1962 (October 11, 2023)
Brentwood Productions/Pakula-Mulligan/Universal Pictures (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/program grade: A
- Video quality: A
- Audio quality: A
- extra class: A+
[Editor’s Note: The film review is by Adam Jahnke, adapted from his look at the 2005 Legacy Series DVD release. The 4K Ultra HD comments are by Bill Hunt.]
Like a lot of people my age when I first saw it Killing a mockingbird was not voluntary. It was a high school English class that introduced me to both Harper Lee’s novel and the popular film adaptation. I really liked this class. I was introduced to a number of great books that I might not have discovered on my own this year. Thank you Mrs Russell.
Although not everyone had to read or watch Killing a mockingbird at school they probably should have done it. Harper Lee’s book is a masterpiece, rightly considered one of the finest books of the 20th century. And while watching Robert Mulligan’s film is no substitute for reading the novel, it has to be said Killing a mockingbird is one of the best adaptations of literature ever made on film. It retains the elusive flavor of the book while standing on its own as a great movie.
Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a widowed, small-town Southern lawyer tasked with defending a black man (Brock Peters) accused of raping a white woman. Peck’s performance became the defining role of his career and I imagine any actor would die to be so closely identified with a role like this. Peck exudes nobility, intelligence and compassion, and surely no other actor could have filled the role so well. But the fact that we, the audience, see him as such a hero is due in large part to the filmmakers letting us see the story through the eyes of Atticus’ children Scout and Jem (two outstanding performances from child actors Mary Badham and Phillip Alford).
We see Atticus as they see him, and the film is remarkably consistent in maintaining that point of view throughout. Credit for this must go to Horton Foote’s screenplay and Elmer Bernstein’s hauntingly beautiful score. Director Robert Mulligan (Summer ’42, The man in the Moon) brings together all these contributions from experts working and making at the top of their game Killing a mockingbird into a film that feels remarkably organic and complete. Most movies, even the best of them, feel composite. Killing a mockingbird feels like it’s grown from the ground up.
Killing a mockingbird was captured by cinematographer Russell Harlan (The thing from another world, Rio Bravo, The big race) on 35mm black and white film using Mitchell BNC spherical lens cameras, was photochemically finished and released to cinemas in the flat 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film was restored in 4K by Universal in 2012 from a then new scan of the original camera negative 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release and recently received an additional digital remaster – including a new High Dynamic Range class (HDR10 only) – to create the 4K Digital Intermediate from which this Ultra HD release derives. The result is a nice improvement over the previous Blu-ray in terms of image detail, texturing and overall contrast. The HDR touch is restrained and thankfully avoids both pinching and hotspots. Shadows still retain good detail, highlights are bright but never harsh, and the gradations in between have greater nuance than before. Footage scanned from the original negative is sharp and clean, with a slight hint of organic film grain. As always, internegatives (which have been processed through an optical printer to create titles and transitions) look noticeably softer and may have been grained a bit. This also applies to several zoomed shots that appear to have been added in post-production (including a profile of Bob Ewell’s face after he confronted Atticus in the courthouse, as well as a shot of Scott, Jem and Dill from behind while they were at the Radley at night – Spy on house). But while not entirely uncommon, these flaws are the exception to the rule. Overall this is a nice restoration of Killing a mockingbirdwhich offers the film on disc in the best picture quality to date.
Audio is presented in both English 5.1 and 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format, essentially the same mixes as on the 2012 Blu-ray. The 2.0 obviously preserves the original western recorded cinema mono audio experience. The 5.1 mix retains its spirit and overall sound quality while creating a sense of a slightly larger soundstage by subtly extending music and sound effects into the surround channels. In both cases, dialogue clarity is very good and the understated but exceptional Bernstein score shows pleasing fidelity. Additional audio mixes are available in French, Castilian Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian and Czech 2.0 Mono in DTS format, while optional subtitles include English SDH, French, Quebec French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian and Dutch includes , Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Chinese and Korean.
Universal is new 60th Anniversary Edition The Ultra HD bundle is a 2 disc set that includes the film in 4K on UHD and also 1080p HD on Blu-ray – a recreated disc mastered by the updated restoration and not the same disc that was released in 2012 was released There is also a 4K Limited edition this includes the discs plus a collector’s booklet, movie cell replica, and art cards.) Both discs include the following special features:
- Audio commentary with Robert Mulligan and Alan Pakula
- Killing a Mockingbird: All points of view (4K – 25:06)
- Terrible symmetry (SD – 24 parts – 90:14)
- A conversation with Gregory Peck (SD – 18 parts – 97:35)
- Acceptance speech for the Oscar for best actor (SD – 1:31)
- American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award (SD – 10:03)
- Excerpt from tribute to Gregory Peck (SD – 10:10)
- Boy Scout remembers (SD – 12:03)
- Cinema Trailer (SD – 2:52)
- 100 years of Universal: Restoration of the classics (HD – 9:13)
Most of this content already exists and has been carried over from the original 1998 DVD release, the 2005 Legacy Series DVD or the Blu-ray 2012 although there is a new feature specially produced for this Ultra HD edition. But new or not, most of this content is pretty special. An informative – if hardly lively – audio commentary by director Mulligan and the late Alan J. Pakula, the film’s producer, was carried over from the original release Terrible symmetryan outstanding 90-minute documentary on the making of the film, shot in black and white and unfolding at its own graceful pace.
From the 2005 DVD, Peck’s 1962 Best Actor Acceptance Speech Academy Awards is included in its entirety, along with his speech to the AFI at the presentation of their Life Achievement Award, an excerpt of the Academy tribute to Gregory Peck with affectionate remarks from daughter Cecilia Peck and Boy Scout remembersa 12-minute interview with Mary Badham from a 1999 episode Dateline NBC (Proving that corporate synergy sometimes has its perks).
The best content of 2005 is the 97 minute one A conversation with Gregory Peck, which was co-produced by his daughter and directed by Oscar-winning actress Barbara Kopple. This beautiful and intimate documentary offers a moving look at Peck both at home and on the go through his one-man question-and-answer lecture show. This should be mandatory for all celebrities. Here is Gregory Peck, a much bigger star than anyone could ever hope for today, speaking to fans and admirers backstage and on the street, listening to their stories and appreciating them as much as they appreciate him.
Finally, from the previous Blu-ray comes a general piece about film restoration that was common in Universal’s catalog releases in 2012, the studio’s 100th anniversary. And as you’d expect these days, a Movies Anywhere Digital code for the film is also included on a paper insert in the box.
The only new feature created for this version is Killing a Mockingbird: All points of view, a half-hour retrospective featuring Leonard Maltin, various historians and academics, and Gregory Peck’s grandson, Christopher (who is also an English teacher, by the way). The play looks back on both Harper Lee’s novel and Mulligan’s permanent film adaptation, exploring various aspects of the production as well as the film’s context in history and its enduring legacy and impact. It’s quite thoughtful and well worth your time.
Killing a mockingbird is a true American film classic, with exceptional performances from Peck, Brock Peters and his young cast, as well as the first-ever role of a young Robert Duvall. Both on page and on screen, the story prompts two simple questions: “What do you believe in?” and “Are you ready to stand up for it?” Universal’s new 4K Ultra HD represents the definitive release of this film, combining premium A/V presentation with a new bonus feature and subtle legacy features from the golden age of DVD. Recommended.
– Adam Jahnke with Bill Hunt
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