Wings (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Review)
April 25, 2012 by Dennis Amith
“Wings” is a magnificent Blu-ray release. For silent fans who have wanted a reason to upgrade to Blu-ray, “Wings” can be added to that list for another reason why to upgrade. A fantastic Blu-ray release that cinema and silent film fans will want to have in their collection! It is a must-own!
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1927
DURATION: 144 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Color Tinted, Re-Recorded Score Composed by J.S. Zamecnik (orchestrated and arranged by Domink Hauser, Featured Pianist – Frederik Hodges with sound effects by Ben Burtt), 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Pipe Organ Score composed and performed by Gaylord Carter, 2.0 Stereo Dolby Digital, Subtitles: French, Spanish, Portuguese
RATED: PG (Some Language)
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Directed by William A. Wellman
Story by John Monk Saunders
Screenplay by Hope Loring, Louis D. Lighton
Titles by Julian Johnson
Associate Producer: B.P. Schulberg
Cinematography by J.S. Zamecnik
Edited by E. Lloyd Sheldon
Clara Bow as Mary Preston
Charles “Buddy” Rogers as Jack Powell
Richard Arlen as David Armstrong
Jobyna Ralston as Sylvia Lewis
El Brendel as Herman Schwimpf
Ricahrd Tucker as Air Commander
Gary Cooper as Cadet White
Gunboat Smith as The Sergeant
Henry B. Walthall as David’s Father
Roscoe Karns as Lt. Cameron
Julia Swayne Gordon as David’s Mother
Arlette Marchal as Celeste
Director William A. Wellman’s masterpiece is the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Featuring a meticulous restoration and a newly recorded soundtrack based on the original score, Wings comes to Blu-ray for the first time. This timeless story of love and loss follows two men who go to war and the girl they leave behind. Popular Twenties “It” girl Clara Bow stars in this unforgettable World War I epic alongside Richard Arlen, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and the legendary Gary Cooper in a cameo appearance. The aerial battle sequences still rank among the best in motion picture history.
As a silent film fan, you tend to accept that a lot of films are lost and those that are not lost, you tend to expect smaller companies releasing them on Blu-ray or DVD.
For many years now, there have been three silent films, epics, that I have been awaiting for a DVD video release for a long time. The three films are Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” (1924), King Vidor’s “The Big Parade” (1925) and William A. Wellman’s 1927 film “Wings”.
And I have to admit that I have felt that the studio have been dangling a carrot for silent film fans, teasing us over the years, watching a once in awhile airing on TCM and yet, not knowing when these films will ever see a video release at all.
That changed in 2012 as “Wings”, known as the first Academy Award winning film for “Best Picture” (at the time known as “Most Outstanding Production”) would receive it’s HD treatment with a Blu-ray release and also on DVD, after receiving extensive restoration.
And not only does William A. Wellman’s (known for directing “The Public Enemy”, “A Star is Born”, “The Ox-Bow Incident”) masterpiece look absolutely fantastic in 1080p High Definition, the inclusion of a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack with sound effects literally surprised me, as I was not expecting it.
And this is quite interesting as the film was once considered lost until a print was found at the Cinematheque Francaise film archive in Paris, in which the deteriorating nitrate film was transferred to safety film stock, and was re-released in theaters.
In 1997, “Wings” was selected for preservation in the United Stats National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
“Wings” is based on the story by John Monk Saunders and the screenplay adaptation was written by Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton.
The film is known as a war epic and love story, but is also known for its amazing aerial cinematography (which aimed at capturing realistic dogfights that two incidents took place, including a tragic crash). The film was also made before there were rules were set of what a movie studio can not do in a film, so the film actually shows a few-second shot of a nude Clara Bow, nude men undergoing military physical exams in the background and a shared kiss between two male friends (as some people today would say, a “bromance” scene).
“Wings” is a film that takes place in a small American town. Jack Powell (played by Charles “Buddy” Rogers) is working on his vehicle and the girl next door, Mary Preston (played by Clara Bow) has been in love with him for quite some time.
While a one-sided love affair, Mary helps Jack fix his car and call it the “Shooting Star” in which she paints an image of a shooting star on his car. Expecting gratitude, hopefully with a kiss, instead Jack thanks Mary and drives off with his car to meet the girl that he likes, Sylvia Lewis (played by Jobyna Ralston), the popular girl from the city.
But as Jack arrives to meet with Sylvia, she is already with the guy she loves, the wealthy David Armstrong (played by Richard Arlen). Both love each other, but Sylvia has not been able to tell David, in order to spare his feelings.
Needless to say, this sets up the rivalry between Jack and David.
The scene shifts to World War I and both young men join the Air Service to become combat pilots and are off to training.
For the loving son David, it’s difficult to depart from his mother (played by Julia Swayne Gordon) and his father (played by Henry B. Walthall). But his mother finds the teddy bear he once played with as a child and David wants to keep it with him as a good luck charm. His mother wants to see David come back alive with the bear, as both parents worry about their son.
As for Jack, he’s all ready to go but first, he wants his own good luck charm and he goes to meet Sylvia for a picture. Meanwhile, Sylvia is planning to give David a picture of her, but instead Jack thinks it’s for him and takes it. David arrives to see Sylvia with Jack and Jack leaves with a grin towards his rival.
Sylvia knows David is jealous but reminds him that Jack may have her picture, but David has her heart. Meanwhile, as Jack is about to leave for training, Mary gives Jack a good luck charm, a picture of herself.
For military training, both Jack and David try to excel in what they do and during their boxing match, both decide to let their rivalry be tested through a fight. Jack doesn’t think much of David, since he’s from a wealthy family and doesn’t think he can fight. And sure enough, Jack beats David with ease. But at the same time, David earns Jack’s respect and the two become best friends afterward.
And the two go through extensive military training and prepare to be shipped off to France in order to go in aerial combat against the Germans.
Mary meanwhile wants to be involved in the war effort, so she takes a job and becomes an ambulance driver in hopes that she can be close to Jack.
But with World War II and the Germans prepared to show their aerial superiority, will Jack and David be ready for battle? And will Mary be able to let Jack know that she loves him?
When it comes to silent films on Blu-ray, I’m not very picky as many silent films have suffered from nitrate damage and neglect. And the fact is that many companies can’t spend millions of dollars on restoration. So, I have had this “take what you can get” attitude towards silent films on Blu-ray and DVD for a long time.
But when “The General”, “Modern Times” and “Metropolis” were released on Blu-ray, three films that did receive restoration, that’s when I have high expectations. With “Wings”, it’s the same situation. I know that there was a PhotoPlay restoration done awhile back, but the version featured is a Paramount restoration.
The film is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:34:1 aspect ratio), color tinted with black bars on the side. I was absolutely pleased with the video as visually, this is best I have seen of the film, this is the best I have ever seen of Clara Bow on video and there were no nitrate damage, no warping. I didn’t see any scratches or dust which was surprising. There is no doubt that there was considerable money spent to restore this film and it shows as the film looks clean and visually, stunning!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Wings” is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (featuring a re-recorded score composed by J.S. Zamecnik (orchestrated and arranged by Domink Hauser, featuring pianist Frederick Hodges and sound effects by Ben Burtt). There is also a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 soundtrack featuring a pipe organ score composed and performed by Gaylord Carter.
It’s one thing for the film to look amazing in HD but for those with a home theater system, when you watch and have your audio setting set to the lossless version, audiophiles, you are in for a treat. I was absolutely floored by the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless audio. The sound effects…I was not expecting to hear it. But when the LFE (subwoofer) started to rumble and started to hear audio coming from all around me through the surround channels during the aerial dogfighting sequences, my first reaction was amazement and I was shocked because I was not expecting it at all.
And I can continue to gush about the lossless soundtrack, while others may not be so thrilled with sound effects and a new re-recorded score, as some absolutely love the Carl Davis score that was featured long ago. But the expected Gaylor Carter pipe organ score was included (as many people are familiar with his score) and it also sounds good via lossless stereo.
So, I’m very pleased that Paramount had decided to include two soundtracks and also really do something different by incorporating the sound effects, what a surprise and I’m impressed!
Subtitles are also included in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
“Wings” comes with the following special features:
- Wings: Grandeur in the Sky – (25:56) A featurette that goes into the making of “Wings”, the challenges of aerial cinematography of the time and trying to make the film authentic with a $2 million budget (which was a lot at that time). As well as looking into the success of the film.
- Restoring the Power and Beauty of Wings – (14:21) A featurette on the restoration of “Wings” including the re-recording score by J.S. Zamecnik and the sound effects by Ben Burtt
- Dogfight – (12:54) A featurette about the evolution of airplanes, especially those used in World War I.
“Wings” comes with a slipcover.
For so many years, I have wanted this film on DVD. What was easily available and accessible were bad versions of the film available via public domain and suffice to say, the announcement of “Wings” on Blu-ray was incredible.
As a silent film fan, it’s amazing that in these last few years, we have seen the progress of having to see silent film in HD with amazing detail and clarity but most importantly, seeing generations of movie fans taking a chance on silent cinema and enjoying them.
While you have your loyal fans who will buy these videos, may they be in Blu-ray, DVD, LD, VHS or actual reels, the fact that Paramount has released “Wings” on Blu-ray is fantastic news because it leaves the possibility for other classic Paramount silents to be released on Blu-ray and DVD.
And with “Wings”, this is one film that has evaded video release for a long time and here we are now with the definitive version of the film to date. The most beautiful version of the film to date and now, I must add, the re-recorded score with sound effects in lossless audio adds another dimension to this Wellman masterpiece.
I certainly didn’t know what to expect as I watched this film expecting better video quality but when you start hearing machine gun’s firing all around you, the engines of airplanes reverberating around your room via the surround channels and hearing that LFE kick in…this is something that you never expect from a silent film.
And why that makes me happy is that Paramount is reaching out to two sets of fans. The hardcore fans who were familiar with Gaylord Carter’s pipe organ score (unfortunately, Carl Davis’ score was not included) but then also knowing that Blu-ray fans, especially for a silent film, you’re going to have to entice them with something extra in order for them to purchase this film. And sure enough, these fans can enjoy this silent film with a fantastic lossless track with immersive sound effects.
And for the silent fans who still haven’t upgraded to Blu-ray, add “Wings” on the list for another reason why they should upgrade!
So, it’s one thing to have a wonderful visual presentation and soundtrack, but what about the film?
I absolutely enjoyed it as it has a good balance of drama, action and also comedy mixed in. For Clara Bow fans, the truth is that “It” was a wonderful film that showcased Bow’s talents but in terms of accessibility, for one of the top actresses in America, it’s not easy to find films with Clara. And “Wings” on Blu-ray not only shows us her emotional performance (the Blu-ray does bring out the details of the tears) but also her boundless energy.
Of course, Clara Bow, while receiving top billing on the Blu-ray case, the film is primarily featuring Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen. Although I typically dislike this modern term to describe male friendship, yes…”Wings” is the ultimate “Bromance” film. You get the camaraderie of best friends training to be pilots, knowing they are rivals but managing to get past that and become brothers, watching each other’s backs. And to see how this friendship develops towards the end of the film.
Both men performed their roles magnificently and it was interesting to also be treated by a cameo featuring Gary Cooper as Cadet White, while not long at all and years before the actor became popular and would star in films such as “High Noon”, “Sergeant York”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”, “A Farewell to Arms”, to name a few, Cooper’s cameo definitely sets things into perspective that war is ugly and death can happen anytime. It’s important to note that also that same year, for Clara Bow’s “It”, Gary Cooper had an uncredited cameo.
And while the film features wonderful performances by its three talent for this film (especially this era), there is no doubt that this epic engages its viewers through its visual setting as hundreds of men are engaged in war, while above, we are taken above to the sky with actual aerial cinematography that even makes me wonder how they pulled it off back in 1927. It did help that director William A. Wellman, writer John Monk Saunders and actor Richard Arlen served in World War I as military advisors (in fact, Arlen would teach as a United States Army Air Forces flight instructor during World War II). While Buddy Rogers would undergo flight training to prepare him for his role. And for the most part, the training led to the efficacy of director Wellman trying to achieve authenticity for his film.
As for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned… this is the definitive version of “Wings” to own for now. While I would have loved to hear an audio commentary track and see more special features included, as mentioned with my feeling towards silent films, many hardly come with special features and when they do, they are fairly short. You get three special features that end up as around an hour worth of extra content and you take what you can get. But it would have been nice to see an audio commentary track, perhaps lobby card and photo gallery.
Overall, “Wings” is a magnificent Blu-ray release. For silent fans who have wanted a reason to upgrade to Blu-ray, “Wings” can be added to that list for another reason why to upgrade. A fantastic Blu-ray release that cinema and silent film fans will want to have in their collection! It is a must-own!
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