Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – The Masters of Cinema Series #1 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 13, 2010 by  

“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” is not only just a F.W. Murnau masterpiece, it’s simply a classic film that is the epitome of a “must-see film”.   The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release of the film  is the definitive version to own! Simply magnificent! If we had to give a score for this film, then definitely an A+.

© 1927 FOX Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – The Masters of Cinema Series #1

DURATION: 93 Minutes (Movietone Version), 79 Minutes (Czech Version)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:20:1 and 1:37:1 original aspect ratios), 24fps AVC encodes for both features, 480p extras, Dolby TrueHD with Dolby Digital 2.0

COMPANY: 20th Century Fox/Eureka!/The Masters of Cinema Series

RATED: UNRATED (Contains Mild Thread and Violence)

Directed by F.W. Murnau

Written by Hermann Sudermann (Die Reise nach Tilsit), Carl Mayer (Scenario), Katherine Hilliker and H.H. Caldwell (titles)

Produced by William Fox

Cinematography by Charles Rosher, Karl Struss

Edited by Harold D. Schuster

Art Direction by Rochus Gliese

Movietone Score by Hugo Risenfeld and Olympic Chamber Orchestra


George O’Brien as The Man

Janet Gaynor as The Wife

Margaret Livingston as The Woman from the City

Bodil Rosing as the Maid

J. Farrell MacDonald as The Photographer

Ralph Sipperly as The Barber

Jane Winton as the Manicure Girl

This new 2009 reissue of Sunrise (for the first time anywhere in the world in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, in addition to a newly mastered 2 x DVD set) contains two versions of the film: the previously released Movietone version, and an alternate silent version of the film recently discovered in the Czech Republic. The Blu-ray edition includes both versions in 1080p HD.

The culmination of one of the greatest careers in film history, F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise blends a story of fable-like simplicity with unparalleled visual imagination and technical ingenuity. Invited to Hollywood by William Fox and given total artistic freedom on any project he wished, Murnau’s tale of the idyllic marriage of a peasant couple (George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor) threatened by a Machiavellian seductress from the city (Margaret Livingston) created a milestone of film expressionism.

Made in the twilight of the silent era, it became both a swan song for a vanishing medium and one of the few films to instantly achieve legendary status. Winner of three Oscars for Best Actress (Gaynor), Cinematography, and a never-repeated award for “Unique and Artistic Picture”, its influence and stature has only grown with each passing year. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present a new 2xDVD and Blu-ray special edition of the film, including an all-new alternate version recently discovered in a Czech archive of a higher visual quality than any other known source.

“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” is not only just a F.W. Murnau masterpiece, it’s simply a classic film that is the epitome of a “must-see film”.   The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release of the film  is the definitive version to own! Simply magnificent!

In 1927, German film director F.W. Murnau (known for his role in German Expressionism) was invited by William Fox to make an Expressionist film for Hollywood and in return, Murnau created a film that would simply become a true classic and a true masterpiece with “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”.

The film is highly regarded as a masterpiece and is featured in the American Film Institute’s “100 Movies List of Great Films” (#82) and the British Film Institute’s critic’s poll as the seventh best film in motion pictures.  The film won an Academy Award for “Unique and Artistic Production” at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929 (including “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for Janet Gaynor and “Best Cinematography” for Charles Rosher and Karl Struss) and was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Although the film was highly regarded then and now, the film was not a success at the box office because of its creative and artistic interpretation while critics were calling it a true masterpiece.

“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” was the first film with a soundtrack of music and sound effects utilizing Fox’s Movietone souund-on-film system and for its creative and artistic style, the use of groundbreaking cinematography during that time would influence many filmmakers and even has been referred to as the “Citizen Kane” of American silent cinema.

Despite the original negative for the film being destroyed in 1937 due to a major nitrate fire (nearly 80-90% of Hollywood’s silent films by Fox Film Corporation’s created between 1910-1920’s were destroyed) at Fox’s storage facility in New Jersey.  Fortunately, a 1936 print held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the NFTVA were still present (the UCLA print was later destroyed due to advance decomposition in 1992).  In 1995, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill of Photoplay Productions prepared a new print for the 1995 London Film Festival using the NFTVA print and in 2002, restoration talks for the film began.  A fifth generation 1940 nitrate negative print was found in 2002 and then a 1927 print loaned by the Narodni Filmovy Archv in Prague featured a Czech version of footage not featured in the American release.

Eureka! via “The Masters of Cinema” has released “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” featuring both Movietone and Czech films on the Blu-ray release and with a choice of the monaural Movietone score and the stereo Olympic Chamber Orchestra score.

“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” is a film about a man (played by George O’Brien) who is a farmer and is married to his loving wife (played by Janet Gaynor).  Both raise their child but things have not gone so well for the farming business and the man has been having an affair with a woman from the city (played by Margaret Livingston).

The woman from the city wants him to end his relationship with his wife and suggests that he kill her by taking her out to the ocean via a boat and pretending that the two have drowned but he can survive by holding on to branches.  But he is not sure if he can do it… but knows that if he is going to have this new life with the woman from the city, he must.

So, he takes his wife out for a boat ride with the intent to kill her and as he is about to, she prays for him not to and then the sound of a church bell changes his mind.  He can’t believe what he was about to do and nor can his wife, who upon reaching to shore, runs away from him.

He goes to chase her to apologize but she is too frightened.  She takes a train for the city and he follows.  He tries his best to apologize but his wife is so saddened and fearful that her husband had tried to kill her and he regrets everything that he had done.  But during a stop when the two go see a wedding and a priest is saying the vows, that is when the man realizes that he has done his wife wrong and realizes that he loves her.  The two then spend a day together in the city and to rekindle the love they had when they were single and to show each other their love.  Meanwhile the man’s mistress from the city awaits at his home to see if he went through with killing his wife and so they can be together.


“Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans” were shot with two cameras thus one has the aspect ration of 1:20:1 and the other with 1:37:1  According to Eureka!, the Blu-ray version of the films were encoded with both HD masters in 1080p AVC format on BD50.   Eureka! decided against HD-DVNR, MTI or other forms of digital restoration or grain removal after tests revealed noticeable disruptions of the film’s “Sfumato” qualities in many scenes.  And thus, their hands off approach was their respect to the filmmaker and the patina of the image. The level of damage still present is exactly what you would see if the film was projected via 35mm theatrically.

Having not seen any previously DVD or VHS release of “Sunrise: A song of Two Humans”, I can tell you that from what I saw… despite it having some scratches and dust, I was very impressed with the picture quality of the film on Blu-ray considering the film is over 80-years-old.  According to my associates who have compared this film to the previous standard definition releases from Fox and Eureka!, this HD release of the film is absolutely fantastic!

I will say that the Czech version is a bit much more difficult to watch because it’s missing frames and thus I prefer the Movietone version.


Eureka! via “The Masters of Cinema” has released “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” featuring both Movietone and Czech films on the Blu-ray release and with a choice of the monaural Movietone score and the stereo Olympic Chamber Orchestra score by Timothy Brock.  According to Eureka!, the absence of any surviving soundtrack for the Czech version led Fox to roughly approximate the Movietone score to it in 2008.

Original English intertitles on the Movietone version are featured and optional English subtitles on the silent Czech version.


“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – The Masters of Cinema Series #1” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Full-length audio commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey on the Movietone version.  Interesting to hear Bailey’s comments, especially on the camerawork and effects used.
  • Outtakes – (9:57) Outtakes with optional John Bailey commentary.  It’s amazing that a film of this age has any outtakes.  So, I was surprised to see this on the Blu-ray.
  • Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film – (40:55) Janet Bergstrom’s updated 40-minute documentary about the lost Murnau film “4 Devils” featuring still pictures, art and details of scenes from the film.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer – (1:50) The original silent theatrical trailer.
  • Original ‘photoplay’ script – The original “photoplay” script by Carl Mayer with Murnau’s handwritten annotations (150 pages in pdf format).  You can download these from the Masters of Cinema website as well.
  • 20-Page booklet – Illustrated booklet with film restoration and DVD/Blu-ray transfer information, along with a comparison between the two versions.

I have wanted to see “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” for such a long time.  I’ve waited with heavy anticipation for UK-based entertainment company Eureka! to release this film via Blu-ray courtesy of their Masters of Cinema series and I am so grateful that they decided to release this film with no region encoding, so anyone from all over the world that has a Blu-ray player can enjoy this film.

After watching the film, I can’t help but gush about how fantastic this film is.  From the crowded streets in the city to the innovative camerawork and editing, I was simply amazed of what was accomplished back then.  The film is literally gripping as the film has its share of action and drama and literally from beginning to end, “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” manages to captivate you courtesy of George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor.

O’Brien plays the man from the country with such a great presence as Gaynor transforms from this sad housewife to this vibrant woman, especially in one scene with the crowd ask the two to dance.  But the camera work and artistic presentation was just phenomenal.  The whole city sequence created on the Fox back lot with hundreds of extras and cars from that era in a traffic jam to the man and wife attending a fair.  I don’t know how much was spent on this film but everything on camera just worked. I was overwhelmed by how magnificent this film was but then watching the special features that came on the Blu-ray release, especially the slight differences from the Movietone and Czech version was quite interesting to see, especially to know that we will never be known of what was the final cut that Murnau had wanted due to the original print being destroyed in the Fox Warehouse and many other prints out there suffering from major deterioration.

But what we are able to see on this Blu-ray release, again…I’m grateful for Eureka! for releasing this Blu-ray via non-region but most importantly, choosing a silent film for its first major release on Blu-ray.  If anything, I am more inclined to purchase the Murnau DVD box sets out right now and look forward to watching the Master of Cinema’s next Murnau Blu-ray release “City Girl”.

Overall, “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” is simply magnificent and this Blu-ray release is just outstanding! If I had to give this film a rating, then definitely an… A+!

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