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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary from 2000 featuring director Sidney Lumet
  • New interview with film critic J. Hoberman on 1960s nuclear paranoia and Cold War films
  • ďFail-SafeĒ Revisited, a short documentary from 2000 including interviews with Sidney Lumet, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and actor Dan OíHerlihy
  • An essay by critic Bilge Ebiri

Fail Safe

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Sidney Lumet
1964 | 112 Minutes | Licensor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #1011
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: January 28, 2020
Review Date: January 19, 2020

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SYNOPSIS

This unnerving procedural thriller painstakingly details an all-too-plausible nightmare scenario in which a mechanical failure jams the United States militaryís chain of command and sends the country hurtling toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Working from a contemporary best seller, screenwriter Walter Bernstein and director Sidney Lumet wrench harrowing suspense from the doomsday fears of the Cold War era, making the most of a modest budget and limited sets to create an atmosphere of clammy claustrophobia and astronomically high stakes. Starring Henry Fonda as a coolheaded U.S. president and Walter Matthau as a trigger-happy political theorist, Fail Safe is a long-underappreciated alarm bell of a film, sounding an urgent warning about the deadly logic of mutually assured destruction.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents 1964ís other ďweíre all screwedĒ nuclear holocaust film, Sidney Lumetís Fail Safe (released after Stanley Kubrickís more widely known Dr. Strangelove). It is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc, sourced from a new 4K restoration, which in turn was scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.

Unsurprisingly (considering a majority of Sonyís 4K restorations) this looks unbelievably good. Itís a sharp, clean, and film-like black-and-white presentation. Contrast is perfectly tuned, allowing for bright-but-not-blooming whites and dark-but-not-crushing blacks. There are many wonderful shadowy shots, and detail is always impeccable, outside of archival footage that had to be used out of necessity (this movie really did get the short end of the straw as the features clearly explain).

There are a couple of minor imperfections, primarily in said archival footage, but outside of that I have to say I was stunned at how clean this was. Grain is also rendered brilliantly and looks perfectly natural throughout. The only thing really limiting the image is something that has nothing to do with the restoration and encode, and thatís just the general look of the film: it had an incredibly low budget, with a majority of it being spent on the communications room set, and there are parts that look like it was filmed in someoneís basement (like the presidentís bunker). But outside of that itís an incredible looking image.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film comes with a monaural soundtrack, presented in lossless 1.0 PCM. Overall itís a sharp and dynamic presentation. Itís a talky film, light on action, but there are tenser moments where voices raise and tempers flare and there are decent highs and lows because of this. Thereís a high-frequency squeal later in the film that also manages to get loud without going overboard. The track has some mild background noise (which is expected) but it rarely sticks out, and damage is never an issue. Itís a simple mono presentation but goes well-and-beyond what I would have expected from the time period of the film.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion goes surprisingly light on this release, reusing features that appeared on the previous DVD edition released by Sony two decades ago. This first includes an audio commentary featuring Lumet, recorded in 2000. Itís a fine enough commentary, with Lumet going into detail about the filmís production and the many issues it faced, from a small budget, to not receiving any help from the American government (who even went out of their way to make things more difficult), and then the misfortune of having made the film at the same time as Kubrickís own film (with the added bonus of the authorís of that filmís source novel suing the authorís of Fail Safe!) But the production persevered, and Lumet worked the best he could with the budget, creating the film he intended to make. He also talks about his framing and editing, explaining how he wanted the filmís slowly to slowly change, become a bit faster-paced as things in the film started to really go off the rails. There are a number of dead spots and there are times where it feels Lumet is struggling for material to fill the track, but itís still worthwhile and Iím pleased Criterion carried it over.

Criterion also ports over the 16-minute making-of documentary, which was also created for the Sony DVD in 2000. Itís a pretty standard documentary of its type, covering a number of topics that Lumet covers in the commentary, though it has the added bonus of including interviews with Walter Bernstein and actor Dan OíHerlihy. You also get a very passionate (and young!) George Clooney popping to offer his appreciation for the film. Though he is probably there more for his made-for-television remake of the time he ends up being probably the only subject not directly tied to the film to praise the film on its own merits and not as that not-Dr. Strangelove film.

Criterion does add a new 19-minute interview with critic J. Hoberman, who talks about the nuclear scare of the 60s, adding some context for those that missed that (or the cold war in general), and how this film and Strangelove touched on it. He also does look at the film separate from all of that and gets into Lumetís style and his thoughts on him as a director, feeling he ultimately didnít come into his own until the 70s with Network and Prince of the City. Itís a good addition, though has a quickly-put-together feel to it. Bilge Elbiri also writes up a fairly lengthy and in-depth essay on the film, which is found in the included poster insert. The print is a bit small and I would have preferred a booklet or basic fold-out (these posters can be a bit unwieldly to hold while reading) but itís a good essay that thankfully doesnít just focus on its untimely release after Strangelove (he gets that out of the way right off the bat).

Overall, the supplements feel to be a bit of an afterthought and rushed together (only one feature is new) but at the very least theyíre still worth going through.

6/10

CLOSING

As a special edition its now much of an upgrade over Sonyís two-decade old DVD, but it delivers an outstanding audio/visual presentation that might be worth the upgrade (at least when the title is on sale).


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