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The Book Thief (Blu-ray)

The-Book-ThiefAcademy Award nominee for Best Score, done by the legendary John Williams, The Book Thief comes to Blu-ray.  In a past time and place, this film would have seemed a kind of shoe-in for Academy Award nominations.  It all too much feels like that very safe King’s Speech kind of film.  Alas, it barely made a noise on the award circuits.  It’s a solid family film that almost feels like a fairy tale about Nazi Germany.  It’s a film based off a young adult novel by Marcus Zusak, is helmed by Downton Abbey director Brian Percival and stars acting veteran Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and young up and coming actress Sophie Nelisse.

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Film 

Narrated by the Angel of Death, The Book Thief tells the story of a girl named Liesel.  Liesel’s mother has had to give her and her brother to a foster family as she must escape Nazi Germany because she is a communist.  Liesel’s brother dies on the train ride, but at his burial Liesel nabs a book by his gravesite.  Liesel and her foster family learn to have faux interest in the Nazi party as they begin to patrol their little town.  Along the way, she makes friends with the neighbor boy Rudy, joins the Hitler youth movement, and helps her family nurse a young Jewish boy back to health in their basement.  Liesel’s thoughts on the Nazi party turn sour when she is forced to endure a book burning.  See Liesel has developed a love for reading and befriends the mayor’s wife who lets her visit her library.  When the mayor says “no more” she still sneaks into the library from the window and grabs a new book when need be.

The Book Thief is a well-oiled big budgeted version of an ABC Family-type tale of Nazi Germany.  It’s got a very Hallmark feel to it.  While things are bad, you can’t help but get this sweet sense of childish wonder and hope during what was a very dark time and also considering where this film ultimately heads.  I kind of feel like this is a musical that has had all its songs taken away from it.  The setting in the film paints a picture of a period fantasy, like that of a Narnia tale.  It keeps the film from feeling very deep in its subject matter when things get “intense”.  But, its not much a bad thing as it make the film very accessible for kids of a younger age and could play very much as an introductory film to them to learn of this time before growing up and knowing how much more brutal the events were.

Like I said, the world built in this film feels very fantastical, but there’s another element adding to it sort of buffers that weird feeling.  It’s set in Germany, but has every character speaking in English.  That’s fine, it’s done in countless movies, especially if it’s the intended market’s native language.  Stanley Kubrick once mention to critics about Paths Of Glory not being spoken in French, saying something along the lines that if the characters are all of one language it doesn’t matter whether you read it or hear it, its going to be the same.  But, oddly here like a movie that is a crazy comparison, Haute Tension, there are moments where the characters break into speaking fluent German.  It’s a really odd choice that adds more to its fantasy feel.

Why do I keep going at fantasy, its because The Book Thief tells a nice little story and has some really great production values.  This film looks rather beautiful, especially during some scenes that are littered with snow.  And most of the characters don’t feel very real, and feel sort of made up fairy tale stereotypes.  You’ve got wizarding foster father that’s a child at heart couple with the grumpy old maid foster mother.  Then there’s the magical house that has all the books and the main character’s trips to snatch them.  And while it does have some great photography, there were a few instances that had some really crummy and obvious CGI explosions.  Aside from that, though, this movie looks really grand.

The Book Thief is a solid family film, but ultimately plays it super safe.  For as relaxed and patient as this film was, it ultimately felt rushed and super convenient when it came to its close.  Its well acted and competently directed with some stellar photography.  If you’re looking for some super drama about Nazi Germany, you’re going to fall short.  However, for a fairy tale-like approach that the whole family can enjoy, you’re going to get plenty out of The Book Thief.  I wasn’t too big on this one, but I can definitely see where some might fall in love with it.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1

Clarity/Detail:  The film looks completely gorgeous in this Blu-ray presentation.  It’s got a very glossy source, but still manages to be sharp and rich with detail.  The best example would be the basement of the house with chalk on the wall, wood grain and cracks in the foundation all rising and looking great on your screen.

Depth: Dimensions and distance are represented very good as the wide shots really give you a grand sense of spectacle.  And also in characters in the foreground and background develop a real sense of space.

Black Levels:  Very dark at times, but still having some great disparity between blacks creating a sense of shade.  Sometimes it gets really dark, keeping detail from being high, but for the most part its rock solid.

Color Reproduction:  Its cold picture, but the colors, especially white, rise to the occasion.  The palette on display here has many shades and pop from your screen.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are consistent.  They come across as colder and dry.

Noise/Artifacts: None that I could make out.  There was some mild crushing in a few super dark scenes.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s):  English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portugues 5.1 Dolby Digital, Russian DTS 5.1, Czech 5.1 Dolby Digital, Hungarian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Turkish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Turkish, Ukrainian

Dynamics:  The audio was very clean and played at many levels.  Especially noticeable when in interiors and hearing sirens or cars outside making noise.  All effects were well defined and life-like.

Low Frequency Extension:  Bombs and loud engines on trucks will thump your system at a healthy degree.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Aside from scoring and ambience, you do get plenty of play from sirens, airplanes and other things going on in the world of our characters.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue was clear and clean.  All of it was very much front and center.

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Extras 

The film comes with an UltraViolet copy of the film.  The extras are a little slim, but the making of one proves to be pretty solid and substantial enough.

Deleted Scenes – A few next extra little scenes that were excised from the movie that wouldn’t have really added much had they been put back in.

  • Read A Good Book (HD, 1:40)
  • Papers? (HD, 1:14)
  • “I Can’t Leave Now” (HD, 1:16)
  • A Quick Look (HD, 2:17)

A Hidden Truth: Bringing The Book Thief  To Life – A 4 part look at writing the book and adapting that book and bringing t to the big screen.  Plus it has a section with John Williams on the score.

  • An Inspirational History (HD, 5:00)
  • Finding The Theif And Her Family (HD, 9:38)
  • Bringing the Past To Life (HD, 10:21)
  • The Legend And The Music (HD, 6:22)

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:18)

Sneak Peek – Trailers for The Grand Budapest Hotel, 12 Years A Slave, Killing Kennedy, Romeo & Juliet, Homeland: Season 2

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Summary 

While the extras look light, I did find the making of to be substantial.  Fox gives The Book Thief a great presentation.  The film itself is ok, and will work good for those wanting something slightly less animated and a little more adult with your kids.  Its also kind of a stepping stone kind of film to introduce them to something in history they’re going to be learning more about in their education.  It’s an ok movie, definitely worth the rental and for those who did enjoy it a lot, this disc gives you a great presentation and some solid insight on what went into making it.

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Writer/Reviewer, 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, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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