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Rebel Without a Cause
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The concept of Rebel Without a Cause was to focus on telling a story about confused middle class teenagers living in Suburbia. How the story was told was a different matter altogether. Back in 1955, when the film was first released, the film was controversial at the time as it seemingly depicted teenage rebellion and moral decay in the 1950s. Yet there is a lot that happens in the course of the film that has made it become the classic that it is heralded as. Originally conceived to be a cheaply produced black-and-white movie, Warner Bros had switched the production into a larger budget mode and with color filming when it became apparent that James Dean was one of the rising stars of the time.
From the opening frame of the film, Dean began to deliver an iconic performance. He was creatively enmeshed in his characters. The first shots of the film show Dean laying on the ground. He is playing with a toy monkey. This was improvised. He asked the filmmaker Nicholas Ray if he could try something. This became the opening of the movie. Quite a fascinating moment. Dean was capable of such amazing acting. He had so many ideas.
The story of Rebel Without a Cause primarily follows the teenagers Jim Stark (James Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood), and Plato (Sal Mineo) as they try to make sense of their lives while a sequence of events sends things spiraling for all of them. At the start of the film, the three teenagers are all in a police station, each needing their parents to get them. Jim's parents argumentative nature around Jim makes him more restless and distant. Judy's father is shockingly distant from her with a cold detachment. Plato's father abandoned him. The characters in this story each deal with their own feelings of displacement.
One of the greatest sequences in the film is when the characters first meet each other while attending a school field trip to an observatory. There, while witnessing a theoretical show displaying the destruction of the entire universe, the wide expansiveness of the world is seemingly even more cold to them than before. It's a perfect metaphor for how the three characters are going through such severe feelings of isolation and misunderstandings.
The performances by Dean, Wood, and Mineo are equally great. Each actor brought a memorable performance to the screen. Over the course of the story, Jim and Judy seem somewhat parental to the Plato character. They even enact a 'game' of sorts at one point, inhabiting these roles. Dean and Wood had immense screen chemistry together and were perfectly in synch with each other during this film. The confusion and angst felt from the characters was well demonstrated by the performances.
Nicholas Ray did an excellent job as the director of Rebel Without a Cause. The story is a complicated one to tell, and was not a small task for Ray to attempt to realize as director. Everything about the film was stylistically 'ace' and he managed to have the actors create compelling characters that could be universally fascinating and compelling.
The film has incredible pacing and flows from one scene into the next with a remarkable vitality that's essentially fundamental to the film's success. This universally appealing story was one he managed to tell with a heart and soul in the filmmaking, which makes the tragic ending so powerful that one can truly consider it amongst the best film endings of all time.
In my estimation, Rebel Without a Cause is the best looking film out of the three presented in the James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition. There is something about its unique visual style that impresses me the most. Perhaps it has something to do with the color and the way it brings the best out of the costumes, especially the famous red jacket Dean wore during the film.
All three films contain excellent cinematography, and yet I found the work that was done by the Academy Award winning cinematographer Ernest Haller to be the best of the bunch. This is an excellent film aesthetically, and I consider that element to begin with the brilliant photography, which is well represented with this Blu-ray release.
The original 2.55:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been preserved. The 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode is splendid and has an average bit-rate is around 25 mbps. This is certainly not a huge sampling rate, but it's par-the-course for Warner Bros and it's adequate for this presentation. I found the film to have good color depth and decent clarity. The film could have been sharper. However, the sharpness in this transfer is notable, nonetheless, and far better when compared to earlier presentations of Rebel Without a Cause.
This film presentation doesn't suffer from anything artificial attempting to "enhance" the film either. It's free of artificial sharpening, DNR, and an assortment of similar ailments that are detrimental to quality. Another plus is that the presentation has solid black levels. This is a pleasing presentation and one that I find little to fault.
I also found the CinemaScope design to be quite impressive. It is important to realize that the technology was new at the time. This was one of the first films to use the technology, which pioneered anamorphic lenses and the widescreen format. I think Rebel Without a Cause is a notable example of the strength of the format. It is a splendid image, despite the flaws of the CinemaScope technology.
I did not notice anything that created a sensation of a "stretched" image for my viewing, which is a common complaint of the technology, and rightfully so as it an optically flawed system. Many other films made in CinemaScope seem notably stretched to me so recognizing the widescreen brilliance of Rebel Without a Cause and how seamlessly it handled the new technology seems worthwhile. While many will not think of the film from this aesthetic area, this was a hugely significant film in terms of pioneering the technology of widescreen filmmaking.
It's efforts made with films like Rebel Without a Cause that led us to the technological brilliance of modern filmmaking technologies: the current scope aspect ratios and presentations would not even exist without such efforts.
Unlike the audio presentation Giant received, Warner Bros. has given Rebel Without a Cause an audio makeover of sorts with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation. I'm all for keeping the original audio intact but this is actually not that bad of a sound mix for the film. Surprisingly, I found it sounded rather authentic with the material.
Many will refer to it as a glorified mono mix. I disagree. There's a bit more dimensionality to the mix, especially when the car sequences are taken into account, and with regards to the way score music was implemented. However, I will also maintain that this is a authentic sounding mix that is generally an impressive and satisfactory experience. It's still a front-heavy mix. It implements a good range of bass into the sound-stage. It's simply a nice expansion to the audio presentation and not an awful attempt at utilizing sound effects beyond their capabilities.
I actually wish that an option was given for both a surround sound re-mix and the original mono to be selectable on the disc. This seems to be an over-sight from Warner Bros. Nonetheless, the sound is impressive in its lossless surround sound mix. Film fans won't feel disappointed by the presentation as long as the audio-purist in them doesn't kick it into over-drive on this one.
This Blu-ay review has been sourced from the review of James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition. The information provided in this review details the same Blu-ray disc and bonus features content specific to the film as is provided individually in this DigiBook edition. Additional screenshots have also been provide to give a better sense of the Blu-ray PQ.
Refer to the review of the James Dean: Ultimate Collector's Edition for specifics on the Ultimate release with East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant as well as other supplemental bonus features (both on-disc and in the packaging).
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The edition of Rebel Without a Cause includes the majority of the supplements from the 2005 Special Edition 2-Disc DVD release. This release also adds a brand new supplemental feature.
Details of the Supplements:
Dennis Hopper's "Memories from the Warner Lot" (HD, 11 min.), a brand new interview for the Blu-ray edition. In this piece, Hopper discusses his work on Giant and Rebel Without a Cause.
Commentary by Douglas L. Rathgeb, the author of The Making of Rebel Without a Cause.
James Dean Remembered (1 Hr. 6 min.) is another documentary about James Dean and featuring interviews with actors he worked with, particularly those involved with Rebel Without a Cause, such as Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.
Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents (37 min.) is a documentary chronicling the production of the film.
Screen Tests (6 min.) and Wardrobe Tests (5 min.) are provided.
Several Deleted Scenes are included, and these scenes include both scenes from the black and white filming (from when the film was originally being made in black and white) and color scenes cut from the second phase of filming. All of the scenes are presented without sound.
Behind the Camera features short interviews with James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Jim Backus.
The dynamic and influential Rebel Without a Cause seemed to speak to an entire generation when it was first released. I feel that is still the case today and it will be the case tomorrow: Future generations of film lovers will find something to connect to in this essential masterpiece. The PQ resulting from MPI's restoration efforts are fantastic and this is a must-own Blu-ray of an important film in American cinema.
DVD Talk Collector Series.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.