Region 2 (UK) Edition

Reviewed by Mark Aldridge

Director:  Robert Wise

Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr


I love The Sound of Music. Not in an ironic way, or a sniggering ‘bit of camp fun’ way, but as someone who genuinely considers it to be one of the most engaging films in cinema’s history made by one of the greatest directors in Hollywood’s history, Robert Wise. Unfortunately, I suspect that if you’re reading this review then you already know what to expect from the film. I say unfortunately, because it has been my experience that either people are introduced to the film when young or never discover it at all.

The singing nuns and children would be enough to give the film a reputation alone, but the increasing trend for fully costumed singalongs perhaps perpetuate the feeling of the movie being watched by a certain ‘type’. Or, alternatively, a forty year old musical simply does not appeal to many. This is a shame, and I can only implore those who haven’t seen the movie to give it a chance.

With this in mind I shall not dwell on the movie itself but instead move straight on to this 40th Anniversary release. Both discs in this two-DVD set open with the incredibly annoying FACT copyright theft advert (skippable) followed by two screens informing you of the law (not skippable), to be followed by the 20th Century Fox logo and a different filmed intro by Julie Andrews on each disc (also skippable). This is rather an excessive amount of material to be greeted with. Nevertheless, the menus are endearing (clips of the film projected on to a curtained theatre or cinema stage) and easy to negotiate, which is all one can really hope for.

After the Andrews introduction, the first disc features the film itself. The previous DVD releases of the film (all using the same transfer) were rather controversial due to the ‘edge enhancing’ effect which was rather heavily applied to the release. This made the DVD appear to be very sharp on most smaller displays, but those with either keen eyes or larger sets were quick to notice the unwanted side-effects, including a halo effect around darker images on bright backgrounds. I’m pleased to report that the edge enhancement has clearly not been applied so vigorously on this release. This makes the 2.20:1 anamorphic image appear subjectively softer in direct comparisons, but it is safe to presume that the image is now closer to the original look of the film. There has also been a dramatic reduction in the amount of dirt and sparkle (which were already fairly minimal), although that is not to say that it has been entirely eliminated. In fact, the first half of the film in particular has more single flame blemishes and oddities than one would expect from such an apparently extensive restoration; a comparison with Warner Home Video's recently-restored Gone With The Wind (a film nearly thirty years older, let us not forget) is not favourable in this regard. Nevertheless, the exterior scenes in particular are bright with generally excellent colour rendition (the greens in particular appear very plush) and natural skin tones, marred only by the notable differences in back-projection shots, as is true of most films of this vintage.

A more worrying effect is especially visible in some of the interior scenes, with a fault that is difficult to pinpoint. This is a problem of rapid fluctuations in colour tone in some scenes. Maria’s first scene in the Von Trapp house is an excellent example where the colours seem to pulse if you look closely (pay attention to the walls of the entrance hall, which alter between grey and a light brown) – it’s hard to be sure, but it looks like a side effect of some less-than-perfect MPEG encoding. The blue level varies by a value of six (on a scale of 0-255) between two consecutive frames at one point. It was also present on the previous DVD release, however, so a photochemical problem with the source elements cannot be ruled out. I suspect that this is something which people either find immediately distracting or don’t even notice. Unfortunately, I fall into the former camp and found this quite a concern.

On the whole, however, the picture is very good and is recommended over the previous transfer. The bitrate for the film is 5.29Mb/s, which is a little on the low side but fine considering the movie's length. There is a bit of unused space on the disc, though, so there was room for improvement.

The layer change seems to take place and the 1h15m40s mark (just prior to the puppet show) and caused a very minor audio dropout on my player, which usually handles layer changes fairly seamlessly. There are sixty chapter stops – more than enough.

The audio for the release is encoded as a standard 5.1 track (at 448kbps), but is actually 4.1, or perhaps 4.0 (mono rear speakers). The original cinema release used five speakers across the front and this has been reproduced here. The separation is odd for modern ears (dialogue moves across the soundstage in relation to the positioning in each shot) but it's not distracting. Indeed, many viewers will be happy that this directional mix has not been replaced by one in the current style (which locks all dialogue to the centre of the screen). The bass is surprisingly good.


The main disc includes two commentary tracks. The first is by the director, the late Robert Wise, which was not only on the first DVD release but also on the Laserdisc Special edition – and was in fact recorded twelve years ago! The commentary is interesting, although many of the facts are covered elsewhere (a perennial problem with DVDs). It is also interesting in that it is only a commentary for the dialogue sections, with the songs being presented without vocals in between comments. It is an interesting concept that doesn’t quite work (separate options would have been far preferable, and avoided the occasional overlap where Wise talks over the music) but presumably this is down to the Laserdisc origins. I’m pleased that this track has been retained for this release.

The second commentary track is a new one, with the main contributors being Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr (Liesl), Dee Dee Wood (choreographer) and Johannes von Trapp (youngest son of the real Maria von Trapp). I admit being cautious in approaching this track, as what sounds great on paper often is not the case – especially with films of this vintage which have been covered so often in various documentaries (not least elsewhere in the set!). My initial listening to this track was positive. All participants have been recorded separately, with Andrews being the main contributor introducing the others’ comments. It is clear that even if she had at one time regarded the film as something of an albatross she cares for it a great deal now. Her comments are insightful and honest, with some excellent insights into how she viewed the character as well as filming trivia. She remembers her time well, as do Plummer and Carr who both share amusing anecdotes, often centred on off-screen antics. Plummer’s hatred of children in general is amusing to hear, as were Carr’s frustrations with being regarded as one of the ‘children’ even though she was twenty-one. Wood pops in only occasionally, but offers insightful comments when she does which are certainly interesting to hear and prove that it’s not just the name actors who provide good anecdotes. The inclusion of von Trapp is a little odd, as he is seemingly only pressed into service to dispute the representation of certain elements, which seem to be well covered elsewhere. His contribution is not intrusive however. There are gaps, most especially during the songs, but none that are too excessive. There is, however, one major problem with the commentary that would not be noticed on an isolated listening, but which mars the set when viewed as a whole. It appears that all of the commentary (with the exception of Andrews’ introductions) is lifted from the footage recorded for the main documentary on the second disc. This means a lot of repetition not only of stories but of the actual interview itself. This is a massive disappointment, and while not all of the same material is shared between the two enough is for it to be a pretty major annoyance. There is only a finite amount that any one person can remember, of course, but if material from the interviews must be used then surely using different anecdotes would be a must. It is hard, therefore, to recommend this track to anyone but the die-hard fans as the documentary makes many of the same points much more succinctly.

The other audio track is a 2.0 English mix. There are four subtitle tracks. One is standard English HoH, another subtitles Wise’s commentary while a third does the same for the news commentary track. These last subtitles, however, are odd in that they also subtitle the film during the silent moments, and sometimes overlap, which is rather disorientating. Had they subtitled both constantly I would have been pleased; as it is, the decision makes for a distraction. The fourth track is also a bit of a mess. This is the ‘singalong’ track, where the text changes colour so that those watching can sing in time. Nice idea, but the track also subtitles the rest of the film which is an annoyance as surely anyone using this option would only wish the subtitles on in the singing segments.

The Andrews introduction to the second disc makes the cardinal sin of referring to extras which aren’t actually on this release (unless they’re well hidden), in this case trailers. Their omission is puzzling, not to mention annoying given the introduction. Andrews also mentions ‘screen tests’ although only one is present in isolation, a very brief testing of Mia Farrow as Liesl. She’s about as dreadful as Vivien Leigh is as ‘I’ in the Rebecca screen tests.

This new release shares no extras with the previous release, apart from Robert Wise's commentary; whether this is welcome or not depends on your own perspective. Missed most are the two documentaries – the 1965 on-location featurette Salzburg Sight and Sound with ran for thirty-six minutes and the more recent eighty-six minute documentary The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon. The former was a fascinating insight into the original filming, although much of it was taken up with what was essentially a tourist film for Austria, while the latter is the most in depth story of the film yet to be filmed.

Replacing them on this release are several documentaries. The first, My Favourite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers, runs for sixty-three minutes, in 4:3 format, and is an overview of the film in a similar vein to the previous DVD’s documentary, although the emphasis is more on the movie’s prehistory and personal effects on the cast (especially Andrews) and crew than on the minutiae of production. I actually enjoyed this rather more than the previous release’s effort. It feels like a more honest account of production than the cable-channel type of effort before. However, some issues are not touched on as much as in the previous documentary, including the film’s release and the details of the real von Trapp story. I don’t feel that too much is missed, however, and there is enough new information (and some nice behind the scenes material) to keep any Sound of Music aficionado happy. Some may find some of Andrews’ clearly scripted remarks a little grating, and she is much better when given free reign to discuss the film in a more relaxed manner.

The second ‘documentary’ (also presented in 4:3 format, running for nineteen minutes) is a reminiscence by Plummer and Andrews. It’s sweet to see them together after all these years, though they’ve missed a trick by not having them reunite with all the children too (the schedules presumably proved impossible to reconcile). The relaxed tone is good, with Plummer being as honest as ever. They seem to get on well, and the conversation is directed well by Andrews so that it doesn’t become an endless string of ‘the weather was dreadful!’ anecdotes. Worth seeing, and it doesn’t repeat other material too much although you wouldn’t watch this for facts and trivia, more for personal reflections.

Next is a new twenty-two minute featurette on the locations of the film, recorded in Austria in 16:9 anamorphic format, with Charmian Carr. This is a nice feature looking at not only the locations as they now are, but also at the effect the film has had on the local tourist industry. By now repeated use of the same clips may start to grate.

The next feature is a thirty-two minute piece on the grown-up children, presented in what seems to be a rather shaky standards conversion in 16:9 anamorphic format. I found this rather interesting; the group clearly get on, and while there’s little here that’s particularly groundbreaking fact-wise, their tales of living with the film throughout their lives is interesting to hear. It’s also worth a look for the brief glimpses of some screen tests and a couple of interesting admissions!

Next is a light and fluffy look at the ‘singalong phenomenon’ that the movie has generated. Maybe worth looking at for a giggle, at twelve minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

A forty-five minute A&E Biography documentary on the real von Trapps is next. If you have seen any of the strand you know what to expect; personally, I find Biography’s presentation irritating in the extreme. Nevertheless, plenty of facts are presented here if you can get past the style. At the very least we get to see some glimpses of not only the un-restored film but also trailers, sadly otherwise absent from this release.

Also included on the second disc is a welcome six minute Restoration Comparison, which is rather less extensive than the one featured on the Gone With The Wind set (for example) being as it is pages of text punctuated by split screen examples. It’s a slightly odd inclusion given the general family feel of the set. The text is really quite technical (it assumes knowledge of A and B rolls, for example) while the comparisons are often not as striking as one might expect from such a featurette. A lot of the time the main differences seem to be in the colour rather than the integral quality of the picture, although the 2005 portion is clearly more stable, and dirt-free.

The final main extra is the aforementioned, brief, screen test for Mia Farrow, in poor quality colour film running for just thirty-three seconds. One wonders if there was more in the archive in this vein, but this is all that we see here. What a shame – more of this would have been a great addition.

Rounding off the set is a good photo gallery including storyboards and posters, which are very welcome. All of the extras are subtitled; but none have chapter stops, which is rather irritating.


What we have here, then, is a curate’s egg. It has a transfer which is superior to the original release but still has flaws, with good extras which don’t necessarily supersede those on the original release. If you’re a fan of the movie who hasn’t yet bought it on shiny disc, you should not be concerned about buying this set. If you’re a fan wanting to ‘upgrade’, think carefully about disposing of your original set. This one complements it well, but does not replace it. But with a film as great as The Sound of Music, why not have two copies? I’m sure that in a few years there will be the opportunity for a third too! A great film in a good package.

(I still think it’s mean of the nuns to sing How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria at her wedding though.)










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