Taxi Driver (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 27, 2011 by Dennis Amith
“Taxi Driver” is a ferociously powerful film that continues to capture us and will continue to do so for many generations to come. Featuring a 4K restoration on video and a restored lossless soundtrack and special features galore… This Blu-ray release earns our highest rating…5 stars!
Images courtesy of © 1976, renewed 2004 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved..
TITLE: Taxi Driver
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1976
DURATION: 114 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
COMPANY: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: April 5, 2011
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader
Producer: Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips
Associate Producer: Phillip M. Goldfarb
Music by Bernard Hermann
Cinematography by Michael Chapman
Edited by Tom Rolf, Melvin Shapiro
Casting by Juliet Taylor
Art Direction by Charles Rosen
Set Decoration by Herbert F. Mulligan
Costume Design by Ruth Morley
Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle
Jodie Foster as Iris
Albert Brooks as Tom
Leonard Harris as Charles Palantine
Peter Boyle as Wizard
Cybill Shepherd as Betsy
Harvey Keitel as Sport
Harry Northup as Doughboy
4 Academy Award(r) nominations including Best Picture! (1976) Special Collector’s Edition is digitally remastered and includes a never-before-seen making-of documentary featuring interviews with the creators and stars of the film. Robert De Niro stars with Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, and Albert Brooks in the all-too-real story of a psychotic New York cabby who is driven to violence in an attempt to rescue a teenage prostitute.
In 1976, the film “Taxi Driver” would take America by storm.
The film is directed by Martin Scorsese (“Mean Streets”, “New York, New York”, “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”), written by Paul Schrader (“Raging Bull”, “American Gigolo”, “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”), music by Bernard Herrman (“Citizen Kane”, “Psycho”) and cinematography by Michael Chapman (“Raging Bull”, “The Fuguitive”, “Primal Fear”).
Created with a budget of $1.3 million, the film would garner nearly all positive reviews from film critics and would earn $28 million in the box office.
“Taxi Driver” would also win the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival and would be nominated for four Academy Awards including “Best Picture”, “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Robert De Niro), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Jodie Foster) and “Best Music, Original Score” (Bernard Herrmann).
35-years later and “Taxi Driver” is ranked as #52 on America Film Institute’s “The Greatest American Film Ever Made”, including AFI’s “Top 50 Movie Villians of All Time” in which character Travis Bickle was #30. The film would also be in Time Magazine’s “100 Best Films of All Time” and was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
“Taxi Driver” revolves around Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro), a lonely and depressed Vietnam veteran living in Manhattan.
He lies to his parents that he is doing well and works as a government employee but the truth is that he is an insomniac and works 12-hour shifts as a taxi driver in New York City. He spends his free time watching porn in theaters and writes in his diary (which we hear him talking of what he is writing).
Travis suddenly becomes attracted to Betsy (played by Cybil Shepherd), a campaign volunteer for Senator Charles Palantine (played by Leonard Harris) who runs on a platform for “dramatic social change” and now Travis starts watching Betsey through the campaign office. Bickle ends up trying to become a volunteer for Senator Palantine but he uses it as a pretext in order to get close to Betsy.
Travis eventually gets Betsy to join him for coffee and pie and even a date to a movie but the movie he ends up taking her to is a Swedish sex education film and she is offended. Travis does all he can to reconcile with Betsy, constantly calling her and sending her flowers but to no avail. With the lack of communication, Travis snaps and visits her and gives her a chilling message that she is like everyone else and will die just like everyone else.
While driving his taxi one night, he picks up a 12-year-old prostitute named Iris (played by Jodie Foster) who is accompanied by her pimp “Sport” (played by Harvey Keitel) and the pimp manages to get her out of the taxi and Sport throws him crumpled money. He sees how this pimp bosses this girl around and he is disgusted by it.
He suddenly develops radical views on life and tries to communicate with fellow taxi driver “Wizard” (played by Peter Boyle) but Wizard passes it off as seeing a lot of scum on the streets in New York City. That he will get over it.
But one day, while driving a man (played by Martin Scorsese) who is planning to murder his wife who is having an affair with a Black man (which you can sense, Travis doesn’t care much for Black people), he changes. He buys firearms from an illegal dealer named “Easy Andy” (played by Steven Prince) and starts to become interested in the public appearances of Senator Palantine and also starts an intense training regiment.
While driving his taxi, he sees young Iris with another prostitute and starts following her while in his cab. Both girls are spooked and try to avoid him. He ends up meeting Iris once again and pays to be with her but not for sex but for her time. Travis tries to persuade her to quite prostitution and next thing you know, Travis becomes obsessed in trying to help Iris leave her pimp and will do all it takes to make it happen.
One day when he goes to a grocery store, he sees a man trying to rob the store and Travis ends up shooting the man in the neck and killing him. Seeing how easy it was, the violence ignites Travis Bickle and the once calm Taxi Driver will never be the same again.
“Taxi Driver” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). Before I begin with my review on picture quality, I want to remind everyone that film stock during the mid-70’s really sucked. A lot of movie companies were suffering economically and they cut corners. With that being said, “Taxi Driver” on Blu-ray is the best this film has ever looked.
Sure, the opening logo from Columbia Pictures scared me at the beginning because it looked aged and terrible but once the movie starts, you can see how things have improved with the 4K restoration (note: This is the third 4K restoration that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has worked on. The previous titles were “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai”).
In fact, SPHE gave “Taxi Driver” a special treatment by giving director Martin Scorsese and Director of Photography Michael Chapman the opportunity to be part of the restoration process. And for Scorsese, his main goal was to make sure that the film looked like “a product of the time and place in which it was made”. That is no modernizing or color enhancements.
What we are seeing on Blu-ray is how Scorsese wanted…what people would see in a 1976 release and what videophiles have wanted. Exact film reproduction of what one would see on screen but now seeing it in their own home theater setup. And the detail of the seedy New York City, the vibrant colors, seeing the bumps and stubble on Travis’ face to even seeing the skin of Betsy with detail is amazing. Clothing is also fully detailed and personally, this is one of the best Blu-ray releases I have seen (and makes me wish that all fantastic classics would have received the 4K restoration).
For what this Blu-ray has accomplished, I would not be surprised if this Blu-ray release receives top honors of Blu-ray of the year.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Taxi Driver” is presented in English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. While the original film had utilized an original mono magnetic master with split dialogue, effects and music, a 4-track stereo recording of the score on audio tape was found and incorporated to this Blu-ray release. Scorsese had his own audio experts create a 5.1 track from the restored elements.
With that being said, this is the best audio that any fan of “Taxi Driver” will ever hear. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack not only enhances the clarity of the audio but also Bernard Hermann’s music. The jazz music comes alive and there is also sounds of New York city ambiance and crowd ambiance that can be heard. And of course, the gun shots also come alive in this soundtrack. But it’s the dialogue and the music that sounds incredible and seriously, if you watched this film on DVD, LD and VHS, none of those formats accomplish the way this movie sounds on Blu-ray. Such an incredible improvement!
Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
“Taxi Driver” comes with the following special features presented in standard and high definition, English Stereo and subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai:
- movieIQ – If your Blu-ray player is connected to the Internet, you can access information about the film while watching the movie.
- Original 1986 Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese and Writer Paul Schrader recorded by The Criterion Collection – The awesome 1986 commentary from the original Criterion Collection LD release featuring Scorsese and Schrader is included in this Blu-ray release.
- Interactive Script to Screen – While watching this film, you can see the script at the same time.
- Feature Length Commentary by Writer Paul Schrader – Writer Paul Schrader talks about his inspiration in writing this film and how things were changed during the course of filming via improvisation, the cast performances and more. Note: Unlike the 1986 commentary, there are times when you don’t hear anything from Schrader.
- Feature Length Commentary by Professor Robert Kolker – A very in-depth audio commentary who dissects the film and is highly recommended listening!
- Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver – (16:52) Director Martin Scorsese talks about how he got involved with the film and his take on working with crew and the talent.
- God’s Lonely Man – (21:40) A featurette on the isolation of the character. Writer Paul Schrader talks about the character’s isolation and how the film was influenced by “Psycho” and “The Searchers”.
- Producing Taxi Driver – (9:42) Producer Michael Phillips talks about producing the film and how he and Julia Phillips wanted to give new, younger filmmakers a try to direct a film.
- Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute – (18:30) Filmmakers, talent and professionals in the industry talk about what makes Martin Scorses so unique as a filmmaker.
- Taxi Driver Stories – (22:23) Real life taxi drivers from the ’70s talk about how New York was a different time back then and how the streets were so seedy and full of scum and the dangers they faced.
- Making Taxi Driver – (1:10:55) A wonderful in-depth special feature on the making of “Taxi Driver”. From Paul Schrader’s experience, improvisation used in the film, how the talent brought things to Scorsese who added to the film, making of Travis Bickle’s hair, the creation of the violence scenes and various talent talk about working with Scorsese and De Niro and more.
- Travis’ New York – (6:16) Michael Chapman (Director of Photography) and Edward Koch talk bout how New York was back in the ’70s.
- Travis’ New York Locations – (4:49) A comparison of the locations of where “Taxi Driver” was shot featuring 1975 New York and 2006 New York.
- Storyboard to Film Comparisons with Martin Scorsese – (4:32) Martin Scorsese talks about how he utilizes storyboards and how it has helped him for many of the films he has created.
- Animated Photo Galleries – Featuring video-based galleries (with music): Bernard Horrman Score (2:23), On Location (2:51), Publicity Materials (1:44) and Scorsese at Work (2:47).
“Taxi Driver” is presented in a hardbound digibook and comes with 12 postcards.
“Taxi Driver” is one of those intriguing films to watch and discuss for cinema and Scorsese fans. You can go on a forum, you can have conversations about this film and each person can give you their interpretation of what “Taxi Driver” mean to them.
I didn’t grow up in New York City during the ’70s but I did grow up during that time to know that the city had some major problems and was overtaken by prostitutes, adult theaters and it was pretty much a seedy area unlike today’s New York City which has been cleaned up considerably since the making of this film.
But for some Americans, Travis Bickle, despite being one of the most vile villains in cinema history, he is also an anti-hero that many people can identify with. This is a man who is lonely, isolated and really wants to fit into society but he can’t. He wants to be with women he can save, but they don’t want to be saved.
When Travis meets Betsy, he talks about the look on her face of not being happy of where she works and you have this sense that he really wants to help her get away from what he sees as scum of the city and brings her into his world. But his world is even seedier as he spends most of his life driving a taxi and watching porn and the only thing he can think of as a first date is taking her out to a movie…an adult movie.
And it’s this uneasiness of this character that attracts the viewer because we’ve all felt that loneliness that Travis has felt, but we deal with it. For him, he sinks into the darkness of isolation and this version of Sir Lancelot has been corrupted by the city.
But what makes “Taxi Driver” work effectively is director Martin Scorsese and his relationship with Robert De Niro. Both men developed a tremendous working relationship since the 1973 film “Mean Streets” and with De Niro being a fantastic method actor, Scorsese allows De Niro to own the scene and those actors who are around him, to feed off this character. In interviews which you will see on this Blu-ray release, when actress Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster or actors Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle or Harvey Keitel were around De Niro, what they got was Travis Bickle. Shepherd used the word “frightening” during her scenes with De Niro, Foster talked about how she didn’t understand until later in life of why De Niro had this intense style of acting and Brooks would talk about how he never even talked to De Niro because De Niro during the shooting of the film was Travis Bickle.
Scorsese and De Niro utilized improvisation to make the film seem real. Foster talked about how they would continually rehearse their scenes and once she felt that they got it down, he would do something different and throw something that was not on the script and it’s that magic that De Niro was able to get from the talent he worked with. Another fantastic sign of that working relationship between De Niro and Scorsese is the taxi scene in which both men are improvising their scene but for Travis Bickle’s character, he remains quiet, looking at his rear-view mirror and watching the silhouette of the man’s wife from a window at an apartment. You can tell that Travis Bickle’s ticking time-bomb is about to go off. It’s that creepy quietness by Bickle that makes that scene so effective. It may not have been written that way but it’s what De Niro felt was right for Travis Bickle and it’s what we got on the film.
But alongside Scorsese and De Niro, you have to give writer Paul Schrader a major nod for creating this Bressonian script with so much efficacy. Written during a time when Schrader had broken up with his girlfriend, he became isolated and also found himself a different person after that breakup, which helped develop the character of Travis Bickle. He knew that loneliness and it’s that same loneliness that many people go through during a major change in their personal life. It’s how you get out of it and live life to its fullest that matters but for very few, they are slowly get stuck in that darkness. Travis Bickle is a man who is unable to be part of that normal society.
You can discuss this character with a lot of people. Was it the Vietnam War that changed him for the worse? Was it the continual inundation of that New York’s seediness and that he has to be with these people 12 hours a day? Does it even matter? We just know that Travis Bickle is one fucked up man and in many ways, is a perfect example of what happens when one gets lost in their own loneliness and may it be the people like Bickle or John Hinckley, Jr., there is so much pain in the world that some people just don’t know how to deal with it. And the fact that people got to see a taste of this anti-hero was absolutely surprising but at the same time, intriguing and entertaining. There is little doubt that Martin Scorsese had created a masterpiece.
As for this Blu-ray release, this film deserved special treatment and SPHE did so by giving it the 4K restoration. This is the best looking version of the film to date. This is the best sounding version of the film to date. And you get every special feature from its previous DVD release to the 1986 Criterion Collection audio commentary as well. “Taxi Driver” is absolutely a must-buy for cinema fans! And I can’t emphasize this enough. Definitely a front-runner for “Best Blu-ray Release of 2011”!
Overall, whether you loved this film or hated it, 35-years-later and we are still talking about “Taxi Driver”. Hollywood can continue trying to make an anti-hero film with guns ablazing, violence galore but those films are popcorn films that are meant to be bloody or adrenaline-pumping and are literally films that come and go.
“Taxi Driver” is a ferociously powerful film that continues to capture us and will continue to do so for many generations to come. This Blu-ray release is highly recommended!
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