To Kill A Mockingbird appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A rehash of an old laserdisc transfer, the visuals were perfectly acceptable but rarely rose above that status.
Sharpness usually seemed reasonably crisp and well defined; only occasionally did some softness and haziness enter the picture. For the most part, this happened during the courtroom scenes; those tended to look worse than the rest of the movie. I think that's because the majority of the remainder of the film was shot outdoors, and usually in daylight; those kinds of scenes frequently look best, whereas interiors often are more troublesome. A little softness also marred a few exteriors, but those usually appeared pretty well-defined.
I saw a few examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and moderate edge enhancement cropped up throughout the film. Though they never became heavy, the haloes were obvious too much of the time. Black levels generally appeared quite good. Though a little muddiness popped up at times, they usually looked deep and dark in an image that offered some positive contrast. Occasional outdoors shots seemed a bit too bright, though. Shadow detail also looked fine, with mostly appropriate levels of opacity.
Prints flaws manifested themselves throughout the flick, though to varying degrees. Many scenes escaped without any noticeable concerns, while others were significantly messier. I noticed examples of specks, streaks, grit, nicks and thin lines. Given the film’s vintage, these usually stayed within acceptable levels, but they could become problematic. All told, this was a watchable transfer but one without enough strengths to elevate it above “C+” levels.
I preferred the film's more-than-adequate monaural soundtrack. While I did have more trouble than usual comprehending dialogue during To Kill A Mockingbird, that resulted from the accents and delivery of the actors, not from the quality of the audio. Speech really sounded quite natural and warm for the most part. A smidgen of sibilance appeared on occasion, but not enough to cause real concerns. Effects also seemed nicely rounded and relatively deep.
Only the score sometimes came as a slight disappointment, as it appeared a bit thin and dull at times. However, Elmer Bernstein’s music also could present more dynamic tones; I thought it varied a little too much, but I found it to satisfy through most of the flick. For a more than 40-year-old movie, this film's audio mix seemed pretty good.
When we head to the set’s supplements, we open with a 90-minute and seven-second documentary called Fearful Symmetry: The Making of To Kill A Mockingbird. This piece features interviews conducted in 1997 with director Robert Mulligan, producer
Alan Pakula, screenwriter Horton Foote, composer Elmer Bernstein, Threatening Boundaries author Claudia Durst Johnson and actors Gregory Peck, Phillip Alford, Mary Badham, Collin Wilcox Paxton, Brock Peters and Robert Duvall. They cover the basics of making the flick such as the adaptation of the novel, why various primary participants were interested in the project, casting, locations and sets, the score, shooting the film and development of characters.
In addition, the program spreads its focus more broadly than that and also examines both the 1960s civil rights-oriented society in which the picture was made and the Southern culture of the 1930s time period of the film. We hear from a variety of folks who lived through each of those experiences, and their stories add a lot to the impact of the program. This roster includes Alabama attorney Cleophus Thomas Jr., and Monroeville residents AB Blass, Norman Barnett, and Ada Gaillard. They provide a feel for the South in this time period and reflect on that era. The two sides of the program combine neatly and add up to an excellent documentary.
Less scintillating is the running audio commentary from Mulligan and Pakula. It's a pretty flat affair that seems spotty with not a lot of substance. Their remarks usually fall firmly in the "he's great, she's great, they're great" camp with little insight into the production or analysis of the film. Early on, we hear some good discussion of working with the kids, and they also touch on the less-than-pleasant personality of one of the actors, but that's about it. The rest of the comments tend toward blunt praise. It also didn't help that a lot of dead air mars the proceedings. This commentary isn't without merit, but it's a very lackluster experience; you’ll learn much more from the documentary.
The remainder of the supplements tends toward the ordinary. Pretty good biographies appear for 11 of the actors plus the director, the producer, the composer and the screenwriter. We get an interesting theatrical trailer for Mockingbird - complete with then-current introduction from Peck - plus two sections of production notes. One set of text appears on the DVD itself, while the other can be found in the package's booklet. On their own, each set of notes is very good, but combined they offer quite a lot of information packed into a short space.
My feelings about To Kill A Mockingbird remain fairly mixed. It has some strong points but lacks much focus and seems like a fairly pedestrian effort. The DVD offers average picture along with relatively strong audio and extras, though, so it presents the film well. While I'm not a big fan of the story, I think Mockingbird is at least worthy of a rental; if you already know you're enamored of the picture, you should be happy with the DVD.
To rate this film, visit the Legacy Series review of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD