Written by: Michael Den Boer on April 12th, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: UK, 1951
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Writers: Dennis Arundell, Jules Barbier, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tchérina, Ann Ayars, Pamela Brown, Léonide Massine, Robert Helpmann, Frederick Ashton, Mogens Wieth, Robert Rounseville
BluRay released: March 23rd, 2015
Approximate running time: 133 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: U (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Studiocanal
Region Coding: Region B
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
The Tales of Hoffmann was the fourteenth of nineteen The Archers (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) collaborations. And though The Tales of Hoffmann is widely considered the apex of their collaboration, other notable films include, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. Beyond their partnership Emeric Pressburger would write the screenplay for Operation Crossbow and Michael Powell would direct the notorious Peeping Tom.
To say that The Tales of Hoffman was a visuals experience would be a grand understatement as everything about this adaption starts with the way in which they use visuals. And to help with their inventive free moving visuals the entire was shot without sound. With the soundtrack that appears in the film was recorded by Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Another one of this film’s great strengths is the durability of its visual techniques which for their time were jaw dropping.
Structurally this film is broken down into five sections, Prologue, The Tale of Olympia, The Tale of Giulietta, The Tale of Antonia and Epilogue. And out of these sections the most enthralling is The Tale of Giulietta. And though the film is filled with visually alluring moments, it is this sequences that has some of the most striking moments. Most notably a moment where the heroine form this scene walks sculptures of the deceased. Coming in a close second is the section titled The Tale of Olympia, which features the star of The Red Shoes Moira Shearer in the role of a living doll named Olympia. She also appears in the film’s prologue and epilogue in the role of Ballet dancer named Stella. The last of the three main sections titled The Tale of Antonia is often regarded as the weakest of the three. With that being said, despite its short comings it is still a very entertaining section that perhaps gets overshadow by the other two main sections.
Adaptions can be tricky and pulling off a successful adaptions is easier said than done. And though The Tales of Hoffman was made for a visual media the opera, it is a drastically different experience then cinema. What may work within the confines of an opera, more often than not it will not have the same impact cinematically without alterations. With that being said, Powell & Pressburger somehow pull off the unthinkable with their adaption for The Tales of Hoffman by transforming an opera that was meant for the stage into a cinematic experience unlike any that has come before or sense.
The Tales of Hoffmann comes on a 50 GB dual layer (42.7 GB) BluRay. This release has been flagged for progressive playback and the film is presented in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio. And here is some information about this releases transfer, “The Tales of Hoffmann has been beautifully restored in 4k by The Film Foundation, supervised by Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker and Ned Price. Newly discovered sequences from Act Three and the Epilogue, which were missing from previously released versions of the film, were found in the nitrate material held at the BFI and put back into the film as directors Powell & Pressburger originally intended.” Quality wise this new transfer is without doubt the best this film has ever looked on home video.
This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono mix in English and removable English subtitles. Everything sounds clear and balanced throughout. Range wise things sound very good considering this film’s mono limitations. It should be noted that there are some very mild instances of background hiss.
Extras for this release include a stills gallery, a trailer for the film (1 minute 46 seconds – 1.33:1 aspect ratio 1080 Progressive), an introduction to the film with filmmaker Martin Scorsese (3 minutes 21 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen) and an interview with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (18 minutes 56 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen).
Topics discussed in the interview with Martin Scorsese include, how this was the first Powell and Pressburger film that he saw, how this film has influenced him as a filmmaker and he briefly touches upon the restoration that was undertaken for this release.
Topics discussed in the interview with Thelma Schoonmaker, who discusses the film’s that they made with the Rank Organization and how The Red Shoes lead to them working with other producers, how the difficulties that arose on films like Gone to Earth greatly contributed to them making The Tales of Hoffman. The bulk of this extra is spent discussing The Tales of Hoffman, the look of the film and film techniques employed throughout the film, the score and the restoration that was undertaken for this release.
Overall The Tales of Hoffman gets an exceptional release from Studiocanal, highly recommended.
Note: This film is also being released by Studiocanal on DVD.