City of Angels appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-sided single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the picture seemed acceptable, almost five years after the disc’s release, it seemed to show its age.
Sharpness varied. Most of the movie came across as reasonably concise and detailed, but definite exceptions occurred. A moderate number of shots looked somewhat soft and ill-defined. No concerns related to jagged edges appeared, but I saw a little shimmering, and some light edge enhancement also showed up at times. Other than some noticeable compression artifacts, the picture generally seemed clean. I noticed a little speckling occasionally, but otherwise the movie seemed essentially free from flaws.
Colors remained restrained throughout the film, and they mostly looked fine. The hues occasionally were somewhat thick and murky, but they usually seemed reasonably natural and clean. Black levels appeared good but a bit muddy on occasion, while shadow detail was fairly distinct overall. Some low-light shots were slightly dense, but they usually seemed solid. Angels didn’t present a weak image, but it could use an overhaul to match contemporary standards.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of City of Angels was subdued but fine for this sort of film. The front spectrum dominated the film, and the movie’s score was its main emphasis. The music demonstrated good stereo imaging throughout the flick. Effects mostly tended toward the ambient domain. Angels wasn’t a picture with many slam-bang sequences, so the mix preferred to feature light environmental cues. These combined well to create a quiet but natural sense of place. The surrounds stuck largely with gentle reinforcement of the music and effects. They kicked in with more of an impact on a few occasions, but those remained rare.
Audio quality appeared positive. Speech seemed natural and distinct, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded warm and smooth, with crisp highs and fairly rich lows. Effects also appeared accurate and concise. Low-end response lacked great power, but bass response was acceptably tight and deep. City of Angels sounded good enough for a “B”, but it didn’t demonstrate the breadth necessary for a grade higher than that.
Back when City of Angels hit DVD in 1998, we considered it one of the most packed DVDs on the market. Others have surpassed it in the interim, but it remains chock full of extras. We begin on Side One with two separate and full-length audio commentaries. In the first, we hear from director Brad
Silberling, who offers a running, screen-specific chat. He provides a very good synopsis of the production. In addition to many general notes, he covers topics such as the score and its integration into the film, visual design and effects, comparisons to Wings of Desire, and doubts related to the movie’s ending. Silberling provides an informative and likeable track that gives us a great look at his film.
In the second track, we get remarks from coproducer Charles Roven and screenwriter Dana
Stevens, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. Actually, the latter’s not really accurate, as they almost never discuss the on-screen action. Instead, this personal piece covers the acquisition of the project, how Stevens came onto it, her ideas for the adaptation, various themes, character insights, and production details. Since Roven was married to producer Dawn Steel – who died during the filming – and Stevens apparently also was close to Steel, the commentary takes on an unusually emotional and moving quality. It seems very engaging and useful, and it measurably added to my appreciation of the movie.
Composer Gabriel Yared offers some insights in between music on the isolated score track. However, don’t expect a lot from him. He shows up only 11 times during the film and usually speaks briefly; only occasionally do his comments last more than maybe 30 seconds or so. Via his obviously scripted remarks, he gives us a general look at his work on the film and follows his efforts in chronological order. The commentary lacks much interesting material, but the isolated score should be useful for fans, especially since Yared never speaks over the music; he comes close a couple of times but avoids any overlap.
Angels in the Movies gives us text about that topic. It briefly covers Wings of Desire plus its sequel and other flicks that feature celestial beings. This seems like a decent but perfunctory assessment of the subject.
Side One concludes with Cast and Crew. There we find short biographies for actors Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz, and Andre Braugher as well as composer Yared, director of photography John Seale, screenwriter Stevens, producers Dawn Steel and Charles Roven, and director Silberling. (Note that both “Cast and Crew” and “Angels in the Movies” appear on both sides of the DVD.)
Now we move to Side Two of the DVD, which includes many more pieces, mostly in an area called “Building Paradise”. The “Select Scenes” domain features two mini-commentaries. Director of Photography John Seale chats for 17 minutes, 30 seconds, while Production Designer Lilly Kilvert gives us about the same amount of content. Both of them cover logical topics. Seale tells us about things such as the chosen aspect ratio, his camerawork, and lighting, while Kilvert discusses the various visual elements of the film like matching different locations, dealing with natural settings, and the general job of a production designer. Both conversations add some nice material about their subjects.
Next we get a documentary called Making Angels. The 29-minute and 20-second program mixes movie clips, behind the scenes footage, and interviews with Silberling, Roven, Stevens, Seale, Kilvert, costume designer Shay Cunliffe, and actors Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz, and Andre Braugher. A general look at the production, “Angels” progresses in a somewhat scattered manner as it examines the flick. It covers subjects like visual design, character choices, the film’s ending, and locations. While we’ll hear most of the information elsewhere, the show merits a look just for the great material from the set. We see lots of choice images of the cast and crew at work, and these make “Angels” a keeper.
Another documentary examines one specific topic. The Making of the Visual Effects lasts 10 minutes and 15 seconds. It shows images from the film as visual effects supervisor John Nelson explains the work they did on the scenes. We watch the sequences in various states of completion while Nelson gives us the details. Like most of these kinds of features, it's informative but dry. Still, it illuminates different aspects of the production in a useful way.
This DVD presents seven deleted scenes, all of which can be viewed with or without commentary from director Silberling and editor Lynzee Klingman. Five of these scenes appeared in the film in no form, one is an extended version of an existing bit, and one actually consists of many short edits made from the film as a whole. All in all, they run a total of 12 minutes, 38 seconds. None of these scenes seem mind-blowing, but they all are worth watching, especially if you turn on the commentary and learn why the scenes were omitted.
Given the popularity of the movie’s soundtrack, it’s not surprising that the DVD emphasizes the music. We get two music videos. U2’s “If God Will Send His Angels” also appears on the band’s video compilation. It shows funky time lapse photography. Bono lip-synchs in a diner booth as the patrons around him rapidly change. It uses splitscreen, with Bono’s side of the booth on the top and the other bench on the bottom. The concept seems creative and interesting, but the piece doesn’t go much of anywhere.
We also get a clip for Goo Goo Dolls’ hit “Iris”. Less interesting than “God” as a song and a video, this one intercuts movie snippets, lip-synch footage of the band, and some shots with lead singer Johnny Rzeznick as he spies the mortals. It’s not a bad video, but it’s not a good one either.
Next we get interviews with two soundtrack contributors. We get a 50-second clip with Peter Gabriel, while the piece with Alanis Morissette runs 135 seconds. The Gabriel snippet is pretty much a waste of time, as he tells us little, but Morissette gives us a smidgen of decent info about her song. Meg Ryan also briefly pops up to comment on “Uninvited” as well.
(Footnote: during Silberling’s commentary, he mentions that Gabriel was chugging away on a new album ripe for delivery as they made Angels. As it happens, the album in question – Up - wouldn’t hit stores until four and a half years later! Old Pete works slowly. His “I Grieve” appears on that record as well as the Angels soundtrack, but in a different rendition.)
Lastly, the DVD provides two trailers. We get the original theatrical promo as well as one for the soundtrack. Reel Recommendations also provides ads for Addicted to Love, The Bodyguard, Fallen, and Michael.
I purchased the DVD of City of Angels with a great deal of skepticism and doubt, but in the end, it won me over. It's a fine film that produced a very good DVD. Picture quality showed its age, but the audio remained solid, and the set included a simply terrific package of supplements. Don't already own this title? Do yourself a favor and rectify that situation soon. The City of Angels DVD comes with my recommendation.