The Sound of Music

(1965) **** G
174 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Robert Wise. Cast: Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood.

/content/films/3872/1.jpgThe Sound of Music is high-fructose corn-syrupy, built on simplistic psychology, unnaturalistic acting and historical inaccuracy. It's also well-nigh irresistible. Curmudgeons can carp, but Robert Wise's epic cinematic projection of Rodgers &  Hammerstein's hit Broadway musical put down firm roots as a populist film favorite and has refused to budge for forty-five years and counting. There's no secret to the film's success: memorable songs, adorable performances, and some of the most stunning location photography ever filmed.

In keeping with the scene-setting opening of his film adaptation of West Side Story, Wise kicks off The Sound of Music with stunning natural scenery via the most famous helicopter shot in movies. In breathtaking 70mm Todd-AO, we float down into the Austrian Alps to find a joyfully spinning Julie Andrews. One small edit later, her Maria lets out the first words of the title tune: "The hills are alive with the sound of music,/With songs they have sung for a thousand years..." Turns out Maria is a postulant at a nearby abbey, where the nuns ask the musical question "How do you solve a problem like Maria?", the problem being that the spirited Maria is a restless flibbertigibbet.

And so the Mother Superior takes a page from the Amish and sends Maria on a sort of rumspringa: a break from monastic life to be governess to a brood of seven unruly children, the offspring of widowed naval captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). Determined to turn over a new leaf, Maria discovers an unexpected gift for reaching children and meets with the destabilizing confusion of love. The blossoming of love also comes as a shock to the emotionally stiff Georg, who's inconveniently planning to marry the Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Eleanor Parker). Surely, though, he can't resist Maria, whose effortlessness with the children inspires him to give them the loving attention for which they've been starving.

Adding an unusal twist to the story is the rise of Nazism in 1938 Austria. The Anschluss is just around the bend, and Georg will have none of it, though he's targeted for service to the Nazi Party. This wrinkle complicates everything, including "sixteen going on seventeen" von Trapp daughter Liesl's burgeoning romance with Nazi youth Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte). Andrews commands the screen with sweetness and light, Plummer convincingly delineates the arc from emotionally unavailable to life-loving, and one cannot underestimate the goodwill earned by the singers, the selling points of what becomes the Von Trapp Family Singers: Liesl (Charmian Carr), Friedrich (Nicholas Hammond), Louisa (Heather Menzies), Kurt (Duane Chase), Brigitta (Angela Cartwright), Marta (Debbie Turner), and Gretl (Kym Karath).

The tuneful, expertly orchestrated music of Richard Rodgers overachieves to full earworm status: throw a rock into a crowd of a certain age, and you'll hit someone who knows all of Oscar Hammerstein II's words to the classic show tunes "My Favorite Things," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "The Lonely Goatherd," "Edelweiss," "So Long, Farewell," and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." The latter sports particularly corny lyrics ("Climb ev'ry mountain./Ford ev'ry stream./Follow ev'ry rainbow./Till you find your dream!"), but it all adds up to family-film heaven for parents seeking G-rated entertainment. In our post-ironic age, The Sound of Music may seem more uncool than ever, but it also seems all the more charming as pure entertainnment. Don't think: just look, listen and dream.

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Aspect ratios: 2.20:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 11/2/2010

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Now available in a Limited Edition box set and a Blu-Ray + DVD 3-Disc combo pack, The Sound of Music looks positively breathtaking in high-definition after years of problematic DVD, laserdisc and VHS transfers. The detail of 70mm makes a heavenly match with the Blu-ray format, yielding incredible detail and rich, true color. An expert digital restoration (detailed in the set's bonus features) painstakingly cleaned up the source material while leaving its film-like quality intact. textures are gorgeous and contrast right on: this is a feast for the eyes. Your ears will thank you, too, since the disc serves up a lush, state-of-the-art DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix with precise directionality, crystal clear dialogue and, of course, full-bodied music.

Not surprisingly, the bonus features are elaborate, beginning with the Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration interface, which allows the viewer to access his or her desired content. There's Making Music - A Journey in Images, a picture-in-picture track offering rare behind-the-scenes shots; The Sing-Along Experience; trivia track Many a Thing to Know; and the interactive quiz Where Was It Filmed?

Music Machine is simply a scene-access feature that allows easy jumping to the film's songs, while the menu-accessible Sing-Along feature provides handy subtitles for the same.

Hours of informative and entertaining material comes in the form of two thorough audio tracks: an audio commentary by Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr, Dee Dee Wood & Johannes von Trapp, and an audio commentary by director Robert Wise. The former is a patchwork job with unfortunate gaps, while the latter is a better bet, with Wise doing a fine job of recounting production information and purposefully timing his conversational gaps so we can enjoy orchestral cues with the singing removed.

Disc One also offers a Bookmarks feature, the BD-Live-enabled Live Lookup (Powered by IMDB), and BD-Live access to Fox previews.

Disc Two (also a Blu-ray Disc) invites viewers on the all-new interactive "Backlot Tour" Musical Stages: Creating The Sound of Music, which gives access to new HD featurettes. Take a gander at the recreation of the Fox lot, then do an end run around the needlessly confusing and choppy interface by clicking on an icon in the lower right. By doing so, you'll get access to "Play All" options for each category of featurette described below.

The Songs comprises new interviews with Theodore S. Chapin, President of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and Laurence Maslon, author of The Sound of Music Companion: "The Sound of Music" (2:32, HD), "Maria" (3:03, HD), "I Have Confidence" (3:10, HD), "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" (2:20, HD), "My Favorite Things" (2:47, HD), "Do-Re-Mi" (3:31, HD), "The Lonely Goatherd" (2:30, HD), "Edelweiss" (2:29, HD), "So Long, Farewell" (1:11, HD), "Climb Ev’ry Mountain" (2:07, HD), "Something Good" (2:17, HD) and "Cutting Room Floor" (2:50, HD).

The Show focuses on the original Broadway production and its adaptation into a film, through "R&H: Partnership at its Peak" (3:44, HD, "Shaping the Story (4:51, HD), "Stories from Broadway" (4:19, HD), "Final Dream: Oscar Hammerstein Remembered" (5:52, HD), "Stage vs. Screen" (3:12, HD) and "Maria in the 21st Century" (6:53, HD).

The Family includes interviews with von Trapp family members and children, who explain their true family history in "After the Escape" (8:43, HD), "Maria and the Musical" (5:06, HD), "A Generous Heart" (3:55, HD) and "The von Trapps Today" (5:49, HD).

The Restoration details how the film—not unlike The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind—was scanned at 8K and mastered at 4K. Included are "Restoring a Classic: Bloom and Grow Forever" (5:44, HD) and "Restoring a Classic: A Glorious Sound" (5:32, HD).

A virtual map of filming locations in Salzburg, A City of Song gives access to the location featurettes "Mellweg: Maria’s Mountain" (2:27, HD), "Nonnberg: Maria’s Abbey" (2:42, HD), "Residenzplatz: Scenes of Joy and Sorrow" (2:24, HD), "Siegmundplatz: The Horse Pond" (1:27, HD), "Von Trapp Villa: A Place of Harmony" (0:43, HD), "Frohnburg: A Facade Fit for Hollywood" (1:37, HD), "Gazebo: A New Home at Hellbrunn" (1:48, HD), "Mozartsteg: Bridge to the Past" (1:20, HD), "Werfen: Planning a Picnic" (1:40, HD), "Winkler Terrace: The Ultimate View" (1:29, HD), "Mirabell Gardens: Do-Re-Mi-rabell" (2:11, HD), "Leopoldskron: Story of a Lake" (1:50, HD), "Salzburg Marionette Theatre: Pulling Strings" (2:55, HD), "Mondsee Cathedral: A Marriage of Fact and Fiction" (2:28, HD), "Rock Riding School: Staging a Festival" (2:24, HD), "St Peter’s Cemetery: Safe Haven" (1:34, HD), "Rossfeld: A Dangerous Escape" (1:02, HD) and "The Sound of Music Tour: A Living Story" (2:40, HD).

Vintage Programs: The Sound of Music collects terrific archival programs seen on previous home-video releases: "The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon" (1:27:23, SD), "My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers" (1:03:19, SD), "Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer: Reminiscence" (19:25, SD), "From Liesl to Gretl" (33:33, SD), "Salzburg Sight and Sound" (13:04, HD), "On Location with The Sound of Music" (22:34, SD) and "When You Know the Notes to Sing: A Sing-along Phenomenon" (12:51, SD).

Vintage Programs: Rodgers and Hammerstein includes the feature-length 1985 doc The Sound of American Music (1:23:25, SD) covering the duo's whole career, and the feature-length 1996 doc The Sound of Movies (1:36:36, SD) focusing on the film versions of their shows.

Audio Interviews include "Location Interviews" (11:49) with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Peggy Wood; "Reissue Interview with Julie Andrews and Robert Wise, 1973" (7:46), "A Telegram from Daniel Truhitte" (13:02) and "Ernest Lehman: Master Storyteller" (34:56).

Rare Treasures is indeed a treasure trove of fascinating clips: the hilarious pre-movie parody "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall: The Pratt Family Singers" (6:41, SD), "The Julie Andrews Hour: Julie Andrews and Maria von Trapp" (16:34, SD), "Screen Tests: Hollywood Screen Tests, Mia Farrow, Marni Nixon Foreign Dubbing Test" (26:13, SD) and "40th Anniversary DVD Introduction by Julie Andrews" (2:11, SD). Also here are the HD Galleries What Will My Future Be? (Pre-Production), Facing Adventure (Production), and A Grand and Glorious Party (Promotion and Publicity).

Publicity gathers "Fox Movietone News Academy Awards" (2:47, SD), "Trailers and Teasers" (20:35, SD), "TV Spots" (1:23, SD) and "Radio Spots" (1:00, SD).

This astounding set already has me wondering what they'll manage for the 50th Anniversary of the film (perhaps a licensing of the Oprah reunion of the cast). Still, don't hesitate to pick up this amazing upgrade, a combo pack that overflows with value at a nice price.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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