Scanning High-Def: Casablanca HD DVD

Movie ••••• Picture ••••• Sound •••½ Extras ••••
With a restored picture that seemed hard to improve upon, my Casablanca DVD has long been a favorite black-and-white reference disc. But watching this HD DVD (authored with the superior VC-1 codec), I found that even more was visible in those crowded, busy backgrounds, making for a more convincing environment. There's great depth to the images and loads of detail, even in all those marvelous shadows. You expect to see the crags in Humphrey Bogart's face, but occasionally in this picture I was also able to even see laugh lines around Ingrid Bergman's mouth - despite the softer lighting. Highlights in glasses and Ilsa's lovely eyes sparkle brightly, Captain Renault's uniform is of the deepest black, and there is a gorgeous array of gray tones. Images really glow. Although the film is 65 years old, there's no damage or excessive grain. The Dolby Digital Plus mono sound is crisp and clear, with a surprising amount of bass in aircraft takeoffs and in the drumming underneath the singing of "La Marseillaise."

Among the vast array of high-quality extras, Roger Ebert gives surprisingly good commentary, analyzing compositions, lighting, camera movements, acting, and music for the meaning and ideas they're communicating. A second commentary (by Rudy Behlmer) and a 34-minute featurette cover the history of the production in great depth. Bacall on Bogart, a feature-length documentary that goes into the star's performances and his own views on his career, is also well worth a watch. Deleted scenes (missing their soundtrack but with subtitles) hint at other directions the story might have gone in, and recording sessions for Casablanca's songs include one not used in the film. You also get a TV adaptation with tawdry actors, story, and dialogue; a decent radio version with the original leads; and a 1995 Bugs Bunny cartoon called Carrotblanca.

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