Updated: Feb 26, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
“SCHINDLER’S LIST: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1993; R for profanity, some sexuality and actuality violence; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: On-stage conversation with Steven Spielberg and key cast members from the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival
DIRECTOR STEVEN SPIELBERG continues his commitment to the 4K Ultra HD format with the release of his Academy Award Best Picture winner “Schindler’s List” for its 25th Anniversary Edition. This is his seventh film to make the jump to 4K in 2018. There are nine remasters so far.
It started in April with “The Post” (2017), a salute to the press based on the Washington Post’s battle to publish information about the government cover-up over the Vietnam War. May saw his D-Day masterpiece “Saving Private Ryan” (1998); later the same month found “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997) just as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” hit the theaters. During the summer, Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest “Ernie” Cline’s sci-fi bestseller “Ready Player One” (2018), a visual stunner set in the not-too-distant future, appeared. This fall we were treated to good family fun with Robin Williams’ grown-up Peter Pan in “Hook” (1991).
Spielberg recorded a brief, video message before “Schindler’s list” became available this month.
“This is a harrowing true story of the power of humanity during one of history’s darkest periods. This is a story of courage, and of hope that the world needs now more than ever. I invite you to experience this film, so that its message is never forgotten.” — Steven Spielberg
The 4K disc set includes a bonus disc housing all of the extras, including a new 40-minute on-stage conversation filmed at the Beacon Theater in New York City for this anniversary presentation. Joining Spielberg is Liam Neeson, who played Oskar Schindler, Ben Kingsley as accountant Itzhak Stern, Caroline Goodall as Oskar’s wife Emilie, and Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch, with film and literary critic Janet Maslin moderating.
Spielberg says he hasn’t watched the film with an audience in 25 years: “There are so many moments … it rolled over me.” He recounts the final frames he personally shot at Oskar Schindler’s gravesite in Jerusalem, where survivors and cast members placed stones of remembrance and respect. Emilie Schindler gave a long and lingering look at her ex-husband’s grave. “That was something that blindsided me and really got to me,” Spielberg said. Actress Caroline Goodall pushed her wheelchair along for Mrs. Schindler’s first visit to the site.
Maslin asks Spielberg if it was true the story of Schindler was discovered through a luggage dealer in Beverly Hills. “Absolutely,” he says. The dealer had changed his name from Poldek Pfefferberg to Leopold “Paul” Page after he and his wife Mila emigrated to the U.S. (both are featured in the film). For decades, Pfefferberg tried to get writers and filmmakers interested in the story of a man masquerading as a member of the Nazi Party, who operated factories near Krakow, Poland, and his hometown Zwittau-Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia, saving more than 1,100 Jews from Nazi death camps by purchasing them through a list of “needed workers.”
Australian novelist and playwright Thomas Keneally answered the call. He entered Pfefferberg’s shop on Rodeo Drive before his flight to Sydney. “I guess he needed to pack his socks in a small valise,” Spielberg said. When asked his profession, Keneally replied, “I write books.”
“Have I got a story for you,” Pfefferberg said.
Keneally’s book, “Schindler’s Ark,” was released in 1982, winning the Booker Prize. Spielberg’s mentor, Universal Studio executive Sid Sheinberg, stumbled upon a New York Times’ book review two weeks after the premiere of “E.T.” We were all “pretty euphoric,” Spielberg recalls. Then Sheinberg told him, “I have your next movie.” Two hours later, a messenger arrived at Spielberg’s home with a cutout of the NYT book section. He purchased the book, which took him a month to read. Along with the emotional intensity, Spielberg said “It was very difficult for me to read because it was full of so many facts” that had to be confirmed.
Regretfully, he called Sheinberg afterward. “I don’t know how to make this movie, I just don’t,” he said. “And I didn’t for a long time. A lot of things had to come before I could tell the story.”
Spielberg remembered how his parents often talked about the “great murders.” “I never knew the words ‘Shoah’ or ‘Holocaust’; they always called it ‘the murders.’”
Goodall speaks up about her emotional experience seeing the film. “I felt that every scene was a tiny masterpiece in its own right. Just how carefully Steven had put it together, how detailed everything was, and how perfect every performance was from someone who had just one line, or even a look. That is a testament to your genius.”
Ben Kingsley topped the Beacon Theater evening. “Every single memory of that film is indelible. It’s in our DNA, our shared DNA. And, seeing it with an audience, and feeling an audience breathe the film in and out with me, and be ambushed by the terrifying logic of those years of extermination. The methodical, hideous logic of the perpetrators, I think was brought home in a way that’s miraculous ... George Steiner says, ‘When we try to describe the Holocaust, the language breaks, but in the hands of a maestro, we actually get echoes of what it really was,’ and the language really holds.”
Universal Picture’s package also includes nearly 80-minutes of interviews from actual Schindler survivors filmed in 56 countries and 32 languages shortly after “Schindler’s List” was released. These formed the basis for the USC Shoah Foundation’s Institute for Visual History and Education. Survivors gave their testimonies, “So that we would tell the world and educate future generations,” says Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director. The archive is based in Los Angeles, but available in satellite locations in the U.K. Germany, Italy, France, Poland, the Netherlands, and Israel. The foundation continues to collect similar testimonies on genocides – still taking place – in Guatemala, Cambodia, the Sudan, Rwanda, Nanjing, Armenia, and Iraq.
“Schindler's List” was a life-changing experience for Spielberg; it deepened his own faith, and changed the course of his life. He came to understand how one person, not an army, can make a difference.
Filmed just outside the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Spielberg recognized, “That, had I been standing on that exact spot at a different point in time, I more than likely would’ve been killed, too.”
The original black and white camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was meticulously remastered in 4K, supervised by Spielberg for its theatrical and Ultra HD, with HDR10 and Dolby Vision, release for home viewing.
The HDR gray-scale is much wider and bolder than any previous edition available for theaters or homes. The blacks are far deeper and more subtle – especially in the handheld camera work from Oscar-winning Polish cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, as the Nazis make a final nighttime assault on the Krakow ghetto March 13, 1943. There are no lost details as bullets are sprayed throughout the darkness and super-bright highlights.
The additional resolution is noticeably evident through the natural film grain. Clarity is sharper in the scene where a distant train full of women and children is accidentally routed toward Auschwitz against the snow-covered Polish countryside. Also in the increased definition from the sea of faces as Schindler gives his last goodbyes to his workers after Germany’s surrender to the Allied forces.
The 4K disc includes a new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack for height speakers, but is used sparingly. Still, effects from gunfire, train steam, and ambient sound is more developed, plus the subwoofer rumbles from the
fiery furnace at Auschwitz. John Williams’ Oscar-winning score (his 29th nomination) is mostly kept to the front speakers. The simple, restrained piano and violin solos from Itzhak Perlman, and short spurts of symphonic orchestration triggers heart-felt moments. Dialogue is front and center, and never gets lost in the Oscar-nominated sound.
Spielberg gave us a historical and emotional experience of the Holocaust, while preserving his cinematic work for generations to come. “Schindler’s List” remains as strong, powerful and true as ever.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer