Two decades after its original negatives were burned in a fire, Satyajit Ray's breathtaking milestone of world cinema rises from the ashes in a meticulously reconstructed new restoration. The Apu Trilogy brought India into the golden age of international art-house film, following one indelible character, a free-spirited child in rural Bengal who matures into an adolescent urban student and finally a sensitive man of the world. These delicate masterworks—Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished), and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu)—based on two books by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee, were shot over the course of five years, and each stands on its own as a tender, visually radiant journey. They are among the most achingly beautiful, richly humane movies ever made—essential works for any film lover.
Satyajit Ray is one of the most accomplished and well-respected filmmakers of all time. His visual style and ability to tell amazing stories on film is one-of-a-kind. It's no wonder that most of his films have been released by Criterion for their cultural significance and importance. Ray has had one magnificent career in the movie industry and he started it all off on the perfect foot with a trilogy of films dubbed as 'The Apu Trilogy' that consists of three films named 'Pather Panchali' (Song of the Little Road), 'Aparajito' (The Unvanquished), and 'Apur Sansar' (The World of Apu).
These three films were filmed over the course of less than four years and marked Ray's first step into the world of film. It also secured him into the annals of one of the best filmmakers in the world and inspired a nation of people. It's quite amazing. As for the trilogy itself, this is more or less in line with the recent Oscar winning movie 'Boyhood' in terms of themes, tone, and story.
Based on the iconic novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, this Apu trilogy follows a young boy named Apu from the time he is a small child until he is an adult and his children of his own. It would be easy to see the similarities in the sixty year gap between these films and 'Boyhood' as we get to be a part of Apu's life for so many years and all of the life lessons, triumphs, sorrows, and adventures he goes on.
Ray's storytelling ability and amazing eye has brilliantly weaved a cast of characters that are just living life to the fullest, or at least trying. Back in the 50s, the India film scene mostly consisted of a mix of musicals and melodramatic stories. However with this 'Apu' trilogy of movies, Ray took a simple and natural look at the lives of his people, never over-doing the narrative. It changed the India film landscape forever.
In 'Pather Panchali' (the first film), we meet a very young Apu living in rural Bengali with his family. His father is trying to make ends meet along with his mother, aunt, and sister. His father dreams of being a writer and leaves to find work, while leaving Apu's mother to tend to the family as they move to a different city. Meanwhile, Apu is dealing and struggling with this upheaval of his family and a new city at such a young age, not to mention a couple of tragedies.
In the second film titled 'Aparajito', Apu is now a young man, wanting more from his life and for his family. After some unfortunate news, Apu and his family pack up and head back to their small village with barely any money. Despite this, Apu gets himself into a great school where he becomes one of the best in his class. He meets new people and new ideas. This also provides some family conflict as they need Apu to stay at home and help out, rather than get a big education, where Apu soon learns how to live on his own.
In the third and final movie 'Apur Sansar', Apu is now a man and has graduate from school. He is writing a novel and is looking for steady work. Soon enough he is invited to a wedding of an arranged marriage, where things don't go as palnned and Apu ends up with the bride to be. In an unfortunate accident, Apu is faced with taking care of his new family or leaving to focus on his work, just like in the footsteps of father, bringing this trilogy full circle. It's a fantastic masterpiece in filmmaking from Satyajit Ray.
In addition to the movie, Ray enlisted the talents of Ravi Shankar to provide original music for the films, which is of course incredible and tells a great story in the music stylings alone. Each film stands on its own and is full of deep emotion and human love that you can't help but relate and want to be a part of it. 'The Apu Trilogy' is one of those rare collection of films that only comes across once every decade or two and shouldn't be missed, but rather treasured, cherished and watched consistently.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Apu Trilogy' comes with three 50GB Blu-ray Discs from Criterion and is Region A locked. The spine number for the set is #782 with each individual release being #783, #784, #785. Each film is separately packed into a cardboard digi-book style case that includes a 45 page booklet from Criterion. Everything is housed in a cardboard sleeve, detailing each bit of information. Normal Criterion menus are present on screen.
It's simply amazing that 'The Apu Trilogy' still exists at all. These three films were made more than sixty years ago and were since housed at London’s Henderson Film Laboratories. Back in 1993, that building caught fire where most of the original reels were burned up and severely damaged. That's when the excellent company that you know as Criterion came in and tried to put all the pieces back together, which was finally finished only this year to present Satyajit Ray's masterpiece trilogy.
It took that long to restore and fix everything. This is definitely a milestone in restoration and home video for sure. According to Criterion, All three films are presented in their original 1.37:1 aspect ratios in new 4K digital transfers, using 35mm duplicate negatives from the Academy Film Archive, as well as other very prominent film archives across the world. Needless to say, this is was a global effort to bring these three films to Blu-ray in high definition.
Thousands of instances of dirt, warps, jitter, splices, scratches, and debris were manually removed over time as well. These new presentations use as much of the original negatives as possible. The result is nothing short of outstanding. The detail is simply phenomenal, given the original state these transfers were in. There is so much depth with this images now that its like watching an entirely new movie. Closeups show great facial features and fine textures in the clothing. Wider shots look equally amazing and beautiful with no softness creeping in. The black and white color and cinematography is phenomenal as well.
It's always well balanced and never bleeds, giving the image a crisp and filmic look. The layer of grain is soothing as well. There is still some very minor damage to the print, but given what happened to these prints is still pretty incredible. The black levels are deep and inky and there were no other compression problems to note, leaving this film trilogy one of the BEST video presentations in history.
This release also comes with a brand new Bengali LPCM Mono track with excellent English subtitles on each film. According to Criterion, the new tracks were mastered at 24-bit from the same 35mm negatives as mentioned above. Again, this was a worldwide effort and the result is amazing. This mono soundtrack is full of life, robust, and lively. Each sound effect is well-balanced and layered, giving the audio soundscape some great depth.
The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow along with the subtitles without any pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills. One of my favorite elements here is the original music by Ravi Shankar, which always adds so much emotion and wonder to each scene. The score is fantastic and never drowns out any dialogue or sound effect, leaving this audio presentation with top marks.
A Long Time on the Little Road (15 Mins.) - Here we have Satyajit Ray reading his Sight and Sound essay on Pather Panchali. It goes over the making of the film and his themes and characters.
Soumitra Chatterjee (HD, 7 Mins.) - The actor who played Apu in the final film discusses his character, working on the movie and with Satyajit Ray. He also goes over how this movie affected his people.
Shampa Srivastava (HD, 16 Mins.) - Here is an interview with the actress who played Durga as she talks about her time making the film.
Soumendu Roy (HD, 13 Mins.) - This is an interview with one of the camera operators who became one of Satyajit Ray's main co-workers. He talks about shooting on film and making this particular movie as well as working with Ray for so many years.
Ravi Shankar (HD, 6 Mins.) - This is a short excerpt from the documentary 'Song of the Little Road', which features the musician discussing his work on this trilogy and working with Ray.
The Small Details (HD, 11 Mins.) - Film historian Ujall Chakraborty talks about the themes, tones, and symbolism in this particular film.
A Conversation with Filmmaker Satyajit Ray (15 Mins.) - Ray talks about his life, career, films, and approach to directing.
Making 'The Apu Trilogy': Satyajit Ray's Epic Debut (HD, 37 Mins.) - Film historian Andew Robinson talks about this trilogy in great detail and the impact it had on culture, filmmaking, and people.
The Creative Person (HD, 29 Mins.) - This is a documentary from 1967 in which Satyajit Ray and his frequent co-workers discuss film, life, and characters in Ray's movies.
Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore (HD, 15 Mins.) - These two actors who played Apu and Aparna talk about making this trilogy, working with Satyaji Ray, and how the movie has changed filmmaking.
'The Apu Trilogy': A Closer Look (HD, 44 Mins.) - This is an inteview Mamoun Hassan, who is one of the heads of the British Film Institute. He discusses 'The Apu Trilogy', focusing on its central themes, characters, style, and place in history.
Honorary Oscar (HD, 3 Mins.) - This is the clip from the 1992 Oscars where Satyajit Ray received his honorary Oscar.
Restoring 'The Apu Trilogy': Short Version (HD, 3 Mins.) - This is more of a promo for the longer version on how Criterion and others restored these three films.
Restoring 'The Apu Trilogy': Long Version (HD, 13 Mins.) - Here is the full piece that dives into almost every aspect of this restoration process. This was amazing to watch. I only wish it were still longer.
Criterion Booklet - A 45 page fully illustrated booklet with essays, cast and crew information as well as details about this amazing transfer, which includes before an after images of the print and individual film cels.
'The Apu Trilogy' is one of the best series of films to ever be released to the general public. The performances, the music, the story, and the direction from Satyajit Ray is simply remarkable on each level - and it was his first step into filmmaking. It doesn't get better than that. In addition, Ray went on to make amazing films throughout his entire career, never sacrificing his style, story, or ideas for anyone else. The video and audio presentations are the BEST I've ever seen, considering the original sources and prints. It's a miracle that these films exist today and in the condition that they're in. Lastly, the extras are phenomenal, all of which are worth watching and listening too. MUST-OWN for everyone!