Movie musicals are one of the oldest genres of film. They have been in existence ostensibly since the beginning of the medium. Since the first “talkie”, we have seen just about every iteration of what a musical could be, from Singin’ in the Rain to South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. In 1965, the film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical The Sound of Music hit theaters and took the country by storm. Adjusted for inflation, it’s the third highest grossing film of all time (just behind Gone with the Wind and Star Wars at numbers one and two respectively). America instantly fell in love with the lovable outsider Maria and her burgeoning relationship with Captain von Trapp and his seven musically inclined children. Thus, a classic was born. Now, 45 years later, the film has been meticulously restored and released in high-definition on Blu-ray. My review after the jump.
The Sound of Music on Blu-ray is a treasure through and through, from the elegant and enticing start menu, to the final “The End” title card at the end of the film. It holds up extremely well, and plays just as it did when audiences got their first taste of the von Trapp family 45 years ago. As soon as the Overture hits and you’re teased with familiar tunes such as “My Favorite Things” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” one can’t resist the overwhelming feeling of happiness and comfort that washes over as preparation for the 3-hour opus begins.
If you were denied a fulfilling childhood and are unfamiliar with The Sound of Music, the plot revolves around eccentric nun Maria becoming a governess for the strict von Trapp household. Maria (expertly played by Julie Andrews, in what has to be the most gorgeous nun ever portrayed onscreen), lives in a convent with her fellow sisters and is known as a bit of a dreamer/troublemaker. She is sent to work as a governess for the widowed Captain von Trapp and his seven children, for whom many governesses have worked previously and failed to last long.
Captain von Trapp (portrayed by a fresh-faced Christopher Plummer) is intensely strict with his children, using a whistle as a means of summoning them in a roll call-like fashion. At first the children are remiss to connect with Maria, but through kindness and, of course, music, Maria is able to get the children to warm to her. She teaches the children to sing much to the Captain’s surprise and, eventually, delight. Maria has brought music back to his household and he implores her to stay. The two strike up an unacknowledged romance through stolen glances, which proves troublesome to Maria given her religious obligation. And yet, all this is only the first half of the film. Set in pre-WWII Austria, Nazi undertones permeate throughout, and come to a head in the final act where the film takes a dark and fairly harrowing turn.
Director Robert Wise (West Side Story) completes a masterful execution of the film. From soaring shots of the Swiss Alps, to intensely complicated musical numbers (“Do-Re-Mi” takes place in over half a dozen locations and involves a choreographed routine on bicycles). In the hands of a lesser director, the material could have been chopped to bits in order to shorten runtime and the characters lowered to two-dimensional clichés. Wise savors every aspect of the original Rodgers and Hammerstein production and elevates it to epic proportions. He was justly rewarded with the Best Director Oscar for his work on this film. Eleanor Parker as Baroness Elsa Schraeder, in what is essentially the “other woman” role in a love triangle, avoids the temptation to become overtly evil or nasty, and simply plays her as a woman in love. All of the characters that inhabit the film are fully-fleshed, thoughtful, and engaging. This is truly a production firing on all cylinders; from the casting to the cinematography, everyone is on their game.
The picture quality on the Blu-ray is absolutely astounding. The film was painstakingly restored from the original 70mm print through an 8k digital scanning by 20th Century Fox to present the highest quality version of the film since its initial released. It’s presented in 1080p Hi-Def with 7.1 DTS-HD sound. The exquisite quality is instantly recognizable in the opening sweeping shots of the Swiss Alps, and continues throughout the entirety of the film.
The 45th Anniversary Edition is utterly chock-full of special features. It includes three discs: the feature film on Blu-ray including special features, an additional Blu-ray disc with more special features, and a DVD version of the feature film that includes even more special features. In addition to the feature film audio commentaries with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Wise, the litany of special features includes, “Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration” which is an immersive viewing experience (picture-in-picture) with behind-the-scenes images, on-screen lyrics, a trivia track and a location quiz, and “A City of Song” which is a virtual map of the filming locations in Austria. The features also include screen tests, interviews, photo galleries, vintage Rodgers and Hammerstein programs, and a musical sing-a-long. The highlight of the special features, however, is “Musical Stages: Creating The Sound of Music” which is an interactive ‘backlot tour’ with in-depth featurettes on the songs, the stage show and movie, the film and sound restoration, and the real-life von Trapp family.
The film went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, Best Adapted Score, and Best Film Editing. At just under 175 minutes, complete with a full intermission and Overture, the film is very long. But if you’re at all a fan of musicals, or even just classic Hollywood filmmaking, The Sound of Music is a must-watch. And, next to an actual 70mm screening, the best way to see the film in all its glory is the fantastic Blu-ray transfer. As the tagline on the disc states, “The Hills are Alive on Blu-Ray!” Yes, back-of-blu-ray-box, they definitely are.