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Texan rancher Bick Benedict visits a Maryland farm to buy a prize horse. Whilst there he meets and falls in love with the owner's daughter Leslie, they are married immediately and return to his ranch. The story of their family and its rivalry with cowboy and (later oil tycoon) Jett Rink unfolds across two generations.

George Stevens
Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Mercedes McCambridge, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills
Writing Credits:
Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat, based on the novel by Edna Ferber

The legendary epic that's as big as Texas.
Rated G.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Director.
Nominated for Best Picture; Best Actor-Rock Hudson; Best Actor-James Dean; Best Supporting Actress-Mercedes McCambridge; Best Screenplay; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Film Editing; Best Score-Dimitri Tiomkin.

Widescreen 1.66:1
English Dolby Surround
French Digital Mono
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 201 min.
Price: $26.99
Release Date: 6/10/2003

DVD One:
• Audio Commentary With Film Critic Stephen Farber, Screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and George Stevens Jr.
• Introduction By George Stevens Jr.
• “George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him” Documentary

DVD Two:
• “Memories of Giant” Documentary
• “Return to Giant” Documentary
• New York Premiere TV Special
• Hollywood Premiere Featurette
• Project Kickoff Newsreel
• “Behind the Cameras” Segments
• Original/Reissue Trailers
• Production Notes
• Production Stills and Documents Galleries

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Giant (1956)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 5, 2003)

After a gap of more than half a year, we finally get another of the few AFI 100 flicks not yet available on DVD. Before the June 2003 release of Giant, 1950’s Sunset Boulevard was the last entry on the AFI chart when it came out in November 2002.

We only got three AFI 100 discs in 2002, and right now, 2003 only has two formally announced. In addition to Giant, we’ll get Raiders of the Lost Ark in November. Hopefully a few others will hit the release schedule before the year ends, though.

Giant also is the last of the three George Stevens movies on the AFI list to arrive on DVD. We got 1951’s A Place In the Sun in August 2001, and we received Shane back in August 2000. Surprisingly, none of the three earned the Best Picture, though Stevens did take home Best Director prizes for Giant and Sun.

If I’m not mistaken, Giant represented Stevens’ first attempt at an epic, at least in length. He’d later produce the three-hour Diary of Anne Frank as well as the mammoth and ambitious – and fairly crummy - Greatest Story Ever Told, but Giant was the director’s initial attempt at an oversize production.

Running time is the only area in which Giant qualifies as an epic, for it maintains a much smaller focus than one might expect from an entry in that genre. At its start, we meet wealthy Texas cattleman Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Rock Hudson) as he visits the Maryland farm of Dr. Horace Lynnton (Paul Fix). He goes there to buy a stallion named War Winds, which he does. However, he also meets Lynnton’s lovely daughter Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), and the pair quickly fall in love.

Despite an argument about the history of Texas – which foreshadows future fights – the pair get married and move to Bick’s Reata Ranch in Texas. The strong-willed Leslie runs somewhat afoul of another woman with a powerful attitude, Bick’s sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge). Luz runs the ranch and fears that this interloping woman will overshadow her authority with Bick.

When Leslie arrives at the ranch, we also meet farmhand Jett Rink (James Dean) and see the antagonism between him and Bick. Jett clearly feels as though most of the others treat him like a second-class citizen, though Luz seems to have a warm spot for the young man.

One of the movie’s themes emerges soon after Leslie gets to Texas. She treats the local Mexicans with warmth and humanity, which doesn’t sit well with Bick and the others. He appears to feel that she shouldn’t act so graciously to them, and an undercurrent of racism runs through the movie.

Essentially, Giant follows the ups and downs of the relationship between Leslie and Bick and also what happens with Jett. The film follows the trio over a span of about 25 years and watches as a mix of life events occur. Interactions between Bick and Leslie dominate and intensify when children come along, and the developments of Jett’s life and career also play a significant role, especially in the way these affect the Benedicts.

As I noted, Giant may run for almost three and a half hours, but it doesn’t feel like an epic. I don’t mean that as a criticism. Actually, it’s a compliment, for it’s nice to see a movie that takes its time to explore the dynamics of a family’s life but doesn’t attempt to force issues. Giant doesn’t pour on melodramatics or try to tie in the Benedicts to greater world events. Sometimes flicks do the latter as a crutch; rather than just deal with the families themselves, they think we need the backdrop of significant history to make the story interesting. Giant goes for social relevance in some ways, but it doesn’t make the tale part of some grander history.

In the latter realm, Giant explores racism and sexism. At times the movie pushes these issues a little too forcefully, but it usually deals with them in surprisingly subtle ways. They crop up frequently throughout the film but I couldn’t claim that it’s clearly about either issue. Instead, they’re used mostly to illustrate character growth, or the lack of that progress. I won’t indicate which personalities develop and which don’t – I like to leave surprises for folks who’ve not seen the movie – but these concerns illustrate how the people deal with societal change.

For the most part, Giant benefits from a solid cast. Of the main trio, Hudson feels like the weakest link. He makes an unconvincing Texan, and he lacks the emotional range to create a natural and believable personality. Actually, that seems logical at times, since Bick needs to be the stereotypical manly rancher, but when the character must demonstrate greater range, Hudson can’t do it. The actor doesn’t harm the film, but I don’t think he adds anything to the part.

On the other hand, both Taylor and Dean seem terrific. As Leslie, Taylor handles the requirements well. She clearly appears forceful and headstrong, but she also delivers warmth and heart. Taylor allows Leslie to become a natural and three-dimensional personality, and she holds her own with the others when she needs to deliver her convictions.

The Rink role probably undergoes the most changes throughout the movie, and Dean performs these superbly. He keeps the character something of an enigma, though his natural prickliness comes through much of the time. My favorite scene comes when Jett learns of an inheritance he gets. Others try to convince him to handle it one way, but Rink wants to do his own thing. Dean plays the piece as both ingratiating and oppositional all at once, and he makes it much more compelling than it should have been. Rink could have turned into a one-note role, but Dean keeps him believable.

Despite its extended length, Giant remains interesting most of the way. It loses some energy in its second half, mainly because the cast expands substantially. The movie’s first 100 minutes or so focuses almost exclusively on the Benedicts and Rink, but this grows greatly during the rest of the flick. That makes sense, since that’s how life works, but inevitably it causes some of the film’s focus to dissipate. In particular, Leslie fades from view more than I’d like, as others dominate that part of the movie.

Even with these issues, however, I think Giant provides a satisfying film. I like the fact it deals with a vast expanse of time but maintains a small focus and doesn’t try to overwhelm the viewer with extraneous events. The movie enjoys an appropriately deliberate pace that allows it to breath and makes it a winning piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture C / Audio C / Bonus A-

Giant appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this double-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A serious mix of pros and cons, Giant portrayed some gorgeous visuals and a lot of really ugly ones.

Many of the problems related to sharpness. A lot of the movie looked just fine and depicted accurate and concise images. Unfortunately, substantial amounts of the film came across as terribly soft and fuzzy. Significant parts of the flick were ill defined and lacked clarity.

The main culprit behind this was some of the most heinous edge enhancement I’ve seen on a recent DVD. Actually, I’m hard-pressed to think of many other discs with such heavy haloes. Not all of the movie showed them, but they popped up a lot of them time and really created some enormous distractions. For example, examine the scene in which Jett surveys his new piece land; Dean looked like an alien with some sort of forcefield around him!

That seemed sadder than usual because the rest of the image was so positive. Once I got beyond the edge enhancement and softness, almost everything was solid. At times, colors looked a little faded and muted. However, most of the time hues were vibrant and rich, and they suffered from no bleeding, noise or other issues. Black levels worked quite well, as they appeared tight and deep. Shadows also were effectively displayed. Low-light images looked clear and appropriately opaque. Print flaws created almost no concerns. I saw a speck or two, but overall, the picture was almost shockingly clean based on its age. Though much of Giant presented good elements, the problems were too substantial for me to give it more than a “C” for picture quality. Honestly, I’d not be surprised to learn that Warner Bros. simply reused an old laserdisc master for this DVD.

The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Giant was more consistent but not any more satisfying. For the most part, the soundfield seemed to be “broad mono”. The sides showed light stereo imaging for the music and spread out effects for occasional scenes. For example, the dust storm and the segment with the actors amidst a herd of cattle demonstrated decent general use of the sides and surrounds. The track remained oriented toward the front, and the rears kicked in with light reinforcement of those pieces. Overall, the audio remained pretty much stuck in the center, though.

Audio quality seemed erratic and not very good. Speech suffered from an excess of reverberation at times. That made it somewhat tough to hear the lines, which sounded somewhat thin and tinny anyway. Occasionally the dialogue was brittle as well. The track seemed badly mixed at times; effects were so loud they sometimes overwhelmed the speech.

The quality of the effects appeared fairly flat. Those elements came across as reedy and somewhat harsh. The score was rather muted and flat. It showed muddy bass and lacked the appropriate brightness for the highs. In general low-end tended to be rough; for example, the audio for a gusher was rumbly and loose. A little hum showed up at times, but otherwise the track suffered from no noise issues. Given the age of the material, the soundtrack to Giant still earned a “C”, but it wasn’t an effective mix.

Most of this two-DVD’s extras appear on the second platter, but we get a few on the first disc. On Side One, we start with an introduction from George Stevens Jr. Taped in 1996, he chats for two minutes, 55 seconds and gives us a general overview of the film. It’s nothing spectacular but it helps set the stage for the film.

Spread over the length of the movie, we get an audio commentary from film critic Stephen Farber, screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and George Stevens Jr. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific track. They cover a lot of ground, as the piece fills most of the movie’s length; occasional gaps appear, but these remain insubstantial given the flick’s running time. Some topics discussed include the casting and others they wanted for the roles, changes from the book, Stevens and his working style, and many general anecdotes. We learn of author Edna Ferber’s negative reactions to some alterations, and we hear how the cast and crew reacted to the death of James Dean, an event that occurred during the shoot. The junior Stevens dominates the track, but all three men add some good notes. Overall, this piece helps flesh out the movie and provides a satisfying listen.

On Side Two, we find a program called George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him. Clocking in at 45 minutes and 35 seconds, this piece also appeared on the Place In the Sun DVD and it offers a discussion of Stevens’ work by a slew of cinematic notables. Apparently filmed in 1983 for little George’s A Filmmaker’s Journey - his tribute to dad – this program consists entirely of other folks’ remarks about Big George. We hear from Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Rouben Mamoulian, Joe Mankiewicz, Alan J. Pakula, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, and Fred Zinnemann. Each man’s comments last between three minutes, six seconds (Mamoulian) and 11 minutes, 31 seconds (Pakula).

Not surprisingly, the statements from the older filmmakers relate mainly to their personal experiences with Stevens, while the younger men talk more about their feelings toward his work. While the former can be quite entertaining, the latter offer the greatest substance. I liked most of the material here, but the bits from Beatty and especially Pakula were the most compelling. All in all, this was a good package of information.

That ends the first disc, so we head to DVD Two. This platter opens with Memories of Giant, a 51-minute and 35-second documentary. It mixes archival materials and interviews with George Stevens Jr. plus actors Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Earl Holliman, and Rock Hudson. “Memories” doesn’t really attempt to tell the creation of the film. Instead, it relies on scads of anecdotes, as the participants discuss all sorts of topics from the set. We learn about casting, Stevens and his style, how the actors got along together, being on location, and many other issues. It’s a warm and entertaining remembrance.

Next we find the 55-minute and five-second Return to Giant. Narrated by musician Don Henley, this program includes movie clips, archival footage, new images of the locations, and comments from George Stevens Jr., Don Graham of the University of Texas, actors Earl Holliman, Rock Hudson, Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Dallas Morning News writer Bryan Woolley, Presidio County Judge Jake Brisbin, Texans/extras Darlyne Freeman, Clay Evans, Lucy Garcia, Bill Christopher, Fran Bennett, Monte Hale, Bob Hinkle and Bettie Jo White Spitler, and crewmember son Dan Molina, and caterer Wally Cech.

The documentary starts with a brief history behind the story as well as reactions to the book and some casting notes. However, “Return” resembles “Memories” in that it mostly acts as a compendium of anecdotes. These take a different turn, however, as they largely focus on the parts of the shoot that took place in Texas. We learn how the actors dealt with that location and get a feel for what the locals thought of the whole thing. Too many movie clips pop up here, but otherwise “Return” adds to our perspective about the film and it seems consistently informative and engaging.

For a piece of historical footage, we go to the New York Premiere TV special. Hosted by Chill Wills and Jane Meadows, the 28-minute and 45-second piece shows film participants and other notables as they arrive at the theater. They chat about nothing much in particular, though the premiere did benefit a good cause. Nothing terribly interesting occurs, but it’s still a fairly cool addition to the set.

A shorter program, the Hollywood Premiere featurette lasts a mere four minutes and 20 seconds. This one shows a few seconds of the New York opening and then presents narration with snippets of arriving stars and others. It’s also of decent archival value but it’s not anything more than that. Project Kickoff simply includes a 37-second newsreel clip called “Giant Stars Are Off to Texas”. This shows the cast at a meal and that’s about it.

The Production Stills and Documents Galleries launches with 54 good behind the scenes photos. As for the “Documents”, this area includes letters between George Stevens and Jack Warner plus other correspondence, budget notes, and promotional material. It’s a nice set.

Next we get two Behind the Cameras segments. The five-minute and 56-second “On Location in Marfa Texas” comes hosted by Gig Young, and it apparently ran after a TV program. It discusses the construction of sets, the arrival of the actors in Texas, the casting of local extras, and the company’s departure from Marfa. Young also hosts “A Visit with Dimitri Tiomkin”, a six and a half minute feature that does exactly what the title states. Both include a lot of contrived moments, but they offer enough interesting footage to merit a look. The Tiomkin piece is especially fun, as we hear the composer talk about his work and play some of it.

In the trailers section, we find two ads from 1956 plus reissue clips from 1963 and 1970. Lastly, some text materials complete the disc. A Giant Undertaking splits into six subdomains. All except the first (“The Giant Behind Giant, a biography of George Stevens) simply present single quotes from the director and a couple of the actors.

We learn more about the director through the George Stevens Filmography, and Awards details the various honors accorded the flick. Finally, Cast and Crew presents a list of many participants; no biographies or filmographies appear here, however.

A generally excellent movie, Giant works well after almost half a century. The film comes with some flaws, but it moves briskly despite its extended running time, and it boasts some good performances and an interesting perspective. The DVD’s picture and sound come as a disappointment, however; both mix positives and negatives to end up mediocre as a whole. Happily, the two-disc set packs a great roster of supplements that help flesh out the flick’s background nicely. Giant seems like a good enough film for me to recommend it anyway, but the erratic visuals and audio make it something of a disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.26 Stars Number of Votes: 50
5 3:
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