The word ‘masterpiece’ gets tossed around a little too frequently when discussing certain films. However, there is no other way to describe “Schindler’s List,” except to call it a masterpiece.
Spielberg first learned of Oskar Schindler back in the early-80’s through the book, Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally, which he purchased the rights to adapt. But, Spielberg felt he wasn’t ready to tell the story yet and he courted several renowned directors such as Roman Polanski, who went on to make his own Holocaust picture “The Pianist,” and Martin Scorsese. In fact, Scorsese was attached to helm “Schindler’s List” until he decided that a Jewish filmmaker should direct. He eventually traded directorial duties on the “Cape Fear” remake with Spielberg.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is an opportunistic businessman who has arrived in Krakow to open an enamel factory to profit off the war effort. He hires cheaper Jewish labor, despite the fact that all wages go directly to the SS. Soon, Schindler’s eyes are open to the atrocities committed by the Nazi occupation as they brutally relocate Jews from the ghetto and build a concentration camp under the command of the vicious Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes). Having already glad handed and bribed Nazi officials to start his business, Schindler continued to do so to save the lives of the over 1200 Jewish workers in his employ. Even after the Nazis ordered the shutdown of his facility and the transport of workers to Auschwitz, Schindler was able to movie everyone to his new ammunitions factory in Brunnlitz. Schindler never produced one working tank shell. Instead, he spent what was left of his fortune buying ammo from other manufacturers and passing them off as his own.
Along the way, Spielberg paints a harrowing portrait of the Holocaust with the unforgettable images of a boy hiding in a latrine, a rabbit saved from execution due to a gun misfiring, and Schindler hosing down train cars full of Jewish prisoners to the amusement of their Nazi captors. Perhaps, none is more memorable than the little girl in the red dress wandering through the chaotic streets as the Nazis liquidate the Krakow ghetto.
Spielberg and screenwriter Steven Zaillian never attempt to canonize Schindler. He’s portrayed from the start as a flawed man. He’s initially a huckster driven by profit and an unrepentant womanizer. Yet, a truly virtuous person may not have been able to deal so intimately with the Nazis the way Schindler did. It was a breakthrough performance from Liam Neeson, who was still a decade away from his renaissance as an action hero. The same goes for Ralph Fiennes and his chilling portrayal of Amon Goeth. The banality of evil is fully displayed when Goeth wakes up one morning and calmly shoots several prisoners as if he were doing nothing more than his daily calisthenics.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray features an all-new transfer that captures the beautiful black & white cinematography of Janusz Kaminski. The grain adds a nice layer of texture to the picture. The tiniest details from the wrinkles in Goeth’s leather coat to the cigarette smoke wafting in the air are brought forth.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound isn’t too immersive, but it is rich and front-heavy. The dialogue and the score by John Williams are rendered with crystal clarity.
The 20th Anniversary set comes with the film on Blu-ray and split between 2 DVDs, the second disc of which contains the extras from the previous 2004 release, minus the text-based filmographies.
Voices From the List (1:17:32) is a heart wrenching documentary featuring interviews from witnesses and survivors of the actual events. Though the bonus material isn’t plentiful
USC Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg (4:43) is a promotional piece about the charity foundation dedicated to preserving the history of the Holocaust and stamping out intolerance.
About IWitness (3:48) is another promotional piece about the organization tasked with educating students about the Holocaust through testimonials.
“Schindler’s List” stands as a remarkable cinematic achievement as well as Steven Spielberg’s most personal film. It really is his magnum opus. Bolstered by a high quality presentation from Universal, this new Blu-ray is a must-own for any collection.