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I would have to rank Spencer Tracy's performance in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA ($20) amongst the finest in his long and distinguished film career. Tracy spends much of the film's running time on screen by himself speaking only to himself, the ocean and the fish that his character ensnares. The beauty of Tracy's performance lies in its humble simplicity, which never calls attention to itself, making his character very human and very real. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA is based upon Ernest Hemingway's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, which tells the story of an elderly Cuban fisherman named Santiago (Tracy), who hasn't caught a fish in quite some time. Despite his run of bad luck, Santiago takes his small fishing boat out further than usual, where he snares a huge marlin. Determined to bring his catch home, Santiago begins an epic battle against the fish, hunger, old age, exhaustion and finally the marauding sharks that want to claim his prize for their own. Not only is Tracy’s work outstanding, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA must also be recognized for John Sturges’ direction which keeps the limited setting from stagnating the film. Additionally, James Wong Howe and Floyd Crosby’s cinematography gives the film a warm, romanticized look, plus Dimitri Tiomkin’s moving score enhances the emotional impact of the story. If THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA has a weakness, it is the optical effects, which look horribly artificial, even for a 1958 production.

While Warner home Video has made THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA available on DVD in both wide screen and full screen presentations, this review will apply to wide screen version. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA has been framed at 1.78:1 and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. Although more than forty years old, the film element used to transfer THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA is still in pretty good shape. Of course, there are tiny blemishes and other minor imperfections running through the element, but they are never too disturbing. Film grain is also noticeable from time to time during the presentation, but it is never offensive. The image is relatively sharp and has a relatively good level of detail, which sometimes accentuates the limitations in the film's optical effects. Additionally, some of the opticals are soft looking. Color reproduction is very good for a movie originally produced in WarnerColor, which had its share of problems even back in the 1950s. Flesh tones are generally appealing and the colors appear fairly vibrant. Again, opticals sometimes effected how the colors were printed onto the original film elements, which causes some instability in the transfer. Other than in the shots with optical effects, there are no serious problems with chromatic distortion or smearing. Blacks are deep and inky, plus the picture provides a decent amount of shadow detail during the darker sequences. Digital compression artifacts never mar the image.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack has the frequency limitations one normally associates with a film of this vintage, but never sounds distorted. Dialogue is always intelligible and the track is worth amplifying for Dimitri Tiomkin's beautiful music. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which give one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Hemingway: The Legend And The Sea is a short documentary that depicts the author during the production of the film and shows his own personal love of the ocean and fishing. A theatrical trailer, production notes and cast/crew listing fill out the disc's extras.

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA is a wonderful classic film that every Spencer Tracy fan is going to want to own. The DVD release is solid and is the best that the film has ever looked in the home venue.


The Old Man and the Sea



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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