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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Of Mice And Men (Blu-ray)
Of Mice And Men (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // PG-13 // January 19, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted January 22, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Without question, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is an undisputed classic of literature and one of the most enduring novellas of the 20th century. Gary Sinise's 1992 film was the second of two big-screen adaptations, the other a 1939 Oscar nominee starring Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr. (which, oddly enough, has yet to be released on Blu-ray). Both are strong efforts in their own right, but I'll admit that personal bias sways me towards Sinise's adaptation: having first read Of Mice and Men in high school shortly after the film's release, it immediately grabbed me as a fine example of page-to-screen translation done right. Featuring strong lead performances by Sinise and John Malkovich (not to mention a supporting cast that includes Ray Walston, Casey Siemaszko, Sherilyn Fenn, Joe Morton, and more), it's an extremely strong effort from a director with only one other big-screen credit to his name.

The short length of Steinbeck's novella makes it a perfect candidate for film: very little of importance is left out here, allowing the story's atmosphere to breathe without feeling rushed for time. In both cases, the core plot represents one small chapter for everyone involved that, in some cases, serves as a microcosm for their entire lives. When we're first introduced to George (Sinise) and Lennie (Malkovich), we immediately know who leads and who follows, and that there's a history of trouble in their pattern of drifting from place to place during the Great Depression. Currently, the duo are filling a much-needed role as ranch hands and protecting each other from trouble in substantially different ways...yet chaos manages to creep in as it always has, forcing them to pick up and move on once again. Very little has been altered from the source material, aside from that George now serves as more of a hands-on caretaker and Lennie's portrayal is...well, slightly more animated than the book or previous adaptations.

Poetic, thoughtful, and historically controversial for its frank use of language and support of euthanasia, the story has obviously been treated with love and respect from top to bottom. Sinise's film is paced just about right, never wearing out its welcome or feeling like it ends too abruptly (thanks in no small part, of course, to the rock-solid screenplay by celebrated playwright Horton Foote). It packs a massive emotional wallop, and concludes with the same crushing sentiment that it ought to. This is hardly surprising when you consider that Sinise has credited Steinbeck's novella as "his first introduction to literature", and treats this adaptation with a personal touch. His father Roy, an editor with over two dozen film and TV credits, even lent his talents in the cutting room. The production design showcases great attention to detail that's captured by excellent "slice of life" cinematography by Kenneth MacMillan. As a whole, Sinise's take on Of Mice and Men weaves together an effective translation of near-flawless source material.

MGM released the film twice on DVD during a short 18-month window. The second was a solid 2003 Special Edition whose only drawback was being a "flipper" disc; I owned both versions, but the latter developed playback issues and often froze up near the halfway point. Luckily, Of Mice and Men has been resurrected on Blu-ray by Olive Films courtesy of MGM, serving up an improved A/V presentation and the bonus features from both previous DVDs. This is sadly the exception rather than the rule (especially with Olive releases), but I'm glad this excellent film has been given new life on a more suitable format. All we need now is a Blu-ray of the 1939 version and we're set.

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Of Mice and Men easily outpaces both previous MGM DVDs. This is definitely a more film-like presentation with a modest amount of natural film grain, a smoother overall appearance, more natural colors, deeper black levels, and much improved contrast. Though not quite as thick and robust as anticipated (perhaps due to the lack of a brand new master), it's hard to find any other potential room for improvement. This dual-layered disc employs a higher-than-expected bit rate and has no trouble with compression issues, artifacts, edge enhancement, or excessive DNR, rounding out the visual presentation nicely. Like the film itself, this is a reliably good translation of capable source material, deceptively pleasing in its simplicity.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are decorative and do not represent this title's native resolution.

The audio also gets a courtesy bump to DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, preserving the film's stereo roots but creating a more dynamic and rich atmosphere overall. Obviously, Of Mice and Men is a dialogue-driven production with little in the way of action and LFE, but the spoken words and music cues are balanced evenly without fighting for attention. Channel separation is also strong on occasion, especially during the many outdoor sequences. Sadly, no optional English subtitles are included here---perhaps the only missing item of interest from MGM's DVDs.

The interface is clean and easy to navigate, offering separate options for chapter selection, setup, and extras. Loading time is fast with no trailers or advertisements beforehand, aside from the Olive Films logo. This one-disc release is packaged with a studio insert and cover artwork that's slightly reminiscent of the original poster.

I've reviewed enough Olive Blu-rays to become accustomed to little or no bonus features, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that this disc includes all of the extras from MGM's Special Edition DVD. Click that link for a detailed description of these items, which include a feature-length Audio Commentary with Gary Sinise, 11 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, the 20-minute featurette "In Conversation: Gary Sinise and Horton Foote", a much shorter but satisfying Behind-the-Scenes featurette, a few Screen and Makeup Tests, and the film's Theatrical Trailer.

Gary Sinise's Of Mice and Men is an efficient, thoughtful adaptation of classic source material, made all the better by strong performances, great music, and very little dead weight. It was one of the first page-to-screen translations that impressed me during my teenage years when I first saw it more than 20 years ago, and it's held up perfectly in the decades since. Having purchased this film on DVD twice already, I'm glad to see it make the jump to Blu-ray and Olive Films has thankfully given it a nice package: the A/V presentation is quite good, and we're lucky enough to get all the extras from MGM's solid Special Edition DVD. A little more spit and polish would've made this one a "Collector Series" contender, but it's still a no-brainer for fans of the film and book. Very 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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