Shine [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (12th February 2024).
The Film

"Shine" (1996)

“Shine” is a biopic of pianist David Helfgott (played by Alex Rafalowicz as a child, Noah Taylor as a teen, and Geoffrey Rush as an adult), a famed musician whose recognition from the mid-1980s was a long and difficult journey both physically and mentally. Through flashbacks, his struggles with his father Peter (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) who pushed him hard to master the piano, the abuse and setbacks he encountered, as well as his journey to continue music in England with university mentor Cecil Parkes (played by John Gielgud). Told alongside his struggles with mental illness as an adult that led to time in an institution as well as his rejuvenation to play music again supported by his wife Gilliam (played by Lynn Redgrave), it showcases the many hurdles that David had to challenge himself with over the course of his life.

Filmmaker Scott Hicks was established in directing documentaries and music videos when he first saw David Helfgott in concert and met him in 1985. After getting to know him and wife Gillian, he was inspired and poised to bring David’s story to life as a film with his and her blessing, though it would prove to be another difficult journey due to time and seeking funding. Hicks, along with writer Jan Sardi would spend time researching about David’s life and looked to piecing together a narrative story that could be told in cinematic form.

The story was told through chronological flashbacks of David’s life as a child. The eldest of three children of the Peter and Rachel Helfgott (played by Marta Kaczmarek), a Polish Jewish couple that immigrated to Australia following the war in Europe. Peter was a self-taught violinist, though he didn’t have an opportunity to make a career of his talent. His strictness with David’s need to practice the piano is very controlling, and even when the family receives invitations for piano training from teachers or scholarships, Peter is ready to say no at every moment. While he wants David to become the best of the best, such as making him learn Sergei Rachmaninoff incredibly complex 3rd Concerto, he is unwilling to let others take control of his son or his family’s ways. Peter has experienced the loss of family through the war and does everything he can to keep his family together.

Mueller-Stahl’s performance as Peter is a deeply complex one, which shows the love he has for his children, but at the same time traumatized from the war and the anxiety of losing them to the world. The teenage David experiences complex issues as well, with a desire to move on in the world through his talents, but suppressed by his father’s control. David is not mentally or physically strong enough to stand up against his father’s will, and even when he speaks of his desire to study abroad, Noah Taylor’s performance is a subdued one, in a nervous tone and not with strength. It’s also a demanding performance, as the mental anguish and changes due to growing up and his wants and needs changing, there are some harrowing scenes between Taylor and Mueller-Stahl that are absolutely memorable and sometimes horrifying. In addition, there were a number of piano performance scenes with Taylor, who had to mime them or have a hand double through the more difficult scenes such as David’s performance of the 3rd Concerto.

When David appears as an adult in the film, it’s almost as if he was an entirely different person. His mannerisms, his gestures, and his speech patterns are not what one could consider as normal. Constantly smoking cigarettes, babbling quickly and sometimes incoherently, it’s as if his mouth cannot catch up quite to what his brain is thinking in real time. Taking time at a mental institution and staying away from the piano for many years following a nervous breakdown during a performance, the adult David is full of energy but is incapable of putting it to good use in any way. Geoffrey Rush was an established actor on the Australian stage since the 1970s but performed in very few roles in feature films and television, with mostly minor or supporting roles. The choice to cast a relative unknown to cinemagoers was an unusual choice from the eyes of financiers, though Hicks was set that Rush would be the right person to play the role.

Rush studied David Helfgott’s mannerisms as well as his piano playing ability to portray the difficult role. Not only was it difficult to interpret a man with mental disorders, but also for the piano playing, which Rush decided to do everything entirely without a hand double. He did have piano skills from childhood, but needed a full tutor for months to build up his technique to match the maniacal and fast playing style of David’s. Although it was almost always performed on set through miming, it is incredibly convincing and is an amazing sight to see in any of the scenes with Rush playing the piano.

“Shine” is not an incredibly flashy film in terms of visuals, though Hicks along with his crew were able to deliver a visually pleasing film that takes place over a few decades in time, from the 1950s through to the 1980s without a major misstep. The production crew made sure to have a look that seemed reasonable to the era and not make things like contemporary fashions or period cars to stand out, instead relying on basic visual clues in wardrobes and settings. While the dramatic elements are quite heavy handed and serious, there is still a lot of humor to be found in the film, especially with the adult David and certain situations. The way he converses with people, how he has an inappropriate fondness for female breasts, as well as the famous bottomless trampoline sequence, there are a lot of great smiles to be had against some of the harsher scenes in the past.

As “Shine” is a biopic, there are obviously some liberties taken for dramatic effect, and there was some controversy surrounding the portrayal. The film doesn’t go into how David became diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder or his gradual change, instead making it seem like a sudden mental breakdown was the trigger. This is one of the weaker points in the narrative as it doesn't delve into the changes over the years, the troubles it caused, and the increasing challenges to his everyday life. There was also no mention of David’s first wife, a widow with four children and their relationship. In addition, David’s siblings Margaret and Les Helfgott stated that the film’s portrayal of their father was exaggerated, making him seem like a tyrannical figure. The film had full blessing and support from David and Gilliam, and it was said that the views were toward their favor, rather than what reality was. It can be argued that the father’s portrayal was “inaccurate”, though the film version makes it much clearer what the father’s intentions were and his love for the family being both a blessing and a crutch. In narrative terms, it is told through the mind of David, and his memories were the towering father over his piano playing abilities and the abuse that he suffered. It may have not been completely accurate in what truly happened, but in storytelling it creates a bigger emotional response and in that case it delivered.

“Shine” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21st, 1996 and the response was immediately a winner. It was released in Australian cinemas on August 15th, 1996 and was a major hit, grossing $10 million against a $6 million budget. It was a major awards winner, with the Australian Film Institute awarding it with 9 awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. It was also nominated for 5 Golden Globes, with Rush being the sole winner for Best Actor. This was also the case for the Academy Awards, with 7 nominations and one win for Best Actor for Rush. “Shine” went on to gross $35 million in the United States alone, becoming one of the highest grossing and most well known Australian films of the era, and establishing Rush as a prominent figure in the cinematic landscape for decades to come.

As for the real David Helfgott, his life and career became a major inspiration to the world, and he has enjoyed success through world tours and with album sales over the years. In 2022, his wife Gillian passed away at the age of 90. As of 2024, the 76 year old David Helgott is keeping busy with music, with his most recent tour rounding Australia, Hungary, Austria, and Switzerland. Umbrella Entertainment previously released the film on the Blu-ray format back in 2015, and in 2023 they have gone back and given it a better release with a new transfer and additional extras.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer is a good one, with good reproduction of colors, having a stable image throughout, and excellent detail while still retaining a healthy amount of film grain for a natural looking presentation. The image is free of damage such as scratches or debris for a clean image, though there are some minor instances of inconsistencies with pure whites. This seems to be the fault within the dated HD transfer, where examples of the older David's white dress shirt having inconsistent digital grain is seen. There are a few other examples which the digital sharpening has caused anomalies though note there are only a few to be noticed. Overall it is a good transfer, but it could have been richer and smoother with a 4K restoration. Possibly one could be done a 30th anniversary release in a few more years?

The film's runtime is 105:35.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo

Both the original 5.1 and optional 2.0 stereo audio tracks are offered in lossless form. As music is a key part of the film, the lossless 5.1 track is exceptional with presenting the various cues of the character of David's playing as well as the film score by David Hirschfelder using the surrounds effectively. There are examples of panning audio such as the opening shot of David speaking which moves from screen left to right with the dialogue panning in the same direction. For the most part, dialogue is presented solely in the center channel, with the music and effects being well balanced throughout. There are no issues with audio such as with dropout or hiss, being a clean and strong track throughout.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature which are well timed and easy to read without errors to speak of.


Audio Commentary by director Scott Hicks and actor Geoffrey Rush
This commentary, which was recorded for the US Criterion Laserdisc from 1997 has two separate sessions of Hicks and Rush recorded and edited together. Hitcks discusses the film's structure with the timeline and flashbacks, the inspiration for the title, the color palate, the production design, having to cover up Taylor's tattoos, working with Rush on the character, the music choices and much more. Rush's comments come in over an hour into the commentary, where he discusses his theater career, meeting the real David Helfgott, his piano skills and brush up with a tutor, the performance and more. From thereon, the comments cut back and forth between Hicks and Rush.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"The Imp, The Spirit, The Hero: Playing David Helfgott in Shine" Interview with actor Geoffrey Rush (27:29)
This 2015 retrospective interview with Rush has the actor discussing his theater career prior to the casting in the film, his reaction to the script, knowing the issues about the financing and delays, his interactions with the real David, his piano skills, and the changes the film made to his professional career.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Sculpting the Movie: The Experience of Directing Shine" Interview with director Scott Hicks (29:00)
This 2015 retrospective interview with Hicks has him discussing his documentary film career prior to "Shine", the inspiration the real David game him to turn his story into a film script, the casting of Rush, the shooting of the piano sequences, working with the legendary John Gielgud who turned 91 during filming, and his memories of Rush's reaction to the first screening.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Drawing the Audience In: Making the Music of Shine" Interview with composer David Hirschfelder (28:53)
This 2015 retrospective interview with Hirschfelder has him discussing about his meetings with the real David, recording David's actual performances, the choices made for the music cues, the actors and their hand doubles (sans Rush), and the underscores he composed for the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"At Home with David Helfgott" 1990 home video footage by Scott Hicks (32:38)
Presented here are various clips of Helfgott on piano at home with some conversation pieces as well.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4 (upscaled), in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"On Location" 1996 featurette (3:04)
This EPK behind the scenes footage features the cast and crew shooting two scenes, one of Rush meeting Mueller-Stahl after the concert scene and one of Rush on the phone with Redgrave in the hotel.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4 (upscaled), in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

10 Original 1996 Interviews with Cast and Crew (42:58)
Presented here are vintage EPK interviews with the cast and crew. Interviewed are director Scott Hicks, producer Jane Scott, screenwriter Jan Sardi, actors Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Lynn Redgrave, cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, production designer Vicki Niehus, and costume designer Louise Wakefield. Discussed are casting choices, shooting in South Australia and London, the writing process, about the characters, the actors reactions to the script, the look of the film, and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4 (upscaled), in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Screen Tests
- Geoffrey Rush (4:41)
- Noah Taylor (6:10)

Presented here are two video screen tests from Rush and Taylor. It's interesting to see the two actors perform the same scene when they are performing the character in two different periods in the finished film, and this includes multiple takes for each actor.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Films Buff's Forecast Interview with Screenwriter Jan Sardi (33:11)
This radio interview with Sardi conducted by film critic Paul Harris is from around the theatrical release of the film, in which Sardi discusses the writing performances, his collaboration with Hicks, about the real David Helfgott, the research done, as well as the film's reaction at Sundance.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Press Image Gallery (1:30)
Presented here is an automated slideshow gallery of promotional advertising stills for the film by Australian distributor Ronin Films, along with background music.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, Music Dolby Digital 2.0

Australian Theatrical Trailer (1:33)
The original trailer, which is free from any narration that plagued many of the Hollywood trailers in that era is presented here, transferred from a film source and is in incredibly good shape.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

The film was first released on Blu-ray in 2015 by Umbrella Entertainment. It includes the Criterion LD commentary and the three retrospective interviews as extras. Unfortunately it used a 25fps master rather than a 24fps progressive transfer. In 2017, Studio Canal in Germany released the film on Blu-ray with a 24fps progressive transfer. Unfortunately it had no substantial extras. In 2023, the UK's Curzon released the film and had the three retrospective interviews as the sole extras. The 2023 Umbrella Blu-ray Includes the Criterion commentary, the three retrospective interviews from the 2015 Blu-ray, as well as additional vintage extras from the DVD era. The screen tests, home video footage, four of the EPK interviews, and Australian trailer were available on the 2-disc Australian DVD release from Ovation. While this 2023 reissue is packed with extras including some vintage ones being available on disc for the first time. There are a few previously released extras that are missing though. The 2-disc Australian DVD also had Rush's Golden Globe acceptance speech, a differing behind the scenes featurette, a storyboards gallery, and a production gallery. The US/Canadian DVD releases from New Line/Alliance also had the Golden Globe speech as well as an exclusive Q&A with Hicks. In addition to the audio commentary, the Criterion LD also included an audio interview of David Helfgott by Scott Hicks plus the home video footage of Helfgott shot by Hicks.

Other notable clips:

A clip from the film, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

US Theatrical Trailer, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Geoffrey Rush's Oscar acceptance speech

David Helfgott's Oscar performance

Highlights from the 20th anniversary reunion with Geoffrey Rush and David Helfgott at the NSFA

Footage from the 20th anniversary exhibition launch at the South Australian Film Corporation's Adelaide Studios

Interview with Scott Hicks for the 20th Anniversary, from Screen Australia

An extended preview of the 2015 documentary "Hello I Am David!"


The disc is packaged in a standard keep case with reversible artwork, which removes the Australian PG rating logos. Otherwise the artwork is identical. Minor capitalization error on the rear inlay with "Oscar" being spelled as "OScar".


"Shine" is a great feelgood biopic that stands the test of time due to the fantastic performances and incredible music sequences and is a treasure to Australian cinema breaking through to worldwide audiences. Umbrella Entertainment's reissue on Blu-ray is a major upgrade with an improved transfer and additional extras making this highly recommended.

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


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