Sunset Boulevard appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without some flaws, the flick usually looked very good.
Sharpness looked excellent. The movie presented a consistently tight and concise image. I noticed virtually no signs of softness during this distinct and detailed presentation. A little shimmering occurred at times, but nothing distracting. The movie lacked any signs of jagged edges, and I also detected only mild examples of edge enhancement.
The black and white image demonstrated solid tones. Blacks came across as deep and rich throughout the movie, and it offered simply terrific contrast at all times. The film displayed a nicely silvery appearance that seemed fantastic. Shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but never came across as excessively heavy.
Though not totally immaculate, given the age of Sunset, the movie suffered from relatively few source flaws. I noticed some light grain on occasion and also came across a few print defects. I detected a smattering of specks, hairs and marks as well as sporadic blotchiness. Don’t worry too much about these, though, as they played a small part during the mostly clean presentation. Overall, I felt very pleased by this fine transfer.
While not in the same league as the picture, the monaural soundtrack of Sunset Boulevard also worked acceptably well given the age of the material. Speech seemed reasonably accurate and distinct, with no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. The lines could sound a little flat at times, but they demonstrated no significant concerns.
Music came across as fairly bright and lively, though dynamic range seemed limited. Effects also displayed generally accurate tones but lacked very clear highs or tight lows. Some bass response appeared, but it sounded a bit boomy and heavy. I noticed some light background hum and a little noise, but these issues remained relatively modest. Overall, the audio appeared decent but not spectacular.
This Special Edition release of Sunset Boulevard packs a number of extras. We start with an audio commentary from Billy Wilder biographer Ed Sikov, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. Sikov provides an inconsistent track. At times, he tells us some good background information. He goes over the deleted opening segment as well as background for many of the participants and inside information that modern audiences might need to better understand the film.
Unfortunately, Sikov often simply tells us the on-screen action, and the piece also suffers from way too many empty spaces, especially during the movie’s second half. I dislike those gaps under any circumstance, but they’re particularly bothersome when they come from a film historian. Sikov could have covered many topics related to the filmmakers that would have filled the commentary, so the many empty sections make this track sporadically useful but often frustrating.
Next we get The Making of Sunset Boulevard, a 25-minute and 52-second program about the film. It mixes movie clips, archival materials, and new interviews with Sikov, actor Nancy Olson, film critic Andrew Sarris, Paramount Pictures producer AC Lyles, and Glenn Close, who portrayed Norma Desmond in a stage musical production of Sunset. A tight and informative piece, “Making” covers lots of good ground and offers a very nice summation of the production. It ranges through casting, reactions to the movie, background for a number of the participants, and many of the ins and outs behind the material. Happily, not too much of Sikov’s commentary repeats here, as we get a fine inside look at the flick. I thoroughly enjoyed this crisp little documentary.
A cool little feature, the Hollywood Location Map covers some of the spots seen in Sunset Boulevard. It goes through these sites: Schwab’s Drugstore, Joe Gillis’ Apartment, Norma Desmond’s Car, Paramount Pictures, and the Getty Mansion. Paramount splits into three smaller areas: Bronson Gate, Dreier Building, and Stage 18. Each of these shows footage from the film while we hear narration that provides notes about each of the locations. The various clips last between 19 seconds and 52 seconds for a total of three minutes, 51 seconds. Though this domain badly needed a “Play All” option – it gets tiresome to constantly return to the main menu – it still offers enough good material to merit a look.
Within the Photo Galleries, we discover three subsections. We find stills for “Production” (46 shots), “The Movie” (24 images), and “Publicity” (16 photos). All three areas seem good, with the best pictures appearing in “Production”. However, some of the “Publicity” stills are cool as well, if just to see von Stroheim’s facial expressions.
To get a glimpse of the film’s unused original opening, check out the Morgue Prologue Script Pages. This shows both the original morgue prologue from December 1948 and the revised morgue prologue from March 1949. In addition to the text, the original sequence offers looks at the filmed shots themselves. Unfortunately, they lost the sound for those clips, so they remain silent, but this area nonetheless offers a cool look at a major deleted sequence from Sunset.
In addition to the flick’s theatrical trailer, Sunset concludes with a pair of featurettes. Edith Head – the Paramount Years provides a 13-minute and 42-second look at the famous costume designer. We see movie clips, archival materials and photos, and interviews with Head biographer David Chierichetti, costumer Tzetzi Ganey, fashion designer Bob Mackie, and actress Rosemary Clooney. Chierichetti dominates the program, which offers a quick but solid discussion of Head. We learn about her early career, her own personal style, and a lot of the work she did for flicks like Sunset and To Catch a Thief. “Head” gives us a reasonably full glimpse of the legendary designer.
Lastly we get The Music of Sunset Boulevard. A 14-minute and 28-second piece, we get the usual mix of movie snippets, archival stuff, and interviews with film music historian – and composer’s son – John Waxman plus composers Elmer Bernstein and John Mauceri. Fairly similar to the Head program, this one covers Waxman’s early life and career and explores some of his films, though it delves particularly deeply into his material for Sunset. Overall, it offers another entertaining and informative featurette.
A movie that merits the designation “classic”, Sunset Boulevard provides an unusual and memorable experience. Director Billy Wilder bites the hand that feeds him in this lively and cynically compelling look at Hollywood. The DVD offers very good picture quality along with decent audio and a fairly positive roster of supplements. Sunset Boulevard comes to DVD in great shape, and I highly recommend this terrific movie and solid disc.