The Last Waltz appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. We got a fine reproduction of the source via this presentation.
Within the confines of the original photography, sharpness seemed solid. At times, the cameras went slightly out of focus, but obviously that related to the source. Otherwise, we find a pretty well-defined presentation.
Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems, and I noticed no signs of edge haloes. With a good layer of grain, I suspected no noise reduction, and print flaws failed to appear.
The movie featured a warm, golden scheme, and the disc replicated those tones well. The hues seemed vivid and vibrant throughout the film, with no signs of noise, bleeding or other issues.
Black levels appeared dense and rich, while shadow detail came across clearly. Low-light scenes seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively dark. Overall, the image worked well.
I thought the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack became less consistent, as this circa 2001 remix went a little bonkers. This meant a lot of music and vocals came from the rear channels, and they manifested there in a distracting manner.
Indeed, the back channels took such prominence that I began to wonder if my system was out of whack. No – other audio cropped up in the appropriate forward channels, so this simply appeared to be a mixing choice to send a lot of material to the surrounds.
For some remixes, this can work, but for a concert like Waltz, it felt wrong and distracting. There also seemed to be little rhyme or reason for the over-active use of the back channels, as some songs stayed more “forward” than others.
As such, I thought the soundscape became a bit of a mess. This didn’t turn into a fatal flaw, but it turned the audio into a less enjoyable experience than it should – at least for me, since I found the surround usage to overwhelm.
At least audio quality seemed strong. Vocals appeared natural and distinct, as the performers always sounded clear and accurate.
All the various instruments sounded solid as well. Guitars rang and stung nicely, while drums were punchy and crisp. Bass response appeared good overall as well. Parts of this mix fared nicely, but the awkward soundfield turned into a problem.
Note that the Blu-ray came with movie’s original DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround track, and I thought that offered a vastly superior soundscape when compared to its 2001 counterpart.
For the 2.0 version, vocals remained largely centered where they belonged, and instruments cropped up in the appropriate locations. This felt like a much more natural presentation than the jacked-up 5.1 version.
While the 2.0 edition offered the better soundfield, audio quality took a hit, mainly because Criterion mastered the 1978 mix at a substantially lower level than its 2001 counterpart. I had to crank up my receiver’s volume substantially higher than usual to achieve the appropriate impact.
Nonetheless, audio quality was good when I balanced out the volume. The 5.1 track came with more range but not to an enormous degree. I thought the 2.0 felt a little anemic compared to the 5.1, but the superior soundfield made it my preferred mix.
The Criterion set mixes old and new extras, and we find two separate audio commentaries. The first one features musician Robbie Robertson and director Martin Scorsese.
Both were recorded separately and the results were edited together. Robertson clearly watched and remarked upon the movie for his remarks, but it sounded like Scorsese’s parts resulted from the same interviews that provided his material in the disc’s documentary.
Although both contribute good material, Robertson dominates the commentary. He provides information about the genesis of the film project and gives us notes about all of the various guest performers who appeared during the show.
Essentially, he elaborates on what the Band wanted to do with the concert, and offers a little about their mindset at the time, though I would like to hear more about the dynamics between the players and how they reacted to the end of their era.
Scorsese tosses in some nice details about his influences when it comes to the use of music in movies and covers his efforts to appropriately document the concert, along with many of the problems he encountered. Overall, this is a pretty solid track that provides a consistently informative experience.
The second commentary combines a slew of participants for this edited track. We hear from Band members Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, journalist/Band friend Jay Cocks, journalist Greil Marcus, creative consultant Mardik Martin, executive producer Jonathan Taplin, associate producer Steven Prince, cameraman Michael Chapman, music producer John Simon, New York, New York producer Irwin Winkler, and performers Mavis Staples, Dr. John, and Ronnie Hawkins.
All of them were recorded separately except for Simon and Helm, who sat together. I really like this commentary, as it includes a wealth of information. From technical aspects of creating both the concert and the movie to Band history to musical interpretation to various anecdotes, it’s all here.
The piece moves briskly as it keeps me thoroughly entertained at virtually all times. Some folks don’t like edited commentaries, but naysayers should check out this one, as I find it hard to believe anyone could complain about such a terrific chat.
Revisiting The Last Waltz provides a 22-minute, 31-second documentary. It shows clips from the movie, some background materials like storyboards and conceptual art, and interview segments with Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese.
Overall, this is a good little documentary. In some ways, it seems a bit redundant after the Robertson/Scorsese commentary - especially since Scorsese’s material clearly comes from the same sessions - and the absence of other participants is somewhat odd.
However, it acts as a solid discussion of the movie and the concert. It covers the project from conception through completion and stands as a nice synopsis of the process. While not a definitive document, “Revisiting” covers the movie well.
Next we find Outtake: Jam Session 2. This informal performance features three-fifths of the Band (Robertson, Helm and Hudson) plus Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Carl Radle, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Ronnie Wood and Neil Young.
The jam runs for 12 minutes, 15 seconds and allegedly offers the “only archival footage available from The Last Waltz.” That seems odd, considering all of the footage shot, but anyway you look at it, it’s all we find on the disc.
I’ve never been a fan of jam sessions, and this one does nothing to change my mind, as it’s rambling and pointless. Only die-hards will enjoy it, but I admit I’m glad it made the disc, as it’s better to find too much material than too little.
Note that the last few minutes of the jam offer no visuals. According to a text screen that appears toward the end, the cameras began to overheat from excessive use, so they were shut down as the song progressed.
After a trailer and a TV spot, we go to materials new to the Criterion disc. Martin Scorsese and David Fear offers a November 2021 chat between the director and critic Fear.
This piece runs 31 minutes, 31 seconds and covers Scorsese’s thoughts about the Band and their music, feelings about the concert film genre and his work on Waltz. Some of the musing about music feels solipsistic, but we get some good notes about Waltz and music movies.
Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, 1978 lasts 15 minutes, three seconds and offers exactly what the title implies. We find a segment from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s April 14, 1978 episode of 90 Minutes Live with the director and the musician.
This segment offers some basics about the concert and the film production. Given all the prior time this disc spends with Scorsese and Robertson, we don’t find much new content, but I like the perspective of 1978 as well as the chance to see Robertson and Scorsese together.
Finally, the package concludes with a booklet that mixes credits, art and an essay from critic Amanda Petrusich. It winds up matters on a decent note.
While I cannot say I agree that The Last Waltz stands as the greatest concert film ever made, I also cannot deny that it provides a fine piece of work. Waltz provides an elegant and visually compelling film. The Blu-ray boasts strong visuals and a good collection of bonus materials, but audio becomes inconsistent. Despite my qualms with some aspects of the 5.1 remix, the original 2.0 track works fine and allows this to become a solid version of the movie.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of THE LAST WALTZ