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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Yentl: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Yentl: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // PG // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted December 24, 2014 | E-mail the Author

Adapted from the eponymous 1975 play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer---and in turn, Singer's earlier short story "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy"---Barbra Streisand's Yentl (1983) is an uncompromising personal project that's held up quite nicely during the last three decades. Our story follows Yentl Mendel (Streisand) and her father (Nehemiah Persoff) in early 20th century Poland; despite Jewish laws that forbade women from learning the Talmud, he's been teaching her in secret. After his untimely death, she chooses to continue her education instead of limiting herself to the traditional "domesticated" role of women at the time; Yentl cuts her hair short and, in her travels, assumes the identity of a young man named Anshel to gain admittance to a school where the Talmud is taught.

But it's her eventual friendship with the older Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin) that complicates her situation further: she develops feelings for him, but he's already engaged to lovely Hadass Vishkower (Amy Irving). Revealing her interest in Avigdor---and, by extension, her true identity---would spell long-term disaster for this strong-willed young woman, especially if he didn't return the gesture. Things get even more complicated when the engagement is broken.

Featuring an Academy Award-winning score (Best Adaptation Score, 1984) by composer Michel Legrand (Never Say Never Again, The Thomas Crown Affair) and the husband-and-wife lyricist team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (Alice, In the Heat of the Night), Yentl's soundtrack went platinum in two months' time and remains one of the film's most enduring elements. The period-specific atmosphere and look of Yentl have also helped it age better than most films of its era, thanks in part to cinematographer David Watkin (Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire) and production designer Roy Walker, who had just collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on The Shining and, later, Eyes Wide Shut.

Still, it's the accessible premise that remains its real selling point, not to mention the way in which almost every element of Yentl combines to form a cohesive whole. This was Barbra Streisand's first of three big-screen directorial efforts (the last being 1996's The Mirror Has Two Faces), and it's obvious that her infamous "tight supervision" of the project yielded strong results. Luckily, Yentl remains enjoyable and accessible as a whole; despite what must have been a difficult production to work under, it doesn't play like your average Hollywood vanity project.

Yentl's last home video release was MGM's two-disc DVD package in 2009, reviewed for us separately by Jamie S. Rich and Jeffrey Kauffman. In addition to a terrific selection of extras (most from the personal archives of Streisand, who supervised the DVD as carefully as the film itself), it also included both the theatrical and director's cut of the film; the latter adds three workprint scenes and runs about five minutes longer. Twilight Time's new Blu-ray is basically a high-def version of the same package...which really should've been offered by MGM back in 2009, when catalog titles were actually selling. Either way, this limited edition disc serves up a strong A/V presentation and the same mountain of supplements, including both cuts of the film. Die-hard fans will enjoy digging through it all again.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Yentl's video presentation on MGM's 2009 DVD was impressive and Twilight Time's Blu-ray follows suit, serving up a satisfying 1.66:1, 1080p transfer that offers outstanding image detail, strong textures and wonderful color reproduction. This appears to have been taken from the same master---not surprising, considering it's only five years old---and is clean and crisp overall; it's very consistent aside from the short Director's Cut additions, which were taken from workprint materials and still stick out like a sore thumb. The film's extensive use of soft and diffused light is handled nicely. Shadow detail and contrast levels are also quite good, and the lack of flagrant digital imperfections is also a big plus. Although mentioned below, I'd also like to point out that the screen captures used for this review were taken from the original DVD and do not reflect this Blu-ray's overall quality; from start to finish, fans of Yentl will be pleased with the improvements offered during this crisp new presentation of the film.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

The audio has been given a modest bump as well, offering both DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Master Audio options depending on your preference. It's great to have the choice, and it's also important to note that the surround mix is anything but a gimmicky, processed attempt to modernize a film that's now more than 30 years old; like the 2009 DVD, it's a wonderfully balanced and full presentation that showcases the score nicely and serves up clear dialogue that doesn't fight for attention. The stereo mix is also quite satisfying and, aside from the obvious lack of surround activity and a thinner atmosphere, it's perfectly acceptable and will please fans of two-channel presentations. Optional English SDH subtitles are included during the film, but the DVD's foreign dubs and subs have not been carried over.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

As expected, the interface is plain but perfectly functional and loads quickly. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase, adorned with recycled DVD cover artwork and a Booklet with production stills, vintage promotional images and liner notes by Twilight Time regular Julie Kirgo. Simple, effective and appropriate, as usual.

Bonus Features

Everything from the excellent 2009 DVD, including the aforementioned (and optional) Director's Cut, a short Video Introduction by Barbra Streisand, a feature-length Audio Commentary with the director and actor/producer Rusty Lemorade, a nice handful of Deleted Scenes, "The Director's Reel" and "The Rehearsal Process" production featurettes, a collection of related "Home Movies" featuring more work behind the scenes, a tribute to her co-workers during ""My Wonderful Cast and Crew", a deleted song Storyboard, an extensive Photo Gallery, and an 8mm Concept Film that shows the main feature's original roots. Though we don't get anything new here, this remains a satisfying and exhaustive collection of bonus features that mirrors the film's intensely personal and detailed foundation.

Final Thoughts

Whether or not you view Yentl as a vanity project by Barbra Streisand, the film works on many levels and wouldn't be nearly as focused and unique without her direct supervision in just about every department. I've got a real respect for that kind of commitment...because even if you ruffle a few feathers along during production, the end result is what really matters; in this case, all the "ruffling" paid off. Twilight Time's new Blu-ray package is a logical extension of MGM's 2009 DVD, serving up an improved A/V presentation and a fantastic collection of archival extras carried over from that exhaustive two-disc set. While the studio's stubborn $30 price tag often scares away potential buyers, this is a well-rounded enough package to recommend to any and all interested parties. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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