Lots has been written in the quarter century since Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List came out that I'm not sure what else I could contribute; it was easily Spielberg's most personal film and one that served as either a small reinvention in terms of style and storytelling, it served as a mainstream vehicle for Liam Neeson (Darkman) and Ralph Fiennes (Quiz Show) but more than those pieces of trivia, it served for a lot of people as an embracing of the severity of the Nazis treatment of Jews before and during World War II on a scale that had not been seen before. This was America's most popular/successful director handling a film about the Holocaust, presented in black and white and running more than three hours. A lot of new societal ground was being broken back then.
Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) adapted Thomas Keneally's book for a screenplay, set at the onset of Germany occupying Poland. Oscar Schindler (Neeson) is a businessman sympathetic to Nazi interest, making things like bullets and other necessities for the war. When he sees the Germans taking advantage, sometimes lethally of Polish-born Jews, he decides to try and help them secretly. With the help of his accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley, Hugo) and under the nose of a Nazi captain named Amon Geoth (Fiennes), Schindler managed to help get more than 1,200 Jews out of Poland and to safety while bribing various lower level Nazis to avoid the murder of his workers at the factory he owned.
Spielberg has talked numerous times about the need to make this material as honest and unflinching as possible and manages to deliver for the most part; the run time may be a challenge but it allows for events to unfold deliberately and character arcs to evolve over the course of it; Schindler doesn't discover the humanitarian in him until he's exposed to some of the atrocities that occur in the camps. He sees how much of an animal Goeth is (Fiennes' performance is chilling in its delivery) and the balance of maintaining the veneer of disdain of the Jews combined with his desire to get them out makes for a complexity in Schindler that Neeson does to a high level in the film.
The film's final third does have some storytelling hiccups in Schindler's character behavior, some that can be explained as a flash of rebellion by him in the face of the demons he has to do business with, but there are others that go outside the events and mannerisms of the characters' backstory that happen in Spielberg movies on occasion that make a viewer cringe. Given the expanse of events that transpire in the film they are trivial and have been forgotten over the course of time, but they are worth pointing out along with the excellent performances and near-perfect storytelling.
The film had a lot of discussion points in the months before and the years since it came out a quarter century ago and generally the legacy is well-preserved; it's a powerful film with lots of moments in it that remain etched in many memories and could very well have been pulled out of the documentaries a young Spielberg saw as a child. It is just as important now as when it came out and the efforts by all involved make it a film that deserves a place past entertainment, one of history.The Disc:
The package comes with a Blu-ray that appears to be the same as the last release, so we'll examine the 4K disc here, which is razor sharp. As a relative newbie to 4K in general I wasn't sure what an almost wholly black and white release would bring to the table in UK but textures and detail really do stand out, be it Schindler's lapel and Nazi pin or the candle being lit and more discernible melted wax on the main menu screen. The Dolby Vision presentation provides an inky consistent black level that stands out against the whites and grays in the film. It may be maudlin but in 4K and Dolby Vision, at times the film does not look its age whatsoever, and Universal has given it a phenomenal presentation.The Sound:
The Dolby Atmos track that comes with the 4K disc is just as up to the task; the thing I noticed here is how immersive the film sounded, with lots of crowd noise putting you in the middle of the chaos of the Nazis rounding up the Jews and cataloging them. Directional effects are clear and impactful as is channel panning; the incident where Fiennes attempts to kill an elderly arms maker and seeing some younger Jews run by in the background to avoid a similar fate being a notable example of this. While a dialogue forward affair, the soundtrack helps convey the dread when it needs to.The Extras:
The few extras from the 2013 release are brought over here, along with a couple of new ones. The extras are on a third disc, with the 4K and Blu-ray on discs 1 & 2, respectively. "Voices from the List" (1:17:36) is a look at the events from survivors and those on the list as they discuss Hitler's rise to power and the Nazis taking territories, and stories of Nazi brutality, how the survivors got out, and general thoughts about Schindler. It's an exceptional work that further reinforces the gravitas of the material. "USC Shoah Foundation Story" (4:55) shows Spielberg's inspiration for and the Foundation's work in keeping the Holocaust in the public consciousness. "About iWitness" (4:03) looks at the technology used to modernize the Foundation. The new extras are "Let Their Testimonies Speak" (3:50), a Shoah-produced piece designed for more recent news events, and a post-screening Q&A with Spielberg, Neeson, Kingsley and other cast members that was done in 2018. Interspersed with on-set footage with survivors who came to the set (and extras who were actual survivors), Spielberg recalls the script work and the demands of doing work on the film while juggling post-production work on Jurassic Park at the time, along with his periodic and much-needed phone calls with Robin Williams to provide some levity. He talks about what worked and how he worked with the cast, and Neeson recalls a particularly emotional story with producer Branko Lustig before getting into a particular scene. It's a nice retrospective piece in lieu of an actual more thorough one, though for obvious reasons the thorough one would be nice to see realized.Final Thoughts:
Schindler's List remains a cinematic milestone for good reason, as like the history it tells, the story is tough, but necessary to watch, and Spielberg does not flinch for the most part of the film. In Ultra HD the film is presented to perfection, and with the extras (while getting incrementally substantial) still being a sore spot on the disc. If you're a fan of the film and have the technology, the film is one to have in your library.