David Copperfield is a name synonymous with the art of illusion. Perhaps the most famous magician since Houdini himself, Copperfield has literally made this art his life's passion. At one point in his career, he was performing nearly 500 shows a year…a true testament to his dedication. Chances are, you've seen some of his work: perhaps his most impressive and well-known illusion is making the Statue of Liberty disappear, a stunt he performed in front of a live audience in 1983. Other tricks he's pulled off include walking through the Great Wall of China, making an airplane vanish, and escaping from Alcatraz.
Sure, we know that these are just illusions…or are they?
Copperfield's illusions were practically pop culture staples of the 80s and early 90s, airing individually as TV specials during that period. 1994 marked the release of David Copperfield: 15 Years of Magic, a decent cross-section of his most popular illusions and performances, several of which have been previously mentioned. Combining this with footage from his highly successful Broadway performance, "Dreams and Nightmares", we are presented with the bulk of Illusion, a new DVD release from Kultur International Films.
Although the overall production shows its age, it's a well-documented look at the man behind the magic. Hosted by Copperfield and his former fiancée, Claudia Schiffer (the two ended their 5-year engagement in 1999), Illusion holds a nice assortment of performances from the height of his career. Besides for several of the previously-mentioned tricks, other illusion highlights include "Brazilian Water Levitation", "Imploding", "Flying", "Mystery on the Orient Express", and much more. Complex and ambitious, these illusions are performed on a much larger scale than pulling a rabbit out of a hat. In short, they really must be seen to be believed…or not believed, for that matter.
Of course, even the most amazing footage doesn't mean this is a perfect production. While the success and popularity of Copperfield may warrant a certain degree of self-confidence, he goes a little overboard in the vanity department. Ever the showman, he milks these spectacles for all they're worth: from candle-lit sets to overly dramatic dialogue, it can be a bit much in one sitting. Illusion is a vanity project through and through…but as long as you can get past that, it's quite an enjoyable retrospective. The DVD is no slouch, either: with a decent technical presentation and a nice mix of bonus features, this looks to be one disc to keep your eye on.
Quality Control Department
Illusion is largely a collection of broadcast performances and the like, so it's no surprise that the program is presented in its original 4:3 fullscreen aspect ratio. Overall, I found this video presentation to be very good, as most of this footage has never looked better. Colors are reasonably bold, and blacks remain fairly solid throughout. Obviously, some of the older footage isn't quite as pristine, but I'd imagine these imperfections are due to the source material. The only other concerns are a few compression problems, which include jagged lines and the like. This problem will probably affect those with progressive-scan DVD players even more, so consider yourself warned.
The audio for this release is presented in Dolby Surround, and sounds perfectly fine. Like the video presentation, some of the older footage is a little weaker overall, and surround activity is limited. With that said, everything here is satisfactory and really won't disappoint fans.
Presentation & Packaging:
The main program has a total running time of approximately 2 hours, and is divided into 16 chapters (roughly one for each illusion or performance). The menu designs are similar to the cover image itself…and for some reason, they reminded me of a shampoo commercial (no, seriously!). A chapter selection insert is also included for easy reference.
Included with this release were a nice handful of "enhanced" bonus features, the most surprising of which is a full-length Audio Commentary by David Copperfield himself. This was a most welcome inclusion, as Copperfield is more than willing to shed some interesting light on his personal experiences during these performances, and frequently comments about his embarrassing choices of clothing and hairstyles. Of course, he doesn't reveal his secrets, but this track is definitely worth a listen. Also present is a selection of Secret Artifacts from the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts (whew!), a text-based supplement that briefly highlights several items on display there. Next up is Clone-On O'Brien, a funny little excerpt from The Conan O'Brien Show (in 1993) that shows Copperfield hamming it up for the audience. We also get a nice selection of Television Trailers, as well as a list of Copperfield's Awards and Honors (including video footage). Last but not least, there's a text-based biography entitled Copperfacts (is that the best name they could come up with?). Overall, this was a nice little mix of supplements...although some of the older footage is worn and soft-looking, it's great to have these rarities included.
Plain and simple: if you like David Copperfield's performances, you'll really love Illusion. Although I'm not a serious fanatic of his work, I still found plenty of things to enjoy on this release. There may not be much material here that die-hard fans haven't seen already, but the Audio Commentary and other extras may be of great interest. Sure, Illusion may seem like a shameless sermon for the First Church of Copperfield, but it's a nostalgic and entertaining show overall. With a solid overall presentation and a very reasonable MSRP, consider this disc Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a bald-headed art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.