Monday, 3 May 2010

The Criterion genie out of the bottle...

The Thief of Bagdad 1940 UK/US
Produced by Alexander Korda
Criterion Edition DVD Spine No. 431
Region 1

Alexander Korda’s troubled 1940 production of The Thief of Bagdad is one of those timeless movies that you never get tired of revisiting over the years and is very much a father of the full-colour special effects movie. Many of those old effects movies had effects which, if not easy, were fairly run of the mill for black and white movies but this remake of The Thief of Bagdad developed processes to do the kinds of effects needed in colour for the first time and so this will always be an important film.

It’s also brilliant in almost every other way you can want too... shot design, colours, music, acting and screenplay are all first class. Actually, the way the action flows may well be endemic to the awful problems of struggling to get the picture completed (Korda had to go to America in the end when he ran out of money on the project... fortunately, the US realised just how brilliant the footage he already had in the can was). There is an economy to the scenes which may well be due to the limitations of the process. For instance, instead of showing the two lead characters escaping from a dungeon cell, the characters say what they are going to do and then in the next sequence they are already out and on a boat. Directors should maybe take this kind of approach more these days.

This brilliant Criterion Region 1 release has everything you would expect from a Criterion edition... a great print, a flawless transfer and a whole load of extras - a Michael Powell propaganda film made while The Thief of Bagdad was on hiatus, a documentary about the special effects featuring such luminaries as Ray Harryhausen, a radio interview with composer Miklos Rosza and one of the commentary tracks is by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese... plus a few other nice extras.

All in all, the best possible DVD release so far of this classic movie. A must buy!

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