Following the unfortunate life of John Merrick, played by an exceptional John Hurt, David Lynch's The Elephant Man remains an emotionally impactful tale of the human condition and remains the filmmaker's most accessible feature. The Criterion Collection celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the classic cult drama on Blu-ray with a stunning video presentation, an excellent LPCM stereo track and a wonderful set of bonus features to enjoy. Overall, the BD package makes for a Highly Recommended addition to any cinephile's library.
The Elephant Man arguably remains David Lynch's most accessible and easy to grasp film, along with his family drama The Straight Story. However, being straightforward and furthest from his more abstract works doesn't mean Lynch is any less a visionary. Working with cinematographer Freddie Francis, the eccentrically stylized filmmaker demonstrates the same skill and mastery as his other, more challenging productions. He still manages to weave some of his usual surrealist curiosities in a plot centered around the friendship of London surgeon Frederick Treves (an excellent Anthony Hopkins) and John Merrick (a captivating John Hurt), the young man who worked the freak show circuit as "The Elephant Man." Nevertheless, like its titular character, the film is somewhat of a curiosity and novelty in Lynch's oeuvre, an emotionally-gripping tale largely driven by our sympathy for Merrick's plight, reminding us of humanity's monstrous indifference as well as its capacity for selfless compassion.
For another take on The Elephant Man, you can read our review of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray HERE courtesy of StudioCanal UK.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
This Blu-ray edition of David Lynch's The Elephant Man comes by way of The Criterion Collection (spine #1051). The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside a gatefold plastic tray that comes with a side-sliding slipcover. It also includes a 38-page booklet with various black-and-white photos and a pair of excerpts from two separate articles. The first is from a series of conversations between Lynch and writer Chris Rodley entitled, and the second is a letter by the head of the London Hospital, Francis Culling Carr Gomm, originally published in the London Times on 4 December 1886. There are no trailers before being greeted by the standard menu options and a splendidly animated screen with music.
According to information in the accompanying booklet, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode was struck from the same restoration effort made by StudioCanal for their 4K Ultra HD edition a few months ago. Supervised and approved by David Lynch, the original 35mm camera negatives were scanned and remastered at 4K resolution, and the results are nothing short of phenomenal.
Aside from a few soft moments here and there, which are inherent to the source, the 2.35:1 image is highly detailed with razor-sharp lines in the London streets, the architecture and the Victorian furniture. The grimy neighborhoods are a bit grimier, the stitching in the costumes is striking, and facial complexions are highly revealing. Most impressive, we can better make out and appreciate Christopher Tucker's prosthetic make-up effects. Freddie Francis's cinematography benefits tremendously, displaying pitch-perfect contrast with clean, radiant whites and crisp, brilliant highlights. Likewise, spot-on black levels supply silky rich shadows and superb visibility in the darkest, murkiest corners. With a consistent, fine layer of natural grain throughout, the brand-new transfer has a lovely film-like quality to it, making this HD version of the film a must-have for fans. (Video Rating: 96/100)
As with the video, Criterion also used StudioCanal's remaster of the film's original magnetic printmaster for this uncompressed PCM stereo soundtrack, preserving the original audio design that was approved by Lynch. When compared to its DTS-HD MA counterpart enjoyed on the 4K Ultra HD edition, this version does not reveal any significantly discernable differences. And as with that track, this lossless mix also does well when applying the receivers' Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality, effortlessly spreading many ambient effects into the top heights. This adds a strong sense of immersion to Alan Splet's sound design while also, nicely expanding John Morris's score, making the film all the more engaging and haunting. (Audio Rating: 84/100)
David Lynch's The Elephant Man arguably stands out from the filmmaker's more surrealist, hallucinatory pieces, yet the biographical drama following the final years in the life of John Merrick oddly fits with his oeuvre. Featuring exceptional performances by John Hurt as the titular character and Anthony Hopkins as the doctor who befriended and cared for him, the film is a captivating portrait of a person's plight to be seen as more than their rough exterior in light of humanity's ironic capacity for both cruelty and compassion. The classic cult drama finds a home on Blu-ray with a stunning, reference-quality HD video and an excellent uncompressed PCM stereo presentation. With a wealth of bonus material to sift through, this Blu-ray edition courtesy of The Criterion Collection is a highly recommended addition to the library.