Philadelphia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. No serious problems emerged during this transfer, but it didn’t usually shine either.
Sharpness mostly looked good. A little softness occasionally interfered with a few wider shots, but those elements remained modest. The film usually presented good definition and clarity. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but the movie displayed mild to moderate edge enhancement at times. As for print concerns, I noticed periodic specks and grit plus a few streaks and other blemishes. These cause some distractions.
One shouldn’t expect much vivacity from the palette of Philadelphia. A gritty, downcast flick, the colors reflect that tone. Much of the movie remained fairly gray, but the hues we did see looked effectively accurate and concise. Blacks were acceptably deep and firm, but shadows tended to seem a little dense at times. The movie had a mild flatness during interior shots. Ultimately, the flick looked good enough for a “B”.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, it displayed modest scope that made sense for this sort of story. Unsurprisingly, the soundfield stayed heavily oriented toward the front channels. It showed moderate environmental use across the forward speakers, where it did little more than present a general feel for things. Nothing showy occurred, but the movie didn’t need those moments. Music offered decent stereo imaging and spread mildly to the rear. The surrounds didn’t have much else to do, as they gently supported the forward spectrum and that was about it. Some thunder rumbled around the room for a few seconds, which was the most active part of the mix, though Andy’s sickness occasionally put us in his head for some swirling elements.
Audio quality was fine. Speech showed a smidgen of edginess at times but usually remained natural and distinctive. Music sounded pretty warm and bright, though bass occasionally seemed a little too strong, at least when we heard Springsteen’s title tune. Effects played a minor role in the film. They were acceptably accurate and suffered from no distortion or problems. Don’t expect much from the soundtrack of Philadelphia, as it presented the material without many flourishes.
Whereas the original DVD release of Philadelphia lacked any extras, this new special edition comes with a nice roster of supplements. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary from director Jonathan Demme and writer Ron Nyswaner. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat.
Recorded in 2002, the pair go over a mix of appropriate topics. They start with a discussion of how they got Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen to write songs for the film and they let us know about issues such as casting, the tone of the film, influences and inspirations. They talk about challenges with the presentation of gay characters, cut sequences, and variations between the script and final product.
Most of the time Demme and Nyswaner provide a good examination of the film, but they do falter at times. A bit of dead air appears, and they often do little more than tell us the names of participants. Too much happy talk shows up as well, which occasionally makes the track feel self-congratulatory. A fair amount of good information appears along the way, but too many flaws mar it for me to consider it an above average commentary.
Over on DVD Two, we start with a set of six deleted scenes. When viewed together via the “Play All” option, these last a total of 11 minutes and 11 seconds. A few look at minor character notes. The most provocative shows Miguel and Andrew in bed; they don’t make out or anything, but shots of two major male stars snuggling remain unusual. The longest clip shows a pre-trial conference run by the judge, and we also see some jury deliberations. None of the snippets expand the movie’s themes or story much, but they’re cool to see.
The “Documentaries” area includes two components. People Like Us: Making Philadelphia runs 57 minutes, 43 seconds as it presents the standard complement of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We find notes from Demme, Nyswaner, producer Ed Saxon, executive producer Ron Bozman, production designer Kristi Zea, production sound mixer Chris Newman, makeup artist Carl Fullerton, composer Howard Shore, editor Craig McKay, and actors Tom Hanks, Antonio Banderas, and Denzel Washington (from 1993). The program goes over the early public impressions of AIDS and personal reactions, the desire to make a movie to spread awareness of the issues and its path to the screen, real-life inspirations for the film, casting and characters, the use of HIV-positive actors, naming the film, Hanks’ physical transformation, problems with the opera scene and the cut sequence in bed, the title song and opening piece, the score, and its reception and legacy.
Expect to hear a fair amount of information repeated from the commentary. However, a lot of new material emerges in “Us”, which presents a solid overview of the production. It emphasizes a more personal side of the filmmaking experience, as we get a feeling for those dimensions of the project as well as the usual nuts and bolts. These make “Us” informative and occasionally moving. I like the documentary so much I wish I thought more of the flick itself.
An inspiration for the movie, One Foot on a Banana Peel, the Other Foot in the Grave lasts 78 minutes and 32 seconds. Demme refers to the program in “Us”, and those comments appear at the start of “Peel”. Created by Demme’s friend and AIDS patient Juan Botas back in 1992, it shows the patients and staff at a New York clinic. We see their treatments and hear candid conversations about the various issues. The impromptu nature of the video footage makes it tough to understand what’s being said at times, but the material’s worth the effort. “Peel” creates a touching and powerful look at life with AIDS.
Next we get four minutes and 24 seconds of Courthouse Protest Footage and Interviews. This isn’t real footage. It’s staged material created for the movie. We see a little of it in the film, so it’s interesting to get a raw glimpse of the shots. Look for writer Nyswaner as one of the protesters.
After this comes the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”. Also found on Springsteen’s Video Anthology, it presents the song in a simple manner. Bruce wanders through a dilapidated area of Philadelphia as he sings the song. Note that Springsteen does actually perform; it’s a live vocal, not a lip-synch rendition. The video’s basic and effective.
The film’s Original Making-Of Featurette takes five minutes, 57 seconds. It includes remarks from Demme, Hanks, Washington, Robards, and Steenburgen. It’s nothing more than the standard promotional blather. A fun piece, we get the 60-second Joe Miller TV Spot. This is the ad that occasionally appears in the background during the movie. It’s cool to see it on its own.
Filmographies appear for director Demme, writer Nyswaner, and actors Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Jason Robards and Mary Steenburgen. Finally, the disc ends with a collection of trailers. We locate ads for Philadelphia as well as fellow Hanks vehicles A League of Their Own and Sleepless in Seattle.
Well-meaning in the extreme, I appreciate Philadelphia for its attempts to spread a message of tolerance and understanding. Unfortunately, these strengths also become weaknesses as the movie quickly turns one-sided and patronizing, with little room for debate. The DVD presents pretty good picture and audio plus a very nice set of supplements highlighted by two terrific documentaries.
If you’ve not seen Philadelphia, I don’t think it’s worth your time unless you plan to use it for some sort of classroom lesson. If you know you already like it, this DVD offers the best version of the film on home video. The picture and audio quality are nothing special, but the strong extras make this a memorable package.