The Greatest Story Ever Told appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.75:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. An inconsistent presentation, this one varied from pretty good to blech!
Like everything else, sharpness was all over the place. Sometimes the very wide 2.75:1 image looked quite sharp and well-defined, but those occasions didn’t dominate. While they were reasonably frequent, significant parts of the movie tended to look soft and fuzzy. Some prominent edge haloes tended to reduce precision as well, but I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering.
Digital artifacts were sometimes a concern, and these gave the movie a rather gauzy look. Print flaws were a substantial concern throughout Told. Specks and grit cropped up a lot. Nicks were a less frequent intrusion, but they occurred from time to time. Periodically, I saw a vaguely flickery quality to the image, and some odd flashes appeared during some scenes. Parts of Told passed without significant defects, but much of the film presented some combination of the problems related here.
Colors seemed somewhat pale and muted much of the time. I rarely saw any kinds of vibrant, bold hues, even when the material warranted them. As a whole, the colors remained passable but not much better than that, as they appeared clear but bland. We did get a few shots that demonstrated more vivid tones; just don’t expect many of them.
Black levels seemed acceptably deep and dark, but shadow detail could be more problematic. Some low-light scene came across as heavy and thick, especially when “day for night” photography was used. Though the image occasionally looked very good, the problems knocked my grade down to a “C-“.
A more consistent presentation emerged from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Greatest Story Ever Told. While the track also had some concerns, it seemed pretty strong for audio that accompanied a 46-year-old movie. The soundfield offered a fairly broad and expansive piece. In the front, a good mix of dialogue, effects and music emanated from the side channels. The audio seemed somewhat speaker-specific at times, but the directionality appeared accurate, and at times the sounds blended together adequately.
For the most part, the surrounds simply reinforced the forward spectrum; music was the primary focus of the rear speakers. However, the track actually offered some surround-specific information. On at least a couple of occasions, the rear channels provided aspects of the score that were theirs alone, and effects spread nicely to the surrounds as well. The general ambiance of the film seemed pretty solid, and I found the audio environment to appear generally good for an older film.
Audio quality was less consistent but it appeared acceptable for a film of this vintage. Speech tended to seem somewhat thin and could come across as a bit rough and edgy at times. However, the dialogue remained intelligible and distinct. Effects were similarly tinny and lackluster, but they showed no problems related to distortion and they portrayed the subjects with adequate accuracy.
Not surprisingly, the score lacked significant dynamic range; a little bass crept into the track on occasion, but highs dominated the music and the rest of the audio. Still, the score seemed fairly clear and smooth, so I found it to appear acceptably well-reproduced. At times I detected mild background noise and hiss, most of which appeared to be attached to the dialogue stems. Ultimately, The Greatest Story Ever Told provided a relatively positive auditory experience.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the original 2001 DVD? I thought both offered pretty similar audio. The DTS track might’ve been slightly more concise, but not by much; it still showed the restrictions of its age.
If you expect big improvements from the visuals, you’ll feel disappointed. I suspect the Blu-ray used the same transfer featured on the DVD 10 years ago. Sure, it got a boost from the increased resolution of Blu-ray, but it still had many of the same problems found on the old DVD. Indeed, the extra capabilities of Blu-ray made some of the transfer’s flaws more apparent. The Blu-ray got the nod over the DVD, but not by a lot; the movie really needs a new transfer for it to benefit much from the Blu-ray treatment.
The Blu-ray replicates the handful of extras from the DVD – sort of. Though both include a documentary called He Walks In Beauty, the Blu-ray comes with a severely edited version. On the DVD, it lasted more than 41 minutes, but here it just goes for 14 minutes, 57 seconds. Why does it lop off so much footage? I have no idea.
The program combines many stills and behind the scenes footage with a variety of interviews. We get comments from publicists Ann and John Del Valle, filmmaker Rouben Mamoulian, executive producer Frank Davis, assistant director John Veitch, associate producer Tony Vellani, and actors Charlton Heston, Shelley Winters, Michael Anderson, Jr. and Max Von Sydow.
As a whole, “Walks” offered a fairly interesting look at the creation of the film. We learn of the painstaking detail put into the production, and the various participants speak of the challenges they encountered along the way. I can’t say this was a frightfully deep piece, but it seemed entertaining enough.
Somewhat more effective is a second documentary called The Filmaker (the misspelling of “Filmmaker” is corrected on the disc’s menu, but since “Filmaker” is what it reads in the movie’s title, that’s what I’m going to call it!) This 27-minute and 38-second piece was created concurrently with Told and it concentrates almost wholly on shots from the production; these are accompanied by narration that discusses the processes.
Some of the material can also be found during “He Walks In Beauty”, but I thought “The Filmaker” provided a more captivating view of the production. We see longer and clearer shots of the production, and I felt I received a stronger impression of the production. “The Filmaker” lacks the retrospective perspective found in “Walks” but it makes up for this with immediacy. All in all, I enjoyed this look at the creative process and thought it was a fairly good documentary.
A few other minor extras round out the package. We get the film’s theatrical trailer plus a Deleted Scene (2:29). This clip shows an alternate version of the “Via Dolarossa” segment. It’s a very slightly alternate version, though; I could scarcely perceive any differences. Since Told originally existed as a longer cut - it lost a substantial amount of material after initial screenings - it would have been great to find that additional footage here; it’s a shame we only discover one mildly-different snippet.
Do we lose any materials from the DVD? Yup. In addition to the full-length “He Walks In Beauty”, the Blu-ray drops an informative booklet and some still frame elements. These are minor omissions but they remain losses nonetheless.
The Greatest Story Ever Told isn’t the Greatest Movie Ever Made, and it contains quite a few problems; at times it represents the worst excesses of the epic genre. However, it does provide some well-executed segments, so the project has its merits.
The Blu-ray offers relatively positive sound and a few fairly interesting supplements, but visuals are inconsistent and not a huge improvement over the 10-year-old DVD. Yeah, the Blu-ray’s more attractive than that release, but not by enough for me to recommend it as an upgrade. The movie needs a new transfer; since it appears to recycle that old DVD presentation, it’s a disappointment.