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Blu-ray Review: Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (1979)

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Releasing today from Acorn Media on Blu-ray is the classic British series, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Based on a book by John le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy follows George Smiley (Alec Guinness, Star Wars), the retired Deputy Head of the Service, as he hunts for a Soviet mole in the Circus, a top level spy agency within MI6. With suspicion narrowed down to four people, Smiley has to call on every one of his considerable talents to figure out which one it is. This is a Cold War tale, with the threat of war and Soviet aggression hanging over Smiley’s head. When his own past comes into play, things get personal for Smiley.

Of course, this being a hero piece, Smiley triumphs. He sets an elaborate trap, and catches the mole, someone Smiley knows all too well. Before justice can be served, though, the man is killed. This is one mystery that Smiley cannot solve. Besides, he has his hands full trying to whip the Circus back into shape.

Hailed by many as brilliant, and recently remade as a cinematic release starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, this series has garnered its fair share of praise and awards. Emmy nominated, and BAFTA winning, the subtleties of performance and story combine to make a truly memorable tale. Despite being released in 1979, there is nothing lost. All of the elements that matter don’t seem dated, even if the Russian threat does. More importantly, the essence of humanity and questions of morality survive and matter as strongly as ever. Plus, this series look fantastic, filmed on location across Europe.

Guinness delivers what some consider the performance of his career. He is surrounded by a number of other talents, including Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, American Dad), Anthony Bale (Game, Set, and Match), Bernard Hepton (The Charmer), Michael Jayston (Emmerdale Farm), Ian Richardson (Bleak House), and more. It is definitely easy to watch a cast such as this deliver an engrossing story.

The extras are light, as usual for these value releases of older series. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has a nearly half hour interview with the books’ author, his bio and booklist, production notes, and a glossary of terms and characters. New to this set, not on the previous DVD release, are eleven minutes of deleted scenes, and a half hour interview with the director of the piece, John Irvin.

Now, many will ask if it’s worth buying a series more than three decades old on Blu-ray. And the answer is, that depends. The film is presented in 1080p, but not all of the extras are. While some new features are 16:9, the show itself is 4:3 full screen, as it always has been. At times, background noise doesn’t quite get taken out as it should be. 2.0 Dolby Digital is included, a far cry from the surround sound in many newer movies, but better than the mono it could be. But because Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is so dialogue heavy, that’s probably good enough.

The clarity is far from perfect. There is some graininess going on, and the sound sometimes hisses and pops. The rich blacks viewers have gotten used to are absent, and shadows aren’t easy to see into. Other colors, too, appear faded, and there isn’t a lot of consistency from one scene to the next. But the team who is putting this out has also spent a great deal of work making the picture and sound as good as it has ever been. The Blu-ray is an improvement over previous DVD releases. So it’s really a matter of personal preference, or it will come down to how much one really wants the additional bonus features.

In short, whether you are discovering the story for the first time, or remember fondly the original broadcasts, I highly recommend picking up Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, out today. Buy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on Blu-ray.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com