Blu-ray Review: 1984: Everything Old is New Again

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Blu-ray Review: 1984: Everything Old is New Again

One of the Criterion Collection's latest releases is the, well, 1984 adaptation of George Orwell's dystopian classic, 1984.

The story is as timely as ever, unfortunately. Lies are spun and accepted as truth. Slavery is freedom. Big brother is watching. Will we ever evolve out of this particular kind of fascist nightmare? It may be impossible to guess, as full of violence as our society is, and particularly because of the leaders we have in place, and not just in this country.

This deeply upsetting adaptation is directed by Michael Radford (The Postman, The Merchant of Venice). It was only his second feature, and if you watch his interview on this disc, you'll be agape on how seemingly easy it was for him to bring 1984 to the screen. And it's not that he doesn't deserve it --- he's clearly an excellent director and storyteller, who came to hone his skills along with one of the world's best-known cinematographers, Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, Blade Runner 2049, Sicario).

Indeed, 1984 is one of those films where no shot is wasted --- each composition tells you something. For those studying film, it would probably be most beneficial to watch this feature twice --- once to enjoy it, and another to pause and decipher what each frame "says." 

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the acting is fantastic. I mean come on --- we've got both Richard Burton as the "compassionate" villain O'Brien (which ultimately makes his fascist middle man even more frightening) and the late, great John Hurt as the protagonist Winston Smith, whose job it is to help propogandize news and current events.

Along the way, he meets Julia (an excellent Suzanna Hamilton), who seduces him. The very act of mating is rebellion. It's not long until their affair is found out by Big Brother, and then O'Brien gets his hands on them. There are a few torture sequences that were hard to watch because of the strength of the acting. If you see it, you'll know what I mean.

With a film like this, it's more about the journey than the destination. In other words, it's not WHAT happens, but HOW it happens. 

As for the sound and picture, both are fantastic: Deakins himself supervised the new 4K restoration. I found the interviews with Radford and Deakins quite interesting; again, a boon for students of film.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by cinematographer Roger Deakins, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Two scores: one by Eurythmics and one by composer Dominic Muldowney
  • New interviews with director Michael Radford and Deakins
  • New interview with David Ryan, author of George Orwell on Screen
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by writer and performer A. L. Kennedy

New cover by Fred Davis

Want to add this adaptation of 1984 to your collection? Check out Criterion's site here.

1984

Director(s)
  • Michael Radford
Writer(s)
  • George Orwell (novel)
  • Michael Radford
Cast
  • John Hurt
  • Richard Burton
  • Suzanna Hamilton
  • Cyril Cusack
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Criterion Blu-rayGeorge OrwellMichael RadfordJohn HurtRichard BurtonSuzanna HamiltonCyril CusackDramaSci-Fi