The Sound of MusicOverview -
Share the magical, heartwarming true-life story that has become the most popular family film of all time - Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews lights up the screen as Maria, the spirited young woman who leaves the convent to become governess to the seven children of Captain von Trapp, an autocratic widower whose strict household rules leave no room for music or entertainment.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
It's one of the most successful and beloved films in Hollywood history, and yet 'The Sound of Music' continually gets a bad rap. Too saccharine, chant the naysayers. Too cutesy, too schmaltzy. Too many precocious singing children mugging and jockeying for camera position. Too many chipper and cheery songs. Too many nuns. Too much pious inspiration. And then there's that too-good-to-be-true nanny routine of Julie Andrews. Shouldn't we all just take a spoonful of sugar and rename this picture 'Mary Poppins Goes to Austria?'
Okay, take a deep breath. Take a step back. Close your eyes and open them again, and take a fresh look at 'The Sound of Music' without all of the baggage and hearsay that's beaten down this monumentally popular movie over the past few decades. For if you approach Robert Wise's adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage hit with an open mind and unspoiled heart, it's impossible not to be seduced by its considerable charms and admit (however grudgingly) that 'The Sound of Music' is a fantastic film that justly deserved its Best Picture Academy Award and continues to dazzle and entertain a full 45 years after our first introduction to the vociferous Von Trapps. And on Blu-ray, it is truly wunderbar!
One of the first mega-blockbusters of modern cinema, 'The Sound of Music' enjoyed an initial and unheard of run of almost four years. That outdistances both 'Titanic' and 'Avatar' by a long shot (eat your heart out, James Cameron), and it's easy to see why. The themes of family, perseverance, defiance, and maturation that swirl about 'The Sound of Music' are far-reaching and universal, and audiences of all ages can respond and relate to them. The Salzburg locations with the breathtaking alpine backdrops thrill the senses, and the score – the final effort of arguably the most lauded and influential composer and lyricist in the history of musical theater – contains scads of instantly recognizable and beautifully structured songs.
Based on the life of Maria von Trapp (Andrews), a free-spirited nun-in-training who becomes governess to the seven recalcitrant children of the gruff Baron von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) on the eve of Nazi aggression in the mid-1930s, 'The Sound of Music' tells a simple story laced with some predictable dramatic embellishment, but it’s the exuberant presentation and top-flight performances that elevate it to classic status. Watching Maria tame and emotionally seduce both the children and the baron, with whom she (of course) falls in love, and witnessing the family's musical development would never normally sustain interest over the course of three hours, but the talented Wise (who also helmed 'West Side Story') treats the tale as an epic, and his inspired use of location (a critical element the stage show lacked) and active staging of songs propel the movie forward so we're blissfully unconscious of its length. In many musicals, the numbers often disrupt the story's flow, but Rodgers and Hammerstein always made sure their songs advanced the plot, deepened relationships, and shaded characters, and Wise honors their methodology, alternating intimacy with grand-scale treatments.
Andrews may have won a controversial Best Actress Oscar for her film debut in 'Mary Poppins,' but her signature role remains Maria, and she and 'The Sound of Music' will be inexorably linked for all eternity. And why not? From the moment she raises her arms and trills "The hills are alive…" moments after the film begins, she captivates her audience, and her pure, almost angelic tones, boundless energy and warmth, and fresh-faced beauty engender immediate admiration. Andrews personifies the naïve, insecure, inexperienced novice who attacks her Herculean task with equal parts spunk and tenderness, and her readings of such immortal Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes as 'My Favorite Things,' 'Do Re Mi,' and the title song remain definitive. And if you still feel the need to carp that she's too virginal or prim, just watch the achingly romantic 'Something Good,' and you might just change your mind. Dame Julie definitely has a sexy side, and in that gazebo scene with Plummer she makes all of us fall in love with her.
Andrews, though, is not the whole show. Plummer may have initially regarded his role with thinly veiled disdain, but he's quite good, as are Eleanor Parker as the stuffy baroness who vies for his attentions and Peggy Wood as the patient and inspirational Mother Superior. (Though dubbed, her rendition of 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain' is still quite moving.) The city of Salzburg is also a major character, and many times comes close to stealing the picture, so mesmerizing is its picturesque charm.
And then there's the remainder of the score that includes such identifiable and hummable tunes as 'Maria,' 'Sixteen Going on Seventeen,' 'Edelweiss,' 'The Lonely Goatherd,' and 'So Long, Farewell.' Coupled with the romantic story and abundance of glorious scenery, 'The Sound of Music' becomes one of the most captivating, family-friendly musicals ever to grace the screen, a film that merits its big canvas and fills it to perfection. Sure, it's a little saccharine; without a doubt, it's a tad schmaltzy. But every now and then that's just what the doctor orders, and this true-blue classic never fails to inject us with a healthy, rejuvenating dose of honest emotion, wonderful music, and impeccable artistry.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Packaged in a standard Blu-ray plastic case and protected by a glossy slipcase, the 45th Anniversary Edition of 'The Sound of Music' contains three discs. The first houses the feature film in high definition, along with several supplements. The second disc contains additional special features, and the third disc is a DVD that includes a standard-def version of the film (with newly remastered picture and sound) and more extras. The full-motion menu takes a while to load, but is attractively presented, and no promotional material precedes it.
As a rule, musicals always demand strong transfers to capture all the pageantry, colorful costumes, and bold set pieces that so often distinguish them. But 'The Sound of Music,' with its extensive location shooting, adds an extra and critical wrinkle to the standard formula. With scenery that defines the word "breathtaking," and a host of bucolic and charming Old World backdrops, this film requires a top-flight effort, especially in high definition, and that's exactly what the folks at Fox have given us. This 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer ranks right up there with the genre's best with perfectly balanced color, contrast, and an astounding clarity that make 'The Sound of Music' more immediate and involving than ever before.
Shot in the era of cheap, single-strip color, 'The Sound of Music' had begun to fade over the years, but this glorious restoration brings back all the vibrancy, lushness, and warmth of the original film and preserves it for all time. From the first frames of the iconic opening sequence, we know we're in for a spectacular visual treat, and the transfer remains consistently sumptuous and eye-filling – without ever looking artificial – throughout the lengthy 174-minute running time. The green meadows of the alpine hills have never looked more inviting, with individual blades of grass easily discernible. Equally vibrant are the bright red accents of the Nazi swastikas, the colorful vegetables in the farmer's market, and the crystal blue waters of the mountain lakes. Skin tones can look a little ruddy at times, but how many Austrians don't possess a rugged, outdoorsy complexion?
Light grain remains intact, providing an exceptionally cozy film-like feel, and any temptation to over-push the colors has thankfully been kept at bay. As a result, a natural look pervades this effort that keeps the film as much in reality's realm as possible. Black levels are rich and deep – just look at the inky habits of the nuns – and whites remain bright without blooming. Shadow detail is excellent, and textures, such as Maria's wool jacket in the 'I Have Confidence in Me' segment, come through well. Close-ups are lovely, and any technical enhancements have been so carefully applied they escape notice. In addition, no banding or digital noise could be detected, even in the darkest scenes. Without question, this is one of the premier transfers for a musical picture, and one that will thrill the legions of faithful 'Sound of Music' fans worldwide. It doesn't get any better than this, folks. Terrific job, Fox!
'The Sound of Music' comes all decked out with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that sounds terrific even on a 5.1 system like mine. From the opening whistling wind of the Austrian Alps to the sputtering engine noises of disabled Nazi vehicles, all the nuances of this large-scale musical come through with crisp distinction. Balance and dynamic range are superb, offering a full-bodied, immersive aural experience. Surround activity is subtle, almost imperceptible, and that works well for this type of entertainment. In fact, the track is so well mixed, there's a seamless quality to the audio that keeps us focused on the film and not the output of individual channels.
Of course, the songs are the real star of 'The Sound of Music,' and the instrumentals and vocals possess crystal clarity, filling the room with warm, lifelike tones. Julie Andrews' exquisite instrument has never sounded so pure and perfect; even her multi-octave jumps at the end of 'Do Re Mi' resist distortion, as do the final notes of Peggy Wood's 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain.' Each song bursts forth with marvelous fidelity, and solid bass frequencies enhance the musical presentation. Otherwise, the subwoofer stays pretty quiet, save for the thunderstorm that precedes and accompanies 'My Favorite Things.' Dialogue and lyrics are always well prioritized and easy to understand, and most pops, crackles, and other surface elements have been erased. I say "most,' because during the thunderstorm, several very noticeable instances of sonic breakup occurred that were more jarring than the thunderclaps themselves.
Despite that minor flaw, this a superior track that brings this movie to life like never before, and really emphasizes "the sound of music"…which is what this tuneful classic is really all about.
The amount of supplemental material is truly astounding, and includes previously released elements as well as material produced expressly for this Blu-ray release. Below are comprehensive reviews of every extra across all three discs.
- Audio Commentaries – Two commentaries add a wealth of context, perspective, and intimacy to the film, beginning with a group effort "hosted" by Julie Andrews. Blessed with a mellifluous speaking voice that nearly matches her beautiful melodic tones, Andrews anchors this track with lots of pleasant, interesting memories, and introduces the other participants who recorded their remarks separately – Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr (who played Liesl), choreographer Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes von Trapp, the youngest child of Maria and Baron von Trapp, and the only sibling to be born in America. Andrews recalls the inclement Austrian weather, her difficulty with the 'I Have Confidence in Me' lyrics, and shares several entertaining anecdotes; Carr details the injury that befell her during the shooting of 'Sixteen Going on Seventeen' and delights in Plummer's off-set jocularity; von Trapp chimes in with information about his family and how their lives and personalities differed from what is depicted on screen; and Plummer salutes his other female co-star, Eleanor Parker, who portrayed the Baroness. Much of the information is also shared in the comprehensive documentaries and featurettes on Disc Two (see below), but there's enough fresh material here to keep the track absorbing, despite many lengthy gaps.
The second commentary is a solo effort by director Robert Wise, whose sporadic remarks are consistently bookended by long stretches of isolated stereo music from the film's score and scene-specific sound effects. No dialogue or song vocals are heard, and the scoring doesn't always mirror what's being presented on screen, especially where musical numbers are concerned. It's a dry, often tedious track, as Wise doesn't go far enough in depth or share enough anecdotes to sufficiently maintain interest. He talks about the nuts and bolts of shooting, the locations, the weather, casting, and the differences between the stage play and film, as well as factual liberties screenwriter Ernest Lehman took with the lives of the Von Trapp family for dramatic and narrative purposes. While it's wonderful to have Wise document his experiences and hear his insights, he loses steam as the movie progresses, and the resulting gaps – filled with repetitive themes – drag out the track. If you only have the time or patience for a single commentary, I'd choose the one featuring Andrews.
- Music Machine – Access to all of the movie's musical numbers is just a remote click away with this easy-to-use interface.
- Sing-Along – If you'd like to raise your voice in song along with Julie, Christopher, and all the children, you can select a musical number from the menu and follow the highlighted lyrics on the screen. Diehards can select the "play all" option and sing the entire score.
The bulk of the supplements reside on this disc, which includes comprehensive featurettes and plenty of archival treasures.
- Vintage Programs – This section is divided into three sub-sections: 'The Sound of Music,' Rodgers & Hammerstein, and audio interviews. The 'Sound of Music' area begins with "'The Sound of Music': From Fact to Phenomenon," an 87-minute 1994 documentary narrated by actress Claire Bloom and featuring a number of cast members (including Andrews and Plummer) and creative personnel offering their memories and perspective on the making of this classic film. The documentary chronicles Maria von Trapp's journey from novice to baroness and beyond; the film successes of Rodgers and Hammerstein; the initial stages of pre-production; casting (including the reservations of both Andrews and Plummer over participating); the shooting schedule; the dubbing of Plummer and Peggy Wood; the movie's "soft" opening and eventual rise to blockbuster status (again, its initial run lasted four years!); and its lasting appeal. This is a fascinating, highly informative and entertaining documentary that includes lots of anecdotes and marvelous reflections. It's also essential viewing for even the most casual fans of this iconic picture. "My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers" is another absorbing documentary that also includes reminiscences from Plummer, Wise, and others. Andrews talks about her role, meeting the real Maria, her first audition for Rodgers and Hammerstein early in her career, her respect for Plummer, and her relationship with all the children. This 63-minute tribute from 2005 also includes a number of other tidbits and anecdotes that enhance the film and our enjoyment of it. Also from 2005, "Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer: A Reminiscence" is a relaxed, casual tete-a-tete between the two co-stars filled with lots of good humor and laughter. The two recall experiences on and off the set, the locations, their fears over the schmaltzy aspects of the story, their fits of laughter during the filming of 'Something Good,' and their fellow actors, but it's the warm rapport between them that makes this piece so appealing. There's also a lovely rapport between all the grown-up actors who played the Von Trapp children in the 34-minute "From Liesl to Gretl: A 40th Anniversary Reunion." All seven actors get together for an informal chat in a living room setting, and they seem like a genuine family sitting around telling stories, giggling, ribbing each other, and recalling various flubs that remain in the film. A vintage short, "Salzburg Sight and Sound," runs 13 minutes and follows Charmian Carr, who played Liesl, as she explores the Austrian town where 'The Sound of Music' was photographed. In addition to touring some of Salzburg's beautiful landmarks, Carr meets with her vocal coach, takes her turn in the makeup chair, and lunches in the town square. "On Location with 'The Sound of Music'" is a 23-minute travelogue and history lesson from 2005 that celebrates every aspect of Salzburg and the settings employed in the movie. Carr is once again on hand to lead the tour, and her boundless enthusiasm buoys this slightly cheesy piece. And talk about cheesy, "When You Know the Notes to Sing: A Sing-along Phenomenon" (13 minutes) looks at one of the many 'Sound of Music' sing-alongs that take place across the country. This one transpires at The Hollywood Bowl, and features audience members in full Von Trapp regalia.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein section kicks off with the clip-filled tribute, 'Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of Their Music,' an 83-minute 1985 documentary hosted by the first lady of American musical theater, Mary Martin. Excerpts from all the film versions of R&H musicals are included, from 'Oklahoma!' to 'The Sound of Music,' along with first-hand reminiscences from such participants and creative influences as Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Celeste Holm, Yul Brynner, and choreographer Agnes de Mille. Archival interviews with Rodgers and Hammerstein add an intimate touch to this celebration, and a highlight is Martin's chat with director Joshua Logan about the ins and outs of 'South Pacific.' Next up is the equally absorbing 1996 documentary, 'Rodgers & Hammerstein: The Sound of Movies,' which examines all the film adaptations of R&H stage hits, as well as the two versions of 'State Fair,' the only R&H musical written expressly for the screen. Shirley Jones, star of 'Oklahoma!' and 'Carousel,' hosts this 97-minute clipfest, with assists from Rita Moreno, Nancy Kwan, and Charmian Carr, who examine 'The King and I,' 'Flower Drum Song,' and 'The Sound of Music,' respectively. Though there's some overlap between the two documentaries, both are informative, well-produced, and entertaining.
The Audio Interviews section includes "direct from Salzburg" conversations with Andrews, Plummer, and Peggy Wood. Andrews talks about the rainy Austrian weather, the differences between the stage and screen versions of 'The Sound of Music,' working with children, and the new experience of making movies, while Plummer touches upon the allure of Salzburg, his transition from Broadway to Hollywood, the sparks between himself and Andrews, and the impact of location shooting. Wood, best known for playing the lead in the 'I Remember Mama' TV series in the 1950s, provides a lively interview, and reveals she was offered the same role in the original Broadway production, but turned it down. There's also a 1973 reissue interview with Andrews and Wise (by the same interviewer), in which Andrews shares insights about her casting, role, and the Austrian location. A Telegram from Daniel Truhitte allows the man who played Rolf to chronicle his audition, and Ernest Lehman: Master Storyteller provides a biographical sketch of the writer, along with extended audio outtakes from the 'Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon' documentary in which Lehman discusses his experiences on the film. (Note: Strangely enough, on my particular disc, all the audio interviews end abruptly, sometimes in mid-sentence. Whether this is a glitch that's unique to my edition of 'The Sound of Music' or a universal problem, I can't say. But I played the interviews on two different Blu-ray players and encountered the same issues on both, which was frustrating, to say the least.)
- Rare Treasures – This section opens with "Judy and Carol at Carnegie Hall: The Pratt Family Singers," a seven-minute clip from a 1962 TV special starring Andrews and Carol Burnett, in which the two performers spoof the Von Trapps and the 'Sound of Music' phenomenon. (A cute idea, but not nearly as funny as I expected.) Next up is a 16-minute excerpt from the 1973 TV series 'The Julie Andrews Hour' featuring Andrews and special guest Maria von Trapp. A one-on-one talk-show-type chat between the two is preceded by a yodeling duet and some clever scripted banter. The charming baroness makes a marvelous raconteur, regaling the audience with her struggles to learn English and her experiences after her escape from Austria. A touching duet of 'Edelweiss' ends this rare reunion. Screen Tests is largely comprised of a 1999 AMC TV special that features tests of many of the children, including those who didn't get the part, as well as candidates for Baron von Trapp. Interviews with Wise, Andrews, and Angela Cartwright flesh out the piece. There are also separate screen tests of Mia Farrow (who sings a snippet of 'Sixteen Going on Seventeen') and legendary voice double Marni Nixon, who appears on screen in 'The Sound of Music' as Sister Sophia, one of the nuns. 40th Anniversary DVD Introduction by Julie Andrews runs two minutes, and allows the star the opportunity to praise the film and its impact on audiences. Rarely does Andrews seem affected, but here she goes slightly over the top, and her stilted line readings sound artificial. Three Galleries provide a wealth of still images from pre-production, production, and post-production. "What Will My Future Be?" offers up about 70 storyboard drawings, wardrobe sketches, and rehearsal and pre-recording shots in both color and black-and-white. "Facing Adventure" displays more than 120 pictures from both the Salzburg locations and the Hollywood soundstages. Scene stills, on-set candids, and publicity portraits comprise the bulk of this color and black-and-white collection. Finally, "A Grand and Glorious Party" features a wealth of promotional stills, poster and advertising art, and complete pressbooks from both the original 1965 premiere and the 1973 re-release.
- Publicity – This brief section begins with three minutes of silent black-and-white footage from the 1965 Academy Awards, recorded by Fox Movietone News. A collection of seven teasers and trailers follows, beginning with a 1964 teaser and carrying on through the film's initial release and subsequent reissues. The 22-minute collection ends with a sappy, "average Joe" testimonial trailer for its videocassette home video release. Lastly, two TV Spots, totaling about 90 seconds, herald the 1973 re-release, and four Radio Spots (running a total of three minutes) advertise various reserve seat engagements for the film's original and 1973 engagements.
A standard-def DVD includes the following:
- Feature Film in Standard Definition - 'The Sound of Music' is presented with newly restored picture and sound in 480p, so it can be enjoyed on a variety of DVD players.
- Sing-Along Track - Pop-up lyrics make chiming in during the musical numbers a breeze. .
- Music Machine – Access to all of the movie's musical numbers is just a remote click away with this easy-to-use interface.
- Featurette: "'The Sound of Music' Tour – A Living Story" (SD, 3 minutes) – This brief piece focuses on Panorama Tours, a Salzburg outfit that sponsors wildly popular, tailor-made 'Sound of Music' bus tours that stop at all the movie's iconic landmarks.
'The Sound of Music' has always been a celebratory musical, but this three-disc Blu-ray edition gives all of us one more reason to celebrate and admire this wonderful, Oscar-winning film. The songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Austrian scenery, and the performances of Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and the seven Von Trapp children come alive like never before, and the romantic, heartwarming, and inspirational story feels more immediate as a result. Superb video, top-notch audio, and enough special features to turn everyone into walking 'Sound of Music' encyclopedias make this extra special package truly one of our favorite things. Without a doubt, this is a must-own disc, and one that will make a great gift during any season of the year.
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