GIANT ($27) is a film classic as big as the state of Texas. Directed by George Stevens and based upon the novel by Edna Ferber, GIANT is pure cinematic magic that tells the multi-generational story of a wealthy Texas family across the first half of the twentieth century. Rock Hudson stars as cattleman Bick Benedict, who weds easterner Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) after a whirlwind courtship, and returns home with her to his familyís ranch which sits on more than a half million acres of Texas wilderness. Although very much in love, the relationship proves difficult, as Bick has to adjust to being married to a headstrong easterner, while Leslie learns to deal with the inherent racism and sexism that has been bread into her cattleman husband.
Although Bick tries throughout the course of GIANT to hold onto the only way of life he has ever known, time has a way of changing things. The first change comes when former cattle hand Jett Rink (James Dean), who strikes oil on an adjoining piece of property he has inherited, signaling that the land that Bick prizes so highly can no longer be solely tied to his way of life and the cultivation of cattle. Other changes come in the form of Bick and Leslie children, who want to live their lives as they see fit and reject what their father has tried to build and maintain for them. Finally, in the filmís climatic scene, Bick finally stands up for whatís right, even when it goes against his own nature; realizing that his age old prejudices affect both his children and grandchildren. The cast of GIANT also features Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Judith Evelyn, Earl Holliman and Paul Fix.
Warner Home Video has made GIANT available on DVD in a 1.66:1 wide screen presentation that HAS NOT been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Right up front, I have to say that this presentation does a disservice to every fan of this movie that owns a wide screen monitor. There is no good reason why GIANT could not be presented with a new 16:9 enhanced 1.66:1 transfer, especially when one considers that other major studios are providing them, as well as some of the smaller specialty labels. As it stands, those with 16:9 displays are either forced to watch GIANT in the middle of their screens with black bars around all four sides, or to digitally blow up the image to fit their monitor- I myself went for the latter option, which modified the aspect ratio to 1.78:1, without any noticeable compromises to the filmís compositions.
The existing transfer itself is reasonably good, although blowing it up digitally introduces additional digital artifacts and magnifies the faults in the image. Sharpness and detail are good for an un-enhanced transfer, but could have been better if Warner had taken advantage of the extra resolution offered in 16:9 enhanced mode. There is some softness in the image unrelated to the presentation format, which stems from the quality of the filmís vintage 1956 optical work. Additionally, colors are somewhat problematic due to the films WarnerColor origins. Hues can look nicely vibrant at times with appealing flesh tones, or somewhat off kilter, especially any time an optical fade occurs. Blacks usually appear pretty accurate and whites are clean. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed in the 4:3 mode because the lengthy film has been wisely spread across both sides of a DVD-18, although they do become apparent when the image is blown up digitally for viewing on a 16:9 display.
GIANT comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack that decodes to standard surround. The mix isnít particularly directional, but then again, the talky nature of the drama doesnít lend itself to too much directionality. Where the track excels is in giving Dimitri Tiomkinís wonderful score a wider and more "epic" sense of scope by spreading it across the forward soundstage and mildly wrapping it around into the rear channels. Fidelity is good considering that GIANT was released in 1956, but it isnít outstanding, even for that particular period. Dialogue reproduction is usually very good, with almost everything coming across in a crisp, intelligible manner. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which feature access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials that have been spread across both DVDs of this two-disc set. On disc one, film critic Stephen Farber, screenwriter Ivan Moffat and George Stevens, Jr. (son of the late, great director) are on hand running audio commentary track, which proves to be informative, analytical and rather enjoyable despite its great length. Also on the first disc is George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him. This is a really solid and informative forty-five minute program comprised of interviews with other directors, who share stories and their insights on the director of GIANT.
On disc two, one will find the bulk of supplemental programs and features. Memories of Giant is a fifty-minute program from 1998 that features recent and vintage interview footage with cast, crew and various others that looks back on the making of GIANT and the personalities involved with the production. From 1996 is Memories of Giant, which runs fifty-five minutes and features interviews with a number of the same individuals, but the focus of this program is on the nuts and bolts of the making of the film in Marfa, Texas. The New York Premiere Telecast and the Hollywood Premiere run thirty minutes and five minutes respectively, and provide a time capsule look back at a whoís who of the entertainment industry in the mid-1950s. Giant Stars Are Off to Texas features a bit of newsreel footage of the castís departure celebration before leaving for the filmís location shoot. Stills and Documents offers separate files of photographs and memorandums from the production. Behind-The-Cameras: On Location in Marfa, Texas and Behind-The-Cameras: A Visit With Dimitri Tiomkin are two brief segments from the fifties TV show that focus on GIANT. Four trailers, production notes, a George Stevens filmography, plus a cast & crew listing close out the supplements.
No question about it, GIANT is a great motion picture. As for the DVD, it is something of a mixed bag. The supplemental section is phenomenal, but the presentation is less that what it should have been. There is no problem if one watches GIANT on a 4:3 monitor, but anyone intending to watch it on a big screen 16:9 display will feel short changed because the DVD lacks the critical extra resolution that the DVD format can provide.
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