the publicity department) from Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
Then come the discs. In a recessed pocket lies a lovely fold-out, three-panel package dressed with color photos of Gable and Leigh, in which two Blu-rays (one containing the movie, the other the extras) and one double-sided DVD (housing the six-hour documentary, 'MGM: When the Lion Roars') reside. The fourth disc, a CD sampler featuring eight selections from composer Max Steiner's legendary score, is set snugly in its own slot beside them. The final tangible item lies underneath the discs, a collection of 10 watercolor reproduction art prints of various settings from the film. These are lovely, but frankly, my dear, I would have preferred glossy scene stills and/or portraits instead.
Of course, not everyone cares about all this paraphernalia, but true film aficionados will certainly appreciate all the elements contained in this set, which faithfully honor this beloved and historically important work. Not all classics deserve such treatment, but 'Gone With the Wind' most definitely does, and Warner should be commended for producing such a classy product.
All of the supplements from the previous 2004 DVD set (totaling upwards of five hours of material) have been ported over to this special edition Blu-ray. In addition, more than three hours of all-new features have been included here. If you watch everything – and believe me, everything is worth watching! – you might know almost as much about 'Gone With the Wind' as David O. Selznick himself!
Previously Released Material
If you still have a classic movie lover to shop for this Christmas (or need something special for yourself), there's not a nicer gift out there than the 70th anniversary Blu-ray edition of 'Gone With the Wind.' This cinema masterpiece still delivers the goods both dramatically and aesthetically, and the superb video and audio transfers will sweep viewers back to a bygone age and immerse them in one of the most epic stories of all time. Hours and hours of high-quality supplements enhance this deluxe package, as well as several collectibles that will appeal to hardcore film enthusiasts. No doubt about it, this is a must own.