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Carol Reed
Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Mark Lester, Jack Wild
Writing Credits:
Charles Dickens (freely adapted from "Oliver Twist"), Lionel Bart (book), Vernon Harris

Much more than a musical!

Experience the high-spirited adventures of Oliver Twist in this Oscar-winning musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic tale!

Young Oliver is an orphan who escapes the cheerless life of the workhouse and takes to the streets of 19th-century London. He's immediately taken by a band of street urchins, headed by the lovable Fagin, his fiendish henchman Bill Sikes and his loyal apprentice The Artful Dodger. Through his education in the fine points of pick-pocketing, Oliver makes away with an unexpected treasure ... a home and a family of his own.

Box Office:
$10 million.

Rated G

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 153 min.
Price: $12.99
Release Date: 8/12/1998

• Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Oliver! (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 22, 2009)

As I recall, I took in a screening of 1968’s Oliver! as a very young child, and it was something I'd remembered semi-positively, largely because my father thought it was such a great movie. I didn't see it again until it was shown to us during my eighth grade English class.

Well, whatever positive thoughts I had about the film prior to that time went straight out the window. This was 27 years ago now so I don't remember what specifically I disliked about Oliver! other than I just thought it sucked. (Really, what more do you need when you're 14?)

Surely age has mellowed me somewhat and I'd be more receptive to the giddy charms of Oliver! at this stage of my life. And you know what? I still dislike the film as much as I did when I was 14. (Had you going for a minute there, didn't I? You saw that "but you know what" and thought I was going to say I liked it, didn't you? Hah!)

Clearly I've matured over the last 27 years since I can now better articulate why I disliked Oliver!. When I was 14, all I thought was that it "sucked." Now that I'm 41 I can fully recognize that it "really sucks."

As strange as it is to say this about a film "freely adapted" from a classic novel, Oliver! seems frightfully thin on plot and it also appears radically overextended. It doesn't seem like a whole lot happens during the film's two and a half hour running time, certainly not enough to sustain such a length; we get maybe an hour's worth of actual story at best.

Otherwise, the movie's 14 - yes, that's right, 14 - musical numbers dominate the affair. The cloying little ditties of Oliver! are absolutely inescapable. Let's see... 153 minutes divided by 14 songs equals one song every ten minutes or so. But these aren't brief, two or three minute quickies, so it's not like you get one song for every seven or so minutes of story. No, lots of these numbers go on and on (and on, and on); literally the first two-thirds of the film consist almost totally of music with very little spoken dialogue.

I suppose this is okay if you enjoy musicals. Unfortunately, I maintain a general distaste for the format. I think they work okay within a Disney framework but they usually seem ridiculous when portrayed in the live action realm. Oliver! appears to be an even more egregious offender than most musicals simply because of the sheer volume and the pointlessness of most of the songs. It's clear many exist simply to fill space. Most of them go on far too long, as well; almost every number tries to be a "show stopper" as the cast of thousands dances and warbles across the screen. Maybe musical fans eat this up, but I'd think even they would get tired of it. I certainly know that I did.

If the excessive amount of time devoted to music wasn't enough to turn me off Oliver! the acting would have done the trick. Oliver! was adapted from a stage musical, and it shows in the performances; it's unclear to me how many of the actors got their start on the stage, but almost all of them over-emote and use tricks that seem much better suited to the broadness required by the stage.

In this regard, I found almost all of the adult actors to be at fault. Ron Moody as Fagin, Shani Wallis as Nancy, Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble – you could practically see them pause as they wait for the laughter or applause to die down before they deliver their next lines. I doubt they could have made a sequel to Oliver!; they would have wanted to reuse the sets, but they were destroyed by the scenery-chewing of these actors. It looked to me like they all needed Ritalin.

The only adult who fared acceptably was Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes because he offered an appropriate air of menace and danger. Well, at least until he opened his mouth; he worked much better as a looming presence than as an active - and verbal - threat. It didn't help that he socks Nancy with one of the least believable movie punches I've ever seen - I don't think his hand was within a foot of her face! At least Reed gets off without a song, which may have been the only bit of conservative thinking in this production; clearly it would have been much harder to view Sikes as much of a villain if he spent his time singing and dancing.

The remainder of the lead cast features two children, Mark Lester as Oliver and Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger. Lester is a fairly bland kid who seems to have gotten the role mainly because he's so darned cute, but he made for a mildly compelling presence; I almost sort of cared about him from time to time. Wild is less successful, if just because he has the more interesting character; his Dodger lacks the charm and magnetism that he needs, and he largely tends to blend into the scenery.

Really, the best piece of acting in the film comes from the dog who plays Sikes' sidekick Bullseye. Toward the end of the movie he sees just how brutal Sikes really is and he turns on him; that dog truly conveyed his conflicting emotions as he decided to do the right thing. He's the scraggliest looking mutt I've ever seen, but Bullseye is the only participant who shows any realistic emotions or any actual character development. Bullseye rules!

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the film. It's an overly long, uninteresting mockery of a classic novel. What was the Academy smoking when they saw fit to name Oliver! Best Picture of 1968, and can I get some? That must have been some good stuff!

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D+

Oliver! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer clearly showed its age.

Sharpness suffered throughout the film. Actually, many close-ups or two-shots looked fine, but wider elements came across less well. Much of the blame stemmed from the prominent edge haloes that often appeared; those could give the movie a blurry look. Jagged edges and shimmering weren’t concerns, though the movie could seem a bit blocky.

Source flaws were a sporadic distraction. Mild grain cropped up through the film, and I noticed examples of specks, marks and debris. These varied in intensity and were never a serious problem, but they did give the flick a messy appearance.

Colors were pretty good. Skin tones occasionally looked a bit ruddy, but overall, I thought the hues came across as fairly lively and full. Blacks appeared tight and deep, while shadows were decent. Some low-light shots seemed a little dense, but they usually demonstrated good definition. Too many problems emerged here for me to give the transfer anything above a “C-“, though.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Oliver! seemed mildly ambitious but somewhat flat. Dialogue and effects sounded clean, but the music seemed tinny and less full. The music didn't appear terrible, but it definitely should have sounded more robust and dynamic. Effects also could be somewhat rinky-dink, but they weren’t as important to the mix, so I didn’t mind their trebly tones as much.

The front soundstage was nicely broad; music and some effects emanated from the right and left channels in a positive manner. The surrounds also got a fair amount of attention. Oliver! reserved the rears for occasional effects like rain, street scenes or tweeting birds as well as for vocal choruses during songs; no actual music other than massed vocals appeared to come out of the back speakers. I admit that I found the sound to be a bit disappointing. Still, while the audio wasn't great, it's definitely pretty good for a 40-year-old film.

Oliver! offers a minor array of supplements, though it's nothing that will give you convulsions of excitement. We get an entertaining seven-minute featurette from 1968. It's not exactly detailed - how much can you say in seven minutes? - but it isn't as "fluffy" as more current featurettes tend to be.

The DVD also includes the standard trailer plus a surprisingly good photo gallery. The latter is especially interesting because the pictures offer nice annotation; they each provide some useful information about the production. The DVD's booklet also packs a strong amount of entertaining facts into its two pages; who knew that Lester's singing was dubbed by the musical director's daughter? I dare say that the production notes and the photo gallery were much more entertaining than the film itself.

1968’s Oliver! stands as one of the worst flicks to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture. Too long and too dopey, it does little to entertain. The DVD offers decent audio but presents flawed picture and a skimpy set of extras. Skip this bad movie and problematic DVD.

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