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Dead Poets Society (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 8, 2012 by  



Sentimental, tragic and yet inspiring… “Dead Poets Society” is recommended.

Images courtesy of ©2011 Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Dead Poets Society

FILM RELEASE: 1989

DURATION: 129 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH and French

COMPANY: Touchstone Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Children)

Release Date: January 17, 2012

Directed by Peter Weir

Written by Tom Schulman

Produced by Steven Haft, Paul Junger Witt, Tony Thomas

Associate Producer: Duncan Henderson

Music by Maurice Jarre

Cinematography by John Seale

Edited by William M. Anderson

Casting by Howard Feuer

Production Design by Wendy Stites

Art Direction by Sandy Veneziano

Set Decoration by John H. Anderson

Starring:

Robin Williams as John Keating

Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry

Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson

Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet

Gale Hansen as Charlie Dalton

Dylan Kussman as Richard Cameron

Allelon Ruggerio as Steven Meeks

James Waterston as Gerard Pitts

Normany Lloyd as Mr. Nolan

Kurtwood Smith as Mr. Perry

Carla Belver as Mrs. Perry

Leon Pownall as McAllister

George Martin as Dr. Hager

Kevin Cooney as Joe Danburry

For generations, Welton Academy students have been groomed to live lives of conformity and tradition – until new professor John Keating inspires them to think for themselves, live life to the fullest and “Carpe Diem.” This unconventional approach awakens the spirits of the students, but draws the wrath of a disapproving faculty when an unexpected tragedy strikes the school. With unforgettable characters and beautiful cinematography, Dead Poets Society will captivate and inspire you time and time again.

In 1989, “Dead Poets Society” would receive rave reviews from film critics.

Directed by Peter Weir (“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”, “The Truman Show”, “The Way Back”) and written by Tom Schulman (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, “What About Bob?”, “Medicine Man”), “Dead Poets Society” was a a winner of an Academy Award for “Best Original Screenplay” and earned actor Robin Williams an Academy Award nomination for “Best Actor”.

The film is based on the life of writer Tom Schulman who attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.   In the case of “Dead Poets Society”, the film is set at the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in Vermont back in 1959.

“Dead Poets Society” revolves around a group of students who are seniors at the Welton Academy prep school and through the school, they follow the tradition espouted by the school’s headmaster Gale Nolan (played by Norman Lloyd) of “tradition, honor, discipline and excellence”.

For the group of friends, they discuss what activities they are going to participate for their senior year and for Neil Perry (played by Robert Sean Leonard), he is excited to get back to being an editor at the school newspaper.  But his hopes are quickly dashed by his father (played by Kurtwood Smith), a man who is very strict and reminds Neil that he did a lot for his son to attend Welton and he will do all it takes to prepare for becoming a pre-med student in college.

Meanwhile, Neil has a new roommate named Todd Anderson (played by Ethan Hawke) and remains good friends with the more rebellious Charlie Dalton (played by Gale Hansen), Knox Overstreet (played by Josh Charles), Richard Cameron (played by Dylan Kussman), Steven Meeks (played by Allelon Ruggiero) and Gerard Pitts (played by James Waterston).

The students have their fair share of strict teachers but when they attend their poetry class taught by their new English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams), he is unlike any teacher they have ever encountered at Welton.

Keating whistles the 1812 Overture, has them rip out the introduction of their books and has them focus on “carpe diem” (Sieze the day) and has them call him by the name of “O Captain! My Captain!” in reference to a Walt Whitman poem.  Keating also has the students stand on the desk in order to view the world a different way and also has them look at poetry in a different way, to be more passionate about it and eventually inspires several of them.

As the group looks into an old Welton Academy yearbook, they look up John Keating and learn that he was once a rebel and a member of the “Dead Poets Society”.

When Neil and friends approach Keating about the club, he explains to them about the things they once did in the club, further inspiring Neil and the others too take revive the secret literary club and meet in cave off school grounds.

But it takes a bit of cajoling as Todd, a student who wants to become a writer is being forced to be a lawyer; Knox is in love with a girl named Chris and is not sure how to approach her and the other guys are unsure how poetry will change their lives.  But once they have the first meeting of their own “Dead Poets Society”, they realize that not only is it a wonderful way to unleash their literary passion, it further inspires them to take on their fears.

As these students continue to take classes by John Keating, they are inspired and the secret club meetings continue to inspire them for other things.  Such as Neil wanting to try out for a play to become a lead actor, Knox learning poetry to woo Chris, Charlie using poetry to hook up with ladies and also inspiring others to have fun as well.  But Todd is still cautious because he knows that Neil’s father would be furious, but nevertheless, Neil tries to teach him to follow his passion.  And during a class, when Todd (who is unlikely to read poetry but yet heavily interested in it) is pressured one day in front of class by Keating to let out his literary passion, the class is shocked to find out that Todd is also passionate as he realizes his true potential and his love for writing.

But the unorthodox teachings of Keating starts to catch the eye of other teachers including headmaster Gale Nolan, and becomes further problematic when Charlie’s rebelliousness starts to become more evident when he brings two female students to their club meetings and also slips a story of how girls should be admitted to Welton.  And when Charlie admits to submitting the article, Headmaster Nolan feels that Keating’s unorthodox teaching methods may be to blame.

But as these students now pursue the passions that have liberated them, for Neil Perry, what happens when he gets the part of Puck in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and realizes his passion for acting but knows it will go against his father’s wishes?

VIDEO:

“Dead Poets Society” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1).   Typically, when it comes to films created in the late ’80s to very early ’90s and they receive the Blu-ray treatment, I tend to notice that the films are not as detailed and often look aged at times.  A friend and a fellow reviewer for a major Blu-ray review site had told me that during those times, due to costs, many films utilized cheaper film stock.  With “Dead Poets Society”, when the introduction first came on, once again, I felt that this was another film where the introduction looked noisy and aged.

Fortunately, as the film progressed pass the introduction, things looked much better.  The film presents a lot of outdoor scenes and I can easily remember one scene that look absolutely wonderful was when Knox Overstreet rides his bike to tell Chris of how he feels about her.  The overall scene looked vibrant and absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray.

In fact, the film manages to capture the seasons quite well and there was no hint of DNR or this waxy look.  Black levels are nice and deep, skin tones looked natural and aside from the initial introduction which looked aged, the majority of the film didn’t.  Colors were vibrant and compared to the original DVD, the upgrade to Blu-ray looked very good.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Dead Poets Society” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and while the film is primarily dialogue-driven, there are times where you can hear the surround channels at play.  From the students playing around with instruments inside the cave, the noises of people in the distant or in crowds, the kick of the soccer ball, hearing the birds in the background, the chants of the students when they are outdoors with Keating, weather-related sounds….if anything, the ambiance of the film can be heard through the surround channels, while dialogue is quite clear.

Subtitles are in English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Dead Poets Society” comes with the following special features:

  • Dead Poets Society: A Look Back – (28:58) A featurette from 2007 as the now grown-up cast reflects on working with director Peter Weir and how open he was to their suggestions.  But also the preparations needed to work on the film.
  • Raw Takes – (7:57) Featuring various footage from the film (deleted/extended scenes).
  • Master of Sound: Alan Splet – (10:58) Director Peter Weir and also filmmaker David Lynch talk about how special it was to work with Alan Splet.
  • Cinematography Master Class – (14:42) A workshop on lighting by cinematographer John Seale and capturing the lighting for “Dead Poets Society”.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:48) The original theatrical trailer for “Dead Poets Society”.
  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an insightful audio commentary by director Peter Weir, Cinematographer John Seale and writer Tom Schulman.

A compelling film about a young group of boys finding inspiration from an unlikely source.

“Dead Poets Society” was a film that was beloved for its tragic story but also its sentimental storyline.  Sure, during the ’80s and ’90s, there were a plethora of films that explored the troubled students who were inspired by their teachers, to change their life.  And while these films tend to verge on focusing on students who come from the poorest backgrounds, “Dead Poets Society” stands out, not because the students are from a W.A.S.P. background and are upper-middle class but their troubles are not by society and upbringing but their parents who decide their lives of what to become.

And these students are inspired by their teacher John Keating who tries to show them the beauty of poetry and literary works of Tennyson, Herrick Whitman, etc. but also emphasizes to their students ala “Carpe Diem”, to seize the day and take advantage of opportunities.  These students who fear their parents primarily the characters of Neil and Todd, evolve through their senior year unfortunately to the chagrin of their parents.  And of course, Keating’s style of teaching becomes a growing concern to Welton’s headmaster as he feels it is inspiring rebelliousness towards the students.

While Robin Williams does a very good job at playing the teacher John Keating (and yes, we do get to see a little of Robin William’s crazy side poke through during his imitations of Marlon Brando and John Wayne), interesting enough is that the teacher is a mere catalyst and the role is not the main character of the film (similar films tend to focus on the teacher changing the lives of students, for “Dead Poets Society”…its the teachings of Keating that inspire the students and thus we watch how it has inspired the students through their actions – good and bad).  But I feel that Williams was most tolerable in this role, not necessarily subdued but played the role effectively.

Is the film contrived, sure… but has my appreciation for the film waned since I was 17-years-old?  Definitely not.

In fact, watching it again in 2011 is quite positive because I am far removed from the banality of similar films that existed around that era.  Sure, those other films were deeper in the sense because they dealt with poor kids who faced violence and gang activity, but for me, and it was something that struck me early as young man at the time was how it used poetry as an angle.  Way before the tie I began watching films by Eric Rohmer, Jean Renoir, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni and other visually creative directors who used film as an artform and others who used their films to showcase literary angles, “Dead Poets Society” was inspiring to me because I was interested in the poetry angle, the passion one can feel for the words at the time.  For me, as a high school student, I played the role of Hamlet for Shakespearean event in high school and was so touched deeply by the words written.

Having had to memorize so many literary works and also growing up in a strict family similar to the character of Neil and having to go up on stage in front of my class, terrified of what was to become… I was transformed by the literary work, I was inspired by it and “Dead Poets Society”, it resonated deeply within me as a teenager and still enjoyed it as an adult.

As for the Blu-ray release of “Dead Poets Society”, having owned this film on DVD, I can tell you that the film looks much more vibrant, the lossless audio does sound much more clearer, especially the ambient noises which I recognized moreso now than before.  And you have the same special features from the original special edition DVD, including a pretty solid commentary and an interesting “look back” special feature. Granted, I wish there was something new added to this Blu-ray release but for the most part, those who owned the original special edition (and those who didn’t), can look at “Dead Poets Society” on Blu-ray as a worthy upgrade.

Overall, “Dead Poets Society” is a wonderful film about students being inspired by their teacher.  Granted, the film has been deconstructed and reinterpreted by some over the years but for me, I have always looked at this film of how one’s literary work can change and inspire an individual.  Sentimental, tragic and yet inspiring… “Dead Poets Society” is recommended.

 

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