It seems everyone has an opinion about “Gone with the Wind,” and if you don’t, I’d like to meet you. Pretty much everyone has seen it, or at least parts of it, and if you haven’t, I’d like to meet you even more. Described in the press release for the 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition as “the quintessential Hollywood epic and still history’s all time domestic box office champion,” the film still carries itself as worthy of a spot on many a film lover’s favorites list.
Warner Bros. is pushing out a massive boxed set to commemorate “Gone with the Wind” as it turns 75. It will be fittingly presented in limited and numbered sets, with new collectible packaging, new enhanced content and new collectible memorabilia. The film is consistently lauded as one of the American cinema’s grandest, most ambitious and spectacular pieces of filmmaking. This guy named Victor Fleming sat in the director’s chair, and he had his hands in another pretty notable film released that same year called “The Wizard of Oz.” The film won 10 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress among them) and earned a special place in the hearts and minds of many who experienced it, both then and now. Based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel (which has been translated into 16 different languages and still sells 50,000 copies annually), the film is cemented into history for multiple reasons.
I doubt there is much more I can say that hasn’t already been said in a review context about “Gone with the Wind.” It’s Clark Gable, Viven Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard and Hattie McDaniel depicting life during the Civil War south as the rich and beautiful Scarlet O’Hara (Leigh) has virtually everything she could want, except for love interest Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). As the war devastates the South, Scarlett discovers the strength within herself to protect her family and rebuild her life. Through it all, she longs for Ashley, unaware that she is already married to the man she really loves (Gable), and that he truly loves her. Shockingly, she drives him away and ultimately tries to win him back.
I suppose in a simple, surface level context, “Gone with the Wind” is just a love story. But given the size of the film, and the thorough detail taken over a pretty massive production period, there is much more going on here. It likely starts with the novel, which I have not read, but I know is more illustrative than most fiction writings around that era. The film’s music, dramatic sets and ambitious efforts to stay on point as it works through its exhaustive run time are all on point, but there is no way something like this gets through a reviewer’s eyes without at least some minor criticism.
I’ve always believed that while “Gone with the Wind” is a good film, it is among the more overrated movies ever made (along with “Top Gun”). It is set during one of the darker times in American history, and is rather unforgiving in the way it glorifies slavery and the subordination Blacks were forced to endure during a horrific era. “Gone with the Wind” opens our eyes to the life of the privileged in an era where the lives of those living underneath them are what really matter. It’s unnerving to see so many first world problems take center stage during a time where there are so many other big issues needing attention. On multiple occasions, “Gone with the Wind” depicts white females as elegant and dignified, while the Black female slaves are as dependent as ever and almost appear to need white support in order to just get through a day’s time.
Is “Gone with the Wind” a racist film? Probably not. But do the things it has going for it help to mask some of the many problems it highlights? Probably so. Among those positive attributes are the lead performances, which, according to some of my trademark casual internet research, took nearly two full years to iron out. Gable and Leigh are in prime form as individuals, but when you put them together, you have a combination that really put on a special experience. Calling it the best love story of our time might be pushing the envelope a tad, but you could likely argue it’s up there near the top of the list.
The efforts Warner Bros. puts out here are great, and the set as a whole is impressive, but you’ll have to be a big time “Gone with the Wind” lover to snag this one, especially if you have a copy already. It’s a massive box, just in terms of the size, taking up substantial real estate on your DVD shelf. I get why they are sending the product out in this manner, and also why big time fans will probably seize the opportunity if they’re able.
To think that “Gone with the Wind” still holds relevance today is fascinating given the fact that it’s reached three quarters of a century. Heck, Warner Bros. partnered with The Actors Hall of Fame recently to put on a benefit at Culver Studios, where many of the key scenes were filmed, and folks showed up in costume to reenact certain favorite scenes and moments. Despite its slightly hidden problems, I respect the artful approach here and can fully embrace a movie with as many credentials as this one.
The 1.77:1 1080p High Definition video transfer is as good as it can be for a film of this age. The colors pop with vivid brightness, much as I’m sure they did back in the day. The detail put into things like set decoration, art direction and costumes are all visible to even the untrained eye. Grain is occasionally an issue, but that’s to be expected despite meticulous work on the original film. All said and done, the transfer rocks. In a good way.
No issues here with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. The emotional audio score is powerful as ever before, and from my perspective, the score is among the film’s most memorable elements. You can hear that trademark line at the end of the film with great clarity, too. Dialogue is impeccable and the layered timing of important lines is very well spaced out. “Gone with the Wind” brings multiple vernaculars together all at once, and you get to enjoy them with a marked crispness that was absent from the earlier DVD only releases.
The memorabilia includes a replica of Rhett Butler’s handkerchief and a music box paperweight playing Tara’s theme with an image on top of the Rhett-Scarlett kiss. Also included is a 36-page companion booklet featuring a look at the immortal style of “Gone with the Wind,” written by New York fashion designer and “Project Runway” finalist Austin Scarlett, whose signature look reflects the romantic elegance of the “Gone with the Wind” era. The new special features include footage of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh attending the original movie premiere in Atlanta and Old South/New South, a journey through today’s South and revisiting the real-life locations depicted to see how the world of the Old South continues to inform life in the New South’s cosmopolitan world.
A Final Word:
Warner Bros. has done their due diligence with this set, and it is a very fitting way to make the film’s 75th birthday stand out. Timing isn’t bad for the holiday season, either. Big movies like this simply aren’t made anymore, so if you’re after them, this seems like a logical place to start your search.