The Thief of Bagdad 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. Occasional inconsistencies developed here, but much of Thief looked absolutely glorious.
A few problems stemmed from sharpness. Close-ups looked great, and many wider shots seemed fine as well. However, some of the latter appeared moderately fuzzy and lacked great definition. These didn’t occur with frequency, but they created small distractions. Jagged edges and shimmering caused no concerns, but I noticed light edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed absent for the most part; I saw maybe one or two specks and that was it. Occasionally, some frames appeared to be missing; the image would skip slightly due to these absent elements.
Colors were usually excellent. The tones came across as quite lively and dynamic throughout the film. This was the kind of flick that could show off the Technicolor, and the transfer did so. A few shots wavered in terms of their colors, but most of them showed terrific hues. Blacks were quite dense, while shadows appeared visible and clear. I nearly gave this transfer an “A-“, but the minor flaws were just a little too noticeable for that. Nonetheless, I felt very pleased with the image, as it often provided sumptuous visuals.
The monaural soundtrack of Thief more clearly showed its age. Dialogue seemed thin but understandable, and effects and music sounded about the same. The mix appeared happily free of much distortion, though, and most audio was relatively distinct and clean. Music was a bit too dense, but the score wasn’t problematic. Source noise could be more of a distraction; the flaws weren’t severe, but it sometimes sounded like it was raining in the background. Given the age of the material, Thief offered an acceptable auditory experience.
With that we head to the surfeit of extras found on this two-disc set. DVD One features two separate audio commentaries. The first features filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, both of whom sit separately for this edited chat. They discuss childhood memories of seeing Thief and their love for it, how it influenced them, themes and story elements, and various production subjects.
It’s too bad Coppola and Scorsese don’t sit together for their track, but I can’t say that I’m surprised; it’s enough of a coup for Criterion to land these legends, much less plop them in the same room to record their commentary. They create a pretty interesting track, though the two sides aren’t equal. Scorsese offers the more informative portion of the commentary, as he balances his appreciation of the flick with facts about its participants and creation. Coppola tends more toward the nostalgic side of the street; he mainly focuses what he likes about the film. The commentary doesn’t devolve into simple happy talk, though, as it remains focused on movie making and the influence of Thief. The two parts meld well in this enjoyable program.
For the second track, we hear from film and music historian Bruce Eder, who provides a running, screen-specific discussion. He goes over aspects of the film’s belabored production schedule, its use of multiple directors, sets and production design, cast and crew, story elements and influences, music and effects, deleted scenes, and a few other elements.
I usually enjoy commentaries from film historians, and Eder provides a high quality track. He maintains a lot of energy through the flick and he digs into the various topics with enthusiasm. Eder traces the important aspects of the production in a thorough and compelling manner, so he turns this into an excellent chat.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, another audio feature appears. We get an optional music and effects track. This offers exactly what the title describes: music and effects that accompany the film. In an interesting twist, however, some of the cues differ from those in the final flick. That makes it an intriguing addition for fans.
Over on DVD Two, we begin with a documentary simply titled Visual Effects. This
31-minute and two-second show features notes from visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, special effects supervisor Craig Barron and effects designer Dennis Muren. They discuss their initial experiences with Thief, an appreciation of it and its various effects. They give us a good examination of the various visual elements, and we also get some glimpses of the silent Thief. We find quite a lot of nice details here.
Under the “Visual Effects” banner, we also find a Blue Screen Demo. It runs two minutes, 10 seconds as it illustrates that technique’s use in Thief. Most fans already have an idea how blue screen works, but this demo is interesting anyway, especially since it focuses on the effects shots in Thief.
A World War II-era propaganda flick called The Lion Has Wings fills one hour, 15 minutes and 42 seconds. Why does it appear here? Because the British entry into WWII suspended production of Thief, and many of those responsible for Thief also worked on Wings. It’s interesting to have as an archival curiosity.
For comments from the film’s producer, we go to Michael Powell. This presents a collection of audio excerpts recorded by Powell himself to help with his autobiography. Powell covers aspects of Thief, thoughts about cast and crew, the impact of WWII and filming The Lion Has Wings. The quality of the recording makes this a tough listen, but the content makes it worthwhile. Powell covers a lot of interesting territory in this collection of memories.
Next we get a 1976 radio interview with composer Miklos Rozsa. He discusses his musical education, how he got into film scoring, his work on Thief and how he came to live in LA. Throughout this interview, Rozsa is very entertaining and informative. He goes through quite a few useful topics, and he does so in a lively and enjoyable manner.
Finally, we get two Stills Galleries. This domain splits into “Production and Publicity Stills” (55) and “Dufaycolor Stills” (20). The latter area doesn’t seem particularly interesting, but a mix of good shots appear in the first collection.
As with most Criterion releases, this set includes a substantial booklet. This 24-page piece includes an essay from film historian Andrew Moor as well as film professor Ian Christie’s look at The Lion Has Wings. It’s a typically solid affair.
After 68 years, The Thief of Bagdad manages to boast some charms, but not enough to make me truly like it. While I enjoy parts of the film, too much of it leaves me cold for me to really embrace it. The DVD displays era-acceptable audio and boasts often excellent picture along with a strong collection of supplements. Though I lack enthusiasm for the movie itself, I heartily recommend this terrific release for fans.