Blu-ray Review: 1984 (aka Nineteen Eighty-Four) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Of Twilight Time's December 2015 limited edition releases (3,000 copies available), none has been more highly anticipated (by me, at least) than director Michael Radford's chilling adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (aka 1984). Despite the passage of more than 30 years, no one has yet attempted another film version of Orwell's influential work. In fact, there was a now-forgotten adaptation in 1956 (with Edmond O'Brien starring as Winston Smith, necessitating the renaming of the O'Brien character as O'Connor), but Radford's version stands as the only one that counts. John Hurt is perfect as the quietly rebellious Winston and Richard Burton, to whom the film is dedicated (the legendary actor would not live to see the film's release), is supremely menacing as O'Brien.

This Twilight Time edition is outfitted with two different soundtracks: one featuring the director-preferred Dominic Muldowney orchestral score, the other featuring the Eurythmics' synth-oriented score. While your own preference might come down to which version you're used to, it's the Muldowney score that best fits the icy, drab, utilitarian production design. Everything about 1984 drips of a perfectly cold, impersonal atmosphere and it's the film's greatest strength. There's no attempt to present any fantastical vision of the "future," rather Radford and his team keep the totalitarian state of Oceania looking a lot like the heaviest-hit, bombed-out areas of WWII-era England. It's a gray wasteland, strew with wreckage and ruins. The ashen faces of its inhabitants only come to life during the rage-inducing, propaganda-fueled assemblies.

It's Winston, a cubical drone who revises history at the government's insistence, who believes there's something more to life than the absolute rule of Big Brother. The Big Brother image glowers from every monitor, every poster—seemingly every corner of Oceania. The Thought Police attempt to reign in free will, keeping everyone in line as mindless drones. But Winston keeps a journal in which he finds the freedom of expression. Julia (the superbly enigmatic Suzanna Hamilton, an actress who unfortunately not much was heard from thereafter) spots something of a kindred spirit in Winston and, very covertly, the pair begin an impassioned affair. They don't really know each other, but they're attracted to each other's restless, disobeying nature. Publicly each of the them tow's the Party line, but when they convene at a rented flat above a second-hand shop in the proletarian district, they can speak and act freely. Or so they think. 
1984 bD cover (301x380).jpg Orwell's original novel was published in 1949 and since then so many of its concepts have entered the public consciousness, it seems almost silly to worry about "spoiling" the story. But of course, there's always a new generation that hasn't read the novel or seen Michael Radford's film. It's definitely worth knowing as little as possible, especially as the Party's O'Brien (Burton) enters prominently in the third act. Calm and steely, O'Brien is the embodiment of Oceania's oppressive, ruling class. If O'Brien tells you two plus two equals five, you'd better believe it. As 1984 turns into, basically, a two-man drama—a battle of wills between Winston and O'Brien, with only one possible outcome—it takes on the guise of a true psychological horror story.

As for Twilight Time's Blu-ray, aside from the occasional white spec flitting across the screen, 1984 looks splendid in high definition. Having been previously well-acquainted with the film on DVD (and laserdisc before that), there's no denying the drastic improvement in fine detail and texture apparently in the 1080p transfer. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono soundtrack is very quiet—though the fidelity is fine, be ready to turn it up (Burton and Hurt, at times, appear to be challenging each other in a "most soft-spoken" contest).

Aside from an isolated score track (the Eurythmics version), the only special feature is the original theatrical trailer. Too bad no film historian commentary track for this one, but Twilight Time's Nineteen Eighty-Four is definitely a must-own for fans of this unsentimental realization of Orwell's nightmare future.
1984 booklet cover (299x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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