My Fair Lady appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This wasn’t a terrible presentation, but it looked worse than it should have.
Sharpness tended to be inconsistent. At times, the movie displayed a nice concise image, but on other occasions, it became soft and loose. These instances occurred for no logical reason – ie, they didn’t pop up only in certain settings – but they became exacerbated by edge haloes, as those occasionally permeated the picture. The whole thing came with a “digital feel” and showed artifacts from noise reduction. Print flaws remained minor, though; I saw a few specks but nothing substantial.
Colors offered another inconsistent element and were also affected by the digital processing. For the most part, the hues looked pretty vivid, but they could turn dull at times, too. Blacks tended to seem a bit mushy, and shadows varied from reasonably clear to semi-dense. Enough of the image looked good to make this a “C”, but it could – and should – have rated much higher than that.
I felt more impressed with the film's DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack, though it wasn’t great either. The soundfield seemed forward-oriented but was very active. Not surprisingly, most of the action revolved around the music, which was well produced here. The songs displayed strong stereo separation and also blended nicely to the surrounds, although the rears mainly provided light reinforcement of the score. A little split-surround material did appear, though; for example, “Ascot Gavotte” featured involving movement of the horses as they went from the right rear to the front to the left rear.
Effects and quite a lot of dialogue also spread to the side speakers and sometimes panned between channels as well. The placement of the speech seemed questionable at times. It could end up in a "neverland" between speakers that was somewhat distracting. However, this problem seemed minor, and my overall impression of the audio was that it seemed nicely broad.
The quality was a little erratic but generally positive. As was typical for programs of the era, dialogue showed the most problems. For the most part, speech sounded clear and intelligible - discounting the severe accents we heard, as they should seem hard to understand - but the lines sometimes displayed harsh or tinny qualities, and a few appeared a little distorted.
Effects were largely clean and fairly realistic; some bits actually featured a little bass as well. The music itself - easily the most important aspect of this mix – was usually good, though I noticed a bit more reverb than I’d expect. The music showed some signs of age, as it lacked the dynamic range we'd expect of a more recent recording, but it seemed acceptable for the most part despite the vague sense of echo. This was a decent to good track for its age but like the picture, it probably could’ve been stronger than it was.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the Special Edition DVD from 2004? Audio was a wash at best; while the lossless mix added a little clarity, it also suffered from more reverb than its predecessor, so that negated the improvements. Visuals were a bit better here due to the natural strengths of Blu-ray, but the flaws also became magnified. If forced to choose, I’d take the Blu-ray, but it’s not the improvement one would hope to find.
The Blu-ray replicates the prior DVD’s extras. We launch with an audio commentary from art director Gene Allen, singer Marni Nixon, and the restoration team of Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. The three men were recorded together, while Nixon's comments were taped separately and then edited in amongst the rest of the track.
Although most of the remarks cover the technical aspects of making the film, it still provides a nice general look at the movie as a whole. Clearly Harris and Katz are very knowledgeable about Lady. They toss in some good information of their own and also nicely prod Allen for his recollections. I had some fears for this piece based on the fairly dry commentary for Vertigo, which also features Harris and Katz, but this one works well. Nixon's parts contribute some excellent data about her side of things, especially in regard to the controversies. We definitely hear a lot about the problems of the restoration, but the whole piece flows nicely and gives us a fine look at the movie.
Next we find a 1994 documentary called More Loverly Than Ever: My Fair Lady Through the Ages. Hosted by actor Jeremy Brett, this 57-minute, 53-second program looks at the movie’s history and its restoration. It mixes film clips, archival materials, and interviews. We get notes from Gene Allen, James C. Katz, Robert A. Harris, Marni Nixon, Mirabella magazine founder Grace Mirabella, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, actor Stanley Holloway’s son Julian, Martin Scorsese, Variety senior columnist Army Archerd, Alan Jay Lerner’s former wife Nancy Olson-Livingston, assistant film editor John Burnett, digital artist Kevin Lingesfelder, re-recording mixer Bob Litt, Julie Andrews, actor Theo Bikel, critic Rex Reed, costume designer Bob Mackie, restoration assistant editor Mike Hyatt, and former head of Warner Bros. production Rudy Fehr.
The program quickly covers the film’s promotion and reception, the history of the story and of the project. After the first 10 minutes, we start to hear about the restoration. The rest of the program cuts between background information about the movie and notes about restoring the flick.
Olson-Livingston’s remarks about how Lerner came up with some of the songs seem particularly interesting. It’s intriguing to hear Andrews relate her reactions to not getting the part in the movie and her opinion about whether this helped her get her Oscar for Mary Poppins. A few other controversies receive attention, which came as a moderate surprise; the program seems notably less puffy than I expected. “Lovely” covers a lot of territory in a reasonably efficient manner. It doesn’t create a thorough and excellent documentary, but it goes through a lot of subject in decent detail and comes across as pretty solid.
1963 Production Kickoff Dinner presents footage of that event. The 23-minute and 19-second piece starts with silent shots of the banquet itself and then offers short promotional interviews with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison and producer Jack L. Warner. It concludes with a mix of more images from the dinner, some with sound this time. The chats seem surprisingly hard-hitting, at least for the circumstances and the era. The interviewer asks about problems in Hollywood and pushes his theories pretty heavily; he even tells Harrison people regard him as difficult! Some of the dinner footage itself isn’t very useful due to the lack of audio, but the interviews present some interesting material.
Next we find audio of George Cukor as he directs Baroness Bina Rothschild. In this two-minute, 36-second snippet, we watch photos from the set and hear Rothschild endlessly repeat variations on the line “she’s quite the loveliest young lady at the ball!” I may die if I ever hear that line again, but this piece does offer an insightful glimpse of the directing process.
One cool addition to the disc presents two of the film's songs with Audrey Hepburn's original vocals intact. We hear "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and "Show Me" with Audrey's voice instead of Marni Nixon's. I was honestly surprised to find something like this, since it has the potential to seem cruel. However, Hepburn didn't humiliate herself with her singing. Although she hits a fair number of flat notes and clearly wasn't a strong enough vocalist to carry the film, her performances aren't bad; they're simply mediocre, which isn't good enough for a big-budget production like this.
In the Show Me Galleries, we get four collections of images. These include “Sketches” (nine frames), “Black and White Production Stills” (68), “Color Production Stills” (52), and “Documents and Publicity” (39). These provide some decent materials but don’t seem particularly compelling.
The next area mixes Posters and Lobby Cards with a Rex Harrison radio interview. Through this 63-second piece, we hear Harrison provide puffy comments about his experiences while we look at promotional images. These bits are good for archival reasons but not tremendously fascinating otherwise, and the images lose some value due to the videotape time readings in the top part of the screen; these obstruct our view of the promotional materials.
The disc includes a nine-minute, 33-second featurette called The Fairest Fair Lady. This program comes from the period of the film's theatrical release and it completely focuses on behind the scenes details. The coverage seems sketchy since the piece is so short, and it mostly admires the big quality of the production; for example, we learn that in this tremendously-complex undertaking, they had one woman whose sole job was to make sure that everyone wore their gloves! The focus remains strictly promotional, but since the presentation differs from the glorified trailer approach of modern featurettes, this one's somewhat fun.
After this we see LA Premiere Footage. This four-minute and 51-second newsreel describes the event in breathless terms as we see various notables arrive. It’s another moderately interesting piece of historical material.
Rex Harrison’s Golden Globe Acceptance Speech runs 43 seconds. Apparently Harrison couldn’t make it to the ceremony, so it shows a filmed chat. Nothing special here except for the unedited ending. At the 37th Academy Awards, we see Jack L. Warner’s acceptance speech for the Best Picture prize, or at least parts of it; the clip runs 25 seconds and seems to lack part of his time at the podium.
Within The Comments we find separate interviews with Martin Scorsese (one minute, 19 seconds) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (one minute, six seconds). Scorsese discusses the need for film preservation and his work in that realm; he never specifically gets into Lady, and his comments seem fairly bland and generic. Webber talks about his work with Lady lyricist Alan Jay Lerner on The Phantom of the Opera; this never happened because Lerner took ill. This subject seems more intriguing, but Webber doesn’t tell us anything very interesting.
Finally, we get both the original and 1994 re-release trailers for Lady.
Although it has a number of flaws, enough of My Fair Lady seems delightful and endearing for it to be worth watching. The Blu-ray provides a nice collection of bonus materials but comes with erratic picture and sound. While this becomes the best version of the film on the market, it remains a disappointment that doesn’t represent the movie as well as it should.
To rate this film visit the 2004 DVD review of MY FAIR LADY