Based upon all the projects he has worked on as a director and a producer for over 40 years, Steven Spielberg might be the most successful filmmaker the medium has ever seen. He has been credited with creating the first summer blockbuster with Jaws (1975), which was the first of three films, along with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Jurassic Park (1993), that went onto to earn him the highest-grossing film of all time. After a string of box-office hits with science fiction and adventure films, he turned his focus to more serious, dramatic fare, starting with The Color Purple (1985) and then had his greatest critical success with the Holocaust-themed Schindler’s List (1993), winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, along with other awards. Based on Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, the film debuts on Blu-ray in a 20th Anniversary Limited Edition.
After a brief prologue shot in color set during modern times as a Jewish ceremony takes place, the film switches to black and white and cuts to German-occupied Poland. Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is a businessman with little scruples. He takes advantage of the Jews being sent to live in the Krakow Ghetto by buying their property, including an enamelware factory. He bribes Nazis officers, rejects his wife’s request to stay faithful, and hires Jewish workers only because they get paid a cheaper rate.
Schindler hires Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to run his business and because of his contacts with Jewish businessmen in order to obtain investments. Stern uses his position at the factory to protect people he knows by classifying them as essential workers, even those who know nothing about factory work, to keep them from being sent away on trucks.
Lieutenant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) becomes the new local commander and quickly reveals himself a psychopath through the ease in which he randomly harms and kills Jewish people. He oversees the building of the Plaszow concentration camp and has the ghetto liquidated in a brutally haunting sequence that deeply affects Schindler, who oversees the massacre from a distance.
As the war progresses, Schindler strives to protect the people working for him while keeping up his appearance as a Nazi businessman. He requests a camp built to house his workers under the guise of not wanting any thing to affect the factory’s production. Goeth is blinded by the bribes to think of an ulterior motive. When orders to send all the Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz as part of the Nazis Final Solution are announced, Schindler wants his workers sent to a factory in Czechoslovakia. He and Stern create a list of people to take with him, but even if they can convince Goeth, that’s no guarantee he can protect them all from the Nazis.
Schindler’s List tells a powerful story about what can happen when just one man stands up for what is right, and nowhere is that more evident than during the epilogue, when the real Schindler Jews, together with the actors that portrayed them, honor the man at his grave. It’s a stark reminder to the audience that though they’ve just seen a film, what took place was based on reality. The sequence might be the best directorial decision Spielberg has ever made, which helps makes up for some of this film’s flaws. There’s no exploration of the Nazi characters, making them come off like caricatures, which lessens how evil they were. The scene of Schindler’s emotional speech at the end is too melodramatic. And while it’s an iconic image, the choice to show the color of the young girl’s red coat during the black and white sequence was a distraction and took me out of the moment. Those points aside, the film still achieves greatness.
The 20th Anniversary Limited Edition comes with the film on Blu-ray and across two DVDs. The Blu-ray video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The black and white images look stunning. The black are very rich and inky and there are a variety of grays. Shadow delineation is impressive. The depth of field during wide exterior shots is vast and fine details can be seen close up. The texture of the paper can be seeing while Stern uses a typewriter. People faces reveal wrinkles. Tiny details can be seen in the metal work on medals and pins as well as flakes of ash as they float through the air. The only negative about the video is bright light coming through windows can blow out part of the image.
The audio has been given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. John Williams’ Oscar-winning score can be heard throughout the surrounds and the warm tones of the music, especially the violin, envelope the listener. Traffic can be heard moving through channels. Dialogue is clear and understandable. The LFE augments the gunfire and in combination with the high-pitched screams of the women, the track reveals a wide dynamic range.
Collected on the second DVD are only a few special features. Spielberg introduces Voices From the List (SD, 77 min), which presents interviews with Holocaust survivors, including those who were saved by Schindler, and their descendants about their experiences. “USC Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg” (SD, 5 min) finds the director explaining why he started the foundation and others discussing its purpose. “About Iwitness” (SD, 4 min) explains how teachers and students can access the program, which offers video interviews of Holocaust survivors.
Though the extras are limited, the quality of the film and the Blu-ray make Schindler’s List: 25th Anniversary Limited Edition make it well worth owning.
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