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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 61.44)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Hebrew, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, Arabic, Turkish, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Hindi, Bulgarian
  Extras
  • 3 Deleted scenes - with optional commentary
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 2 Audio commentary - by director Edward Zwick & Brad Pitt, and cinematographer John Toll & Production Designer Lilly Kilvert
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette
  • Isolated music score - plus selectable music highlights
  • Animated menus
  • Behind the scenes footage

Legends of the Fall - Collectors Edition

Tristar Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 127 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

When Legends of the Fall went into production in 1993, co-producer and director Edward Zwick was undoubtedly keeping both the scope and the success of Kevin Costner’s 1990 epic Dances with Wolves firmly in mind. And that’s completely understandable - after Costner’s huge success and eventual Oscar win for Best Picture, the years of damage done to the genre by Heaven’s Gate were washed away, and suddenly the historical epic was officially back in business.

Expanded from a novella by Jim Harrison that was originally published in Esquire Magazine, Legends of the Fall chronicles the rather dramatic lives and times of the Ludlow family. Patriarch William Ludlow (Hopkins) was a colonel in the army until the cruelty and pointlessness of war prompted him to abandon military life for the relative peace of a ranch in Montana. His three sons are remarkably different people: Alfred (Aidan Quinn) is a forthright, ambitious man for whom no challenge is impossible, while Samuel (Thomas, who’ll be familiar to fans of E.T.) is the bookish youngest son who has arrived back in Montana from his time at university, where he has met and become engaged to Susannah (Ormond) who accompanies him to the ranch. And then there’s Tristan (Pitt) - his father’s favourite, and a man who has little direction in life. Constantly in trouble with the local law, he spends much of his time conversing with the local “Indians” and is fiercely protective of Samuel. So when Samuel declares he’s heading off to fight in what had become the First World War, Tristan immediately decides to go as well as his “protector”; Alfred, of course, comes along as well (and all three are mysteriously but conveniently posted to the very same unit!) But when tragedy strikes, a chain of events is set in motion back in Montana that will see jealousy, madness, injustice, loss and death playing key roles in the future of the once-inseparable Ludlow family.

Edward Zwick is an extremely talented filmmaker, a man with a deft touch at storytelling (no doubt honed during his years working on TV series Thirtysomething) and, at the time Legends was shot, a man with great deal of stature in Hollywood as well, as the director of the acclaimed war drama Glory. Consequently, Legends of the Fall is a skilfully made film that certainly pulls out all stops to entertain its audience - but one which lacks the subtlety and poetry of Glory. This is melodrama, pure and simple - and at times that melodrama is so overblown as to be almost comical (Brad Pitt’s pursed-lipped Meaningful Stare gets a thorough workout in this couple of hours). Loaded with contrivance upon contrivance, at times it feels like the most expensive soap opera ever made. Which, to an extent, it is.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad film, by any means. Overdone it might be, but it’s overdone in a most entertaining way. Acting is generally solid (especially considering some of the lines the characters are forced to utter) and the quality of the production is undeniable - John Toll’s cinematography here won an Oscar, and down to the last detail the production design is magnificent. But the film should be seen for what it really is - an entertaining melodrama that appears to have the most serious intentions, but which ultimately is like the unusual offspring of an old-school western and The Godfather (and one of the final set-pieces in this film, by the way, strongly recalls Coppola’s “Godfather technique” of intercutting between several violent events that happen at the same time).

Why is this film taken so seriously by some? Well, as Zwick’s follow-up to Glory it was expected to be a Serious Film, for one thing. Really, though, it comes across as more important than it actually is thanks to some lovely photography, some very showy acting and a music score (by James Horner) that sounds, more often than not, like it’s deliberately trying to evoke the same texture and feeling as John Barry’s Dances With Wolves score (and some of the arrangements here are very similar).

All of the above probably sounds horribly negative and critical. But as long as it’s taken for what it is, Legends of the Fall is an extremely well made, hugely entertaining melodramatic epic that will give you a couple of hours of good solid enjoyment, in very much the same way that the classic Hollywood melodramas do. You’ll gasp, you’ll smile, you’ll weep and you’ll be excited, and at the end of the day a film that can take its audience so effortlessly on such a journey is an unqualified success. Those expecting philosophy and insight into the human condition, though, are probably watching the wrong disc.

  Video
Contract

Legends of the Fall was one of Columbia Tristar’s first DVD releases, issued in 1998 on a single layered disc with no extra features at all (unless you count the infamous Columbia Tristar DVD advertisement as an extra) and MPEG soundtracks as the primary audio (along with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, thankfully). It was an excellent disc for its time, and a remarkable compression job from the Sony team, who managed to fit the film into limited disc space without overly noticeable compression problems. But as one of the most popular films in the catalogue, Legends of the Fall was due for an overhaul (many of Columbia Tristar’s major early DVD efforts have received similar treatment already) and with this “Collector’s Edition” it gets exactly that.

Now free to spread the film over two layers, the Sony DVD Center people (working with the very same hi-def telecine transfer of the film as the original disc) have not gone overboard with the encoding bitrate, but have given the film’s more demanding scenes room to breathe. The average bitrate is of course higher (the movie occupying 50% more disc space than it did last time) and as usual for Sony the maximum bitrate for complex scenes has been set extremely high, reaching over 9Mbit/sec in some sections of the film.

All of this translates in English (!) basically as “this disc looks way better than the original one did”. It is an excellent video transfer (though marred by some good amount of film damage at times, damage that looks to be on the negative but which is not overly intrusive) and John Toll’s magnificent cinematography is well represented with vibrant but natural colour, perfect black levels and a shadow detail where needed and a very film-like look; digital enhancement is not a problem here.

This anamorphically enhanced transfer is in the standard 16:9 ratio of 1.78:1, opening out the matte slightly from the theatrical 1.85:1 ratio but not affecting scene composition in any noticeable way. The inevitable layer change is placed nearly half-way through the film, and while it’s quickly navigated it is located in quite a jarring spot.

  Audio
Contract

The beautifully rendered Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix that makes this film so involving is the default audio track on this version of the disc, and a marvellous soundtrack it is; subtle but exceptionally detailed, it pulls the viewer into the story from the first frame and creates a sound-world that’s believable but never showy.

The Dolby Surround mix that was present on the original disc is gone here, but that’s no problem - the 5.1 track downmixes perfectly well to stereo or matrixed surround.

Disappointingly, though, both the 5.1 soundtrack mix and the 5.0 isolated score track (see below) are encoded at the lower Dolby Digital bitrate of 384kbit/sec, which limits upper frequency response. There was plenty of space to use the higher 448kbit/sec bitrate on this disc.

  Extras
Contract

The disc may sport a similar front cover to the original (interestingly, though, the bearded Brad Pitt on the original front cover has been replaced by a moody clean-shaven one, presumably to attract female Pitt fans) but the new cover gives little clue about how much has been added to this version of the disc, only mentioning one of the two commentaries on the cover (again, probably because Brad Pitt is on it!) But fans of the film will find a wealth of new stuff here, though it’s not as extensive a collection of extras as has been prepared for other films of similar vintage.

A nicely-done fully animated main menu replaces the old static one, and this disc, like all Columbia Tristar titles these days, is encoded with DVD text (but not with a jacket picture, unlike their US discs).

Audio Commentary: Edward Zwick (Director) and Brad Pitt (Drawcard): You’d think it’d be an odd pairing for a commentary, and you’d be right - initially, anyway. While Zwick seems content to revisit the physical making of the film and the motivations of the characters, Pitt appears nervous and doesn’t offer much. But as he relaxes, the camaraderie that the pair no doubt found on the set returns, and they chat away like two friends looking at old photos. Very entertaining, plus there’s a fair bit of fun trivia to be found here as well.

Audio Commentary: John Toll (Cinematographer) and Lilly Kilvert (Production Designer): This one’s for the aspiring filmmakers amongst you. While Toll offers insight into the challenges of photographing the movie, Kilvert does the same from the point of view of the production design. Together they give viewers a valuable overview of the creation of the wonderful visuals of the film, with Toll somewhat more restrained than Kilvert (it’s wonderful, though, to have a cinematographer on a commentary track; it’s all too rare). There are quiet spots, but if you’ve ever wanted to know how a historical epic is crafted, this is the commentary track for you.

Isolated Music Score: This one’s an odd extra, simply because of the way it is presented on disc. Accessed not from the Special Features menu but instead from the Audio Set Up menu, this feature is listed as “Isolated Music Highlights” and presents a menu of ten items, each representing a separate “track” from the score. Each one, when selected, plays a section of the movie on screen with the music score as the only accompaniment, in Dolby Digital 5.0. There’s a “play all” option as well, and a quick check reveals that the total run time of all these segments combined is 51 minutes. This feature takes up no extra disc space, by the way - these selections are coded as individual “titles”, but actually use the main movie’s video stream for their vision and audio. But what about the full isolated music score track mentioned on the back cover, you ask? Well, it IS on the disc - you just won’t find it in any of the disc menus. If you want to play the entire film back with the full isolated music score, simply select the fifth audio stream on the disc with the “audio” button on your remote while the movie is playing (it’s the one after the two commentaries) and you’ve got the full 127 minutes’ worth (including passages of silence, of course) in Dolby Digital 5.0.

Deleted Scenes: Three fairly short scenes (about five minutes all up) removed from the film before it was completed, transferred from rough-edit prints and consequently presented with mono audio and plenty of scratches and edit-pencil marks. Playable with or without commentary from Edward Zwick, these three scenes do answer one key question that some who saw this film had (but which most figured out for themselves); none of them are especially essential, though Zwick does express regret for losing two of them.

Production Design Featurette: A short (less than five minutes) collection of behind the scenes video footage (full frame of course), with new commentary done (like the rest of this disc) in 2000 by Zwick and Kilvert, who offer some more insight into the film’s production design, focussing on the authentic Montana town the team created in the middle of Vancouver.

Behind The Scenes Featurette: Yet another one of those cheesy promo fluff pieces used to lure the media at the time of the movie’s release. The usual hyperbole happens (“will take audiences on a journey the likes of which they’ve never had,” gushes Zwick on location). Running six minutes, it has curiosity value but little more.

Talent Profiles: Biographies and the usual dreaded “selected filmographies” for Zwick, Toll, Kilvert and the five main cast members.

Theatrical Trailer: The original trailer, and by the look of it the original video transfer of it! Full-frame and with mono audio, this doesn’t look especially spectacular but it serves well to show you just how far video transfers have come in the last few years. Summing up the film in a frenzy of fragmented grabs, it at least gets the bit in where Anthony Hopkins says “dieeeeeee”, which is, of course, the most important thing.

Dolby Digital City Trailer: Earth to Sony DVD Center - please, please, please, please, PLEASE contact Dolby and get the other trailers they have available. And use them instead of this. Please.

  Overall  
Contract

It may seem incredibly frustrating if you were an early DVD buyer and grabbed this and the other Columbia Tristar releases when they first came out, only to see them offered again with a bevy of extras and a better quality picture. Indeed, you may be perfectly happy with your movie-only single-layer original (which does look perfectly fine for most people). But if you haven’t gotten around to grabbing this movie yet - or if you’re a die-hard fan - then this new DVD edition of Legends of the Fall will please you greatly. While it doesn’t have a huge array of extras, the two commentaries and the isolated music score make the purchase well worthwhile.


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      And I quote...
    "...fans of the film will find a wealth of new stuff here..."
    - Anthony Horan
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