The Movie: The Old Man and the Sea is a classic, no matter which way you look at it - as a book, or as this great 1958 movie. Spencer Tracy stars as the old man, a cuban fisherman, without much luck day after day until the big strike comes. Tracy's performance earned him is sixth of nine Academy Award Nominations and the film won the National Board of Review's 1958 Best Picture and Best Actor awards.
Awards aside, there's no getting by the sheer beauty of this film. While the voice-over narration does get a bit old, there really is no other way to tell this story. Tracy is superb as he follows the old man's trials as he battles his marlin for three days on the ocean.
Adding to this great film is a superb score (which I can't find available on CD anywhere unfortunately). This Oscar-winning score follows the ups and downs of the old man's contests with the marlin. Once you are able to put aside the constant narration, and take it as part of the movie itself, and accept the movie for being as old as it is (hence the extremely outdated special effects), you really gain a new appreciation of this classic film.
Filmed entirely as a "no location film," it's left up to the actors to carry the film, and Tracy does as good a job as anyone. All in all, The Old Man and the Sea, while slow at times, as it tries to take a seemingly unfilmable book, encaptures the viewer as we follow Tracy on his final and ultimate battle.
The Picture: The Old Man and the Sea appears to be one of the first "classic" movies to make its way to DVD. Released all the way back in June, 1996, DVD has come a long way since, and it is evident in picture and sound quality. While there probably isn't much that could be done for the film, short of a complete digital remastering, one would have hoped for a better print to be used for the DVD. The DVD transfer is full of scratches and flecks, that while we're used to in theaters, we aren't used to on DVD. At over 40 years old, I don't fault Warner Bros. for the transfer of this film, but be warned, it isn't even close to being a pristine picture.
The Sound: The sound, presented in stereo, presents the film as it was originally intended. The film is entirely narrative with an amazing score, and very few sound effects. There really is no need for any surround sound, although it probably could be digitally inserted for added effect, and as such, the stereo sound is all that is necessary.
The Extras: The extras include a short (3 minutes) documentary, Hemingway - The Legend and the Sea, which contains footage from filmmaker Allen H. Miner's planned documentary on The Old Man and the Sea. This includes film shot as he joined Hemingway on a fishing trip, and has never been seen before until this DVD. This footage is then combined with a commentary by Allen H. Miner. Also included is the original trailer, which is interesting to watch as you get a look back in time to when trailers weren't filled with spoilers from the movie and filled with special effects that really serve no purpose in the trailer. This simple trailer, a flipbook, turned manually, with a simple score, is quite interesting and fun to watch.
Conclusion: Warner Bros. makes a valiant effort bringing this classic film to DVD, but the picture really degrades the quality of this DVD. Full of scratches and flecks, the original print used for the transfer really shows its age. Picture aside, the movie, and especially Spencer Tracy's performance are the sole reason to buy this DVD. I really enjoyed reading the book as a kid, and this film is probably the film adaptation most true to the amazing book. If you've ever read the book, you no doubt realize how hard a transition to film might be, and this particular film does have its slow points, but with Tracy's performance, this movie is a true classic. And thus, the DVD is as well.