Blu-ray: Highly Recommended
4.5 Stars out of 5
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Release Date: November 16th, 2010
Movie Release Year: 1936
Release Country: United States
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Modern Times

Review Date March 22nd, 2011 by
Overview - Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin’s last outing as the Little Tramp, puts the iconic character to work as a giddily inept factory employee who becomes smitten with a gorgeous gamine (Paulette Goddard). With its barrage of unforgettable gags and sly commentary on class struggle during the Great Depression, Modern Times—though made almost a decade into the talkie era and containing moments of sound (even song!)—is a timeless showcase of Chaplin’s untouchable genius as a director of silent comedy.
OVERALL
Highly Recommended
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: BD-50
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p.AVC MPEG-4
    Length:87
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):1.33:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English Monaural
    Subtitles/Captions: English (SDH)
    Special Features: New audio commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson
    All at Sea (1933), a home movie by Alistair Cooke featuring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, and Cooke, plus a new score by Donald Sosin and a new interview with Cooke's daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge
    The Rink (1916), a Chaplin two-reeler highlighting his skill on wheels
    For the First Time (1967), a Cuban documentary short about a projectionist who shows Modern Times to first-time moviegoers
    A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Saul Austerlitz and a piece by film scholar Lisa Stein that includes excerpts from Chaplin's writing about his travels in 1931 and 1932
    Two new visual essays, by Chaplin historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance
    New program on the film's visual and sound effects, with experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
    Interview from 1992 with Modern Times music arranger David Raksin
    Chaplin Today: "Modern Times" (2004), a half-hour program with filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
    Two segments removed from the film
    Three theatrical trailers
    Movie Studio: Criterion
    Release Date: November 16th, 2010

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

4.5 Stars out of 5

Al Jolson helped break the sound barrier in film when he sang in 'The Jazz Singer' (1927), and Hollywood quickly embraced the new technique. Well, not all of Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin was concerned the Little Tramp's worldwide appeal would be lost if the character was given a voice, and being both his own producer and distributor, he was able to do as he saw fit.

Chaplin's masterpiece 'City Lights' was his first post-sound feature and he conceded to the technology through the use of sound effects and a score, but dialogue was still presented on title cards. He toured the world to promote the film, and away from the Hollywood backlot, he saw the effects the Great Depression and industrialization were having on people. This inspired him to make 'Modern Times.' The film marks the last appearance of the Little Tramp, identified as "a factory worker" in the credits. Some characters are heard speaking through devices like intercoms and radios, and the Little Tramp is finally given a voice, which he uses to sing a nonsense song with words that sound like they're French and Italian.

Described on a title card as "A story of industry, of individual enterprise — humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness,' Chaplin quickly makes known his point of view on the subject as the film opens with a shot of sheep filing past dissolving into a shot of men heading to work. A domineering boss observes his workers on video screens throughout the factory in a manner George Orwell would later use in his novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four." The boss constantly orders an increase in production, and in one of the film's more memorable sequences, allows a salesman to test a feeding machine in an attempt to avoid lunch breaks. Although there are plenty of gags, the effects of the repetitive work are physical as well as mental.

Unemployment and poverty are a great problem in society, somewhat resembling today's economic issues. Though he does his best to survive, the Tramp constantly finds himself powerless with his fate dictated by others. Being at the wrong place at the wrong time at a Communist march lands him in jail, but he doesn't mind, considering he gets shelter and three square meals a day. He later gets another factory job, but the union forces him to go out on strike. He crosses paths with a gamine (Paulette Goddard), a young orphan girl who steals food to survive. They quickly form a bond, but with their ages unknown, it's not entirely clear if the relationship is paternal or romantic. Working together, they find hope, which is shown to be as nourishing for the soul as food and shelter.

Chaplin's 'Modern Times' is a humorous and touching film that nearly a century later still has something to say about society. It offers entertainment to those who ask for only that, but it also offers conversation starters about how we live and work together without being preachy or dictating a point of view. While the limited depth of the characters and the simplicity of the story could be seen as flaws, they are more a function of the era and shouldn't be held against the work.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Modern Times' (#543 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is 40-page booklet containing Saul Austerlitz's essay "Exit the Tramp" and Lisa Stein's essay "Chaplin Sees the World".

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    BD-50
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p.AVC MPEG-4
    Length:87
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.33:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Monaural
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English (SDH)
    Special Features:
    New audio commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson
    All at Sea (1933), a home movie by Alistair Cooke featuring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, and Cooke, plus a new score by Donald Sosin and a new interview with Cooke's daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge
    The Rink (1916), a Chaplin two-reeler highlighting his skill on wheels
    For the First Time (1967), a Cuban documentary short about a projectionist who shows Modern Times to first-time moviegoers
    A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Saul Austerlitz and a piece by film scholar Lisa Stein that includes excerpts from Chaplin's writing about his travels in 1931 and 1932
    Two new visual essays, by Chaplin historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance
    New program on the film's visual and sound effects, with experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
    Interview from 1992 with Modern Times music arranger David Raksin
    Chaplin Today: "Modern Times" (2004), a half-hour program with filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
    Two segments removed from the film
    Three theatrical trailers
    Movie Studio: Criterion
    Release Date: November 16th, 2010

Video Review

4.5 Stars out of 5

The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.33:1. The liner notes reveal the "transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN digital scanner from a 35 mm fine-grain master positive that was wetgated from the original 35 mm camera negative," giving Roland Totheroh's cinematography a needed upgrade from Warner Brothers' recent release on DVD.

The source was clean and the picture looked consistent, both thanks in part to Assimilate's Scratch software, Pixel Farm's PFClean system, and MTI's DRS system. The blacks were rich and never crushed. They contrasted well with the brighter objects. The image offers great detail as textures are apparent in a range of items from the prisoners' denim outfits to the buildings.

There were some expected wear marks, and grain is mostly evident on the title cards. The dissolves lose some clarity during a few frames of the transition. No digital artifacts were seen.

Audio Review

4 Stars out of 5

The audio is available in English LPCM 1.0 and was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm soundtrack print making for a clean-sounding print. The occasional dialogue is always clear and understandable, particularly Chaplin's singing, which doesn't come through a device like the other occurrences. The music, both popular songs and the score Chaplin composed, demonstrate the breadth of the dynamic range. All the elements are balanced well together, although there's a limited amount of bass for the LFE.

Special Features

4 Stars out of 5
  • Commentary
    Chaplin biographer David Robinson delivers an entertaining overview, discussing the film's production and the times that influenced it.
  • 'Modern Times': A Closer Look (HD, 17 min) –
    Chaplin historian Jeffrey Vance, author of Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, uses photos and pre-production sketches to create a visual essay about the creation of the film. It's most interesting to see stills from deleted scenes.
  • A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte (HD, 20 min) –
  • Silent Traces: 'Modern Times' (HD, 15 min) –
    John Bengtson, author of Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin, covers the film's locations in Downtown Los Angeles through archival photos and film clips, the latter of which includes material with Chaplin peers Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
  • David Raksin and the Score (1080i, 16 min) –
    Composer David Raksin, best known for his work on 'Laura' (1944), is interviewed in 1992 about his collaboration arranging music with Chaplin on 'Modern Times.' Artifacting occurs from the background on close-ups. This supplement is paired with an orchestral track (9 min) from the film's first factory sequence.
  • Two Bits (1080i) –
    "Crossing the Street" (2 min) was cut before the film debuted. It's a short, funny scene without sound of the Tramp trying to cross the street though he doesn’t understand the traffic signals. "The Tramp's Song, Unedited" (4 min) presents the last verse of his song. Chaplin cut it in 1954 when he edited the film for rerelease.
  • All At Sea
    Journalist Alistair Cooke took a trip from San Pedro, CA to Catalina Island with Chaplin and Goddard on Chaplin's yacht in 1933. Cooke filmed it on an 8mm camera and those home movies (18 min, 1080i) are presented here with an optional piano score by composer Donald Sosin. This supplement is paired with a 2010 interview with Cooke's daughter, Susan Cooke Kittedge (13 min, HD), talking about her father and his relationship with Chaplin.
  • The Rink (1916) (1080i, 24 min) –
    The eighth of twelve films Chaplin made for the Mutual Film Corporation. This two-reeler finds the Tramp working as a waiter in a fancy restaurant. On his lunch break he goes to roller rink and shows off great acrobatic skill. The print has varying degrees of damage and some frames are missing. Some of the gags from this short appear in 'Modern Times'.
  • For the First Time (1080i, 9 min) –
    Cuban documentary filmmaker Octavio Cortazar followed a group of projectionists as they showed different films to rural communities in 1967. Obviously by its inclusion, 'Modern Times' was one of them as we see people from a remote village laughing at Chaplin in the automated lunch machine. In Spanish, with optional English subtitles.
  • Chaplin Today: 'Modern Times' (1080i, 27 min) –
    A 2003 MK2TV/French program offers an appreciation by 'Rosetta' directors/brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. In French and English, with optional English subtitles.
  • Trailers (1080i) –
    Trailers from the U.S. (2 min), France (2 min), and Germany (3 min). The German one is for a 1972 re-release of the film.

Final Thoughts

'Modern Times' is one of Chaplin's classics. The story continues to transcend the time in which it was made. The Criterion Collection has given the film a great upgrade with the modern tools at its disposal. They have matched it a very good collection of features that inform viewers about the film and its maker.

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List Price $22.97
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3rd Party $22.48
Usually ships in 24 hours
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    BD-50
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p.AVC MPEG-4
    Length:87
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.33:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Monaural
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English (SDH)
    Special Features:
    New audio commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson
    All at Sea (1933), a home movie by Alistair Cooke featuring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, and Cooke, plus a new score by Donald Sosin and a new interview with Cooke's daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge
    The Rink (1916), a Chaplin two-reeler highlighting his skill on wheels
    For the First Time (1967), a Cuban documentary short about a projectionist who shows Modern Times to first-time moviegoers
    A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Saul Austerlitz and a piece by film scholar Lisa Stein that includes excerpts from Chaplin's writing about his travels in 1931 and 1932
    Two new visual essays, by Chaplin historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance
    New program on the film's visual and sound effects, with experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
    Interview from 1992 with Modern Times music arranger David Raksin
    Chaplin Today: "Modern Times" (2004), a half-hour program with filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
    Two segments removed from the film
    Three theatrical trailers
    Movie Studio: Criterion
    Release Date: November 16th, 2010