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Blu-ray Review: The Sound of Music (45th Anniversary Edition) (1965)

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Through the years Julie Andrews has had an amazing career on the big screen (I’m not discounting her stage work, just not discussing it here).  From her first big screen starring role in Mary Poppins (for which she took home an Oscar) through The Sound of Music (1965), Thoroughly Modern Millie, Victor Victoria, and even more recent entries like The Princess Diaries, Andrews has proven time again that she is a formidable filmic presence.  Even when she is in a film you don’t particularly enjoy, there is something about watching Andrews in it that carries the whole thing through.

It may be sacrilege to say as much, but that last statement is exactly how I feel about The Sound of Music.  Andrews stars in the cloyingly sweet film as Maria, a troublesome would-be nun who ends up working as the governess for the children of a widowed navy man, Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) in 1930s’ Austria.

Filled with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s fantastic music, the film is about Maria finding her footing in the world, helping the children as best she can, and falling in love with the Captain.  All of this, of course, takes places as Germany is girding up for the Anschluss and probably war. 

In more ways than one in the film, Captain von Trapp gets caught between what is right and what is safe.  He can choose to be with the Baroness (Eleanor Parker), whom he does not feel the same way about as he does Maria, and he can choose to stay silent about Germany’s impending take over of Austria.  Both of those are the safe choices, but they are not the right ones.  Plummer ought to have one of the better roles in the film getting to play the difficulty of these positions.  However, at every turn the decisions are either made for him or present no difficulty whatsoever.  There are absolutely reasons to not have one of your main characters show any sort of sympathy towards the Nazi cause, but if he were given a moment or two to show the difficulty of his decisions it would add greatly to the film.

For their part, almost all the children are without any difficulties (save in keeping a nanny).  In fact, the film doesn’t bother to draw any of the children, save the eldest, Liesl (Charmian Carr), in a remotely three dimensional fashion.  Yes, the film is based on a true story, but the children solely exist within the context of the film to present easy challenges for Maria to overcome, the Baroness to fail with, and to be used as objects Maria’s war over parenting techniques with the Captain.  Yet, for all the issues the film presents, they are almost entirely shown merely in passing  or exist simply as an undercurrent – the film rarely moves away from an overly sappy tone for any reason.

It may be a somewhat difficult position to take to suggest that the film is overly sweet yet the music is fantastic, but every time I watch the film that is the sense I get.  Save perhaps “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” I easily and freely sing along with every song (without even needing the sing-along subtitles the Blu-ray contains turned on), but once the songs finish, I find myself shuddering slightly at Maria’s upbeat naïveté and her ability to teach the children everything they may need to know perfectly right out of the gate despite her initial horrific fear and professed lack of knowledge about being a governess.  The children’s incredibly rapid turnaround from hating her to needing her desperately is also made with nothing more than a few tears at dinner and a song in the night.  It is almost as though Maria is somehow imbued with Mary Poppins’ magical abilities simply because she is played by the same actress. 

Still, due to the music, Robert Wise’s direction, gorgeous cinematography by Ted McCord (there are moments which appear almost as a travelogue), and Julie Andrews’ presence, more often than not, The Sound of Music manages to bring a smile to the face of anyone in the audience.  If only the songs continued without pause, I would find my feelings about it far less mixed than I do.

The new Blu-ray release of the movie, as with the film itself, is something of a mixed bag.  While scenes that are well lit feature excellent definition, anything in the dark or when people are clothed in black lose nearly all of that definition.  It is not that the textures aren’t there, during one transition they are particularly noticeable, it is just that they don’t show up. There are also some patterns on clothes worn by characters which cause the picture a great deal of trouble – they result in the same sort of visual fluttering as when one wears certain tie patterns on television.  The visuals are free of defects, but there are simply too many dark shadows in which no details can be made out for it to be considered a superb transfer.  The sound is a far better affair.  With a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, every Rodgers and Hammerstein song rings through quite clearly and in an immersive fashion, virtually making one’s home alive with, well, the sound of music.

The Blu-ray release is a three-disc set (one a DVD version of the film which also contains a featurette on a Sound of Music bus tour) is loaded with special features.  The Blu-ray disc with the main feature also contains a commentary by Andrews, Plummer, Carr, Dee Dee Wood, and Johaness von Trapp; a commentary with Wise; the ability to skip to just the songs and to watch the film with picture-in-picture trivia/behind the scenes information; and two BD-Live pieces, one on the restoring of the film and one with Laura Benanti (Maria in the revival) talking about the movie.  The second disc contains much of the standard special feature fare, including some previously released material about the film and Rodgers and Hammerstein. There is a virtual map showing filming locations, screen tests, interviews, and photo galleries.  The highlight of this disc is something titled an “interactive ‘backlot tour.'”  This places the viewer within a virtual von Trapp family home with various clickable elements which provide all the normal featurettes (more interviews, behind the scenes moments, information about Rodgers and Hammerstein, etc.) one would expect to see.  It is a cute way of offering the information and far more entertaining than the usual list format.  However, it can also be very difficult to find the various featurettes within the tour if one wants to go back to them.  Even so, the sheer quantity of information will please fans of the film to no end, although those truly in love with the movie may rather purchase the also newly available “Limited Collector’s Set” which contains the three-disc Blu-ray set and a whole lot more.

Although it may not be my favorite Julie Andrews film, The Sound of Music certainly has a lot (but mainly the sound of the music) to recommend it.  It remains a good addition to any film collector’s library on Blu-ray, though devoted fans will want to pick up the more extensive set than the three-disc one.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.