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Every now and again, a film will come along that is deemed a ‘classic’ - an example of celluloid that can be cherished for decades as something that defines the genre and is proof of the magic cinema possesses. Films that could live up to the tag include favourites such as Gone With The Wind, The Maltese Falcon, and more recently, E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial.

To achieve the status of a classic, a film needs to have been out for a good few years - in order to be judged fairly and to see how successful it remains down the line - and also have visible charm on-screen with every viewing. So, when I heard that Cinema Paradiso, a 1989 Italian film, was a classic of sorts, I sat down to watch it with baited breath. Is it a product of over-hype? Or is it instead something special?

This DVD is in fact a re-release: the original disc contained the original version of the film, whereas this two-disc version presents Cinema Paradiso in its theatrical (118 minutes) and extended (168 minutes) form, with each cut on each disc.

Film
Salvatore, a successful film director, returns to his native Sicilian village for the funeral of his old friend Alfredo. He was the projectionist at the local Cinema Paradiso where Salvatore spent the happiest times of his childhood and developed his love of film. To the fatherless young boy Alfredo became a father figure who guided and loved him. His return also brings back poignant memories of his teenage love, Elena, whom he had to leave in order to pursue his dream.

Cinema Paradiso: Collector's Edition
The first thing that may put off some viewers is the fact that the film is in Italian, through and through. So yes, that means subtitles and the Italian way of life throughout the film, with their quirks and idiosyncrasies painted against the backdrop of Sicily Italian viewers will definitely connect with Cinema Paradiso, but will foreigners do the same?

Well, fortunately, yes. The story can be understood and enjoyed by all, and the same can be said for the film on the whole. It is evident that this is a labour of love for Guiseppe Tornatore, the writer-director; a story he has wanted to tell for years…and this enthusiasm is one of the main reasons why the film succeeds.

The friendship between Salvatore and Alfredo is touching and moving, and events that occur throughout the film strengthen said bond with a realistic punch, something that seems to be absent in most dramas these days. Yes, Cinema Paradiso is powerful viewing - a resounding visual and sonic experience, backed up by a script that is good on surface level, although the odd crack is present.

Whilst the narrative drives on, climaxing after two hours, there is a slight lack of excitement or electricity at times: so is it good to see the included director’s cut? Will it add more excitement and interest to the film? In ways, yes, it is good, but then there is the odd reason as to why not.

The good points of the director’s cut include further development of the characters and an extension of the narrative - something that is needed, as I mentioned above. But, the latter also serves as a downfall to the cut. The theatrical cut is timed more or less just right, with interest remaining throughout. But, with an extra 50 minutes tacked on, things aren’t as enthralling as they could be: a case of over-exposure.

Cinema Paradiso: Collector's Edition
Having said that, continuing the theme of contrast in this review, the characters are charming and quirky enough to warrant sticking out the running time to immerse yourself in their lives.

Cinema Paradiso is not a classic, it is not a masterpiece, nor does it warrant multiple and frequent viewings, analysing the story and characters. However, it does warrant at least one viewing - if not two or three - as the film is charming and intriguing, and the Italian way of life is lovingly captured and depicted by Tornatore, whose script does its job, although lacks a cinematic punch to live up to its label of a modern-day classic (well, from what I’ve read and heard, others seem to think it is).

Video
Presented in 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Cinema Paradiso looks very good, with a crisp print replicated with an artefact-free transfer. Made in 1989, on a good enough budget to allow for video quality, this is an example of how a film can still look very good 15 years on, and Arrow Films have made sure its entrance to the digital revolution is good enough to be compared to modern releases. Very satisfying.

Audio
However, things go a bit pear-shaped in the audio department, what with the only soundtrack on offer being Dolby Digital Mono (Italian). My qualm is not the language, but instead the lack of ambience and poor soundstage. With all the audio coming from the front channel, meaning no surround effects, the viewer doesn’t feel as involved as they could have been. Considering this DVD is dubbed a ‘collector’s edition’, it is disappointing to see the distributor not going the extra mile and giving the fans a deserved 5.1 remix. A poor result.

Cinema Paradiso: Collector's Edition
Extras
This release is split over two discs - the first carrying the theatrical cut and the (measly) extras:

The Arrow catalogue, a simple advertising gimmick that parades the Arrow DVD collection. It also contains scenes from the director’s cut, which is a collection of static pages informing you about the two different cuts of the film. Again, gimmicky.

The second disc carries the director’s cut and a sole extra: a biography of the writer-director, Guiseppe Tornatore, which is fairly interesting, but static text on a screen isn’t the most scintillating feature!

The menus are completely static, but fortunately easy enough to navigate.

Overall
I suppose if I was asked to describe Cinema Paradiso, I would use the term ‘heart-warming’. It is a story of friendship, of bond between humans over a common interest - in this case cinema and the power of celluloid.

Tornatore skilfully weaves a story that captures the essence of an era, and in doing so creates a powerful film that is most definitely worth watching. But, whilst I would say it is very good, I do not class it as excellent or a masterpiece; for it contains an odd bit of jarring in the narrative, inducing what may be deemed tediousness for a few minutes now and again.

Cinema Paradiso: Collector's Edition
Having said that, the film is never trying to be an action-packed blood fest of electric set-pieces and explosive scenarios…instead it is a more sedated, but just as enjoyable, drama.

The DVD itself is again a case of ups and downs, although unfortunately there are many more downs than ups. The video may be pleasing and very good in this day and age, but the audio is dull and uninspiring and the extras are almost non-existent. Yes, the inclusion of the director’s cut may be seen as a very pleasing extra, but to be honest it isn’t an extra and more of a necessity: the things that can be called extras are instead dull and placid static screens of text.

Summing up, although Arrow have been a little over-eager to slap a ‘collector’s edition’ tag on this package, the film itself is worth buying the DVD for, as long as the price is pleasing enough.


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