"They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? Carpe... hear it? Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."
- John Keating
As big a fan of director Peter Weir as I am, and, trust me, Iím a very BIG fan, Iíve never been especially high on his and writer Tom Schulmanís (Medicine Man) Dead Poets Society. The story of a theatrical literary teacher named John Keating (Robin Williams) working at a prestigious preparatory school for boys in 1959, the movie does tend to a preach bit much and has a few too many melodramatic flourishes for my particular taste. The fondly remembered finale also leaves a little of a bad taste in my mouth, although it should be admitted that Iím not particularly sure if thatís because I find it overly saccharine or if Iím more annoyed at the dozens of later copycats that decidedly are.
At the same time, the quality of the film itself is undeniable. The restraint Weir shows in some of the more manipulative aspects of the film, the kind of restraint heís been known for throughout his legendary (The Year of Living Dangerously, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Truman Show, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, so on, so forth) career, his ability to stay attuned to the emotional nuances of his works is something sublime. The man never seems to lose focus on his filmís most important aspects, and if anything his knowing to spend more time with the students than their eccentric and spirited teacher is remarkable.
Additionally, the performances he gets out of his cast Ė not just from Williams, who is admittedly wonderful Ė is something else. At the time, newcomers Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles were hardly household names, and a case could be made none of them have ever given more thoughtful or intimately attuned performances in their entire, now quite long, careers (Hawke probably being the notable exception). These kids rise to the occasion and then some, their work in tandem with one another arguably more impressive than what they do on their own.
But Iím sorry if this comes across as blaspheme, Schulmanís Academy Award-winning script tends to get on my nerves. I find a lot of it to be fairly cloying, unbelievable and extremely heavy on the sentiment. There arenít all that many surprises, and even a third-act tragedy (deftly handled by Weir, it must be said) feels a bit too obvious. As for the famous final scene, watching it again now I canít help but giggle, and while I donít remember doing that back in 1989 when I first watching the picture that fact I do now does speak volumes.
Yet Dead Poets Society is powerful, and Weirís use of image (the film is lushly and electrically shot by the great John Seale), as always, is stupendous. As for Williams, he more than deserved his Best Actor Oscar nomination, and while Iíll always prefer his performance in Good Morning Vietnam Iím not about to discount the inherent subtle intricacies of his work as Keating one single bit. The movie is flawed, but itís heart is very much in the right place, and I can easily see when fans keep flocking to it over two decades after its original release.
Dead Poets Society is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1/1080p transfer.
Dead Poets Society comes to Blu-ray in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1 and includes optional English SDH and French subtitles.
Extras here are ported over from previous DVD additions and include:
∑ Audio Commentary with director Peter Weir, cinematographer John Seale and writer Tom Schulman
∑ Dead Poets: A Look Back (27 minutes)
∑ Raw Takes (8 minutes)
∑ Master of Sound: Alan Splet (11 minutes)
∑ Cinematography Master Class (15 minutes)
∑ Original Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes)
Those who already own the DVD will probably be slightly disappointed by the lack of anything new, all of what is here is very, very good and more or less worthwhile. Itís a solid list of extras, and far my part I was extremely happy with just about all of it, especially the excellent audio commentary track (which actually made me appreciate the movie a bit more) and the two tech featurettes concerning the legendary late sound designer Alan Splet and renowned cinematographer John Seale.
While Iím not Dead Poets Societyís biggest fan, that doesnít mean I donít appreciate the heck out of a great deal of it or that I in no small way fully embrace its important message in regards to the importance of literature and how it can inspire the imagination. As for Disneyís Blu-ray presentation, Iím extremely happy with what the studio had bought forth, seizing the day to give the film a hi-def treatment bordering on extraordinary.