To Kill A Mockingbird appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That meant a change from the original DVD. The new transfer showed improvements, but I can’t say it blew away the old transfer.
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, as 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 but jagged edges were absent and only a little light edge enhancement occurred. Black levels appeared quite good, as 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 moderately messy. Mostly I saw specks and grit, though a blotch or two also appeared.
I gave the original transfer a “C+” and awarded a “B” to this one. The new image was a bit sharper and also showed fewer source flaws. It also displayed less edge enhancement than the prior edition. Again, this wasn’t a stellar transfer, but it offered improved visuals.
The previous disc solely offered the movie’s monaural soundtrack. That audio also appeared here but it came with two new tracks. The 2005 To Kill a Mockingbird DVD tossed in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 remixes. One multi-channel track for a quiet drama from 1962 seemed odd, so two came across as overkill. In any case, both sounded identical to me.
Frankly, I continue to prefer the original mono, but I found little about which to gripe when I listened to the 5.1 tracks. They maintained subdued soundfields. Music boasted gentle stereo spread across the front, though the instrumentation wasn’t particularly well-defined. I got a vague impression that strings favored the left side of the spectrum, but otherwise the mix didn’t delineate the elements with particular clarity.
Effects mostly stayed with general neighborhood ambience such as the chirping of birds. A few scenes featured elements like cars as the moved from one side to the other, and the occasional piece popped up in one spot. For instance, when Atticus shot the rabid dog, the rifle fire came from the front left. Overall, though, the mix lacked a lot of activity. Surrounds echoed the music and effects in a minor way but failed to play an active role.
Audio quality was fine and resembled the sound heard on the original mono track. 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 sometimes appeared a bit thin and dull. However, Elmer Bernstein’s music also could present more dynamic tones at times; 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.
As I noted earlier, I didn’t prefer the 5.1 tracks to the mono version. While I didn’t encounter any real problems with the multi-channel mixes, they simply seemed unnecessary. Occasionally a 5.1 remix of a mono film adds spark, such as with the DTS Jaws track. Mockingbird didn’t need that extra pizzazz and didn’t benefit from it. I’m not sure why anyone bothered to remix such a quiet film.
The new DVD offered almost all of the original’s supplements and added a few new ones. I’ll note the materials that repeat from the prior release with an asterisk; if you fail to see a star, then that component is new to this set.
On DVD One, the main attraction comes from a running *audio commentary from director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan J. 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 that appears on DVD Two.
An 88-second Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech comes next. We see Sophia Loren announced Gregory Peck’s victory and hear his simple 40-second set of thanks. Wow – a big-name star who gets on and off in 40 seconds? I think Cuba Gooding leapt about for longer than that before he even bothered to speak!
More honors come down on Peck in the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. This 10-minute and two-second clip shows Peck as he chats about his long career. He gives this a very personal and charming touch as he provides a tribute to others and many entertaining stories. It’s a great little clip.
The plaudits keep on keeping on during the 10-minute and eight-second Excerpt from Academy Award Tribute to Gregory Peck. This consists entirely of a speech made by his daughter Cecilia. She tells a few nice stories about her dad, but this isn’t nearly as interesting as Peck’s own comments in the AFI piece.
DVD One nears its close with a 1999 featurette called Scout Remembers. As one might expect, the 12-minute piece presents a chat with actor Mary Badham. She talks about her casting, working with Peck, and her reflections on the flick. Badham simply tosses out happy happy joy joy remarks here with little of interest. I don’t doubt she did have a great experience, but her comments don’t add up to anything very compelling.
DVD One concludes with an interesting *theatrical trailer for Mockingbird - complete with then-current introduction from Peck – and text *Production Notes. The latter give us a good overview of the flick.
When we head to DVD Two’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.
After this we get A Conversation with Gregory Peck. And it’s a long chat too, as the program runs 97 minutes and 26 seconds. It partially presents live stage appearances during which he discussed his life and career. During the Q&A, Peck addresses what film of his he likes best, his feelings toward Audrey Hepburn and work with her, his family and religious upbringing, his experiences related to various flicks like Duel in the Sun, Mockingbird, The Boys from Brazil, Moby Dick and Cape Fear, how he met his wife Veronique, early acting parts and his approaches to roles, winning the Oscar, the impact of Gentleman’s Agreement and his political views, his family, and general memories.
“Conversation” mixes the live appearances with footage of Peck with his family and friends as well as some other interviews. This combines to give us a good look at his life, though I think I’d prefer more of a focus on the live pieces. The presentation makes these bits a little disjointed and occasionally redundant, so it’d have been nice to get a true evening with Peck. The program works pretty well anyway, and it shows us once more what a charming class act Peck was.
Finally, the set includes 11 reproductions of theatrical posters. These aren’t on either disc; they’re cards inserted in the package. We get a twelfth card with a note from author Harper Lee along with the 11 poster reproductions. (Actually, my set came with 13 cards – I got two copies of one poster.) These all come from different countries and offer a cool glimpse of various movie art.
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 at times. The DVD offers somewhat above average picture along with relatively strong audio and extras, though, so it presents the film well.
This 2005 release is definitely the way to go for fans who don’t own the prior DVD. Should those who already have the old own snag it? Probably, especially if they can take advantage of the anamorphic transfer. It improves on the old image, and the difference will be more evident to those with widescreen TVs. The new extras are also pretty good, though they’re likely not worth the “upgrade” on their own. This is a quality release in any case.