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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Apu Trilogy (Blu-ray)
The Apu Trilogy (Blu-ray)
The History Channel // Unrated // November 17, 2015 // Region A
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Review by Neil Lumbard | posted December 2, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Apu Trilogy Blu-ray Review

The Apu Trilogy is one of the most acclaimed film series of all time. The first film in the series, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), was an international success which put filmmaker Satyajit Ray on the map as one of India's most acclaimed filmmakers. Based on the beloved novels written by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, the films made a significant mark in film history.

In the first film in the trilogy, Pather Panchali, Apu is a young boy. Apu lives in a small Bengal village. His family lives in poverty and struggles to get by. His father, priest Harihar Ray (Kanu Bannerjee), who dreams of one day being a poet and writer, leaves the family to search for work, while his mother Sarbojaya Ray (Karuna Bannerjee) struggles to care for the family: Apu, his older sister Durga (Uma Das Gupta), and the elderly Aunt who lives with the family.

In the second film in the trilogy, Aparajito, Apu (Smaran Ghosal) is now a young man who has left home to go to school in Calcutta. In the third film in the trilogy, Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) has graduated from school, is looking for work, and is writing his first (semi-autobiographical) novel. A close friend of Apu's invites him to attend an arranged marriage wedding ceremony. While at the wedding, the groom is deemed unfit for marriage, and the family asks Apu to marry their daughter Aparna (Sharmila Tagore).

The films explore the story of Apu throughout his life: from his early years as a boy living in an impoverished village, to his years as a young student in Calcutta, to his early years as a young man. The storytelling has a slice of life feel. In each of the films in the trilogy, the stories are focused on telling the story of Apu, his family, and his experiences growing up.

Though India was one of the largest film producers in the world in the 1950's, most of the films made in India were characterized by song, dance, and melodramatic storylines. This was the common filmmaking style of the time. Ray's approach was significantly different. Inspired by American filmmakers, Ray felt he could explore filmmaking in a more dramatically compelling way.

Ray worked with an incredible team of collaborators on these films. The music score for each film was composed by Ravi Shankar. The music is excellent throughout the trilogy and has a beautiful, serene, and majestic quality to it. The emotional impact of these films is enhanced significantly by Shankar's wonderful music. The cinematography by Subrata Mitra is quite remarkable. Each film in the series has lush and beautiful black and white cinematography. Production design and art direction were both done by Bansi Chandragupta, who aided the filmmaking style of Ray.

Before becoming a filmmaker, screenwriter and director Satyajit Ray worked as a graphic artist designer. One of the things he did was create illustrations for books. One of the books which he had worked on was written by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. He decided the work would be perfect for adapting to film. Eventually, that became Pather Panchali, Ray's debut film and the first part of the Apu Trilogy.  

Pather Panchali was a culturally significant film in India and one which introduced a visionary filmmaker to the world. Ray is an exquisite filmmaker who brought forth terrific performances from the cast (most especially Karuna Bannerjee, who was remarkable as Apu's mother in both Pather Panchali and Aparajito). As a storyteller, Ray was also impeccably skilled at telling the stories of Apu.

Each film is full of rich emotional depth and a great sense of humanity. These are terrific directorial efforts. Filmmakers from around the world (from Akira Kurosawa to Martin Scorsese) have loved the films of Satyajit Ray, who remains as one of the most acclaimed of India's filmmakers. The Apu Trilogy is an extraordinary achievement which is well worth experiencing.

The Blu-ray:


Video:

The Apu Trilogy is presented in 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded high definition. The presentation is provided in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 full-frame. This is amongst the most impressive efforts ever to be done by the Criterion Collection. The original film elements to these films were tragically burned in a fire.

In collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Criterion Collection underwent a massive undertaking in restoring these films. The original elements were carefully reconstructed and all material that could be restored and saved was carefully preserved. The presentations use as much of the surviving original masters as possible.

As some of the film elements were too badly damaged to be used, the presentations also used other high quality sources for the restoration and reconstruction of the trilogy. The films were all restored in 4K resolution. The process was a laborious and lengthy one. It is one of the greatest achievements Criterion has ever had in film restoration and preservation.

The quality of the Blu-ray release is outstanding. This is a stunning release with exceptional quality. The presentations of each film in the trilogy are absolutely terrific with magnificent black and white cinematography, depth, and clarity. Though there is still some damage that exists within these presentations, it is slight. These are nearly perfect presentations.

Audio:

The audio on the Apu Trilogy was restored to its original mono sound presentation in 24 bit depth. The audio quality is quite impressive. The sound design was carefully restored. The dialogue and sound effects are well presented. This is a quality audio presentation.

English subtitles are provided.


Extras:

The Apu Trilogy includes three digi-pack style cases for each film in the collection. A booklet is included in the set which features essays on the films, select storyboards from Pather Panchali, and notes on the restoration effort.

On disc supplements:

Pather Panchali:

A Long Time on the Little Road (15 min.) features filmmaker Satyajit Ray reading his Sight & Sound essay on the making of the film Pather Panchali.

Soumitra Chatterjee (7 min.) features the actor who played Apu in the third film in the trilogy discussing his collaboration with Satyajit Ray and the impact that Pather Panchali had on him and other Bengalis.

Shampa Srivastava ( 16 min.) is an interview with the actress (credited as Runki Banerjee) who performed the part of Little Durga in Pather Panchali.

Soumendu Roy (13 min.) is an interview with one of the assistant camera-operators who helped on Pather Panchali before becoming one of Ray's most frequent collaborators. He discusses making the film with Ray and the importance of the film.

Ravi Shankar (6 min.) is an excerpt from the documentary Song of the Little Road, featuring an interview with the composer who worked with Ray on all of the films in the Apu Trilogy. He discusses working on the music for the film and his collaborations with Ray.

Aparajito:

The Small Details (11 min.) features film writer Ujall Chakraborty discussing the symbolism in Ray's Aparajito.

A Conversation with Filmmaker Satyajit Ray (15 min.) in which Satyajit Ray discusses his films and filmmaking approach, around the time of the U.S. release of Pather Panchali, in 1958, at a film seminar. The filmmaker had already made three other films at this point (including The Music Room).

Making The Apu Trilogy: Satyajit Ray's Epic Debut (37 min.) is a video-essay by Ray historian Andrew Robinson about the cultural and creative significance of Ray's debut Pather Panchali and the Apu Trilogy.

The Creative Person (29 min.) is a documentary from 1967 featuring interviews with Satyajit Ray and several of his creative collaborators: actors , producers, production designer, and cinematographer

Apur Sansar:

Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore (15 min.) features interviews with the actors who played the roles of Apu and Aparna respectively. The two discuss their collaborations with director Satyajit Ray and their part in making Apur Sansar.

The Apu Trilogy: A Closer Look (44 min.) features an interview with Mamoun Hassan, former head of the BFI (British Film Institute), director, teacher, and producer, who discusses the Apu Trilogy themes and filmmaking style.

Honorary Oscar (3 min.) is a clip of the honorary Lifetime Achievement award given at the Academy Awards to filmmaker Satyajit Ray in 1992.

Restoring the Apu Trilogy: Short Version (3 min.) is a short promotional piece on the restoration effort done for the theatrical re-release.

Restoring the Apu Trilogy: Long Version (13 min.) is a more in-depth look at the restoration efforts by Criterion for the release of the Apu Trilogy.

Final Thoughts:

The Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and Apur Sansar, are three incredible filmmaking achievements by one of the world's most acclaimed filmmakers, Satyajit Ray. The Criterion Collection restoration effort is nothing short of miraculous. The films have been gloriously restored to 4K resolution.

The Blu-ray release is an impressive one with excellent PQ/AQ, entertaining and insightful supplemental materials, and more. This is easily amongst the year's best releases. This is an essential Blu-ray release for film enthusiasts. It earns DVD Talk's highly coveted DVD Talk Collector Series.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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