Blu-ray Review: THE TIN DRUM (Arrow Academy)

Associate Editor; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
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Blu-ray Review: THE TIN DRUM (Arrow Academy)
A lot has been written about Volker Schlondorff's film adaptation of Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum. The film is considered one of the most evocative pieces of cinematic art concerning World War II to come out of Germany. I won't pretend that I have much of substance to add to the mountain of critical appraisal for this film, which is massive. I will concern this review more with the release put together by Arrow Academy that is absolutely superb and marks the English language debut of Schlondorff's director's cut of the film which adds about thirty minutes of additional context to a film that is already a masterpiece.

Volker Schlondorff's original cut of The Tin Drum ran right around two hours and forty-five minutes. This cut included everything he deemed to be essential to the telling of the story of young Oskar (David Bennet). However, when he showed it to his distributors they loved it but calmly pointed out a stipulation in their contract that stated that his film should run no longer than two hours and fifteen minutes. In the time before The Tin Drum had its major theatrical runs it featured at Cannes, where it won the Palme D'or, and won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, at which point Schlondorff went back to his distributors begging to reinstate the missing footage. They said no, fearing that the inclusion of extra material might make them look bad as the evil suits who demanded cuts to a masterpiece, and so the director's cut was lost.

When the original lab was going through the process of closing its doors for good, they came across the original negatives for The Tin Drum, and they contacted Schlondorff asking if he wanted them back. His first instinct was to say no, but after sleeping on it, he realized that he could now reassemble his preferred cut from the best archival materials possible, and the race to reconstruct the director's cut of The Tin Drum was on.

This was not going to be easy. Volker Schlondorff had more than his fair share of obstacles to conquer in his quest. Among the most massive was the fact that he now had 180,000 feet of negative to search through to find the shots he wanted. It was almost like starting from scratch. Thankfully, he had his shooting log still, and he was able to narrow his search from the shot listings and storyboards. Still an epic undertaking, but a doable one. The second major obstacle was the fact that even though the negatives were in pretty good shape, he was missing the audio track completely. How does one edit together a film with no sound and no sound recordings? The ingenious decision was made to rerecord all of the missing dialogue with the original actors, even the now forty year old David Bennet, who was able to substitute for his eleven year old self through some fantastic digital wizardry. The result is rather remarkable, until I knew about this process I wouldn't have guessed that the entire half hour was completely relooped for this version.

All of this information and more from Volker Schlondorff is available in a fascinating half hour interview on Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation of The Tin Drum. He talks about how dear the film is to him, and just to see the passion and enthusiasm in his eyes, even thirty years later, is a wonderful thing to behold. The Tin Drum has lost none of its power in those thirty years, remaining an essential view of a piece of history so often visited in films. None of those films is like The Tin Drum, and I'd wager that none will ever approach the style and narrative brilliance of Schlondorff's brilliant film.

As I watched the Blu-ray with the Theatrical Cut and Director's Cut, it became clear to me that this was no self-indulgent exercise. The director's cut adds a lot of context to the film, and helps the viewer to understand the point of view of Oskar in the film in a way that wasn't very clear in the original. These long delayed director's cuts aren't always great, one example of a film extended with little positive effect is Milos Forman's director's cut of Amadeus. In my opinion the theatrical cut of that film is clearly superior. However, The Tin Drum improves with these changes, and that's a good thing. I really can't wait to watch this again!

The Disc:

First thing's first, The Tin Drum Director's Cut is not presented via seamless branching. The director's cut and the theatrical cut are separate streams on the disc, however, though it may affect the bitrate, the image quality is superb on both editions. Neither cut is better than the other in terms of image quality, they share source material, and therefore the identical shots are identical. The disc is among Arrow Academy's best efforts, and I could find no major faults. The DTS-HD MA sound is also superb, with the aforementioned looping blending seamlessly into the new cut and not sticking out from the rest of the film at all. Though we are given a surround track, there is little ambiance to be found, though I would be wary of someone remixing this to give it a swirly sound mix. Overall, I was very impressed with the A/V of this disc, and it can be counted among Arrow Academy's finest accomplishments.

Arrow Academy have gifted us with a boatload of extra material to chew on for The Tin Drum. First up is a very informative and bright commentary on the theatrical cut from Schlondorff, whose love for this film shines through. I'm not much for commentaries, but this was an easy listen. My favorite of the extras, though, was the interview I mentioned above. Filmed in 2011, it talks the viewer through the entire process of recreating The Tin Drum essentially from scratch. Amazing stuff, and Schlondorff's enthusiasm is contagious. There are also two shorter interviews from 2001, both talking about the making of The Tin Drum, and both equally informative, though with nothing new to say. Last, but not least, is the stellar booklet put together by Arrow Academy featuring writing from several esteemed film writers and Schlondorff biographers, as well as excerpts from Schlondorff's diary and archival photos. Great stuff as usual.

Completists out there will want to keep their Criterion editions for the bonus material, however, this disc absolutely slaughters that one in terms of A/V. So until Criterion gets off their ass and releases this film on Blu-ray, I'm glad I have the Academy disc, it's pretty incredible!
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