This set contains five movies that arouse the imagination as much now as they did when they were released years ago.
Some of the extras on a lot of these movies seemed very thrown together and ambiguous.
Comprised of five movies based on classic books the Literary Classics Collection is brimming with adventure, drama and intrigue. The five films that comprise this collection are:
- Billy Budd
- Captain Horatio Hornblower
- Madame Bovary
- The Three Musketeers
- The Prisoner of Zenda
In Billy Budd, Robert Ryan, Peter Ustinov and Terence Stamp star in this high seas drama about an innocent man wrongly charged with plotting a mutiny of his ship. Captain Horatio Hornblower sees Gregory Peck in the title role of a man who has more adventures to last eight lifetimes on the Central American high seas. Madame Bovary tells the cautionary tale of Emma Bovary (Jennifer Jones), a woman living a humdrum life who decides she wants more no matter what the cost. The Three Musketeers brings the Alexandre Dumas classic to life in this adventurous tale of swashbucklers living by the code of "all for one and one for all." Lastly, The Prisoner of Zenda is actually offered here in two versions (one from 1937 and another one from 1952) which sees what happens when a plot to knock a king off the throne is upended by a lookalike who has been put there in his place.
Filled with lush scenery, full backgrounds and great acting, the Literary Classics Collection is the kind of set that adds a bit of class to not only a DVD collection but the DVD marketplace as a whole.
If you have seen the movie The Limey than you have got to listen to this because Steven Soderbergh does the commentary track here with Terence Stamp. Soderbergh also directed Stamp in that film and these two have a lively film theory inflected discussion. It begins with Stamp talking about how he got the title role, what the shoot was like, where the film was shot, etc. Soderbergh leads this discussion in which he asks Stamp how much this movie changed from the page to the screen, and Stamp also seems to know interesting (but random) details about the ships employed in the film. This was interesting to listen to even if there were times when Stamp, in telling his stories, spoke too low.
Horatio Hornblower and The Prisoner of Zenda
I grouped these together mainly because they are done the same but their subject matter is obviously different. What I found so interesting was how different it was watching these stories as opposed to listening to them. We live in a society where people have become lazy in terms of how they get content. People that provide it are seen as being out of touch if they don't make things easy for them to access. While I do and don't agree with this, I think there is something to be said for how much the radio forces you to use your imagination in listening to these stories. My biggest bone of contention is that there really is no way to control them once you start playing them on this DVD.
All of the movies in this set (with the exception of Billy Budd) are in their Standard Version. They are presented in a format preserving the aspect ratio of it's original theatrical exhibition. Billy Budd is in the Widescreen Version. It is presented in a "Letterbox" widescreen format preserving the "scope" aspect ratio of it's original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for widescreen TVs. With a mixture of color and black and white movies, I was extremely impressed with the quality of all these films. Some of them go as far back as 1937 and they really look sharp. Warner Bros. seems like it has taken extra special care to bring all these films out in as pristine a quality as possible. In fact, the black and white films are so rich they don't seem to stand out that starkly against their lush, color counterparts.
All of the movies in the Literary Classics Collection are Dolby Digital - English Mono. One might not be happy to have them in that format (especially if they have a really good DVD player and surround system), but overall I think the audio was quite solid. It varied from disc to disc in terms of how loud I would have to adjust the audio, but doing that in this collection was quite minor. Considering the good work Warner Bros. has done in how these movies are presented, I am not surprised that the audio is as good as it is here.
Aside from being quite heavy, the packaging for Literary Classics Collection is understated and well done. Looking like a manuscript from the time in which many of these films are set, the dark burgundy front cover lists out all 5 films in this collection. Displaying their one sheets (which are the same one sheets they used for the DVD covers, and they were most likely used for the movie's theatrical release) there is a minimalist sense to every aspect of this packaging. The back cover mentions some of the special features, there is a blurb about each film (the stars are also mentioned), and underneath this slipcase are some technical specs. All five discs in this set are packed into slim cases which at times makes pulling out a single DVD a little difficult. On the whole this packaging is highly economical if not a touch too bulky.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Literary Classics Collection. I had expected this to be a bunch of dull, period pieces, in which the actors engaged in the old English style of talking and seemed to garner awards and praise for barely being able to move in their costumes. What I got instead was a bunch of very well written stories with superbly crafted dialogue. I can't say that I am surprised, these films come from some of the most popular and cherished works of fiction ever created. I will say that I was amazed at how much the stories and their settings grabbed me. These films are not recent yet I didn't think they looked that dated. Sure, their effects might not match something that Ridley Scott might do, but I think these movies tell their stories in a way that has more weight and depth.
While I don't know how large the audience is for the films that comprise the Literary Classics Collection, I do know if the marketplace wasn't as crowded by so many releases and such tentpole films, this would probably be one of the more sought after packages.
Captain Horatio Hornblower was released April 10, 1951.