Criterion has put together a 4-disc box set representing the collaborative work of playwright NoŽl Coward and director David Lean, calling it David Lean Directs NoŽl Coward. The fourth and final film in the set, Brief Encounter, is presented here on a dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.
In association with ITV Studios Global Entertainment and StudioCanal the BFI conducted a vigorous restoration of Leanís first ten films, with funding from the David Lean Foundation. These restorations were used for all of the transfers in this set and were supplied to Criterion by ITV. All of them look exceptional.
This title is actually a reissue and the only one in the set, previously released on DVD by Criterion in 2000 and Laserdisc in 1995. The DVD presented a nice enough image but there is no doubt this Blu-ray offers a substantial improvement. Detail and clarity is vastly improved upon, whether it be found in close-ups or long shots, and contrast looks far better with better defined gray levels and nice, deep blacks that create excellent shadows within the film. Film grain rendered far better as well, looking much more natural here, and the transfer doesnít present any noticeable artifacts.
The print is also in much better shapeóthanks to the new restorationóand damage is basically limited to fine scratches that are noticeable on occasion. There can also be a slight pulsating effect at times but itís not overly distracting and none of this creates any issues, in turn delivering yet another stunning, film-like transfer, one of the best black and white ones Iíve seen. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Each disc in the set contains its own set of supplements, with a few focusing specifically on the film contained on the disc. This review only concentrates on the supplements included on the disc for Brief Encounter.
Surprisingly Criterion didnít create any new audio commentaries for any of the films on this set, but Brief Encounter was originally released on Laserdisc with an audio commentary by Bruce Eder, which in turn was ported over to the DVD and now the Blu-ray. I realize Ederís commentaries arenít loved by all but Iíve always found them entertaining and informative tracks. He has a format that he sticks to on all of his tracks and itís no different here. Eder likes to talk about shots and the look of the film, along with the narrative structure when appropriate (as it is here with the filmís flashback setup) but he seems to enjoy talking more about a filmís production history and the careers of its cast and crew. He covers the film and its development, the working relationship between Lean and Coward, background information on its actors, the play on which the film is based, the filmís score, and so much more. It does sound as though he has prepared notes but his track never comes off bland or dry and he adds a great amount of energy which keeps the track from becoming a chore. If you like Ederís tracks itís worth a listen but if youíre not thereís nothing here that will change your mind.
Each disc in the set then includes an interview with Coward scholar Barry Day. This one runs 16-minutes and is probably where Day is at his most glowing. This film, as he states, marks where both Coward and Lean finally got used to film: Coward finally understood film structure and Lean understood he could convey so much with angles and framing. He talks about the play on which its based, Still Life, and points out some of the inside jokes found within the film, like the film-within-the-film title Flames of Passion, and goes over the casting of Johnson and Howard. As I stated with his other interviews found across the set Day is dry but manages to still keep his pieces engaging, offering a wealth of information and his own informative analysis.
A Profile of ďBrief EncounterĒ is a 25-minute piece created in 2000 by Carlton Media, I assume for their own DVD edition. It presents interviews with various scholars and members of the cast and crew. Itís a pretty by-the-book making-of, starting with the early development process of the film, the adaptation, the casting, and then its release. Celia Johnsonís daughter, Lucy Fleming, appears to read writings by her mother recalling the making of the film. Itís a generic documentary and doesnít offer any surprises really but itís worth viewing for those interested in the filmís production.
The last big supplement is then David Lean: A Self Portrait, a 58-minute program made in 1971 featuring the director recalling his work. Only the first quarter of the piece covers the films in this set and even then itís limited only to In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter, packed in with other films like his Dickens adaptations and Summertime. A good chunk of the piece instead concentrates on his bigger epics, most notably Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago. After talking about his early beginnings and the big breaks he got he then talks about his film career, the things he learned, how he directs a script, works with actors, and then goes into detail about location shooting and the costumes that appear in his films. He continues on about how he makes his films through the eyes of a ďcutterĒ, already planning the edits in his head while shooting, all the while expressing his absolute love for the process of editing. Though again it has little to do with the specific films on this set itís a wonderful reflection by the director and one of the best features on this set.
The supplements then conclude with the filmís theatrical trailer. The restoration demonstration found on the DVD hasnít been carried over, but considering this disc has a completely different (and far more impressive) transfer it shouldnít be a surprise it wasnít carried over. The set also comes with a booklet with a number of essays, including one by Kevin Brownlow on Brief Encounter. The essay written by Adrian Turner for the Criterion DVD has not been included.
Of the set itís the most loaded release in terms of supplements, the only one to offer an audio commentary. And though maybe the making-of is a little too by-the-numbers the supplements are all strong on their own. 8/10