'Casablanca' is more than a classic. It's an institution. It contains so many famous lines, characters and scenes that even those who have never seen it feel like they have by sheer osmosis; it is that ingrained in our shared cinematic consciousness.
The iconic moments from Michael Curtiz's 1942 masterwork are what cineastes remember most -- "We'll always have Paris," "Here's looking at you, kid" -- but what continues to startle, sixty years on, is just how well constructed and eminently watchable 'Casablanca' is. Yes, the famous parts are justifiably classic examples of writing, directing, performance, and editing, but check out all that lies between the film's obvious masterstrokes: Curtiz's subtle use of camera movement, the expressive melancholia of Max Steiner's musical score, Claude Rains' shady but lovable turn as Ingrid Bergman's would-be suitor -- these may not be the moments that continue to get spoofed on retrospective TV specials and American Express commercials, but they do confirm that it is impossible to imagine ever getting tired of watching 'Casablanca.'
Bergman and Humphrey Bogart deserve a lot of credit for the success of the film, for it is their indelible chemistry that continues to send hearts soaring six decades on. Never has emotional pathos and barely contained physical longing been so eloquently apparent. And when they have to say good-bye to each other at the end of the film? There is not a dry eye in the house.
'Casablanca' is more than just a movie; it is also a place, and a state of mind. Its misty, darkly-lit streets and haunted piano bars remain figments of our lost dreams, and glimmers of our future hopes. Bogart and Bergman have, despite changing tastes, fads and fashions, remained our romantic ideal, the perfect pair of lovers who must -- as fate decrees -- part for now, but perhaps not forever. It is one of those rare movie moments when all of the planets aligned perfectly, to capture the pure essence of human fragility, love and longing in a single, iconic shot. It may be a predictable choice for Best Movie of All-Time, but 'Casablanca' really is that good, that important and that seminal.
This Blu-ray release of 'Casablanca' follows a painstaking, grade-A remaster made for a standard def DVD reissue back in 2003, which then got ported over to HD DVD last year. The results were glorious then, and they are glorious now -- this is the way we dream our favorite classics will look when they come to home video. It is also a transfer so superior that even if I could find anything to remotely nitpick about, it would be pretty useless. 'Casablanca' is again presented in 1080p/VC-1 video on Blu-ray, and appropriately pillarboxed to the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The black and white image is wonderful. The source material has been meticulously cleaned up, and good luck finding a speck of dirt, dropouts or inconsistencies in contrast or black levels. The film has a nice, deep and rich look, with excellent smoothness across the entire grayscale. Sharpness is perhaps slightly "soft" by today's standards, but terrific for a film from 1942. I continue to marvel at how deep and detailed this film looks. Fine textures throughout are clearly visible -- I could make out indentations on the spine of a book, or see slight creases in the clean whites of Humphrey Bogart's tuxedo. I am also grateful Warner didn't over-tweak this one -- whites never bloom and at no point is the image overly contrasted in an effort to make the film look "newer" or "glossier." Instead, 'Casablanca' maintains a very natural, film-like look throughout. Without a doubt this is the finest black and white transfer I've seen on high-def, period, and up there with the best remasters ever created for the home theater environment.
For whatever reason, Warner did not (or wasn't able to) create a new 5.1 remaster for 'Casablanca.' Like the previous HD DVD release, this Blu-ray version offers only a Dolby Digital 1.0 mono (192kbps), in English, French or Spanish flavors. Of course, 'Casablanca' is largely dialogue driven, so it likely would not have benefited as greatly from a whiz-bang surround mix as, say, another classic like 'King Kong.' In any case, what we do get here is a very nicely cleaned up presentation.
In all honestly, there isn't much to say about the soundtrack. The source elements have been well preserved. High-end is smooth with no distortion and little of the harshness you'd expect from a film this old. Mid-range is somewhat spacious, though still sounds flat, as you would expect, compared to a modern mix. Low end also lacks any real heft. Again, since this is a mono track, there is zero envelopment or presence to the mix. But on purely technical terms, 'Casablanca' sounds about as good is it probably could.
The 2003 standard-def DVD reissue of 'Casablanca' came loaded with extras, and all of those goodies were ported over for the previous HD DVD release. But Warner has even gone one better for this Blu-ray, adding a bonus DVD with an additional full-length documentary to sweeten the pot. Add to that deluxe packaging with a wealth of collectibles, and you have one grand box set that any classic movie fan should be proud to have in their collection. (As before, all video-based materials are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only, with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.)
'Casablanca' is a true classic. This Blu-ray release is as fabulous as the previous HD DVD -- a stunning remaster and tons of extras make this a must-own for anyone even remotely interested in what cinema is all about. On top of that, Warner has now thrown in a bonus DVD with an additional full-length documentary, plus a trove of physical collectibles. 'Casablanca' is a title you simply have to add to your Blu-ray collection.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.