The Life and Death of Peter Sellers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the film showed many positive elements, it was a little off at times and never quite excelled.
One of the erratic elements came from sharpness. Most of the movie looked fairly concise and detailed. However, some shots demonstrated moderate softness and could be a little fuzzy. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but some mild edge enhancement showed up throughout the movie. While I saw no problems with source defects, the image did appear a bit grainy at times.
As for the filmís palette, it went with a somewhat faded, blown-out look. The colors tended to be cold and pale, but that wasnít a problem. It fit within the movieís design and seemed appropriate. Some segments offered more vibrant colors, especially when Sellers got involved with Ekland; those sequences featured the filmís most dynamic tones. Blacks looked nicely dark and firm, while low-light shots mostly demonstrated solid delineation and clarity. A few shadows were a bit thick, however, as some interiors were too dim. The movie lacked the definition to become terribly well-rendered, but it was good enough for a ďBĒ.
One wouldnít expect much ambition from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of a character study like The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. One would expect incorrectly, as Death included a surprisingly active mix. In fact, Iíd call it too active, as the track occasionally used the speakers in a distracting manner.
This became evident with the opening scene. The recording of the Goon Show put dialogue from an announcer and heavy crowd noise in the rear channels along with music. All of this felt too heavy, as the back speakers overwhelmed the action. Much of the movie went with a better balance, but I still thought quite a few segment occurred in which the surrounds became too prominent in the mix and created a distraction.
When the track showed more sensible distribution of audio, it worked better. Music demonstrated good stereo imaging, and various elements popped up in appropriate places. The surrounds also sometimes featured natural placement and involvement, but I still thought they were too active too much of the time.
For the most part, audio quality was positive. Occasional lines sounded a bit edgy, but the speech usually appeared natural and distinctive. Music fared quite well. The score and songs showed strong definition and range, with clear highs and tight bass. Effects came across as concise and accurate. They usually didnít play a significant role in the proceedings, but they were reproduced well. They did become more prominent occasionally, such as during Sellersí near-death fantasy. It feels weird to shave points off my grade due to too much ambition, since I usually criticize soundtracks for the opposite issue. However, the use of the surrounds was an issue, and I thought the mix deserved a ďB-ď.
A mix of extras show up on the DVD, and we start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Stephen Hopkins and actor Geoffrey Rush, both of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion. A character-based movie can use a character-based commentary, and thatís what we get here. The piece goes over a few film-specific elements such as editing, casting, locations and deleted sequences, but those donít pop up tremendously frequently. Instead, the track emphasizes the history behind the story as well as insight into the characters, the performances, and the situations.
Often I find little use for commentaries recorded by actors, but Rush provides an exception to that rule. Indeed, his parts of the track may well create the best actor commentary Iíve ever heard. He really digs into his thoughts about what he wanted to do with Sellers, and his remarks prove immensely illuminating. Hopkins doesnít slack off, as he also chimes in frequently and the two compliment each other well. They make the commentary briskly paced and always involving as they dig deep into history and thematic elements. Put simply, this is an absolutely terrific commentary thatís one of the best Iíve heard in a while.
For the second commentary, we hear from screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Both men sit together for this running, screen-specific track. Unsurprisingly, they focus mostly on story topics. We hear about research and adapting the book, writing the script and various drafts, liberties taken and the facts behind things, and changes between the screenplay and the final product. We get a good feel for all the issues behind their writing, and we learn additional notes about the real Sellers. The track drags at times and it doesnít compare with the Hopkins/Rush commentary, but it offers more than enough useful material to merit a listen.
Eight deleted scenes last a total of 21 minutes and 16 seconds. Many of these feature additional shots of Sellers in character as others like a doctor, his fortuneteller, and some suits at HBO. We also get a good bit in which we see the tension between Sellers and Blake Edwards, and we check out more from Sellersí later life; those parts include his relationship with his fourth and final wife. Nothing here seems stellar, but the pieces are consistently interesting to see.
The DVD finishes with The Making of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. This 12-minute and 12-second featurette mixes movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Rush, Hopkins, Blake Edwards, and actors Emily Watson, Charlize Theron, Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolyes, and Stanley Tucci. They chat about Sellerís life and career as well as movie topics like Rushís transformation into different characters. We donít learn a lot of useful information here, mainly because the commentaries cover so much ground. Edwardsí remarks are pretty good, though, especially when he reflects on his relationship with Sellers.
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers only fitfully succeeds. However, it does enough right to remain generally interesting, largely due to a terrific lead performance from Geoffrey Rush. The DVD presents adequate to good picture and audio plus some nice extras highlighted by an excellent commentary from the director and star. Death would make for a good rental.