The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
The passions and pitfalls of a lifetime in the military are dramatized in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's magnificent epic, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The film follows the exploits of pristine British soldier Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) as he battles to maintain his honor and proud gentlemanly conduct through romance, three wars, and a changing world. Vibrant and controversial, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is at once a romantic portrait of a career soldier and a pointed investigation into the nature of aging, friendship, and obsolescence. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Powell & Pressburger's masterpiece in all its Technicolor glory.
The Criterion Collection’s original DVD release for Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp presents the film in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc.
Based off of a restored interpositive of the film, Criterion’s standard-definition transfer still holds up surprisingly well, even though it has definitely been outdone (substantially) by their new Blu-ray edition featuring a new high-definition transfer. Despite the lengthy film being packed on one disc, the digital transfer delivers a sharp image with a high level of detail. Some compression noise is noticeable but it’s kept fairly tame, and the film’s grain structure at least appears to come through.
Its problems are mostly limited to the source. It’s been cleaned up well, with damage limited to a few scratches. The image shifts about and jutters at times, and pulsating is noticeable throughout a lot. The real problem, though, is the representation of the colours. The film looks a little faded and the colours lean a little to the red or yellow side, varying throughout, with weak saturation. There are also problems with colour separation, which causes blurring around the edges as well.
In all it’s a mixed bag, held back by the source materials (the new Blu-ray greatly improves the colours.) But the transfer itself is still very strong.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is serviceable but problematic. Dialogue is easy to hear, with some decent fidelity. But the track is scratched and has a persistent hiss. There are some pops scattered about as well. Music is also a bit edgy and fluctuates in quality.
Criterion delivers a modest collection of supplements starting with an audio commentary featuring Martin Scorsese and Michael Powell that was originally recorded for the Criterion laserdisc in 1988. It’s still a wonderful track that hasn’t lost any value over the years. The two were unfortunately recorded separately, though I guess that allows each participant to stay focused. There’s a surprising amount of dead space in places but it’s generally an active and informative track. Powell talks about making the film, the issues he had with the war office, personal touches, and gets into detail about Pressburger’s “enemy alien” status which was an important plot point in the film. Scorsese talks about the film in a more analytical manner, going over the aspects of it that influenced him (the duel scene was a huge influence for sequences in Raging Bull) and also talks about first discovering the film on television, and the long quest in finding the original cut after only seeing the truncated American version for years. From this he also talks about how the versions differ in either timeline or scenes being cut. It’s certainly a track one should listen to if they haven’t done so yet. It’s 25 years old but no less significant.
Next is the 24-minute A Profile of “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, which I believe was originally made for a 2000 DVD edition of the film released in the UK. Including interviews with Kevin MacDonald, Stephen Fry, Ian Christie, and others, it goes over the influence of the film and its problematic production, problematic because of concerns of Churchill and the War Department. It offers a more rounded and focused look at the film’s production, but it’s still a fairly standard making-of with most of the material already covered in the excellent commentary track.
A couple of galleries are included starting with a gallery of production stills, publicity photos, and posters and other materials for the film. Criterion then includes a gallery for David Low’s Colonel Blimp, which features many notes, photos of Low, and a large collection of the cartoons.
The insert then includes an essay on the film by Ronald Haver, which I believe was the same essay that appeared on the liner of the laserdisc edition, and then also has an excerpt from David Low’s autobiography where the cartoonist talks about his impressions of the film and the furor that arose over it. Both of these were not carried over to the Blu-ray’s booklet.
It’s a modest collection of material, but the audio commentary itself adds some wonderful value to this release.
It’s a decent edition with some nice supplements (including a great commentary) but it’s been outdone by Criterion’s new Blu-ray, which delivers more supplements and far stronger restoration and transfer of the film.