Blu-ray Review: The Way We Were - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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It’s hard to see why The Way We Were is considered by so many film fans to be a classic romance. After all, it’s the story of two people who were never meant to be together and who were never especially happy as they tried to make their relationship work. The 1973 box office hit (and winner of two Academy Awards, one for Marvin Hamlisch’s score and one for its ubiquitous title song) stars two screen legends, Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. For that alone it will always hold a certain amount of appeal, not to mention the fact that it was directed by Sydney Pollack and written by Arthur Laurents. The latter incorporated his own experiences with being blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era into his screenplay.

That last bit may come as a surprise to anyone unfamiliar with the plot of The Way We Were. While the film does explore the mismatched pairing of Katie Morosky (Streisand) and Hubbell Gardiner (Redford), the relationship is set against the backdrop of McCarthyism. Beginning in the years prior to U.S. involvement in World War II, Katie is an outspoken Communist who constantly tries to rally support for “the party” on her college campus. Hubbell is a budding author who stays on the sidelines when it comes to political activism. Don’t look here for a story about characters evolving as they age—these two remain largely unchanged as the years roll by. As opposites, Katie and Hubbell are attracted to each other but it never feels like a good fit. Both Streisand and Redford were a little long in the tooth to be portraying college students, but we don’t linger in that time period for long.

Way We Were cover (168x220).jpgHubbell and Katie begin their relationship after the former returns from serving in the war. She wants him to be a great novelist (his first book impressed her). He’s content to field offers for work in Hollywood, something Katie considers a waste of potential. Despite doing damn near everything he can to close the book on any hope for a long-term relationship, Hubbell is lackadaisical enough to give in to Katie’s insistence on being together. They eventually marry. Why should we care about someone who so clearly doesn’t care about developing his talent or nurturing his own love life? Hubbell is a passive figure who remains difficult to feel strongly about through the picture’s entirety. He’s easy enough to like simply because Redford plays him as an unassuming Everyman.

Katie, on the other hand, is strident, pretentious, and self-absorbed (“I know I’m attractive,” she insists to Hubbell when trying to figure out why he’s not seriously interested in her). She continues to push her commie agenda to anyone who’ll listen (and even those who won’t), seriously comprising Hubbell’s career once they’re in Hollywood. Her acceptance of Hubbell’s Hollywood pursuits is abrupt and unconvincing. Her political posturing leads to nothing. It’s simply a stance she adopts as a kind of identity. Meanwhile, her unflappable mate is more interested in taking as easy a road as possible in order to make his living. The whole affair winds up being a shaggy dog story more than a true love story. Hubbell’s easy-going laziness may be marginally more relatable to a wider group of viewers, but I see very little reason to invest much emotion in either of these people.

The best thing about Twilight Time’s Blu-ray, by far, is the gorgeous 1080p transfer. Harry Stradling Jr.’s Oscar-nominated cinematography is duly honored by a high definition presentation that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. It retains a fine layer of grain entirely appropriate for a film of its era, yet the image is startlingly sharp and detailed. The source print was free of defects as there are no scratches or debris to speak of. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix springs to life right out of the gate with robust big band music that displays a wide dynamic range. Most of the movie is far more sonically sedate, but it always sounds excellent. Ideally you already love the title tune, which is heard in various instrumental incarnations (as well as Streisand’s vocal version). Hamlisch’s music, such an inseparable part of the film’s success, sounds lush.

Twilight Time has included a well-rounded supplements package, porting over director Pollack’s audio commentary and an hour-long documentary (in standard definition), “The Way We Were: Looking Back,” from a previous special edition DVD. There are two significant new features, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated score track that allows for closer scrutiny of the award-winning music and a second audio commentary. The new track features film historian Julie Kirgo (who pens liner notes for each Twilight Time title’s booklet) and documentary filmmaker Nick Redman (also a member of the Twilight Time team). They offer a detached, thoughtful perspective, analyzing the film as outsiders. The film’s theatrical trailer is also present.

The Way We Were is part of Twilight Time’s Limited Edition Series, meaning there are only 3,000 copies available. For ordering information, visit Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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