The Tin Drum
When Oskar Matzerath (the extraordinary David Bennent, just twelve at the time) receives a tin drum for his third birthday, he vows to stop growing there and then - and woe betide anyone who tries to take his beloved drum away from him, as he has a banshee shriek that can shatter glass. As a result, he retains a permanent child's-eye perspective on the rise of Nazism as experienced through petit-bourgeois life in his native Danzig, the 'free city' claimed by both Germany and Poland whose invasion in 1939 helped kick-start World War II. With the help of Luis Buñuel's favourite screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, director Volker Schlöndorff turns Günter Grass's magical-realist masterpiece into a carnivalesque frenzy of bizarre, grotesque yet unnervingly compelling images as Oskar turns his increasingly jaded eye and caustic tongue on the insane follies of the adult world that he refuses to join.
Arrow Films presents two versions of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum: the theatrical cut and his new director’s cut. Both are presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz. The disc is region B locked.
Throwing it in after giving my Criterion DVD a quick revisit was a wonderful surprise, if only at first. The image is really so much crisper and sharper with better colour rendering in comparison to the Criterion DVD, the red in the opening title sequence being especially impressive. Schlöndorff had originally intended the film to be a little longer but was apparently asked to cut it down to under 150-minutes so there could be more screenings at theaters. He regained access to the original negatives a few years ago and decided to put the film back together as close as possible to what he had originally intended. I feared that the elements for the inserted material would be rough but they fit in there seamlessly and it’s hard to tell what’s been newly added in comparison to the original material. The condition of the print is spectacular, near-perfect, though this isn’t too big an improvement over the Criterion which also looked good in this department.
Where the disc disappoints is in the area of artifacts and it’s unfortunately laced with noticeable compression noise. Arrow hasn’t gone a full-on seamless-branching route and more or less has two versions of the film, both lengthy at 142-minutes and 162-minutes, on one disc. The first 34-minutes or so are actually shared across both versions (the come from the same file on the disc,) but then after this, where the film versions begin to differ, the last 2+ hours of each version gets their own files. This of course means you have well over 4 hours’ worth of content eating up space on the disc. Though the films differ I still think it would have been possible to break up the film more so that it could receive more room on the disc and allow for a better bitrate. As it is now, even though it still looks fairly good, the film’s grain structure looks a bit noisy and unnatural.
This issue is still not a deal breaker by any means but it’s disappointing since the rest of the transfer really looks quite good.
(The screen grabs below technically come from the director’s cut but the theatrical cut’s transfer does look fairly identical. The first four screengrabs are exactly the same across both versions.)
The disc only contains a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track and does not hold the original mono soundtrack (the Criterion DVD contained a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track but also had the original mono as an option.) I usually like the option of having the original track but this 5.1 track has always been a fairly solid remix so I’m not going to complain all that much.
Sound quality is impressive, sharp and clear, with music and various sound effects (like shattering items from little Oskar’s screams) filling out the surrounds. Dialogue remains in the fronts but it’s clear and sharp, and there’s no distortion or noise of any kind. What most impressed me was the audio for the new material. I didn’t know this until I viewed the features but apparently the audio was missing for the newly added footage and it had to be redubbed. While viewing the director’s cut originally I couldn’t tell that this occurred and it has been worked in rather seamlessly.
In the end, despite not getting the original mono track, it’s an excellent presentation.
Arrow includes only a few items for supplements, not coming anywhere near matching Criterion’s impressive 2-disc DVD edition. But the biggest inclusion on here of course is, as mentioned, that we get both the theatrical cut and new director’s cut of the film, the latter of which is about 20-minutes longer. Though there’s some elements that may seem a bit repetitive I think the additions work, adding more information about Oskar’s family and giving some of the minor characters more attention, and there’s also a few completely new sequences. I think it adds some depth to certain areas of the film but I don’t think any of the new content drastically changes the film that much so if you’re fond of the original version I’m sure most will still enjoy this version (and Arrow at least includes both versions just in case.)
Also here is an audio commentary by Volker Schlöndorff, which only plays with the theatrical cut of the film. The reason for this is that it’s the same commentary that has appeared on other past DVD releases of the theatrical version, including Criterion’s, which is all well and good because it’s a solid commentary track. Schlöndorff of course talks (in English) about the many elements that went into the making of the film, particularly the casting of David Bennent (and I still can’t believe the kid was 12 when the film was made) and then the technical aspects of the shoot. He also gets into the themes within the film, the presentation of the Nazi party in it, offers some context, and then even gets into his own history as a filmmaker. What’s surprising is he keeps the track going, never letting up, and also manages to keep it entertaining and informative. I would of course have been interested in maybe a scholarly slant all these years later but it’s at least enjoyable.
New for this edition is an interview with Volker Schlöndorff, running 24-minutes. In it he first talks about why he made this new cut and how it came about after getting his hands on the original negatives again. He also goes over the redubbing that had to be done over the new sequences since the original audio was lost (and we even get footage of Bennent dubbing over one of the sequences!) From here he talks a bit more about Bennent and how lucky he was to have found him originally when he was casting for the film, talks about how time can change one’s perspective on a story or film, and then even addresses one of the more infamous scenes in the movie, which brought accusations of child pornography. Schlöndorff seems especially thrilled to be talking about the film again, which ends up making it a charming interview.
This dual-format edition also comes with a DVD (region 2, PAL) that features only the theatrical version of the film that can be played with the same optional commentary by Schlöndorff that the Blu-ray contains. The disc also contains two interviews with Schlöndorff from 2001. The first is an 8-minute piece with the director talking about developing the script and working with Jean-Claude Carriere, as well as how he discovered David Bennent. The second one, running 15-minutes, is more of the same, with the director talking about the script a bit more, and certain sequences from the film, including, again, its most controversial scene. Though they’re fine they can actually be skipped since all of this material is repeated elsewhere. It seems that they’re here as a replacement of sorts over the newer interview on the Blu-ray which refers almost specifically to the director’s cut that is only on the Blu-ray disc. The director speaks French in both features, which also include English subtitles.
The DVD then ends with the film’s theatrical trailer.
And that closes it off. Though the Criterion DVD certainly contains much more, such as a documentary over the controversy of the film that led it to be banned in certain States, Arrow has put together a solid set of supplements that I enjoyed going through.
I was a little let down by the transfer because it looks a little noisy but it’s still a nice upgrade over the Criterion DVD, the only other version of the film I own. Arrow has also put together a nice set of supplements, even if they still don’t delve as deep as the Criterion DVD’s. Though I feel Criterion will more than likely release their own Blu-ray sometime in the future, leaving it open to the fact we could get a slightly better transfer, I still give the disc a recommendation for those that can’t wait and want to own the film (and its new director’s cut) now on Blu-ray.