Victor Schertzinger’s The Mikado comes to Blu-ray from Criterion in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image is presented in 1080p/24hz.
This should be a sign of Criterion’s commitment to the format because I’m sure if this was released a year ago by them (when they weren’t churning out the Blu-rays as regularly) it would have been DVD-only. I’m a little baffled by the presentation admittedly, finding it generally weak overall, but I admit I’m having trouble discerning where the issues ultimately are but I’m pretty sure most of the problems lie primarily in the source materials (the transfer was taken from a 35mm interpositive.) Primarily the image is rather soft throughout and detail and definition is lacking; it never looks sharp and long shots can be a bit of a blurry mess. The film was shot in Technicolor and in general the colours hold up nicely, but pulsating and flickering is common and the image can take on a green tinge. Colour separation is also a noticeable problem. I was impressed with the print, though: it’s in excellent condition and the restoration has been incredibly thorough.
The digital transfer itself seems fine with a high bitrate that stays close to 40mbps, presenting no noticeable artifacts. But having said that I can’t say I was all that thrilled with it since it really looks soft and fuzzy most of the time, though again it could be related to the source materials.
Colours do look good for the most part and the restoration is impressive, but, whether a problem with the actual transfer or limitations of the source, the image is ultimately really soft and lacks detail. 6/10
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.
Supplements is where I was most surprised. Though I feel that this release would have been a cheaper, lower-tier title back in Criterion’s DVD-only days (and I admit the $39.95 msrp is a little ridiculous for this title) the supplements are at least of excellent quality.
First up is an interview with director Mike Leigh, whose film Topsy Turvy, about Gilbert and Sullivan’s production of the The Mikado, is being released on Blu-ray by Criterion the same day as The Mikado. At 18-minutes Leigh talks about the movie musical briefly then moves on to this film version of the opera. He obviously has some reservations about the film though ultimately seems to enjoy it. He does defend some of the criticisms against it, particularly those thrown at actor Kenny Baker, and defends some of the acting and filmic touches in it. But he also addresses the films short comings, particularly certain gags or sequences that just don’t work in a film version. He also brings up an interesting fact (though I don’t know how to verify this) on how a New York theater tried to present “encores” for this film presentation. A nice lively interview with the director, who does seem very excited to be talking about the film.
The next set of interviews, simply called Scholars on the menu, is an interview with professors Josephine Lee and Ralph MacPhail, Jr., who have researched the various versions of The Mikado. At 29-minutes they talk about the original D’Oyly Carte performance and its changes over the years including a rather drastic costume change later on that divided fans. They then talk about the various American versions, including the Jazzy versions known as The Hot Mikado and The Red Mikado, which could be made because Gilbert and Sullivan had no control over copyright in the States (the play was heavily locked down and licenced out in England.) They also focus on this film adaptation, explaining how the filmmakers were able to get the 165-minute opera down to just over 90-minutes, meaning they had to cut out numbers and include a prologue to give the basis for the story. They also address some of the criticisms made against the film about the clash of acting styles, and also address criticisms against the play itself and its representation of Japan. They cover a various number of topics, including the overall popularity of the opera in North America, where it was actually used to sell goods. Very breezy and loaded with great information about the play and the film and it pretty much makes up for the lack of a commentary.
A rather cool feature is the next one, an original 1926 silent promo reel advertising the new D’Oyly Carte production of The Mikado with new costumes by Charles Ricketts. These costumes, which apparently represent 1726 era Japan, are a far departure with what the costumes apparently looked like during previous performances. The video, which has some primitive form of colourization using dyes applied to a couple of sequences, also contains footage of Ricketts working on his new sketches for the costumes, and has a certain obsession with the fact he doesn’t use ashtrays, discarding his cigarettes wherever he sees fit. At 4-minutes and giving us a document of the D’Oyly Carte performance it’s a rather cool find.
The next few supplements are also cool finds, starting with a 3-minute deleted scenes, presenting the musical number “I’ve Got a Little List”. It offers notes explaining why the scene was cut, either for political reasons or its use of a racial slur (while I’d like to think the latter was the reason I highly doubt it.) I’m pretty sure it has to do with the appearance of a certain dictator: Yes, Adolf Hitler (or more correctly one of the best looking look-alikes I’ve ever seen at least) appears briefly. A bizarre sequence to say the least.
Moving through the great archival material we next get radio excerpts from an NBC radio program presenting short performances of numbers from the Broadway shows The Swing Mikado and The Red Mikado. For The Swing Mikado we get “Three Little Girls” and “The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring”, both running 2-minutes. For The Red Mikado we get “Willow, Tit-Willow” and an extended scenes that also includes “A More Humane Mikado”. The former runs 3-minutes while the latter runs 6-minutes. They’re interesting, Jazzier takes on the numbers and I love the fact Criterion tracked these down.
The booklet then includes an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien, which goes over the history of the opera and this film adaptation, addressing criticisms and bringing up his own while defending it at the same time (there’s a lot of that going on in the supplements here.)
Despite feeling the price is a little high for the quantity of supplements we get (just over an hour’s worth) I do have to admit they’re all rather good and Criterion did do some great work digging up some of this material. 7/10