Schindler's List Blu-Ray Review
Posted by Joseph Lee on 03.15.2013
This is Steven Spielberg's masterpiece.
*Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler
*Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern
*Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth
*Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch
*Caroline Goodall as Emile Schindler
*Jonathan Sagall as Poldek Pfefferberg
Story: In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.
Trivia: Stellan Skarsgård was considered for the role of Oskar Schindler. The role went to Liam Neeson. Neeson was originally set to play Father Frank Merrin in Exorcist: The Beginning, but dropped out and was replaced with Skarsgård.
It's incredibly hard to judge something like Schindler's List as a mere film. Yes, it is an extraordinary cinematic achievement, but it's so much more important than that. It's an epic movie about the horrors of the Holocaust, the most tragic and horrific events in human history. To even attempt a movie about the horrors that Nazi Germany inflicted on the Jews borders on exploitative, and even though Steven Spielberg is a Jewish director, he could have hit that territory easily with one wrong move. I imagine he thought this himself, as he reportedly tried to get someone else to direct before he was convinced himself.
Watching the movie leaves one with several different emotions. There are moments when you feel hopelessly depressed, horrified and shocked. Closer to the end, you feel a small sense of hope that there are in fact good people out there in the face of unspeakable evil. There are times that will make the viewer angry and there are others, although these are incredibly rare, that may elicit a laugh or two. I'm still convinced that laugh was nothing more than confusion over how to react. (The scene in question was one of Schindler's Jewish workers thanking him repeatedly and Schindler himself trying to be polite but otherwise clueless how to handle it).
If you do grade it on the merits of film-making, it has to be considered Spielberg's best. Everyone has their personal favorite of his for different reasons. However, on the question of skill and movie-making no how, they do not touch this movie. There is not a single piece of this production that falters in any way.
The cinematography, which also won an Academy Award in 1993, is flawless. Spielberg shot the film in black and white to give it a documentary feel, as all the footage from that time would have been in black and white. He also didn't want to give color and "beautify" the events. He only uses color when he absolutely has to, and that's when it provides the most emotional impact. The fate of the little girl in the red jacket is still one of the most heartbreaking moments ever committed to film, and she only takes up about two minutes of screen time, if that.
Spielberg shoots the film as it if were documentary. He doesn't cut away from the horrific images and forces the audience to see them. When someone is shot in the head, you have to watch that person slump to the ground and die, just as many people had to see this same thing happen every day in that time. It's shot matter-of-fact, not to glorify the violence, but to open the eyes of the viewer to what exactly went on then. It's the stuff of powerful film-making.
It seems trivial to mention acting, but Spielberg put together a great cast. Liam Neeson plays Schindler as a man who starts out greedy, but has his eyes opened to what is going on and immediately changes into someone who wants to help, at the cost of the very thing he set out to create: a successful business. The real Oskar Schindler was more or less poor for the rest of his life after World War II, as he sacrificed nearly everything to help those under his employ. Neeson goes through this change gradually. At first, you may actually dislike Schindler, but that's probably part of the plan. A war profiteer, who is making money off of the death of others, is not a very likable person. However as Schindler changes, the audience's attitudes change, and Neeson is able to pull that off.
The other two main stars are Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes. Both are completely opposite sides of the coin. Kingsley is inherently good, doing everything he can with the small amount of power he has to save as many lives as possible. Kingsley has played a lot of villains over the years (not counting his best-known performance in Gandhi), of to see him play a man as brave as Itzhak Stern as well as he does speaks volumes to his ability.
Fiennes on the other hand, is just evil. There are points in the film where Schindler attempts to convince him to change his ways because he can't believe that one man could be so cruel. Amon Goeth only does it to amuse himself, and immediately stops when it becomes an inconvenience to him. It's a shame Fiennes didn't win the Oscar in 1993 because he completely transformed himself into a man worthy of hatred.
You can judge Schindler's List for it's technical aspects, but it seems pointless to do so. It's an experience that everyone should see. Not just film buffs, not just history buffs. Everyone. It's an important movie that shows a period of history that must never be forgotten. The fact that this is Steven Spielberg's masterpiece is irrelevant. It's something that needs to be seen, as not many films have even come close to showing the horror of that time period and the triumph of those that have survived.
To make sure this film was presented as well as possible in the blu-ray format, Steven Spielberg sat down and oversaw the entire restoration of both audio and video. As a result we get a film that looks and sounds tremendous. The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with options for both Spanish and French 5.1. You can hear every little detail, from the ground crunching beneath the feet of the soldiers to the sharp whistle of the trains.
Naturally, the video is perfect as well. Does this look like it was produced in 2013? No, but I think that's to its advantage. There is some film grain there but it only helps the total product rather than hinder it. The important think is that all of the colors are perfectly defined, every detail (including the grisly ones) are visible and there are no discernible damage marks, which is commendable on a film twenty years old.
I read somewhere that Steven Spielberg didn't want to trivialize the events that occur in the film by revealing how the picture was made. That's why there hasn't been much information on the shooting and very little film from set. If you know exactly how a shot was done, it may take you out of the experience. That's fine for something like Indiana Jones, but this was a personal film for Spielberg and it makes sense why he'd want to preserve its integrity.
The special features we do get, are oddly contained on disc 2 of the DVD portion, and are in standard definition.
The first is Voice From The List. It is a feature-length documentary narrated by the voices of the Jews that Schindler saved. They talk about their life during the war, the events of the Holocaust and the man who eventually saved them from death. It's a powerful companion piece that goes perfectly with the film.
Next there is USC Shoah Foundation Story in which Spielberg talks about the nonprofit organization which is dedicated to overcoming intolerance and bigotry while preserving the histories of survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust.
Finally, there is a small feature about iWitness, an online app that gives educators and students access to over 1,000 video testimonies from Holocaust survivors.
While any film buff would love a documentary on the making of this movie, I think Spielberg did the right thing in not including it. Instead, you get a documentary about the real events that happened from the voices of the people who experienced them.
Special Features: 7.0
The 411: Schindler's List is an important film that must be watched by everyone. It's also a powerful film that elicits a multitude of emotions from the viewer while detailing the tragic events that happened in the Holocaust. The Blu-ray offers the film as pristine as possible with a beautiful transfer that shows off the cinematography and direction that made the film such a critical darling when it was released. Film buffs may not like the lack of features on the making of the film, but what is on the disc is more important. If you're a fan of Spielberg, there is no reason you shouldn't have this in your collection.