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Feature


Adapted from the novel by Thomas Keneally, Steven Spielberg’s masterful film tells the incredible true story of the courageous Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson). Initially a member of the Nazi party, the Catholic Schindler risks his career and life, and ultimately goes bankrupt, to employ 1,100 Jews in his crockery factory during the Holocaust. Schindler’s Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) serves as his conscience, as Schindler conducts business with an obstinate and cruel Nazi commander (Ralph Fiennes), who viciously kills Jewish prisoners from the balcony of his villa overlooking a prison camp. Filmed entirely in black-and-white on location in Poland, Schindler’s List does not downplay the faults of its magnanimous and unlikely hero, but relates a story of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of horrific devastation and tragedy. (Taken from the PR.)

Video


Never having previously owned a copy of Schindler's List on a home video format I was very much looking forward to getting my hands on this Blu-ray. Universal has come in for some harsh criticism of its catalogue releases in the past (some of it from me), with even Spielberg's own  Jurassic Park failing to live up to many viewers' expectations. Thankfully their recent track record with the Beard's films - notably Jaws and E.T. - has been much better, and when I learned that the director had personally supervised this new high-definition transfer from the original 35mm elements I was quietly confident that the end result would be worth the wait. I'm pleased to report that it lives up to expectations.

Newly-minted transfers are all well and good, but they can still be ruined at the encode stage by overzealous application of noise reduction, edge enhancement, and various other image manipulation techniques. In this case Universal has delivered a 1.85:1 (1080/24p AVC) encode that is a considerable step up from the standard-definition releases of the film. The reassuring presence of a fine layer of grain grants the picture the all-important 'filmic' look that has eluded so many of Universal's catalogue releases over the years. Textures are rendered far more accurately than was possible on DVD, revealing hitherto unforeseen levels of detail in every facet of the picture from wide angle shots to close-ups, with fabrics and facial characteristics the most obvious benefactors. While there's no colour to speak of beyond the short opening sequence, the solitary figure of the girl in red and the final coda, Janusz Kaminski's stark monochromatic photography suits the period setting and subject matter perfectly. Contrast is excellent, delivering deep, rich blacks and bright whites without crushing or blooming. Obviously the film was never designed to be demo material for home video enthusiasts, but you'd never know it looking at this Blu-ray. This is a fantastic presentation of a visually beautiful film.

Audio


Like most major motion pictures arriving on the Blu-ray format these days, Schinder's List features a DTS-MD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Obviously the subject matter doesn't lend itself to the sort of frenetic, over-the-top sound design normally associated with 5.1 audio, but that's not to say the multiple channels are wasted. Things do start off fairly sedately, with most of the action taking place at the front of the soundstage, but before long things open up with some wonderfully immersive ambient effects filling the rear channels. Prioritisation is such that the various surround elements, which consist mostly of crowd noise, machinery, and the occasional sounds of war are employed with such subtlety that they never overshadow the all-important dialogue. Directionality is limited by design, but when it happens it's smooth and precise (the discrete sound of a locomotive transitioning from one of the surrounds to the frontal array stands out in the memory). The icing on the cake is John Williams' emotional, Academy Award-winning score, which sits comfortably alongside the other elements sounding wonderfully rich and detailed. If ever proof were needed that some of the very best soundtracks are of the subtle, understated variety, here it is. The soundtrack is a wonderful accompaniment to the excellent visuals and one of those rare treats that actually gains in stature upon reflection.

Extras


Those expecting a wealth of new material for this Blu-ray release are going to be disappointed, but given Spielberg's stance on audio commentaries and his reluctance to divulge too much about the film's specifics, it's hardly surprising. Unfortunately the promoter only supplied us with the first disc for this review, so I am unable to comment on the bonus material or booklet. If I am able to obtain the second disc I will update this portion of the review. Until then, here's what you can expect to find in the retail copies.

  • Voices from the List: Featuring documentary with testimonies from those who survived the Holocaust thanks to Oskar Schindler
  • USC Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg: The director shows how filming Schindler’s List inspired him to establish the USC Shoah Foundation
  • 16-Page Booklet: Unfortunately this was not provided with our review copy.
  • Digital Copy
  • Ultraviolet Digital Copy

Overall


Given the subject matter I'm not sure it's appropriate to label Shindler's List an 'enjoyable' film, but it is a thoroughly engaging one that serves as both a reminder of past mistakes and a lesson for the future. It's a beautifully crafted feature, from the wonderful cinematography to the marvellous score, and features outstanding performances by all involved. Universal has a patchy track record with its catalogue titles, even high-profile ones such as this, so I am overjoyed that the disc lives up to my pre-review expectations. As such it comes highly recommended.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Schindler's List
 Schindler's List
 Schindler's List
 Schindler's List
 Schindler's List


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