The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman (based on the musical, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse)
Stars: Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain von Trapp), Eleanor Parker (The Baroness), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Charmian Carr (Liesl), Heather Menzies (Louisa), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich), Duane Chase (Kurt), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta), Debbie Turner (Marta), Kym Karath (Gretl), Daniel Truhitte (Rolf)
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 1965
Country: U.S.
The Sound of Music Blu-Ray
The Sound of MusicRobert Wise’s film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical The Sound of Music is one of the greatest examples of the sometimes massive divide that separates film critics and audiences. When it was released in 1965, it was a smash success, a true cinematic phenomenon that people paid to see again and again; it played almost continuously in theaters until 1969, ultimately placing just behind Gone With the Wind (1939) and Star Wars (1977) in terms of lifetime ticket sales. The studio that made it, 20th Century Fox, was in dire straits at the time of its release, having just gambled and lost tens of millions of dollars on the indulgent epic Cleopatra (1963). The runaway success of The Sound of Music essentially bailed the studio out of financial ruin; Julie Andrews’ twirling across a grassy Austrian mountaintop paid off the debts incurred by Elizabeth Taylor’s debacle in ancient Egypt.

While audiences lined up to see The Sound of Music again and again, film critics were busily filling pages about how much they loathed it. Many critics saw it is as insulting, base entertainment, the kind of saccharine, sickly sweet family movie that, in catering to the most simplistic of emotions and refusing to offend anyone, was ruining the prospects of serious films about weighty subjects. The New York Times’ stalwart critic Bosley Crowther, who could hardly be described as “cutting edge,” noted that the film’s “quaintly old-fashioned” story worked on audiences primarily due to “a cheerful abundance of kirche-küche-kinder sentiment and the generally melodic felicity” of the music. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael was best at summarizing what was so objectionable about the film (which she dubbed The Sound of Money): “the luxuriant falseness of ‘The Sound of Music’ [is] part of the sentimental American tone that makes honest work almost impossible.” Kael couldn’t help but admire the film’s effectiveness, even on her, even as she decried its mechanical wringing of emotions and lack of daring. Make no mistake: The Sound of Music is an utterly sweet and wholesome film, a big-studio musical that still draws people of all ages and leaves them smiling and giddy with its innocent view of life. It is, simply, one of the last and most successful products of a less-cynical cinematic age, and it’s no wonder that it waltzed away with five Oscars, including Best Picture.

Viewing The Sound of Music today, 45 years after its initial release, one can see why critics like Kael were so angry at it. It is a thoroughly calculated film, one that is designed to strike the most basic emotional chords without fail. It is full of smiling nuns and ridiculously obedient children, stunningly beautiful scenery, and lots of harmonious singing and laughing (Kael described it with her typical pinpoint precisions as “a world of operetta cheerfulness and calendar art”). Of course, all the cheer is punctuated with a few heartfelt speeches that bring characters to sudden (and obvious) realizations--didn’t the father realize that using whistles to call his children and making them line up in military fashion was driving a wedge between them?

Yes, the movie is hopelessly corny and contrived, and its goody-goody wholesomeness can be overwhelming at times. Yet, only the staunchest cynic can say he or she truly hates it. There is something irrepressible about its simple-minded joy, and that joy is infectious. Kael saw this as being manipulated, which is largely true. She made a good point when she wrote, “nothing could be safer, nothing could be surer.” Of course, critics who have seen thousands of movies are much more aware of when they are being manipulated in ways they don’t like (it seems that Hitchcock was the only filmmaker who could make critics feel they were being played like a piano and make them like it at the same time). Most audience members, sunk deep in their chairs in the communal darkness, don’t mind all that much as long as they are having a good time.

The Sound of Music was based on a 1959 Broadway production by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, whose stagework had already been adapted by Hollywood numerous times, including Oklahoma! (1955) and South Pacific (1958). The story is based on the real-life odyssey of the von Trapp family, who had to flee Austria in the late 1930s when Hitler’s Third Reich took over the country. The Sound of Music covers only a small portion of the lengthy von Trapp family history, most notably how Captain and Maria von Trapp met each other and fell in love.

When the film opens, Maria (Julie Andrews) is an outspoken nun-in-training at an abbey in Salzburg, Austria. Because of her (gently) rebellious nature, she is sent out of the abbey to be the governess of Captain von Trapp’s seven children. The Captain (Christopher Plummer) is a widower who runs his vast house like a military camp because he doesn’t know how to do it differently. Maria quickly changes things by reintroducing the children to fun and games and, in the process, eventually melting the Captain’s steely exterior.

At almost three hours in length, The Sound of Music is an indulgent musical epic of grand vistas and huge interior sets (nothing in the film is small, especially in Todd-AO 70mm). The screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman, who already had experience adapting musicals with The King and I (1956) and West Side Story (1961), the latter of which had also been directed by Robert Wise. Those who have seen The Sound of Music know it for its numerous memorable songs that, despite criticism from purists who claim they are not representative of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best work, are nonetheless clever and even invigorating.

Love it or hate it (or somewhere in-between), The Sound of Music is a milestone in cinematic history. While its enormous success is notable, it is perhaps more notable that the movie marked the end of a cinematic era. Films like The Sound of Music simply are not and cannot be made anymore. In 1965, there was still an audience for large-scale family musicals that didn’t shy away from simplistic emotionalism and shameless heart-tugging. But, even then, the tides were changing: censorship boards were collapsing, foreign films marked by intense social realism and frank sexuality were flooding the market, and Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Graduate (1967), films that would forever change the face of American cinema, were only two years away. The Sound of Music was a blockbuster in its time, but it is now more clearly seen as a last breed of dinosaur that simply refused to die.

Still, if one is willing to pack cynicism away in the closet for a while and forget the painful lack of realism that punctuates its every moment, The Sound of Music is an enjoyable escape. Lighthearted, skillfully directed, and full of energy, it is a difficult movie to dismiss altogether. And the fact that it is still so popular nearly five decades later is testament to the enduring desire of audiences to forget their troubles from time to time and indulge in pure, unmitigated escapism.

The Sound of Music 45th Anniversary 3-Disc Blu-Ray+DVD Combo Pack

Aspect Ratio2.20:1
Audio
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 4.0 surround
  • French DTS 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, Spanish, French
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr, Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes von Trapp
  • Audio commentary by director Robert Wise
  • Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration immersive viewing experience with behind-the-scenes images, on-screen lyrics, trivia track, and location quiz
  • Music Machine
  • Sing-Along
  • Musical Stages: Creating The Sound of Music interactive “Backlot Tour” with in-depth featurettes on the songs, the stage show and movie, the film and sound restoration, and the real-life von Trapp family
  • A City of Song virtual map of filming locations in Salzburg, Austria
  • The Sound of Music Tour: A Living Story
  • The Sound of Music: From Film to Phenomenon” documentary
  • “My Favorite Things: Julie Andrews Remembers” interview
  • “Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer: A Reminiscence” interviews
  • “From Liesl to Gretl” featurette
  • “Salzburg: Sight & Sound” featurette
  • “On Location with The Sound of Music” featurette
  • “When You Know the Notes to Sing” featurette
  • Screen tests
  • Interviews
  • Photo galleries
  • BD-LIVE Live Lookup Powered by IMDb
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    SRP$34.99
    Release DateNovember 9, 2010

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Simply stunning. Say what you will about the quality of the film itself, but The Sound of Music has never looked or sounded better, at least since its 70mm roadshow presentation back in 1965. 20th Century Fox has certainly treated one of its cinematic jewels with the proper care and respect, going back to the original 65mm camera negative and making an 8K scan that was then downcoverted to 4K for extensive digital restoration and color correction. The results have brought the film to new visual heights that are far and beyond what was previously available on DVD. Watching the film in its original Todd-AO 2.20:1 aspect ratio on this 50GB dual-layered disc, the grass on the Austrian slopes has never looked greener, Julie Andrews’ freshly scrubbed skin has never looked more natural, and the contrast in the darker scenes has never looked sharper. Detail is simply outstanding (especially in the various fabrics, which really pop off the screen with true filmlike dimensionality), which has the result of making familiar images seem new all over again. The original four-channel surround mix has also been given a significant upgrade to lossless DTS-HD 7.1 surround, and the results are quite magnificent, especially during the numerous musical numbers, when the surround speakers kick in and create an impressively enveloping sensation. Surprisingly enough, there are parts of the soundtrack that are particularly bass-heavy, especially the wedding scene that features a rumbling organ score that put my subwoofer through the paces.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    As with the sound and image, 20th Century Fox has really outdone themselves in the supplements department, putting together an extensive array of materials that require two Blu-Rays to contain it all. Despite having spent hours with the discs, I have not managed to make it through everything, so I’ll just note a couple of highlights.

    You can watch the film with one of two audio commentaries: A new track by Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Charmian Carr, Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes von Trapp joins the previously available track by director Robert Wise. There is also an exceptionally well-done immersive viewing option called Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration, which allows you to choose any of four types of content to see during the movie: “Making Music: A Journey in Images,” a picture-in-picture feature that shows you behind-the-scenes photos and footage, excerpts from the script, storyboards, production paintings, etc.; “The Sing-Along Experience,” which puts the song lyrics on screen; “Many Things to Know,” a trivia track; and “Where Was It Filmed?,” a trivia game. You choose which ones you want before starting the movie, but a bar at the bottom of the screen allows you to turn them on and off during the viewing, as well. Musical Stages: Creating The Sound of Music is an interactive behind-the-scenes experience that includes brief featurettes on all the songs, the Broadway production and how it compares to the film, songs that were cut from the film, the image and sound restoration, and the real-life von Trapp family, who still live in Vermont. A City of Song is another impressive set of supplements organized in a virtual map of filming locations in Salzburg, Austria; each area allows you to watch a short featurette about the location, read trivia about it, and see behind-the-scenes photographs of the production that took place there.

    In addition to all the new material, there is also a fantastic array of vintage materials, including interviews with Julie Andrews, screen tests, television program excerpts, theatrical trailers, and TV spots for the various re-releases. This set also includes virtually all of the supplements included on the previously available DVDs, including the 87-minute documentary The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon, which covers both the history of the von Trapp family and the production of the movie. The documentary is made up of extensive interviews with almost everyone involved with the movie and surviving members of the von Trapp family, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, production sketches, outtakes, and clips from other movies. Also included is a dated, but still amusing featurette made in 1965 called “Salzburg: Sight and Sound.” It is basically a travelogue of the film’s primary location told from the point of view of actress Charmian Carr, who played Liesl. The documentary does feature some production footage of the movie, but most of it is about the city itself.

    In short, any fan of The Sound of Music should feel overwhelmed with joy at both the amount of material contained in this three-disc set and the quality of its comprehensiveness.

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)



    James Kendrick

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