Intolerance appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I felt impressed by this time-defying transfer.
Not that one should expect Intolerance to look like a modern movie, of course, as it still showed marks of its era. However, the Blu-ray gave us a very positive presentation for a movie that will soon celebrate its 100th birthday.
Sharpness worked well. At times the elements could be a little on the soft side – especially in some wide shots – but those instances remained unremarkable and caused no real distractions. While it lacked the precision we’d get with a modern movie, definition seemed solid. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes were absent.
With healthy grain, I didn’t suspect any excessive digital noise reduction, and print flaws failed to create real concerns. Occasional instances of small scratches and other marks could be observed, but these were far, far below the levels one would anticipate in a movie from 1916 and were barely noticeable from a normal viewing distance. If you like to watch your set from a foot away, you’ll see them, but otherwise, you’ll likely not detect them much of the time.
Ala Birth of a Nation, Intolerance often used tints for its various scenes. These usually stayed with pretty neutral colors but occasionally went for reds, purples or greens. No one will accuse the hues of vivacity, but they were clear and well-rendered given their origins. Blacks also seemed pretty dark, and low-light shots showed nice smoothness. I find it tough to imagine that Intolerance will ever look better than it did in this excellent transfer.
In terms of audio, the film came with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 score written by Carl Davis. It presented a perfectly serviceable accompaniment to the film. Stereo imaging was fine; at times the music seemed a little too centered, but it usually spread across the front in a pleasing manner.
The “5.1” nature of the mix didn’t do much, however. Any use of the back speakers remained insignificant, as the track focused heavily on the front channels. That was fine, as the material didn’t need to blast from all five channels. The music came across as full and vivid as well. The score worked fine for the movie.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2003? The new disc showed tremendous improvements. The DVD was a disaster, with messy, ugly visuals as well as poorly-reproduced audio taken from scratchy vinyl records. The Blu—ray crushed the DVD in every possible way.
While the prior DVD included zero extras, we get a decent mix of materials here. On Disc Two, the main attraction comes from two additional silent films directed by DW Griffith. We get 1919’s The Mother and the Law (1:39:32) as well as 1919’s The Fall of Babylon (1:02:34).
As you watch these movies, you may experience a strong sense of déjà vu. Why? Because they simply offer re-edited versions of Intolerance; Law concentrates on the 1916 film’s “modern” story while Fall delivers the Babylonian elements.
This means Law and Fall exist as historical curiosities and nothing more. Perhaps some may enjoy the reworking of the tales, but I think they seem pretty pointless. As presented here, the movies also look much, much worse than the feature on Disc One. As archival elements, it’s cool to get Law and Fall, but I can’t imagine many will care to watch them more than once.
In addition to a 2013 Restoration Trailer, Disc Two includes a featurette called Three Hours That Shook the World. It runs 19 minutes, two seconds and provides notes from film scholar Kevin Brownow as he discusses DW Griffith’s career, the creation of Intolerance and its aftermath. I’m disappointed the Blu-ray lacks a commentary, but Brownlow manages an efficient and informative set of notes.
Disc One opens with ads for The Attack, Hail Mary, For Ever Mozart, The Prey and “The Vivian Leigh Anniversary Collection”.
Finally, the package includes a booklet. In this 16-page piece, we get essays from film historian William M. Drew and Cineaste editor Richard Porton along with credits and stills from the movie. The booklet complements the set well.
As a movie, Intolerance provides an absorbing piece of history. It doesn’t always succeed as storytelling, but it’s so grand and intricate that it keeps us interested. The Blu-ray boasts terrific picture quality along with good audio and a decent array of bonus materials. This becomes a stunning version of a classic film.
To rate this film, visit the original review of INTOLERANCE: A SUN PLAY OF THE AGES