As gilded and over-the-top as the Old South itself, the Gone with the Wind 70th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-ray release is an impressive tribute to one of the best loved films of all time. The Victor Fleming-directed (at least Fleming gets the credit) classic, based on Margaret Mitchell's book of the same name, looks exceedingly good in high definition, and the bonus items (video and otherwise) which accompany the release are sure to please fans.
Everyone knows the tale of Gone with the Wind – Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) comes of age as the Civil War breaks out. It forces her to become an adult far sooner than she, and her family, may have wished, but Scarlett somehow manages – usually through conniving, lying, deceit, and other less than ladylike methods – to hold her family and her fortune together. That is, until true love (if it is true love) in the form of the dashing and handsome Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) comes along.
Gone with the Wind is an epic. It is a war film, it is a history, it is a love story, it is a melodrama. It is also one of those films which represents incredibly different things to different people. Someone in the film industry might note that the film has sold more tickets than any other film ever. Someone who focuses on fashion might note the incredible costumes worn by the characters. Some might note the idyllic way it paints the pre-Civil War South with much pomp and circumstance and the post-Civil War South as constantly having to struggle against wretched northern Carpetbaggers. Still others might note that the same portrayal of the South is full of negative portrayals of African Americans and that a film made in 1939, even if it is one that highlights plantation life, ought to have made a far stronger attempt to not create racial stereotypes.
As beautiful as the film is, and as great as the performances by Leigh, Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, and the rest of the cast are, it is hard to watch the film and not note these stereotypes. The film seems to be completely uninterested in drawing any representation of African Americans that is remotely three-dimensional.
Ultimately, and without getting too academic here, the most interesting question is whether or not the film approves of Scarlett and her actions and attitudes. Perhaps the film is rejecting of Scarlett's less than Southern attitudes towards men, love, business, slavery, dealings with the North, and/or the employing of convicts. Perhaps it's just upset that she left her childhood home and the land, or, perhaps the film happily accepts all of Scarlett's actions and leaves her exactly where she wants to be.
It is the fact that the film isn't necessarily as obvious and clear as one might think that makes it great. It does not squarely come down in one camp or another, and has left itself open to interpretation and examination in the decades since its original release.
The audio and video quality of the release are quite impressive. The picture itself is beautifully clean and generally very sharp. The only complaint one can issue about the image quality are with scenes that utilize rear projection. The rear projection footage looks substantially less good than everything else in not just the film in general but the rest of the shot in particular, creating an awkward – and bad – juxtaposition which pulls one out of the film instantly. The TrueHD 5.1 channel remix is impressive, with the surrounds mainly utilized for the film's score. As clean as the video track is, the audio one is equally impressive (and obviously uninfluenced by the rear projection issues).
In terms of special features, the Blu-ray set contains a double-sided DVD with the six-hour documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars which is hosted by Patrick Stewart and delves into the history of the studio. A good, and lengthy, look at the studio, it is somewhat odd that it is only included in the Blu-ray boxed set, not the DVD one. The Blu-ray set also contains a third disc with several hours more behind the scenes features. They are, quite wisely, divided on the disc into several sections, including: Behind the Story (this is a catch-all section with looks at everything from Hollywood in general to the film's production to its stars to its reception), Trailers (which contains trailers for the various re-releases of the film as well), Extras (which only includes a movie called Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara War and is the story of the search for an actress to play Scarlett and stars Tony Curtis), and Additional Footage (which has the international prologue to the film and snippets of foreign language dubs).
An impressive compilation of recycled bonus material, there are also some "new to the collection" features, including: 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year and Gone with the Wind: The Legend Lives On, and the aforementioned The Scarlett O'Hara War. As 1939 features Kenneth Branagh as narrator and argues (as the title indicates) that 1939 represents Hollywood's all-time greatest moment in terms of quality of releases. The hour-long piece does make a good case and is extremely interesting, though there are moments when the script Branagh reads is less than stellar: "…Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, led by its tenacious leader, Louis B. Mayer." The Legend Lives On, mainly focuses on the history of the reception of film from its production to today.
It actually takes some digging into the box to get to the discs discussed above, because the massive, velvety box that houses the discs is a limited edition (each with a different number somewhere between one and 150,000) that also houses a large amount of ancillary materials. There is a 52-page photo and production art book, 10 five-by-seven prints, a reproduction of the original program, a CD sampler of the soundtrack, and some reprinted letters, memos, and telegrams written/dictated by David O. Selznick. While devoted fans of the film may find all this ancillary material fascinating, and others may find it momentarily piques their interest, there is something overly excessive about it all. At this time, Warner Bros. is not releasing a simple Blu-ray version with just the film, so anyone who wants to have the movie in high definition needs to spend their money on all the extras as well.
Gone with the Wind, an impressive feature when it was released 70 years ago, remains equally impressive today. Even if one is not a fan of the film, it is easy to see what would cause so many to be so utterly devoted to it. It looks and sounds great in high definition, far better in fact than one might expect, and much of what is included in the set is interesting even if it is, combined, over the top. Gone with the Wind is a film from a bygone era about an entirely different and yet equally bygone era, it is a piece of history about a piece of history, and it is truly captivating.