South Pacific: 50th Anniversary Edition [Blu-Ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (29th June 2009).
The Film

Even though musicals have had a major resurgence in the past decade, we have yet to see a new musical producing powerhouse studio or duo like Rodgers and Hammerstein. Nearly every one of their major productions was converted into a major film success at a time when musicals were popular and putting a definitive mark on the formula of the time. Yet after praising them so much, I have to admit that none of their productions even crack the top 10 of my personal list of favorite musicals. For me, the status of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals as classics owes more to their songs durability over time and influence they wielded on later works, rather than the greatness of any given musical. Songs from arguably their best work “The Sound of Music” (1965) are more endearing when reinterpreted, by the likes of John Coltrane, Outkast or in “Moulin Rouge” (2001). Every musical of theirs has some defining songs, but much of the beat and cadence come across as similar, if not identical. When I sat down to take in “South Pacific” (1958) I could sense every beat and movement in the plot and many of the songs came across as really plain. It would be wrong to put something down just because it follows a formula, but with a musical whose songs that don’t stick with me beyond some unintentionally laughable moments in the film, I never get really interested and the film doesn’t try too hard to bring me in.

Titularly set in the South Pacific during World War II, the film follows a post of United States sailors and marines who are left out of combat and spend more time sitting around singing and purchasing goods from a local trader than any real fighting. However the conflict still emerges as Navy nurse Ensign Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) has fallen in love with an affluent French plantation owner on the island, Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi), but fears their lives are too different to truly love and live together. At the same time, newly arrived Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr) learns about the boredom and horniness of the sailors and marines stationed on the island who are looking for women. Lt. Cable has one fall into his lap as south pacific native ‘Bloody Mary’ (Juanita HallFrance Nuyen), hoping the two will settle down on the island and live happily ever after. Unfortunately the drama of the war and the prejudices of Ens. Forbush and Lt. Cable threaten to tear their respective relationships apart.

From a plot perspective the film functions as an interesting counterpoint to the prejudices prevalent in the United States at the time it was written. Songs like “Carefully Taught” seem to indict the systemic racism that is culturally taught and held by Lt. Cable who can’t see himself marrying Liat for fear of what his family in Philadelphia would think for marrying a non-white girl and the prejudices of Ens. Forbush who has a falling out with Emile after finding out he has two half-pacific islander children by his former wife. While the resolution seems to be about overcoming these prejudices, there’s still a thick air of old timey racism in stereotypical language and actions through songs like “Happy Talk” and the actions of “Bloody Mary” whose character is played by an African American woman and Liat is played by a French-Vietnamese actress. Even the supposed native customs that are presented resemble African tribal ceremonies moreso than anything in the Pacific Islander culture, making the film simultaneously problematic and progressive.

The performances and songs are a mixed bag of mediocrity. Everyone acts as they should for the time, though there are some serious homoerotic undertones in the Navy camp that I don’t think anyone really considered at the time, though if they did I would like to know. Characters like Stewpot (Ken Clark) who walks around with a skin-tight shirt that just has ‘Stewpot’ painted on it are hilarious, but not in ways I think the creators intended. The acting by Gaynor, Brazzi, Kerr and Hall all stand as nice enough performances for the material, but seem too restricted to the stage to let their performances translate to the screen. Maybe the biggest surprise in the acting was just seeing Ray Walston sing and dance with a constantly open shirt and sail boat tattoo after I’m so used to seeing him as Starfleet Academy gardener Boothby.

Overall, I’m not completely drawn into the film for entertainment and I spent more time trying to think about the conflict between the anti-racist overtones clashing with the racist subtexts of the film. There are some songs that are definitely catchy and I’ve heard before ever seeing the musical, but aren’t good enough for me to keep thinking about even after the film has ended. It’s not close to making me re-evaluate my opinion of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals, but was not the worst musical I have ever seen either.

Video

My biggest excitement for the film was to see how a 51 year old tenchnicolor style film would turn out on Blu-ray, in this case presented in 1080p 24/fps, 2.20:1 widescreen with AVC MPEG-4 encoding at 31.5 mbps. At first the colors seem to pop beautifully, giving the feel of older films, but the restoration really brings something special in adding back a clarity to the film stock without making it feel too artificial. My biggest problem comes with some of the color filters that were originally used on the film for a few of the different songs, a sort of mood lighting that just adds an overwhelming presence that is more suited to stage lighting than a film.

Audio

Much like the video, the audio brings a great transfer with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, there are also French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, an English Dolby Digital 4.0 surround track and English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The DTS-HD audio keeps the original feel of the sound while upgrading it. The orchestra introduction to the blank screen is something that is never seen in film today, but helps get you in the mood for the soundtrack as it brings in a great clarity. I really appreaciate how the transfer upgrades the sound without trying to go beyond the times, keeping the post-production feel in the way the sound matches up with the video and how some of the ambiet noises would originally just be left out for the sake of clarity.
Optional English for the hearing impaired, Castilian Spanish, Castilian Spanish Text, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Portuguese subtitles are also included.

Extras

This 50th Anniversary Edition of “South Pacific” is a 2-disc Blu-ray disc set, an impressive collection considering the tendancy of most films to opt simply for a single Blu-ray and a single DVD. The volume of extras is equally impressive including two versions of the film, an audio commentary for each version, a documentary, a wide assortment of featurettes, a TV special, karaoke subtitles and song chapters list, vintage stage excerpts, a screen test and theatrical trailer.

DISC ONE:

This disc contains the "Theatrical Cut" of the film with audio commentary by Ted Chapin, president of theRodgers and Hammerstein organization and Broadway director Gerard Alessandrini. The two bring an interesting view to the film, from the perspective of translating the stage musical into a film production. They pull in stories told by people involved in the production, while also discussing the Hollywood nature of the film and the story itself, the movement of the score and lyrics in the film, though with a few pauses and gaps in the commentary.

There’s also a sing-a-long option, that allows you to choose from the different songs in the film, with a sing-a-long style karaoke subtitle track that highlights the way to sing with the film.

Finally on this disc there is a songs only chapter list that allows you to jump to only specific songs, or simply watch the film as only the collection of songs.

DISC TWO:

This disc contains the extended “Road Show” version of the film that runs for 172 minutes, as opposed to the 157 minute version generally released to theatres. It begins with a brief text warning that the 14 minutes of additional scenes are not as well preserved as the rest of the film, which becomes visibly apparent as they look almost black and white in contrast to the rest of the film’s great colors. Still it’s great to see the effort put into the restoration of the film in both forms, even though this cut of the film wasn’t able to be preserved as well.

On this version of the film is an audio commentary with film historian Richard Barrios, who mentions that this version of the film has not been seen outside of the original release of it in the 50’s, devoting most of his commentary to the cuts made from the film. I’m glad he makes a warning o the gaps in his commentary of the film, making it a bit more acceptable for not talking through the entire film. Barrios brings some interesting facts about the production of the film, why you don’t see a 20th Century Fox logo, the different film aspects of the film, how some scenes were cut for being ‘a little too gay’ for the production company. He seems to spend more time talking about the controversy of the filters rather than the film’s content. I understand how frustrating and off the filters are, but I would have liked a bit more.

With the documentary “Passion, Prejudice and ‘South Pacific:’ Creating an American Masterpiece” the reasoning for two Blu-ray discs becomes more apparent as this documentary runs for 1 hour 34 minutes and 5 minutes all together, while also playable in four separate acts:

- “Act I” runs for 28 minutes and 26 seconds, begins the documentary, hosted by Mitzi Gaynor, and deals with the origins of the story for “South Pacific” in World War II. Speaking with historians of the film, armed forces and the war itself, they talk about the history of United States military involvement in the South Pacific, as well as some actual veterans. The history of the story transitions into the involvement of Rodgers and Hammerstein and creating the musical.
- “Act II” runs for 18 minutes and 27 seconds, dealing with the opening of the broadway production of “South Pacific”, using archival footage of the broadway production, images from the film’s opening, and interviews with film critics, historians and others to discuss the music and the draw of the musical moving into the creation of the film.
- “Act III” runs for 22 minutes and 54 seconds and covers the production of the film, through scouting the location and production on location in Hawai’I, the use of color filters, and the Liat/Lt. Cable Relationship.
- “Act IV” runs for 24 minutes and 7 seconds, more discussion of the different musicals and scenes in the film, as well as wrapping up production, working with the director and different actors and characters on set, and the larger legacy of "South Pacific". A solid and well put together documentary that has some great footage and artifacts from the film.

“Making of South Pacific” runs for 14 minutes and 1 second. The title makes it seem like a redundant featurette considering the huge documentary that comes just before, but in fact is the actual old newsreel making of that was released to promote the film, showing how the film was made on set and on location. A great piece of preservation that shows that people have been interested in special features longer than they have even existed.

“60 Minutes: The Tales of the South Pacific” runs for 22 minutes and 25 seconds, a TV Special segment from an old episode of "60 minutes" (1968-Present) reported by Diane Sawyer, covering James Michener’s original story and setting for the musical "South Pacific". A good addition that shows that the special features producers went the full mile for putting together a full 50th Anniversary Edition. At the very least the segment shows just how amazing the film looks actually restored on Blu-ray compared with the VHS quality clips they pull out in the news story.

Vintage stage excerpts runs for 9 minutes and 38 seconds. These are a collection of scenes from the original stage production, featuring Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, already seen in part in the documentary, but in full form here. It features the songs: "I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair", "Finale", "Some Enchanted Evening" and "A Wonderful Guy".

“Fox Movietonews” contains two separate featurette clips from older news segments concerning “South Pacific” with “South Pacific on the Screen – A Perfect Hit,” which runs for 1 minute and 20 seconds, and “State Department Confers High Honor on South Pacific” which runs for 52 seconds.

“Screen Test: Mitzi Gaynor” runs for 6 minutes and 51 seconds, which shows a screen test for Gaynor featuring a longer haircut and a few songs.

The still gallery contains 108 images.

The theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes and 43 secodns, and looks surprisingly well preserved.

Overall

The Film: C- Video: A Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: B+