Someone at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is deserving of heaps of praise. On February 17, Sony is releasing onto Blu-ray for the first time ever Kramer vs. Kramer, Gandhi, and a double-feature with Capote and In Cold Blood. All four films have won multiple awards, including being able to count 13 Oscars between them. The names that appear among the discs is equally impressive, including among others: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ben Kingsley, Richard Attenborough, Richard Brooks, and Quincy Jones. Plus, each disc looks outstanding.
Outside of them each being classic, award-winning, character-driven films, the titles themselves seem to have little in common. Gandhi focuses itself on one of the greatest men of the 20th Century, whereas In Cold Blood is focused on, perhaps, some of the worst. Capote examines the troubles of one of the most well-known writers of his day and Kramer vs. Kramer is the story of an average guy just trying to do his best.
Capote is the story of Truman Capote's writing and researching In Cold Blood. Released in 2005, the movie features Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular character (a role for which he won an Academy Award). The portrayal is a “warts and all” look at one of the most talented writers of his day, a man who had little problem standing in the spotlight and, in this case, playing with the progression of a court case in order to suit his own purpose. It is Hoffman's portrayal of the man that makes the film captivating, and makes us case for a man who did some highly unlikable things.
Also a biopic, though one with an entirely different scope, Gandhi attempts to tell the story of a man who not only influenced the course of one nation, but several. As presented, Gandhi's vision of the world and what it could and should be is one of love and wisdom and something that we should all strive for. It is a much more glossy look at Gandhi's life than one Capote puts forth about its title character. Gandhi is shown in the movie to have faults, but the film centers itself on all the good the man did over the course of his life.
As Gandhi, Ben Kingsley shines, giving perhaps the best performance of any of the actors in these four pieces. The extent to which Kingsley embodies the man he is portraying is astounding. After watching the film, one is practically convinced that what they have just seen is Gandhi. The film itself manages to be both an incredibly large story about the progression towards nationhood of India, but also an intimate look at one of the largest driving factors behind that progression. Though he worked with a limited budget, Attenborough manages to bring the massive scope of what Gandhi did and how to life.
A fitting second half to a double-feature with Capote, In Cold Blood is the film that came out of the book Truman Capote is shown to be working on in Capote. In Cold Blood features Richard Blake as Perry Smith and Scott Wilson as Richard Hickock, two mean who brutally murdered a family in Kansas in 1959. Capote never really examines the crime itself, whereas In Cold Blood is solely focused on what led to the crime, what happened in its aftermath, and who these killers were. Watching these men plan the crime and what they did following it is truly riveting.
Watching the two films back-to-back (in either order), provides a terribly interesting experience. Though made almost 40 years apart, with a different production team, and different actors, the two films fit together perfectly. It is easy to move back and forth between the two, seeing how they relate to one another, and to pair the different actors as the same characters.
The final film, Kramer vs. Kramer, is perhaps, the largest outlier of any of the four movies. It features Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep as a divorcing couple, Ted and Joanna Kramer. Joanna disappears early on in the film, and Ted is left to juggle his new found single parent responsibilities and his job at the same time. By the time he works it out, Joanna returns and demands custody of their child, something Ted isn't ready to give up.
Kramer vs. Kramer isn't about a horrific murder or a famous individual, it solely concerns itself with issues that the average person could easily find themselves facing. As such, it is far easier for anyone watching to truly feel a part of the goings-on and to feel as though they have a stake (one either side) of the tale. Both Streep and Hoffman won Oscars for their roles in the movie, and while the film may take Ted's side more than Joanna's, it is very careful to show both individuals as flawed but caring.
Save Capote, none of the four films here feature perfect prints, and with the other three films all being 25 years old or more, one wouldn't expect them to be perfect. What they are, however, is truly outstanding. Yes, there are bits of dirt or imperfections in prints, but they all look far better than anyone might expect. In Cold Blood, the one black and white feature, has an incredible level of clarity and sharpness to it. One can pick out nuances in shading, in light and dark, to a wonderful degree. The other films (save Capote) all show their age a little, but are all still outstanding prints. Additionally, none of the sound is murky or muddled. There are few explosions to wow anyone in any of the four movies, but neither will anyone watching struggle or strain to make out dialogue or play with the remote, quickly adjusting between loud and quiet scenes.
Only Capote and Gandhi find themselves with a substantial number of bonus features in these releases. There are no bonus features specific to In Cold Blood in that two disc set, and Kramer vs. Kramer contains only a single behind-the-scenes look at the movie. For its part, Capote contains a documentary on Truman Capote himself; a making-of piece; and two commentary tracks on the feature, one with director Bennett Miller and Hoffman and the other with Miller and cinematographer Adam Kimmel. It is Gandhi which goes above and beyond in terms of bonus features as the film has been given a two-disc release just for itself here. There is a “picture-in-graphics” track that accompanies the feature looking at some of the real life moments from Gandhi's life, and copies amounts of behind-the-scenes discussions on the second disc. The best of these are Attenborough's recollections of what went into creating the film (it was something he worked on for 20 years). In these discussions, Attenborough shows himself to be not just an incredible filmmaker, but clearly a wonderful storyteller as well.
Obviously putting out these three releases the week prior to the Academy Awards was a marketing tactic designed to capitalize on these films' critical successes. However, that being said, the films have all been given good quality releases of their own. One would certainly have liked to have seen more in-depth recollections on Kramer vs. Kramer, but even 30 years later the film remains compelling enough that it doesn't require a huge amount of bonus features to make it worth purchasing.