Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While a few minor concerns dampened my enthusiasm, for the most part the DVD offered a fine picture.
Sharpness seemed generally solid. Some shots of Hepburn appear to use the kind of “glamour lighting” typical for leading ladies in older films - especially if the actress in question needed a little softness to make her look better - but these instances were fairly infrequent. Otherwise the image came across as nicely crisp and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, but I noticed moderate edge enhancement at times.
The biggest distraction came from grain. General source flaws remained minor, as I noticed only a handful of specks and one quick streak. However, much of the film exhibited a lot of grain, and that factor made the image seem somewhat dingy. I wasn’t sure how much of this came from the original photography, but only a couple of shots – like the one with Joey’s friends at a restaurant – lacked prominent grain.
The graininess made the colors a little less vivid, but they usually looked quite good. The film went with a natural palette, and the hues were lively and full despite the grain. Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and shadow detail was equally solid as most low-light situations came across as clear and easily visible. All in all, I thought Guess provided a good viewing experience that fell to a “B” simply because of the distractions caused by the grain.
I also enjoyed the movie’s Dolby Digital 3.0 soundtrack. This mix used the front right, center and left speakers and didn’t feature the rear channels at all. For the most part, this track worked best to broaden the score. The music spread nicely to the sides and offered a solid stereo image. Some dialogue and effects also emanated from the side channels, and they also functioned fairly well. One shouldn’t expect a tremendously tight and well-integrated track, but within the limitations of the era, I found this modest little soundfield to appear pretty solid.
Audio quality seemed somewhat dated but was generally good. Dialogue appeared slightly thin and flat but was acceptably warm and accurate. I detected no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were reasonably realistic and clear - although they also seemed dated and wan at times - while the music sounded fairly lush and bright. Low end was modest at best but the track offered some general depth, particularly via some of the score. The soundtrack of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner wasn’t anything terribly special, but it seems to have held up nicely over the years.
How did the picture and audio of this “40th Anniversary Edition” of Guess compare to those on the prior DVD? I thought both DVDs presented identical soundtracks, but the new transfer offered some moderate improvements. The 2008 version was cleaner and boasted slightly tighter colors. I didn’t think the 2008 transfer gave us a tremendous step up in quality, but it did mark an upgrade.
While the prior DVD came with virtually no extras, this “40th Anniversary Edition” offers a mix of supplements. Only a few pop up on DVD One. Three introductions appear. We get comments from Steven Spielberg (1:07), Tom Brokaw (2:46) and director’s widow Karen Kramer (2:44). Spielberg simply offers banal remarks that reflect his belief in Stanley Kramer’s greatness; his intro is completely extraneous. Brokaw gives us a better feel for the era in which Guess appeared and also offers some interesting personal reflections on Kramer’s flicks, so his notes are considerably more compelling than Spielberg’s. As for Karen Kramer, she digs into a little more social perspective along with the flick’s impact. I like Brokaw’s info better, but Kramer provides decent details.
We also find a Message from Quincy Jones (2:50). He tells us a little about his reflections on it. The material generally consists of banal praise, though, so expect few insights into Jones’ perspective.
With that we shift to DVD Two. We begin with three featurettes. A Love Story of Today runs 29 minutes, 52 seconds and mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Karen Kramer, filmmakers Garry Marshall and Norman Jewison, Sidney Poitier’s agent Martin Baum, editor Robert Jones, script supervisor Marshall Schlom, film critic Joe Morgenstern, educator/author Salome Thomas-El, and actors Louis Gossett, Jr., Katharine Houghton, and Will Mead.
We also get some old remarks from Stanley Kramer. The program looks at the project’s origins and development before it digs into casting, controversies and obstacles during the production, and some racial elements. We also get thoughts about characters and performances as well as the movie’s impact.
At the end of “Today”, it tells us that the “story will continue” in the next featurette. Because of that, I’ll defer my thoughts about it until I can discuss the whole package.
Next comes the 17-minute and 15-second A Special Kind of Love. It features Houghton, Karen Kramer, Mead, Jones, Schlom, Thomas-El, and Morganstern. It also includes older comments from Stanley Kramer and actor Katharine Hepburn. We find some notes about the various actors as well as impressions the movie made on society.
Both “Today” and “Love” prove reasonably informative, but they suffer somewhat from muddled focus. They both attempt to tell us production details along with a view of the flick’s societal impact. Either emphasis would be good, but as the shows attempt both, they lose some depth. I’d prefer completely separate views of these topics, as the programs don’t follow up on them in a terrific manner. They’re still pretty interesting, though, and they include enough useful material to merit a look.
For the final featurette, we locate Stanley Kramer: A Man’s Search For Truth. The 16-minute and 56-second piece includes Jewison, Marshall, Karen Kramer, Schlom, Gossett, filmmaker Taylor Hackford, and actors Dick Van Dyke, Beau Bridges, Dennis Hopper, and Alec Baldwin.
We also find more archival remarks from Stanley Kramer.
“Truth” looks at Kramer’s life and his work, with an emphasis on his pursuit of societal issues. That makes “Truth” more introspective than usual, as it accounts for more than just a simple recitation of Kramer’s filmography. Programs like this veer toward a lot of praise, and that does occur here. Nonetheless, it provides a decent glimpse of Kramer and his career, so it becomes worthwhile.
Two archival components come next. We find Stanley Kramer Accepts the Irving Thalberg Award (2:01) and 2007 Producers Guild “Stanley Kramer” Award Presentation to Al Gore (4:38). Of the pair, “Accepts” is the more interesting since it shows Kramer at the 1962 Oscars. “Guild” is less compelling, as it exists mostly to praise Kramer.
Finally, the disc presents a Photo Gallery. We see 48 pictures through this running four-minute and seven-second collection. I don’t much like that format, as it’s a nuisance to access particular images, but the content is good. We find some nice behind the scenes shots.
While the original DVD only included one component, that element fails to materialize here. We lose the movie’s theatrical trailer, which is a disappointment.
I understand the message of social tolerance promoted in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but I can’t be the only viewer who found the methods used to be forced and illogical. The movie remains compelling due to a number of fine performances, but the entire piece can’t quite overcome the lack of common sense found in its tale. The DVD provides reasonably good picture and audio along with some decent but unmemorable extras.
I think this Special Edition of Guess stands as the best version on the market, so it’s the one to buy for fans who don’t own the old disc. However, I’m not so sure it merits a “double dip” for those who already have the prior release. Audio remains the same, but visuals show only moderate improvements; don’t expect a great difference there. The added extras aren’t terribly impressive either. This is an acceptable DVD but it doesn’t stand out as a great one.
Note that you can buy Guess on its own for $24.96 or as part of a five-movie set called “The Stanley Kramer Film Collection”. That release retails for $59.95 and also includes The Wild One, Ship of Fools, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T and The Member of the Wedding. Although the first three can be purchased on their own, I believe that the “Collection” includes new versions of those titles. From what I can tell, this is the initial DVD release of Wedding. As of February 2008, you can get these editions of those four films only as part of the “Collection”; Guess is the only “Collection” set available on its own.