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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Cooper And Hemingway: The True Gen - Special Edition (Blu-ray)
Cooper And Hemingway: The True Gen - Special Edition (Blu-ray)
Passion Pictures // Unrated // June 9, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted May 24, 2018 | E-mail the Author

Anyone with more than a passing interest in actor Gary Cooper (High Noon, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) and writer Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea) is probably aware that the two men were great friends for more than two decades, despite their vastly different personalities, interests, and personal beliefs. Cooper and Hemingway first met in 1940 (years after Frank Borzage's 1932 adaptation of A Farewell to Arms, starring Cooper and Helen Hayes), became fast friends, and would "collaborate" again on Sam Wood's 1943 adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls (also starring Cooper, with Ingrid Bergman). A number of interesting similarities and other parallels make this more than just an ordinary tale of friendship, from career downturns to comebacks and even their spiraling health that led to deaths only seven weeks apart -- Cooper from cancer on May 13, 1961, and Hemingway via suicide on July 2.

John Mulholland's Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen (2013), assembled over several years long after their deaths, takes a good long look at two separate lives that have become partially fused over time. It's loaded with personal interviews and memories, not to mention film clips, photos, and home movies rarely if ever seen by the public. Participants include writer Elmore Leonard, actor Kirk Douglas, actor Robert Osborne, writer Jim Harrison, screenwriter Bud Schulberg, editor A.E. Hotchner, novelist Brian Garfield, actor Patricia Neal, actor Charlton Heston, film critic Steven Prince, film historian Richard Schickel, and many others. There's a great deal covered in just over two and a quarter hours; topics include their vastly different childhoods, a shared admiration for Teddy Roosevelt, Hemingway's life in Paris during the 1920s, Cooper's early years in Hollywood during the same time, a sincere respect for one another's work from afar during the 1930s, their first encounter in 1940, shared creative output (including Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls), career declines and a similar comeback during the 1950s, Hemingway's near-fatal plane crashes (there were two!) during an African safari, their final years, and that brief seven-week period between their deaths in 1961.

Narrated by Sam Waterston with music by classical pianist Byron Janis, Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen moves by at a good clip but can understandably become repetitive at times. It's extremely difficult to present a linear account of two parallel lives without doing so, but the film's drawn-out running time of 138 minutes could have used more trimming around the edges; I've learned that an early cut of the film bordered on three hours, so at least this final version shows a bit more restraint. Regardless, die-hard fans should find a great deal to like about this feature -- it's well-structured and easy to follow, and the dozens of featured participants offer valuable insight. Several of them -- Charlton Heston, Elmore Leonard, Patricia Neal, Robert Osborne, etc. -- have died since the film's production, which makes their appearances all the more valuable. (Kirk Douglas, on the other hand, is still kicking at 101 and may outlive us all.)

Originally released on DVD in 2015 as a rather plain-wrap package, this new Special Edition Blu-ray is a two-disc affair loaded with bonus features, including a feature-length audio commentary and several hours' worth of extended interviews. The A/V presentation can't help but leave something to be desired (many problems appear related to the source material) and the price is stiff, but this Blu-ray edition is still one that die-hard fans should enjoy digging through.

Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen looks average-to-good with a few glaring problems along the way. Recent interviews are well-lit and cleanly shot with solid image detail, while vintage photographs (presented in a mix of color, sepia tone, and black-and-white) are sometimes quite a bit rougher around the edges. Dirt and debris are extremely common but not overly distracting, as are other types of print damage and deterioration from the source material. Film clips are likewise a mixed bag -- some don't look much better than VHS or DVD quality, or even compressed Internet videos -- with obvious pixellation, edge enhancement, noise reduction, and interlacing during certain spots. Unfortunately, these photos and clips are also universally cropped to fill the 16x9 frame, which means that native flaws are even worse and text is sometimes cut off as well. Though it sports a healthy bit-rate (often hovering around 35 Mbps), it's barely head-and-shoulders above an upscaled DVD at times.

NOTE: The images on this page do not necessarily represent the title under review.

The default DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track serves up the level of quality you'd expect from any historical documentary with a modest budget. New interviews sound crisp and clear; the sound effects additional music cues by classical pianist Byron Janis are mixed fairly well and rarely fight for attention. Given the subject matter and film clips, the lack of a surround option is completely understandable. The older audio source material has its limitations but seems to be in better overall condition than the visual counterparts. Unfortunately, optional English subtitles or captions are not included during the film -- they might have helped at times, especially for those less familiar with names and events.

Passion Pictures' standard menu interface is basic, clean, and well-organized with quick loading time. This two-disc Blu-ray package is housed quite strangely in a double-width DVD case with a folded 16-page "Arts In Review" Replica Booklet with articles, photographs, and original newspaper reviews and advertisements for novels, stories, and films by Hemingway and Cooper. It's a nice touch for collectors, but probably could have been packaged in a more streamlined and well-thought-out manner -- the booklet completely overlaps Disc 1 and is so bulky that it arrived with a broken tab holder.

The extras are quite substantial and appear to be Blu-ray exclusives, as scattered reviews suggest that the 2015 DVD was a film-only release. Disc 1 contains a full Audio Commentary with director John Mulholland, who serves up a dense, informative track brimming with additional details for almost every scene in the movie. It's kind of surprising to see a commentary on any documentary release (they are, after all, quasi-commentaries to begin with), but this one is well done and should appeal to those who want to explore the subject matter even further. Meanwhile, "A Letter to Gary Cooper" is an extended video interview with Kirk Douglas (10 minutes), part of which was seen during the film.

Likewise, Disc 2 includes a treasure trove of Additional Interviews with Elmore Leonard, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Jim Harrison, Patricia Neal, George Plimpton, Robert Stack, Budd Schulberg, and dozens more; these video clips are either new or extended from their film counterparts, run for roughly three hours total, and are also playable by theme. Smaller extras include three short Deleted Scenes (11 minutes total, many of which are repeated during the interviews), a brief self-playing Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (2 minutes), and the film's Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes).

Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen is a well-researched, thoughtful, and comprehensive look at two icons of the 20th century, loaded with dozens of fascinating second-hand interviews with friends, family, and contemporaries of both immensely talented men. The parallels and contrasts work well within the context of its format, although the film is very long at 138 minutes and could have used a bit more trimming to keep the interest level high. With that said, there's obviously no shortage of information here and, combined with the hours upon hours of bonus features, those even halfway interested in Cooper and Hemingway should get their money's worth -- it's a rare disc where the extras overshadow the A/V presentation and even the film itself. Recommended, though a rental might be enough for some.

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