After being unceremoniously dismissed from MGM in 1950 due to erratic behavior as a result of psychological problems and addiction, Judy Garland made a triumphant return to the silver screen in a musical remake of A Star Is Born, one of many films that counter the argument against Hollywood remakes.
Garland plays Esther Blodgett, a young singer whose talent is noticed by Norman Maine (James Mason), an actor whose career is collapsing due to his alcoholism. He strongly believes in her and suggests she give up singing with the band she's with to take a screen test. She becomes a contract player doing minor work on the lot until studio head Oliver Niles hears her sing. Oliver is very impressed and gives her a lead in a musical. Her name is changed to Vicky Lester and she becomes a big star. After Norman promises to stop his drinking for her, they get married, but he can't keep his vow. As her career rises, including an Academy Award win, Norman continues to sink. He embarrasses them both in public and stops working in films. Norman hits rock bottom and Esther considers giving up Hollywood to try and save him because she doesn't know what else to do.
Judy Garland is at the top of her game with songs like "The Man That Got Away;" however, it's her acting that really shines here. She has never been better, particularly the scenes where her character copes with Norman's addiction. She draws on her own life to infuse this powerful performance, and it's all the more impressive and gut wrenching to those who know she was in Norman's position only a few years earlier.
A Star Is Born is a classic Hollywood film about classic Hollywood as it tells a behind-the-scenes story that likely occurred more often than people realize. It was Warner Brothers' first CineScope film and the first time director George Cukor shot in color. It premiered at 182 minutes but the studio cut it down to 154 minutes, causing Cukor to disown it. Led by film historian Ronald Haver, a restored 176-minute version was released in 1983 that includes stills over the soundtrack where film footage was missing.
The film has been restored and remastered again for the 2010 Blu-ray release. Although the original negative has faded beyond the ability of traditional photochemical means to generate a quality print, state-of-the-art digital tools have created an exquisitely colorful print and the 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer looks very good for the most part in its 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Colors are well rendered. Reds are especially vibrant as they pop off the screen, and blacks are rich. There is very good contrast in the images, which are usually sharp, and shadow delineation is strong as many items can be made out in the shadows. Light grain can be seen. There thankfully appears to be no DNR or other digital flaws.
There are some problems though. The digital process can't handle fades and that is the transition used almost the entire time throughout the film. Shortly before a scene dissolves into the next it loses its clarity and vividness. That murkiness continues for a few moments into the next scene and then like a switch being hit the brilliant, high-definition look returns. I was distracted by it all throughout.
Another problem is the focus. Quite often objects lose their sharpness. It seems to be more than a depth-of-field problem of the source because some items seem to be on the same plane but are in different positions within the frame. It happens too frequently and mars the presentation.