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‘Taxi Driver’ gets a striking 4K/HDR restoration courtesy of Sony

Updated: Jul 12


Robert De Niro plays a disturbed NYC taxi driver, in his Oscar-nominated performance.

(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)



4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1976; R for violence, language, and sexuality; Digital copy via Amazon Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Fandango Home (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: The 1986 commentary with director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader recorded for The Criterion Collection laserdisc.


THREE YEARS after its original 4K release, part of the six-movie “Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 2,” “Taxi Driver,” Martin Scorsese’s portrait of urban sickness, makes its solo appearance, packaged in a stylish steelbook with the same extras and striking Sony Pictures 4K/HDR restoration.  


The storyline circles screenwriter Paul Schrader, who was not in a good state of mind in the early 1970s. The son of strict Christian parents, who didn’t let him watch a movie until his late teens, he had moved from Michigan to New York City and somehow met renowned film critic Pauline Kael, who became his mentor.


She opened the door so he could attend UCLA’s film school to study film critique. He also worked at the American Film Institute, but getting jobs as a young critic were few and far between. Plus, he had hit a crossroads with his personal life: He divorced his wife and had just broken up with his girlfriend.


He found himself in a period of depression, “I was basically living in my car and driving around,” he says during the first-rate commentary. He was also drinking too much and visiting L.A. pornography hangouts. He ended up at the emergency room with a pain in his stomach, and there he realized he hadn’t talked to anyone in almost three weeks. “Living in myself” is how he puts it.

(1&2) Travis applies for a cabbie position with the taxi station’s manager (Joe Spinell). He asks, “Do you wanna work uptown nights? South Bronx, Harlem?” Travis responds, “I'll work anytime, anywhere.” (3-7) The sights and sounds of Travis’ overnight shift, and then crashes at this small rundown apartment.


While recuperating from an ulcer, it occurred to him that “I had become like a taxi driver, a man who was locked in this iron coffin wandering around in this nightmarish world that he was inventing.”


The metaphor of the taxi driver became the driving force to find a plot about loneliness.


The central character, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), “is creating the nightmare and he is not subject to it,” Schrader says. “Therefore you have a situation where the girl he desires he cannot have, the one he can have he cannot desire. So he tries to kill the father figure of one and when he fails, he kills the father figure of the other. In his mind, it was all the same. That one is a politician and one is a pimp doesn’t make much difference.”

Schrader wrote two drafts of “Taxi Driver” in just 10 days. He set up a semi-office on his ex-girlfriend’s kitchen table. She let him back into the apartment since she was going out of town.


The script, with its noirish touchstones (i.e. Bickel’s voice-over), was passed around Hollywood, first to director Brian De Palma (“Carrie,” “The Untouchables”), who gave it to his next-door neighbor, producer Michael Phillips (“The Sting,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), who gave it to his wife and co-producer Julia, and Tony Bill, who optioned it for $1,000.


At the time, Scorsese was living in L.A. and was good friends with De Palma. He desperately wanted to make “Taxi Driver,” but the Phillipses felt he didn’t have the credentials until they saw an early cut of the director’s “Mean Streets,” which starred a young De Niro. And, he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in “The Godfather: Part II.” 


The production was filmed on a tight budget, during the hot summer of ‘75, with numerous thunderstorm delays, which made the filming “40 days and 40 nights,” says Scorsese.     

(1&2) Travis spots what he thinks is the perfect woman, Besty (Cybill Shepherd), a campaign worker for presidential candidate Charles Palantine. He convinces her to go with him to get coffee and a piece of pie. (3) Travis meets up with other cabbies for a late-night break. (4) Later, he happens to pick up candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris) and two campaign assistants.


“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the street.” – Travis Bickle, former Marine, Vietnam veteran


Before the cameras started rolling, De Niro got his cabbie’s license and drove around Manhattan for two weeks. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Jodie Foster had to see a psychiatrist to make sure she was mentally fit to play the role of Iris, a tween prostitute. She was. Foster was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar.


Scorsese has two cameos – one planned as he watches campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) entering the Manhattan headquarters of a presidential candidate and the other as a cuckolded passenger when the actor didn’t show up.


“Taxi Driver” opened in the dead of winter, and still broke first-and second-day box office numbers in New York City. Three months later it won the top prize at Cannes and later received four Academy Award nominations:  Best Picture, Best Actor (De Niro), Supporting Actress and Original Score (Bernard Herrmann).


Decades later it’s considered one of Scorsese’s masterpieces and was selected No. 52 in the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

(1) The movie date between Travis and Besty was a disaster, but he continued to send her flowers and was forced out of the campaign office by Tom (Albert Brooks) when she didn’t want to see him. (2) Travis starts to unravel. (3) Two teenage prostitutes, right, Iris, (Jodie Foster) and her friend (Garth Avery) bump into Travis’ cab. (4&5) He purchases four handguns including a Smith & Wesson model 29 from Easy Andy (Steven Prince), an illegal gun salesman. And, he starts to lift weights and inflict pain with a gas flame. (6) The script simply said, Travis talks to himself in the mirror. De Niro improvised his famous line, “You talkin’ to me?” (7) Travis starts to attend the Palantine campaign rallies.



Hands down the nearly 40-year-old commentary with Scorsese and Schrader (recorded separately) is the best (it’s on the enclosed Blu-ray). Two other commentaries are available, one with Schrader and another with Professor Robert P. Kolker, University of Maryland, who gives more of a play-by-play account.  


The next best is the 40th anniversary Q&A with cast and crew at NYC’s Beacon Theater during the Tribeca Film Festival, which was co-founded by De Niro. 


Additional extras: “Making Taxi Driver” documentary, storyboard to film comparisons with an introduction by Scorsese, photo gallery, “Scorsese on Taxi Driver,” “Influence and Appreciation Scorsese Tribute,” “Producing ‘Taxi Driver,’ ” “God’s Lonely Man” with Schrader and Kolker, “Taxi Driver Stories” from NYC cabbies, and “Travis’ New York” and “Travis’ New York Locations.”



Sony Pictures handled the 4K restoration nearly 15 years ago. The original camera negative (1.85:1 aspect) was scanned in a wet-gate 4K process, then digitally cleaned (dirt, repairing frames and scratches) and color-corrected to match Scorsese’s approved prints. Some amount of fading had occurred, a common issue with ’70s film stock.


A special 4K screening was made available to Scorsese in 2011 while he was filming “Hugo” in London. Several notes were made and corrections were made at Sony’s Colorworks 4K post-production house in L.A.


The overall clarity is excellent from start to finish, even with numerous fades and transitions, as the gritty film grain is completely intact, the imagery from cinematographer Michael Chapman (“Raging Bull,” “The Fugitive”). The MPPA rating board forced Scorsese to de-saturate the colors during the violent final sequence to ensure it got an acceptable R rating.


The 4K was encoded onto a 100 GB disc and averages in the low-70-Megabits-per-second range since it includes a number of the extras, while the HDR10 peak brightness hits 3286 nits and averages 146. Also, the more refined Dolby Vision grading is provided. Black levels are superb during the unsettling night scenes, while the highlights are detailed and bright.



The same lively six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is carried over, and the original mono track is provided. Sony’s Grover Crisp discovered the original 4-track stereo recordings of Herrmann’s jazzy score. The great composer died the next day after conducting the orchestra for two days at a Warner Bros. stage. In the 1990s, a stereo track was created from the stereo score and the mono dialogue, and in 2011 the 5.1 soundtrack was created and approved by Scorsese.


“Taxi Driver” may not be for everyone, but no other filmmaker and actor, both of them New Yorkers, could’ve pulled off this twisted tale and its shaky moral compass.


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer  

(1) Travis confronts a gunman trying to rob a neighborhood convenience store. (2) He meets up with Iris and her friend and talks with her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel). (3&4) Travis gets 15 minutes with Iris, with hopes of convincing her to leave Sport, and to go back home. (5) The next morning he takes Iris out for breakfast and tells her, “You can’t live like this. It’s a hell.”


Travis is on a Murderous Mission


Ken Roche
Ken Roche
Jul 10

Sorry, I'm with Maltin on this one, wouldn't even walk across the street to see it, even if it was the only show in town.

Jul 11
Replying to

Cool story.

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