The Elephant Man appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray disc. The movie came with an appealing transfer.
Sharpness seemed good. Low-light interiors – of which we found many – could feel a little on the soft side, but those reflected the source. Overall, the movie brought appealing accuracy and delineation.
I saw no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects. Print flaws remained absent, and the film brought a light layer of grain.
Dark elements looked deep and firm, while shadows offered solid clarity and smoothness. The film delivered a strong visual presentation.
As for the film’s PCM stereo soundtrack, it seemed satisfactory. Given the movie’s scope, the soundscape didn’t come with much to do, but it expanded horizons reasonably well.
This mostly meant ambience, especially in street, industrial or crowd shots. Music also demonstrated breadth. Nothing here dazzled in terms of the soundfield, but it felt fine for the material and came across as broader than I expected.
Audio quality appeared positive for its age. Music demonstrated nice range and impact, while effects seemed accurate and clean.
Speech felt natural and concise, and the lines remained intelligible. Given the parameters of the story and the era in which it was made, this felt like a pretty good mix.
How did the Criterion Blu-ray compare to the original DVD? That release came with a 5.1 remix that worked fine, but the stereo presentation seemed more natural, and quality appeared richer and more dynamic.
Visuals brought substantial improvements, as the Blu-ray looked tighter, cleaner and more film-like than the DVD. The latter offered plenty of problems, whereas the Blu-ray depicted the film to its best advantage.
The Criterion Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and in the latter category, The Terrible Elephant Man Revealed runs 30 minutes, 11 seconds. It brings comments from producer Jonathan Sanger, executive producer Mel Brooks, director of photography Freddie Francis, makeup designer/creator Christopher Tucker, and actor John Hurt.
“Revealed” looks at the project’s roots and development, cast and performances, photography, makeup effects, and general thoughts. Despite the notable absence of David Lynch and Anthony Hopkins, this becomes an informative overview.
Under Room to Dream, we get a one-hour, nine-minute, 52-second piece that provides excerpts from director David Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna. Both co-authored a 2018 book called Room to Dream, and hear they read excerpts from it. McKenna covers the first 40:55 and Lynch takes the remaining
“Dream” concentrates on Elephant Man, as it follows Lynch’s pursuit of a project to follow Eraserhead and how he wound up on this film. We also learn about casting, technical areas, and various other aspects of the production.
All of this becomes a solid examination of Elephant Man. We learn quite a lot about the film’s creation, and although the format risks a dry tone, McKenna and Lynch deliver the content in an engaging manner. Lynch does repeat a little of the content we get from McKenna, but this nonetheless turns into a solid overview.
Another audio feature, we get a 1981 AFI Q&A with Lynch. During this 50-minute, 45-second recording, Lynch addresses various notes about his then-young career, with a strong emphasis on Elephant Man.
Inevitably, Lynch echoes some of the material we get in “Dream”, and some of the audience questions feel contrived. Still, I like the ability to get notes from Lynch in Elephant Man’s era and without 40 years of hindsight, so this offers a useful session.
From 2009, an Interview with Actor John Hurt spans 20 minutes, four seconds. Hurt discusses his character, his performance and aspects of the production. Hurt gives us a decent glimpse of his experiences.
Next comes a 2019 Interview with Still Photographer Frank Connor. During this 25-minute, 18-second chat, Connor talks about how he got into his career as well as his work on Elephant Man. We don’t normally hear from people in Connor’s position, so this becomes an interesting view of his POV.
Recorded at the BFI in 2018, an Interview with Producer Jonathan Sanger fills 24 minutes, 27 seconds. Sanger goes over how he found the script, aspects of the development and production, and thoughts about various participants. Sanger offers his own take on these topics, and he makes this a useful program.
Another 2009 reel, we find an Interview with Director David Lynch. This one lasts 24 minutes, 40 seconds and brings Lynch’s thoughts about his follow-up to Eraserhead and how he came to Elephant Man, the screenplay, and other thoughts about the film.
Given all the prior programs, some reputation here becomes inevitable. Nonetheless, Lynch provides an efficient overview.
Joseph Merrick: The Real Elephant Man runs 19 minutes, 50 seconds and involves notes from Royal London Hospital Museum archivist Jonathan Evans. As expected, we get a factual look at Merrick’s life, with a contrast against the depiction seen in the movie. This becomes a brief but informative summary.
A piece from 2006 features directors Mike Figgis and David Lynch. It occupies 19 minutes, 51 seconds and covers Lynch’s early interest in film and his philosophies about movies.
Figgis becomes a passive presence, as he does little more than grunt while Lynch speaks. Lynch manages decent insights, but the program feels a little rambling.
An excerpt from a 1980 episode of UK show Clapper Board takes up 11 minutes, 42 seconds and features a chat with John Hurt. He looks at aspects of his performance and the shoot. This turns into a good contemporaneous chat.
A Dutch series, Skintricks comes from 1988. The excerpt spans 13 minutes, 39 seconds and features Christopher Tucker and John Hurt.
As expected, they talk about Hurt’s physical transformation into Merrick. They offer nice insights into the work.
In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc concludes with three radio spots.
The package concludes with a booklet. It includes credits, photos, excerpts from a 2005 interview with David Lynch, and an 1886 letter to the editor from the chairman of the London Hospital. This becomes one of Criterion’s better booklets.
Given the subject matter and David Lynch’s reputation, one might expect The Elephant Man to present a dark, grotesque experience. Instead, Lynch brings surprising subtlety to the project and makes it a moving investigation of humanity. The Blu-ray comes with solid picture and audio as well as an informative compilation of bonus features. A memorable film, the Criterion Elephant Man becomes a winner.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of ELEPHANT MAN