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The story of Giant is long, detailed, and full of exploration. Giant is a richly rewarding story that explores some serious thematic material. It begins by being a story of two people falling in love: Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) and Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), even though the two seem to have little in common. Bick was traveling to buy a horse within Maryland and is a wealthy Texan who is head of a ranching family. He fancies Leslie when he meets her while on this trip, and she equally fancies him. Leslie breaks up an engagement she was in so that she can leave with Bick and go to Texas. The long journey of Giant only begins here.
Over the course of the storyline, the film explores racial discrimination from the Southern white ranchers and seeks to explore the development of the Benedict family towards racial equality as Leslie determinedly helps to change things for the family. This is a core theme of the story. The Mexican American workers who work for the Benedicts were isolated, segregated, and ignored. In one integral scene of the film, Leslie helps a seriously ill worker who was receiving no help medically. It becomes clear to her that not enough is being done to care for these people, who Leslie understands work with them. Yet she see's that they are being discriminated against. In concluding the film, there is a pivotal scene that makes a definitive statement about the great importance of racial equality. It becomes clear that one of the points of the film is to say that being a "Giant" can have more to do with standing up for what is right than for always being showered with riches.
In voicing her opinions and fighting for what she believes in, Leslie also changes the stance on a woman's role within this family business infrastructure. She wants to do the same kind of work the men do and she wants to be able to be involved in the process that the other men so selfishly attempt to keep to themselves. In a key sequence, Leslie and Bick disagree over an issue while Bick's having a meeting with his male colleagues. He refuses to listen to her and let her join in the meeting. This causes marital problems between the two, who have a temporary separation during the film's story. This is another big focal point of the story, and it makes the film much more compelling and important as a result.
Dean plays the role of Jett Rink, who was working for Luz Benedict (Mercedes McCambridge), and trying to make a living so that he could eventfully become rich and leave Texas behind. It was his dream: an American dream of finding success. Upon Luz's passing, he is given shares that allow him land of his own because he was in Luz's will. Bick tries to purchase back the share of the land but Jett rejects. He eventually finds oil and becomes a bigger tycoon with greater wealth and power than the Benedict family. Yet his greatest tragedy lies in how his feelings for Leslie (whom he is in love with) can never come to fruition and his pain leads directly into a path of his own destruction.
The part of Jett in Giant was Dean's final performance on film and it was his peak between the three films. Despite being a supporting role, Dean's performance as Jett arguably became the most stand-out one of the film despite a shorter appearance compared to the lead performers, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Whenever I think of Giant, despite the many amazing elements to the film, the first thing I always think of is James Dean and his iconic role in it: wearing his similarly iconic Cowboy hat - which helped to add flavor to his performance.
The canvas of the filmmaking in Giant was quite expansive - it is something that George Stevens understood how to utilize especially well as a filmmaker. Stevens was not an overt director like so many are -- instead of wanting to draw attention to stylistic flourishes, he wanted to hone in on the performances of the actors. Yet a masterful skill resided in Stevens to deliver incredible shots, these fantastic moments of cinematic greatness when he felt it necessary. He was more capable than most filmmakers as a true visionary of the medium and how to best utilize it to share stories.
Stevens was so precise when it came down to his directing efforts. Giant is one of the great epics in cinema history. He was entirely capable of telling the detailed story inherent in the book and script while also bringing the best out of his actors. I feel as though he seemed to know exactly when things could shine further with moments of extreme majesty shining through. It was the quiet moments that he created that helped to form the greater, big picture.
Giant is without a doubt my favorite film in this entire collection: it is one of the greatest of all westerns and a truly remarkable cinematic achievement. Featuring excellent performances by Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean and based upon the novel by Edna Ferber, Giant is one of the greatest films ever made.
Giant is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which is the ratio that was utilized during filming. The film itself was exhibited in theaters with the more common 1.85:1 ratio, but this Blu-ray presents the film with the most authentic representation of the work done during the making of the movie. This 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer does a good job with the presentation of MPI's restoration efforts, which resulted from a 4K scan of the negative.
Home-video connoisseurs will be slightly disheartened to learn that the average bit-rate is around 22 MBPS for the presentation. I am a firm believer that bit-rates help to tell a good portion of the PQ story when it comes to video-encodes. That is not to say that presentations with a lower PQ bit-rate is guaranteed to be a disappointing presentation. I mean only to suggest that it is a big factor to consider in evaluating any film presentation on Blu-ray and DVD.
With regards to Giant, this transfer could surely have been improved had the film been allowed breathing room across a two-disc presentation, and one would hope such an effort would have been allowed to yield even greater results than what is found with this Blu-ray edition. At the very least, I feel the film could have been included across three discs: one showing the film uninterrupted, and another two discs preserving the film with the best possible transfer. As unlikely as this scenario sounds for Warner Bros, I feel as though some films merit this as presentation quality-control and that some films could be improved with a simple solution similar to what I am suggesting.
That is not to say that the Giant transfer is a slouch or that most film fans will walk away disappointed. To my surprise, the transfer is mostly quite impressive. I am just being the "particular" person that I am in analyzing the presentation. Some sequences and scenes underwhelm due to limitations of the source: certain moments are going to look soft as conditions of the material is slightly varied. Yet most scenes are crisp, clean, and well represented.
Considering the fact that the film has an over 3 hour long run time, and that the film is presented on only one single 50 GB Blu-ray disc, I was quite impressed with the presentation results. All things considered, I feel this is the best presentation of Giant ever released on media. So most viewers will likely feel this transfer is a 'revelation' of what the film looks like - it certainly is stunning at times to see just how detailed Giant can look in High Definition.
I've never before seen the film look as good as it does here. I have a few nitpicky complaints, but the simple fact is that this is a worthwhile upgrade, significantly improved over previous editions of the film.
The film itself is filled with so many conversational-pieces and slow pan camera sequences that the bit-rates are relatively strong for the material presented and help to maintain what is mostly notable about the film quality in regards to depth, color, and detail. There is also little damage: restoration efforts by MPI helped with this aspect of the presentation. Lastly, I also noticed no unnecessary digital tinkering, which helps to solidify this as an impressive transfer worthy of consideration.
By a large margin, I consider the presentation Warner Bros has allotted to Giant in the sound department to be the absolute best of the three recently released James Dean films arriving on Blu-ray for the first time. This is primarily because the film's audio presentation has been preserved with stereo sound rendered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, sourced from the mono soundtrack and preserving the general soundstage with a authentic sounding representation of the source.
Maintaining the original audio design allows for the film's audio to sound natural and authentic -- closer to the way as it did when released to theaters for the first time. There is surprising fidelity for a film of this age. It doesn't sound digitally altered and the sound-stage is impressive with good clarity and depth for the stereo sound. Dialogue is clearly distinguishable and easy to understand. The score and sound effects have decent range and sound reasonably good. I certainly found the film benefited from its notable sound-design.
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 Blu-ray release of Giant retains all of the supplemental features found on the 2-Disc DVD Special Edition. The second disc for Giant (a DVD) is the same one previously included in that edition. This release also adds the addition of a separate DVD of the documentary film George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey (1 Hr. 51 Min.) which was produced, written, and directed by George Stevens, Jr. as an exploration of his father's career and craft.
The release has been issued with DigiBook style packaging.
On the Feature-Film Blu-ray:
Introduction by George Stevens, Jr. (SD, 3 min.)
Commentary by George Stevens, Jr., Screenwriter Ivan Moffat, and Film Critic Stephen Farber
George Stevens: Filmmakers Who Knew Him (SD, 46 min.) is a documentary featuring several different interviews with directors who knew George Stevens, including Frank Capra, Warren Beatty, and Robert Wise (amongst others). These directors offer up their own insight into the filmmaker, both in terms of his art and his unique personality.
On the Bonus Features DVD:
Memories of Giant (52 min.) is a documentary produced in 1998, and that features interviews with most of the cast and crew and George Steven's son, George Stevens, Jr.
Return to Giant (55 min.) is another documentary about Giant. This one was produced in 2003 and it delves into a lot of similar ground a the first one as it mainly features interviews about Giant, and select film clips.
Two Giant premiere events are covered here: New York Premiere Telecast (29 min.) and Hollywood Premiere (4 min.)
Giant Stars Are Off to Texas (1 min.) is a classic news reel from WB.
Stills and Documents provide both photographs from the making of the film and memos from Giant.
Behind The Cameras: On Location in Marfa, Texas (6 min.)
Behind the Cameras: A Visit with Dmitri Tiomkin (7 min.)
Trailers promoting Giant (both during its original theatrical release and re-release).
There are text-based inclusion on this release: A Giant Undertaking is a text-based walkthrough of George Stevens career as filmmaker, George Stevens Filmography notes his works, Awards details the awards won, and Cast and Crew gives more insight into the careers of others who worked on Giant.
When you hear people say "they don't make them like they used to" Giant is probably one of the first films that springs to mind. This masterpiece of cinematic craft and storytelling is both socially important and marvelous to behold. The visual qualities are so sublime and yet it's not the showiest of films: this is a film that is so nuanced and wonderfully realized that it stands significantly apart from most other productions of its time and even of modern cinema. This is one of the best epics to ever be made and George Stevens made that possible through the brilliance of the directing. The story and the great performances make this a essential viewing.
Whether you care most about the acting from Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, or James Dean - or perhaps the magnificent storytelling - there is no mistaking the brilliance of this significant classic. Giant belongs in the collection of every fan of great 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.