Criterionís three-disc set for Luchino Viscontiís The Leopard presented the film on home video for the first time in North America, and even presented it in the original, uncut Italian version. The film is contained on the first dual-layer disc and is displayed in its original aspect ratio of 2.21:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The transfer looked great at the time but it now shows its age, and its problems are even more obvious after viewing Criterionís new Blu-ray edition. The print used is in fantastic shape, with only some minor bits of debris and a couple instances of colour separation present, and colours as a whole do look about as perfect as theyíre likely to get.
The transfer does look a little noisy, though, possibly because it was unable to properly handle the film grain. Edge-enhancement and halos are visible through a good chunk of the film, though they are at least minor. Still, detail and clarity is rather good, and the image doesnít appear to go soft.
Itís been bettered since but at the time I was thrilled with it, feeling especially spoiled since so much care went into it for its home video debut. 7/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Most would have probably been happy if Fox just released a simple film-only edition but Criterion went all out with this set, giving as comprehensive a release as possible, spreading the supplements over three dual-layer discs.
The first disc is devoted to the film and the only feature present on the disc is a screen-specific audio commentary by Peter Cowie. I think Cowieís commentaries are hit-and-miss with people but Iíve generally liked them and always look forward to them. This one on the other hand is simply okay, and revisiting it again recently hasnít changed my opinion much. I think one of the issues is that Cowie does strain to fill the three-hours, though admirably he does leave very little in the way of dead space. He fills the track with a lot of comparisons to the source novel, even quoting from it frequently, though this does have its uses: One issue many have with their first viewing of the film is that some actions and sequences arenít clear at first and Cowie referencing the novel does clear up a couple of things. On top of this he also talks in great detail about Visconti, Lancaster, Delon, and Cardinale, along with other actors in the film, gets into the technical details of certain sequences, specifically the final ball sequence, and also places the film in its historical context (though another supplement on this set does better in that regard.) He also expands on some of the themes presented in the film, the politics that exist, and also offers the views of the author and the director and how they show through in the novel and/or film. Itís good overall, very informative, but does feel to be padded a bit. Still, this was certainly not an easy feat and Cowie does his best and at the very least keeps it interesting.
The second disc present a bulk of the remaining features.
First up on the disc is the making-of documentary A Dying Breed: The Making of The Leopard, made in 2003 for this DVD. In it we get interviews with many of those involved in the production, including director Sydney Pollack (who worked on the American version), actress Claudia Cardinale, screen writers Enrico Medioli and Suso Cecchi DíAmico, Gioacchino Lanza Tomassi di Lampedusa (son of the bookís author, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa,) art director Mario Garbuglia, cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, and costume designer Piero Tosi. Running about 61-minutes itís a pretty standard talking heads documentary, but no less fascinating, giving a timeline on the production and getting into detail about the various aspects of it, including sets and costumes. The writers talk about the ordeal of having to adapt the novel, and also explain the decision on cutting out the last two parts of the book (which Cowie also talks about in the commentary.) Thereís also a little bit of information about the American version and how it came about, Pollack getting into detail as to why it didnít work (Lancasterís American accent probably being one of the many key reasons.) Criterion went around and gathered these interviews over the course of a year and it was well worth it, giving us a rather thorough and engrossing making-of.
Moving on the next supplement is a 20-minute interview with producer Goffredo Lombardo, who was the producer for The Leopard, which was made for another DVD release. In it he talks about how the production came to be, getting Visconti to meet Lancaster (this director having no interest in the actor, considering him a ďcowboyĒ,) and Viscontiís attention to detail, which did drive up the price of the production, eventually bankrupting Lombardoís production company, Titanus Films. He mentions Fox president Daryl Zanuckís reactions to the dailies, which he laughs off (his reactions werenít good weíll say,) talks about the chances of a sequel, and even talks about the advantages of DVD (digital formats in general.) Heís proud of the film and it shows and he makes a great interview subject. Some material is repeated here but itís still worthwhile in viewing.
The next feature is one some may want to view before watching the film (though it does contain spoilers) since the history presented in the film is fairly confusing and it does help in clearing up a few scenes in the film since most everything involving the conflict within the film happens off screen and is only mentioned by characters throughout. Entitled The History of the Risorgimento and running 14-minutes, Millicent Marcus walks us through Italyís history including its separation and then the revolution that worked to bring it back together. She clarifies some scenes in the film and points out the time period they would have taken place in. Iíve always been happy with this one (which was available on the original DVD) because, despite being a history buff, my knowledge of Italian history is incredibly slim. Certainly required viewing for those unfamiliar with the subject matter.
Criterion then packs together a number of promotional materials, including posters from all over the world (gotta love the Polish ones,) Italian newsreel footage running over 3-minutes, presenting footage from awards ceremonies, an Italian theatrical trailer, the American trailer, and then an American teaser. Criterion also includes a fairly big photo gallery presenting production photos and some behind-the-scenes snapshots. Itís been divided into 4 sections.
The third disc in the set then presents American Version of The Leopard, which runs about 24-minutes shorter at 161-minutes and is in English. This is a rather interesting inclusion, though one thatís not necessary to view. It cuts out quite a bit (one big notable scene that was excised is the card game between the Prince, his nephew, friend, and Cavaliere Chevellay) but does actually work to ďbetter explainĒ some sequences, like the scene where Delonís Tancredi pays a visit to Angelica; in the Italian version itís not exactly clear what is going on but in the American version you hear a voice over from Lancaster that basically spells it out for you.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions Criterion has chosen not to restore the image. Damage is heavy, it can look faded, and artifacts are plentiful. It looks rather bad and this was a little disappointing at first, but then chances are most wonít watch it again; it isnít great and the Italian version is much better. Again an interesting version but not required viewing (this transfer was ported and upscaled over to the Blu-ray edition so it doesnít look any better on that set.)
Criterion then includes an insert that presents an essay written by Michael Wood going over the film, the book, and the history presented.
Though I would say one could skip the commentary and just watch the other supplements, as a whole Criterion presents a great set of supplements, offering an in-depth look into the film and the history it presents. 8/10