Zelig
MGM // PG // $14.95 // January 1, 1983
Review by Chris Hughes | posted October 17, 2001
M O V I E
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version

Features: Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1. Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono). Subtitles: English, Spanish, French. Theatrical trailer.

The Movie:
Woody Allen is most closely associated with comedies about neurotic men and the women they love. Over the years he's developed that idea in a number of interesting ways. One of the most innovative attempts is the 1983 release Zelig. This fascinating film is filled with Allen's wry humor but it goes beyond the typical Allen fare by offering a technical masterpiece the likes of which had never been seen up to that time.

The plot revolves around an introverted man named Leonard Zelig who, in his misguided attempt to fit in with those around him, develops the uncanny ability to take on their physical and mental attributes. When placed in a room with fat men Zelig grows in size. When surrounded by black men Zelig's skin turns dark and when put in the care of a doctor Zelig begins to psychoanalyze his psychologist. Zelig comes to the attention of a newly media savvy public in the 1930s and soon becomes celebrated as 'The Chameleon'. Songs are written about him, dances are inspired by his malady and a young female researcher (Mia Farrow) first seeks to cure him and later falls in love with the strange afflicted fellow.

Zelig is structured like a documentary and features some amazing footage of its central character standing alongside historic figures ranging from Babe Ruth to Hitler. In these days of digital image manipulation making Zelig would be a snap. Any self respecting graphic artist with a few pieces of high end software could almost do this stuff in their sleep but in the early 80s no such technology existed. Allen and his crew had to find conventional ways to integrate new images with old and the results are dramatic. The director used a wide variety of techniques including blue screen, rear screen projection and optical compositing to achieve the desired effect. He even went so far as to use vintage cameras and lights when shooting some of the scenes. The result is a craftsman's showpiece and, with the support of a solid and funny script, a very entertaining film.


The Picture:
Evaluating Zelig's visuals is a little difficult. The film is made up of various bits of stock film, news reels and other images from the 30s and 40s, all of which is scratched, battered and beaten. The new segments are artificially aged to match the old and there are no more than a handful of 'contemporary' scenes. The modern footage is shot on video so it to is below the visual standard of a movie like, say, Phantom Menace. That being said, Zelig is in what appears to be very good shape. The black and white segments exhibit very good contrast and brightness. The gray tones move across the entire spectrum without looking hazy or washed out. The black levels are firm and deep. Color segments are a little more problematic. They show some fading and lack of fidelity but within the context of this quirky film they seem appropriately aged. I was able to detect a small amount of the dreaded edge enhancement in some of the scenes but certainly not enough to rise to the level of distraction.

The Sound:
Zelig's mono soundtrack is very workmanlike. It's firmly rooted in the center channel and has a quite limited dynamic range. Again, this is due mostly to the premise of the film rather than to some shortcoming of the source material. There are no noticeable instances of clipping and the dialogue is clean and crisp throughout.

The Extras:
This is another of Warner's Woody Allen Collection releases and like the others it's almost completely devoid of extras. The only one on this disc is the original theatrical trailer.

Conclusion:
Zelig is a wonderfully entertaining film that should be a part of every Allen fan's collection. My only complaint with the release is the lack of meaningful extras but that shouldn't color you buying decision. My rating: Recommended.



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