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Like the movie itself, the saga of the 1954 version of A STAR IS BORN ($25) is a tale filled with triumph, tragedy and a phoenix like rebirth. A STAR IS BORN was produced by Warner Bros. and with a great deal of fanfare; the movie marked the return of the legendary Judy Garland to the screen after a four-year absence. At the time of its premiere, A STAR IS BORN ran 181 minutes, which was considered long for a movie musical, even one telling a dramatic story. Looking for a way to cram more screenings of the film into a single day, Warner Bros. made extensive cuts to the film, which reduced its running time to 154 minutes. As one might expect, the butchered version of A STAR IS BORN ended up being commercially unsuccessful and sullied the reputation of what was originally a very fine movie. Additionally, when Warner re-edited the movie, they physically cut every last film element in their possession, without first preserving the 181-minute cut of A STAR IS BORN for posterity. For nearly three decades, audiences were subjected to watching the horribly truncated version of A STAR IS BORN. However, back in the early 1980s film historian Ronald Haver embarked on the painstaking process of tracking down most the lost footage and was able to reconstruct the film to almost its complete length. The entire story of the reconstruction can be found in Ronald Haverís book A Star Is Born: The Making Of The 1954 Movie And Its 1983 Restoration.

A STAR IS BORN tells the story of Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland), an aspiring singer working with a band in Hollywood. One night, while performing at a benefit, Esther encounters movie star Norman Maine (James Mason), who comes wandering onto the stage totally inebriated. With a little quick thinking, Esther is able to prevent the Hollywood luminary from making a complete jackass out of himself in front of an audience of his peers. Much later that evening, a sober Norman Maine tracks down Esther in a small club where she is singing, so that he may thank her for her assistance. Listening to Esther sing, Norman immediately recognizes her enormous talentÖ and on the spot, he decides that she must come to the studio for a screen test. With Normanís help, Esther gets her foot in the door, however it is her talent that makes her a star, when the studio puts her in her first musical. As you might expect, Esther and Norman fall in love and get married. Unfortunately, their relationship is greatly challenged when Normanís career goes into declineÖ just as Estherís takes off.

George Cukor had a reputation as a "womanís director" and this particular project does little to dispute that notion of Cukor. A STAR IS BORN is very much a starring vehicle for Judy Garland, but Cukor does get the very best performances from both of his female and male stars. As Esther Blodgett, Judy Garland displays an immense dramatic range, something that was not really part of her repertoire during her years at MGM. Norman Maine was one of the meatier roles that James Mason tackled in his career and he carries it off with aplomb. Sure, the sophisticated veneer remains present, but Mason brings a lot of depth to the role of a man deeply in love, desperately wrestling with his physical addiction to alcohol and a loss of control in his life. In addition to Garland and Mason, the cast of A STAR IS BORN also features Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan, Lucy Marlow, Amanda Blake, Irving Bacon and Hazel Shermet.

Warner Home Video has made A STAR IS BORN available on Blu-ray Disc in the early CinemaScope 2.55:1 aspect ratio, and the presentation has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Considering the troubled history of A STAR IS BORN, including hatchet job cutting it took during its initial theatrical release and Ron Haverís eventual reconstruction of the film, I am going to say the 1080p presentation is highly impressive, albeit, slightly uneven. Of course, said unevenness has everything to do with both the original production techniques employed, as well as the state of the elements used for the reconstruction. As Warner scanned the reconstructed A STAR IS BORN at 6K resolution, and did further digital restoration, I have to give them the utmost of credit for their attempts to maximize the existing elements for this high definition presentation.

The Blu-ray release of A STAR IS BORN is still at the reconstruction length of 176 minutes, which is five minutes shy of its premiere version. As with the previous release, the reconstructed version of A STAR IS BORN still consists moments where only the soundtrack is intact, while still photos have been inserted to replace the missing footage. There are moments where A STAR IS BORN looks stunning, and there are very, very brief moments where the image is somewhat weak looking. Fortunately, the vast majority of A STAR IS BORN looks exactly how an early CinemaScope from the period should look in high definition. That said, the early CinemaScope lenses did have some limitations in their optics, so the actors can appear a little fuller in the face in close ups than they did in real life. Also, the CinemaScope lenses had a very limited depth of field, which Cukor pushed to the limits with adventurous staging and camera work during musical numbers. Color reproduction tends to be quite good, with many of the hues resembling the rich IB Technicolor look of yesterday. There are moments, where colors are less consistent, but for the most part look good. At their Technicolor best, reds leap off the screen, but they are stable. Blacks appear fairly inky, while the whites are accurate. Contrast is smooth, but shadow detail can be rather limited. The digital restoration has eliminated virtually all blemishes. Film grain is apparent, but not excessive.

A STAR IS BORN is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Like the previous DVD release, the 5.1 channel soundtrack has been adapted from the movieís original 4-channel magnetic stereo soundtrack, which maintains the qualities of the original 1950ís sound mix. Channel separation is good across the forward soundstage, with some fifties styled directionality to the dialogue. The surround channels see very limited use, with their effect being barely perceivable. Since A STAR IS BORN is "a musical," the music is the highlight of the original recordings. Of course, the lossless encode maximizes the quality of the soundtrack, but it also demonstrates the limitations inherent to the recording technology of more than half a century ago. The songs and the musical score have a fuller quality than the rest of the track, and considering the age of these recordings, they really do sound quite good. Dialogue is crisply rendered and remains totally understandable. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 channel, plus a Spanish monaural track have also been encoded onto the disc.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, which are contained on the DVD second disc of this set. Starting things off is a brief Introduction to the Special Features. The most interesting supplemental feature is the presentation of the three alternate versions of the musical number The Man Who Got Away. This number was shot with various lighting, staging and costume changes, which shows how it evolved through the various revisions. The song, When My Sugar Walks Down the Street, which was cut before the premiere version of the film, is also presented here. Alternate Takes of four scenes are also provided. A brief Film Effects Reel is also included, as is a program entitled A Report By Jack L. Warner. One will also find Documentary and Newsreel Footage from the Hollywood premiere of A STAR IS BORN. The classic Warner Bros. Cartoon A Star Is Bored is also included to add some levity. Audio Vault offers various clips and audio outtakes. Theatrical Trailers for the 1937, 1954 and 1976 versions of A STAR IS BORN fill out the supplements. A STAR IS BORN features book styled packaging that contains forty-four pages of photos and production notes.

A STAR IS BORN is a classic motion picture that belongs in the library of every movie buff. The Blu-ray presentation is great, and very worthy of the upgrade. Very highly recommended.



A Star Is Born (Blu-ray Book)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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