To commemorate its 100th Anniversary, Universal Pictures will roll out special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo’s of some of their most popular and celebrated films throughout 2012. If the To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition release is an indication of the quality of product Universal intends to give to the public, then movie fans should rejoice. This Blu-ray is one of the most complete packages I’ve ever seen as far as a single disc set.
To start with, the 1962 film has been digitally remastered and fully restored from a high resolution 35 mm print. This process is state of the art, in which each frame is scanned into a computer and then a technician (really a restoration artist) goes into a computer and removes dust, scratches and actually repairs damaged frames. Every image of Russell Harlan’s stunning black and white cinematography is vivid and crisp on the Blu-ray. However, just the photography alone would not make this an essential film. Of course, it is the performances, in particular the legendary Gregory Peck; Horton Foote’s screenplay, which pared down Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel; and the wonderful score by Elmer Bernstein. All of these contribute to make this one of the best American films and a treasure in Universal’s vast library of movies.
The film continues to hold up as a document of a time in our nation’s history when a black man seen associating with a white woman could be accused of something heinous (in this case, rape) and be tried and convicted on flimsy evidence. Seen through the eyes of the child, Scout (Mary Badham), we watch the story unfold and witness the heroic and honest behavior of her father, Atticus Finch (Peck). Atticus has been tasked with defending Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), the black man accused of rape. In addition to this tragic event playing out, Scout and her older brother, Jem (Phillip Alford) befriend a peculiar young boy, Dill Harris (John Megna) and these three have several adventures. The one mystery that intrigues them throughout their time together is the identity of Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his screen debut).
Okay, most of us have seen this film or read the book in school, so the plot is pretty well known. Which leads us back to the Blu-ray. Besides the exquisite care given to restoring the film, there are a tremendous amount of bonus features included in the package. In addition to commentary by director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula -recorded in the 90’s, before Pakula died (Mulligan died in 2008) – there are two feature length documentaries on the disc. The first deals with the making of the film and features interviews with the cast and crew. The second is an intimate look into the life of Peck. The film, made when the actor was in the twilight of his career, is fascinating and inspiring. Additionally, there are features that show Peck’s Academy Award winning speech from 1963 (when he won Best Actor for To Kill a Mockingbird), excerpts from his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony and an interview with actress Badham recollecting her time working on the film.
Also included are a DVD copy and a digital copy of the film. But once you’ve seen the Blu-ray, I question whether you’ll even place the DVD in your player. Whether or not you’ve seen this film, collectors and aficionados alike will love this new Blu-ray.