Cinema Paradiso is preceded by a 90-second scroll of awards bestowed upon Giuseppe Tornatore's 1989 film — to say that his film was (and is) acclaimed would be putting it mildly; Cinema Paradiso is one of the most beloved cinematic works of the last 20 years, a film that celebrates the magic and life-affirming possibilities of the movies with every frame of its being. It's a transporting, almost magical experience that can't really be quantified, but the adoring legions of fans would be more than happy to attempt to put into words precisely what Tornatore's film means to them.
An international sensation upon its release in 1989, writer/director Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso is a love letter to movies of all stripes, as well as the bond formed between Alfredo, the village's gruff projectionist (a wonderful Philippe Noiret) and Salvatore (played by Salvatore Cascio as a child, Marco Leonardi as an adolescent and Jacques Perrin as an adult). Set in the sleepy village of Giancaldo, around the time of World War II, Alfredo and Salvatore spend countless hours in the projection booth of the Cinema Paradiso, discussing life and film. Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste), the village's church official, insists that all scenes of kissing or any other form of physical intimacy be clipped from the movies before they are screened for the townspeople. A fiend for film, young Salvatore cherishes these excised frames, even going so far as to nearly (accidentally) burn down his mother's home.
Years pass, as they have a wont to do, and Salvatore matures into a handsome young man, whose appetite for cinema decreases somewhat, but not enough to keep him from holding a job as the projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso — in his scant free time, he pines for the luminous beauty Elena (Agnese Nano), whose father disapproves of Salvatore's attentions. I won't tread any further into the narrative, as for those who've yet to indulge in Tornatore's exquisite confection will want their journey unspoiled.
A film dense with meaning and purpose, Cinema Paradiso, is, among many other things, an elegy for a way of life that no longer exists; a bittersweet remembrance about coming of age in a sleepy little village, much like Fellini's Amarcord or even, indirectly, his I Vitelloni. Above all, however, Cinema Paradiso is a glowing, poignant tribute to the magic and captivating sway of flickering images projected through the dark. A simple, eloquently moving film, Tornatore's Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso is still just as beloved some 20 years later as it was upon its initial release. Much like the classic films it celebrates throughout, Cinema Paradiso has become a beloved movie handed down from generation to generation, acclaimed and treasured like the unimpeachable achievement that it is.
The 170-minute director's cut (which restored nearly an hour of footage and curiously given somewhat short shrift in this set), was given a brief theatrical re-release in 2002 — Tornatore revisiting his film allowed him to further flesh out Salvatore's later years, which are more or less glossed over in the theatrical cut to — in this reviewer's opinion — negligible effect. That said, the cumulative power of the additional footage renders Cinema Paradiso no less affecting, expanding upon an already rich narrative, imbuing it with even more character detail and plot development. There are those who will prefer one cut to another, but it's nice to see that the Weinstein Company is making both available in one place for those who have either seen one and not the other or who love both equally.
From what I can tell, based on my research, this "limited collector's edition" of Cinema Paradiso marks its third region one DVD appearance (technically, its fourth if you consider that along with this new "limited collector's edition," a reduced two-disc "deluxe edition" is being offered). The first digital incarnation, released in January 2000, was bare-bones, while the second DVD, released in February 2003, was a flipper that featured the theatrical cut on one side and the much longer director's cut on the other. Below, I'll detail what's included on this lavish three-disc set. The DVD
Both the theatrical and director's cuts of Cinema Paradiso are presented with 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers — the theatrical cut suffers from lots of flecks, some minor, fleeting print damage, some grain and even a little softness but the image smoothes out somewhat as the film progresses. By contrast, the nearly three-hour director's cut looks much sharper and cleaner, with many of the annoying flecks and much of the grain from the theatrical cut cleaned up. It's a shame that for this latest edition a little more care couldn't be afforded the beloved theatrical cut. The Audio:
The theatrical cut is outfitted with a serviceable Italian Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack, one which reproduces Ennio Morricone's beautiful score with warmth and fidelity, as well as conveying the dialogue with no distortion or drop-out. A French Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack, along with optional English and Spanish subtitles, is provided for the theatrical cut. The director's cut has only a very full-sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with Morricone's score sounding very rich and alive. As with the theatrical cut, optional English and Spanish subtitles are included. The Extras:
Rectifying the lack of bonus material on previous DVD releases, the Weinstein Company presents an array of supplements on this "limited collector's edition." It should be noted that everything available on the first disc can also be found on the "deluxe edition" and that along with the CD soundtrack, the reproductions and recipes do not carry over. This "limited collector's edition" is housed in a beautiful, sturdy box, which contains an envelope and the two-disc "deluxe edition" in a keepcase modified to hold the third disc.
On the first disc, which contains the theatrical cut, a somewhat misleadingly labeled commentary track, featuring Yale professor/Italian cinema expert Millicent Marcus and Tornatore, balances academic analysis with heartfelt recollections. The menu and DVD case make it seem as though Tornatore contributes more heavily than he does to the commentary, but Marcus does a fine job dissecting this classic. The 14 minute, 39 second retrospective "Exploring a Timeless Classic" includes comments from Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers, Marcus and Tornatore with the four minute, 35 second featurette "Little Italy Love Story: Cinema Paradiso Style" explores one of the many ways the film is celebrated all over the world. A curious, but no less welcome, inclusion is a 21 minute, 37 second, Cinema Paradiso-centric episode of the Food Network series "Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello," with trailers for both the theatrical and director's cut rounding out the first disc. The second disc houses the director's cut exclusively, with no bonus features included and the final disc contains Ennio Morricone's lush, memorable score. Completing the set is an envelope containing two 3x5 one-sheet reproductions, eight 3x5 lobby card reproductions and recipe cards for Michael Chiarello's Cinema Paradiso-inspired grilled pizza with ricotta and pesto; brown butter, rosemary and lemon popcorn; chocolate raisin clusters; watermelon, citrus and mango-flavored syrup for soft drinks; bowties with cauliflower, olives and lemon and sole gratin with tomatoes, capers and olives. Final Thoughts:
Much like the classic films it celebrates throughout, Cinema Paradiso has become a beloved movie handed down from generation to generation, acclaimed and treasured like the unimpeachable achievement that it is. For unabashed fans of this film, this three-disc "limited collector's edition" is a no-brainer; ditch any other copies you may own and snag this with confidence. For the curious, the two-disc "deluxe edition" may be a more affordable entree. Either way, this latest release of Cinema Paradiso easily earns our top rating: DVD Talk Collector Series.