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Review - The Sound of Music 40th Anniversary Edition (DVD-2005)
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The Sound of Music- 40th Anniversary (DVD-2005)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

The Sound of Music had already enjoyed considerable popularity as a Rogers and Hammerstein musical stage play when director Robert Wise adapted it into a major motion picture. But no one could have predicted the worldwide phenomenon—the spectacular success the film would achieve when it was released in 1965. In this respect, The Sound of Music is not unlike James Cameron’s Titanic which would take the world by storm 32 years hence.

The Sound of Music was a blockbuster event, displacing even Gone with the Wind as the all time box office champ. Many reasons were given for its success: a world looking for hope following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a film the entire family could enjoy, an infectious musical score, etc.. Another explanation is that Sound of Music is just one heck of a show. And though the film was criticized by some as being overly sweet, director Wise had taken pains to tone down the play’s saccharine elements. Like Gone with the Wind, Sound of Music benefited from repeat viewers as fans saw it again and again, just as later audiences would propel films like Star Wars, The Godfather, E.T., Titanic and others to blockbuster status due to repeat viewing box-office admissions.

For whatever the reasons, Sound of Musics popularity has hardly abated in the four decades since it premiered. It is one of those perennial television favorites like The Wizard of Oz which consistently draws high television ratings. It has even achieved new life, of a cult sort, through the more recent Sing-a-long Sound of Music screenings.

The film is based on the true life story of Maria von Trapp and the Von Trapp Family Singers. Julie Andrews catapaulted to international fame with her portrayal of Maria in the film. Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of her husband, the Baron von Trapp is etched more darkly than in the stage musical. Many have asserted that Andrews was largely playing herself and this perhaps lends a naturalness and real life quality to her ebullient performance. Shakespearean actor Plummer’s edgy Captain von Trapp adds a weightiness which also helps the drama. The casting is further aided by the star turns of Eleanor Parker as the Baroness, Richard Haydn as an impresario, Peggy Wood as the Mother Superior and Ben Wright as a Nazi leader.

I mention all this because Sound of Music is sometimes underrated by critics. It is a superbly crafted film helmed by Robert Wise, then at the peak of his powers, as he had only recently come off direction of West Side Story and The Haunting. Sound of Music has first rate cinematography with stunning footage of the Alps and incredible vistas in Salzburg, Austria. The editing is bravura, the musical numbers are cinematic and inventive, the score is expertly conducted by Irwin Kostel, the sound design is exquisite and Miss Andrews’ voice is at the top of her form. The lip-synching for the songs is simply the best of any musical and only adds to the realism. The story is dramatic and inspirational, and if it is at times, a bit of a sweet confection, it also happens to have actually happened in real life.

Extras in this set include an introduction to the film by Julie Andrews, who looks pretty good indeed some forty years later. There is a fine film commentary by Robert Wise from the earlier DVD and laserdisc, and a new audio commentary track by Andrews and Plummer as well as a separate segment including their reminiscences which provide interesting revelations about working with the children in the film. We are lucky to have these two go on the record – Andrews is an icon and Plummer has attained the stature of one of our most distinguished actors. There is also a new documentary on the making of the film, a re-union of all grown up children actors in the film, and an excellent A & E biography of the real Von Trapp family whose story is more dramatic in real life than even the story in the film.

Information on the restoration of The Sound of Music ‘s 70mm film elements as well as digital restoration for this DVD is included as well. And, actress Charmian Carr, who played Liesel in the film, hosts a splendid modern day tour of all the sites in Austria used for the film. There is also a sing-a-long feature for those who want to recreate that version in the home. The various extras are heartwarming and nostalgic and will further endear longtime fans of the film to its makers and cast and crew. New viewers may discover the power and charm of this film, presented here in it proper Todd-AO aspect ratio with improved picture and sound quality.

Sound of Music was originally billed as ‘The Happiest Sound in All the World’. With 20th Century Fox’s new DVD special edition of the film, some 40 years later, it clearly still is.

2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams

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