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Nineteen Eighty-Four (Limited Edition Series)
A lot of boys temporarily lose interest in reading from their late elementary years through high school, myself included. I did enjoy George Orwell's "Nineteen Eight-Four," with its startling portrait of a dystopian society where an omnipresent government controls each thought and action of the populace. Several screen versions of the story were shot, including a television movie with Donald Pleasence. This version, from Michael Radford, is likely the best, as it replicates the skewed-future society of the novel accurately. Led by John Hurt, who plays Winston Smith, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bleak, densely populated cautionary tale. Although Orwell's novel is trim, the film necessarily condenses and cuts a number of things. Those unfamiliar with the novel - all three of you - may find the narrative confusing, but the film spins mesmerizing webs of totalitarian commotion around viewers.
In an alternate 1984, Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in Oceania, rewriting history to fit the needs of the Party and its leader, Big Brother. Nineteen Eighty-Four assaults the senses with fictitious newsreels and shock bulletins, and it is not immediately clear, at least on screen, what Smith is doing at work. That later becomes apparent when he dictates a new resolution to world wars, their allegiances and enemies. He is plagued by repressed memories of sex, desire and free thought, and jeopardizes his career by sneaking off with Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), an Outer Party member who commits numerous "thoughtcrimes" by disputing the official Party bulletins and truths. There are wonderful, loving moments between Julia and Winston. That these are strictly forbidden is the most immediately sad collateral damage from the totalitarian rule.
Viewers of thematically similar modern works like The Hunger Games will find these have much in common, and owe much, to Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Party spews misinformation and skewed reality. Oceania is likely at war with other superstates, but the line of confessing politicians is an obvious ploy to frighten citizens into total honestly and piety. The televisions that monitor and respond to unsuspecting citizens may seem pedestrian now, but they were intensely disturbing on Orwell's pages. Everyone can be a Party spy, and Orwell was, of course, inspired by World War II era spying in Germany and the Soviet Union. Smith's greatest crime is retaining his identity, and Nineteen Eighty-Four is dryly comical about the prospect of Smith losing his humanity.
This film adaptation is not as powerful as the novel, but it captures the mood well. There is a lot of background noise throughout the film, and viewers feel like they are placed into the dystopian future. Hurt, looking every bit his forty-four years on screen and more, gives a nuanced, reflective performance. This was the final performance of Richard Burton, as Ministry of Love officer O'Brien, who is reserved and confident as Smith's torturer. Nineteen Eighty-Four is bleak, sad and entertaining; high praise for such a difficult adaptation.
Twilight Time again provides a wonderful, film-like presentation for a catalogue title. The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is clean, sharp and fluid, with excellent fine-object detail and texture. The bleak, dystopian setting is interrupted with several bright, colorful shots, and color saturation is excellent. Black levels are good, and contrast is steady. There is very minimal print damage, and I noticed no compression artifacts or digital tinkering.
The Blu-ray offers two soundtracks, both in 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The first offers the studio-backed Eurhythmics soundtrack, the other presents Radford's preferred orchestral score, from Dominic Muldowney. Fidelity and range are good in these mono soundtracks, and all elements are balanced appropriately. I noticed no hiss or distortion. English SDH subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is part of Twilight Time's "Limited Edition Series," and only 3,000 units were produced. The disc is packed in a clear Blu-ray case with double-sided artwork, and a multi-page booklet slides into the case. Extras include the expected Isolated Score Track, presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, alongside the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:21/SD) and an MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06/HD).
A staple of high school English classes, George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" saw several screen adaptations. This film, from Michael Radford, is likely the best, and is anchored by a strong performance from John Hurt. Twilight Time's Blu-ray features minimal supplements, but the picture and sound presentations are excellent. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.