Fail-Safe appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite some issues inherent to the source, this became a pleasing transfer.
For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. Occasional instances of softness appeared, abetted by photographic styles like process shots that impacted accuracy.
Still, the image remained well-defined most of the time, and I saw no issues with jagged edges. Shimmering popped up during shots of the War Room viewscreen, but those related to the source.
I saw no edge haloes, and print flaws remained absent. Blacks could seem a little too dark, and shadows occasionally felt a bit murky, but again, these appeared to reflect the original photography. No one will use this as a demo image, but the Blu-ray replicated the film well.
In addition, the movie’s PCM monaural audio worked fine given its age and inherent restrictions. While speech showed the expected reedy tones, the lines were easy to understand and lacked edginess.
Fail-Safe lacked a score, so music didn’t become a factor. Effects came across as reasonably accurate, and the track lacked noise or other concerns. Nothing here excelled, but the audio seemed more than adequate for a movie from 1964.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2000? The lossless audio felt a bit richer, though the nature of the 56-year-old monaural source restricted improvements.
On the other hand, the Blu-ray brought major growth in terms of visuals, as it looked cleaner, tighter and more film-like than the dated DVD. This was a considerable upgrade.
The Criterion release includes old and new extras, and in the former category, we get an audio commentary from director Sidney Lumet. The worst aspect of this track stems from the many empty gaps that confront the listener, as Lumet can go for long stretches without any remarks.
However, when the director speaks, his statements usually seem informative and insightful. He discusses a wide variety of topics, from the controversies in regard to Dr. Strangelove to his opinions of movie scores to his attitudes toward filmmaking in general.
Actually, I don't think the preponderance of Lumet's statements address Fail-Safe itself, so if you want to hear lots of details about the film, you'll probably feel disappointed by this commentary.
However, if you'd be entertained by a veteran filmmaker's opinions of a variety of movie-related subjects. The many gaps bring frustration, but the content merits a listen anyway.
Also found on the old DVD, Revisiting Fail-Safe. This program goes for 16 minutes and includes comments from Lumet, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, actor Dan O' Herlihy and George Clooney, a participant in a Fail-Safe remake from 2000.
“Revisiting” provides a fairly brief but generally solid overview of the film's background and creation. It touches upon the political climate during the era, issues related to Dr. Strangelove, and a variety of other topics. Ultimately, it's a fairly good show, but it's too brief to be as valuable as I’d like.
New to the Criterion set, we find an Interview with Critic J. Hoberman. In this 19-minute, 30-second piece, Hoberman looks at the Cold War era and its reflection in films as well as aspects of Fail-Safe. Hoberman offers a good overview.
As expected, the package concludes with a booklet. It brings a mini-poster on one side and an essay from critic Bilge Ebiri on the other. This becomes a decent addition.
Despite some elements that didn’t age well, Fail-Safe generally provides a tight and compelling drama about the perils of the mechanized nuclear age. The film benefits from taut direction and an excellent cast, all of which help make it memorable. The Blu-ray brings generally positive picture and audio as well as a few informative bonus features. It’ll always live in the shadow of Dr. Strangelove, but Fail-Safe deserves notice on its own.