Based on the landmark George Orwell novel that everyone read in high school (including your parents), Michael Radford's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) is every bit as bleak, oppressive, and flatly ominous as its source material...but, like most filmed adaptations, it skimps on a few details. This wouldn't be the first time Orwell's novel was converted into different media, though: at least three other film or TV adaptations have been released since 1949, and a stage version even premiered at the Royal Opera House in 2005 under the direction of Robert Lepage. That's pretty good pop culture saturation any way you slice it, and it couldn't have happened to a more deserving story.
As for the plot, even casual fans know the basics: Big Brother is watching you, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. John Hurt stars as Winston Smith, a man under the thumb of Oceania's totalitarian government. Celibacy, obedience, and patriotism are either required by law or...let's just say "strongly encouraged" for the virtually anonymous common folk. Winston isn't a prisoner but lives like one under complete surveillance by the Thought Police, and that goes for his fellow "brothers and sisters" too: Oceania's lower class can't help but fall in line or suffer the consequences. Like a few others, though, Winston chooses to test his boundaries: he keeps a hidden diary, longs for young Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), and is more than happy to oblige when she eventually returns his interest. They meet regularly above a pawn shop run by the seemingly supportive Mr. Charrington (Cyril Cusack)...but things take a nasty turn when he reports their illegal activities. Winston and Julia won't live happily ever after.
If you haven't read Orwell's original novel in a while, Michael Radford's big-screen adaptation will come off as more than a little vague and confusing the first time through. Winston's job as a literal rewriter of history is barely explained, and his place in society (or lack thereof) is only hinted at. Other bits, pieces, acronyms, and phrases more prominent in Orwell's book are either explained quickly or never defined...and though it makes for an awkward first viewing, it also puts us more squarely in Winston's monochrome world by creating a blunt, hypnotic narrative. It's an effective strategy that nonetheless gives way to a little too much repetition during the film's second half: once Winston and Julia hook up for the hundredth time, we're vaguely comforted by their connection but it eventually grows old.
Still, this adaptation has its merits: the oppressive landscape is rendered well---and not far removed from Apple's award-winning commercial earlier that year---with a non-stop assault of Big Brother imagery, piped news reports over an ominous intercom system, and occasional hints of dream-like escape that temporarily relieve our hypnosis. 1984's theatrical version (as glimpsed in the film's trailer) featured a cold color palette and muted electronic score by Eurythmics; since then, the director insisted on more traditional music cues by Dominic Muldowney and MGM's 2003 DVD changed the color timing. Twilight Time's Blu-ray includes both audio options but favors the colder palette...and while the lack of extras is disappointing, fans should consider this a definitive package for the time being.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
As mentioned earlier, 1984 is an extremely cold and raw looking film that favors blues and grays almost exclusively. Yet there's a certain depth to the film's palette that wouldn't be attainable in standard definition, creating a slightly less monochrome experience than expected. There's a strong level of image detail and texture too, as well as solid depth in wide shots and those terrifying moments of claustrophobic, crowd-fueled propaganda. Black levels and overall contrast are stable and don't appear to be boosted in any way, no compression issues could be spotted, and a pleasing layer of light film grain is also present. This is a fine looking disc overall and, given the flagrant color timing issues on MGM's 2003 DVD , I'd imagine that die-hard fans will be happy to see 1984 as the director originally intended.
DISCLAIMER: This images featured in this review are promotional in nature and do not represent this title's source image.
Both standard audio tracks preserve the film's modest roots, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mixes have little trouble translating 1984's foreboding atmosphere. Dominic Muldowney's music is presented as the default, but the original Eurythmics score can easily be selected from the setup menu; both are virtually identical otherwise, although the latter sounds slightly louder to my ears. In both cases, dialogue is clean and well-defined, music cues are generally pushed to the back (which appears to be the director's intent), and there's even some modest depth when the situation demands it. Optional English subtitles have been included during the film, as well as Twilight Time's signature Isolated Score track that presents the theatrical music cues as a more robust DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with two-sided artwork and a nice Booklet
featuring production stills, vintage promotional artwork, technical specs, and an essay by Julie Kirgo. Aside from the isolated score mentioned above, extras are limited to the film's Theatrical Trailer
, much like MGM's DVD from more than a decade ago.
George Orwell's landmark novel remains a true classic more than 65 years later...and while this 1984 adaptation does a fantastic job with visuals and casting, it can't help but come up a bit short in the translation. Running at a scant 113 minutes, it feels a bit undercooked aside from the bare minimum of plot development. Yet there's still some meat to chew on, and more than enough punishing bleakness to consider this a somewhat successful "alternate experience" after you've read the novel. Twilight Time's Blu-ray is a welcome effort that highlights the excellent cinematography by Roger Deakins, serving up a strong A/V presentation with three audio tracks but only the bare minimum of supplements. Recommended, but mostly to die-hard fans or curious newcomers with a little extra pocket money.
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.