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Harold And Maude – Paramount Presents (Blu-ray Review)

One of cinema’s greatest and most true blue, time honored cult classics is turning 50 years young this year, which is right smack dab in the middle of the age gap between our two leads. That fil is Hal Ashby’s dark romantic comedy Harold and Maude. Paramount is commemorating the milestone by adding it to the Paramount Presents line. The film is receiving a new 4K make-over from the original negative as well as a new 5.1 mix from newly discovered materials. Yusuf / Cat Stevens has sat down for a brand new interview and you get a commentary with Cameron Crowe and the writer of Ed Wood as bonus features. This new disc will arrive on December 7th, and you can order yourself a copy now by using the paid Amazon Associates link following the review.

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Film

In this essential cult-classic, Harold (Bud Cort) is a death-obsessed teen who falls for Maude (Oscar® winner* Ruth Gordon), a happy-go-lucky, eccentric 79-year-old. To a lilting Yusuf/Cat Stevens soundtrack, Maude teaches Harold a valuable lesson about making the most of his time on earth.

Harold and Maude is a film I’ll never soon forget. It holds a special place for me in my film studies and journey through my passion. When I arrived in college, taking my film criticism courses, I imagined myself someone who was much more knowledgeable than the little novice I truly was. There were corners of cinema history I had ignored and ones I didn’t even know existed. One of the first films shown to me in class that really was like nothing I’d ever known of before was Harold and Maude. At the time I was so young, things baffled me. But, a year or so later, another professor used it for another class and the appreciation began to take form.

Once I got beyond the immaturity of myself going “ew gross, he slept with an elderly woman”, I could see the joy in this quirky little dark comedy. The film had a lot to say about the world’s perceived “normalcy”. It has gleeful fun in ripping down and destroying the establishment at every turn. Its a film about finding out you’re not alone in the world and not worrying or carrying about who it is that you share your deepest self with, its being grateful to find that person and them existing. This love story is an endearing friendship that exceeds the majority of romantic comedies before and after it.

What helps make Hal Ashby’s film everlasting is the accompaniment he has to tell the story. On a visual and audible level the film is an all timer. Shot by the legendary John Alonzo, Harold and Maude looks like a marvelous series of paintings you would find in an art gallery. Harold’s home, inside and out, is one exquisite piece after another. Some of the canvases could double as album covers, too. Which, the musical soundtrack for the film by Cat Stevens is dynamite. Its soothing, and doesn’t just give the film a sort of era specific sound, but one that feels almost like someone is telling this story through a song. The music also perfectly contrasts some of the film itself to almost be its own little dark humored joke to fit the film.

Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude is a film that everyone should see. Its made a living as a cult film, being a midnight movie staple for over 50 years. But, access is so much easier now and the film can easily been recommended and seen. There’s a beauty to this morbid tale that is pretty much unmatched and rarely seen in film. It has a killer performance from Ruth Gordon (Though, I think Vivian Pickles is extremely overlooked) and features some creators at their very best in Ashby, Alonzo and Stevens. Harold and Maude still feels fresh, unique, punk rock and a revelation even 50 years later.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: For Harold and Maude’s second trip to Blu-ray, Paramount notes “the original negative was scanned in 4K and careful color correction and cleanup were undertaken to pay homage to director of photography John Alonzo’s memorable work and honor the look of the film.” And the film really looks like a little piece of art with its nice coloring touches and nice detail oriented, textured filmic appearance.

Depth:  The film showcases some good depth, thanks to carrying a healthy layer of grain with it. The photography on the film lays on quite nicely some good spacing and sense of scale. Motion is filmic in appearance and smooth.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich, very natural in their essence. Three’s a little romanticism in the shadows, dark surfaces, fabrics and such with no loss of information as textures, patterns and details come through with great ease among them. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are very lovely as we bounds on yellows, greens, purples, blues and more. They really shine the most on automobiles and clothing. Maude has a yellow coat that really jumps out strong with a bold essence. The well saturated image even showcases color where you may have never thought before as I could see some purple in places I had never noticed as well as some more burgundy looking fabrics that I had possibly thought were black in the past.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Skin tones almost looks like an elegant painting of sorts with their color timing. facial features and textures are plenty discernible from any reasonable distance in frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, German 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, French 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, German, French

Dynamics:  To improve the audio experience of Harold and Maude for its 50th anniversary, Paramount says “the incredible soundtrack was completely remixed using recently discovered tracks to add clarity and depth.” This is a really pretty mix, with good balance that lovingly produces Cat Stevens’ songs in the film. They are definitely a standout in such a good way, sounding crisp and full. There’s good clarity and depth to the sound effects as well.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: There’s not a lot of heft to the subwoofer’s contributions. Maybe a tad deeper on a door closing or an engine humming. It mostly adds to Stevens’ guitar playing in the songs making up the soundtrack.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Not a whole lot of reason for 5 channels, but thanks to having them, the mix gets to breathe a little more. The rear channels do help with some ambiance in times and definitely supply a little “extra” for Stevens’ songs that appear throughout the film.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp and really feel a genuine part of every environment.

Extras

Harold and Maude in first pressing, comes with a slip cover that folds open to reveal the original poster art for the film. It also comes with a redeemable digital copy. This ports over none of the bonus material found on the previous Criterion Collection release. The Yusuf / Cat Stevens interview is all new and not the one included with that disc.

Audio Commentary

  • By Larry Karaszewski and Cameron Crowe

Yusuf / Cat Stevens on Harold and Maude (HD, 5:48) – Yusuf discusses how he loved the script and came into the movie which Hal Ashby had already been informing with his songs. There’s his own thoughts on his music, the film and a day he was there on set for Ruth Gordon’s performing of “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” and not being too much a fan of it.

Theatrical Trailer #1 (SD, 2:49)

Theatrical Trailer #2 (SD, 3:03)

Summary

Harold and Maude is a pretty special, unique film and there hasn’t been one like it before or since its release. Paramount has done a really lovely job in restoring the film for its second trip to the Blu-ray format (Perhaps a 4K will grace us some day?). The new features are a really nice touch, with the commentary being a really cool and nifty experience. I understand why the Criterion stuff couldn’t come over, but that’s still a tiny bummer. But, all in all, the Paramount Presents disc is a mighty fine release itself and the best presentation of the film you’re going to find until a 4K disc comes around.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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