One of the joys of being both a tech nerd and a film lover is that every once in a while you get to see one of your favourite films released in the best possible technical quality of the day. I am a big fan of technical presentation, I deplore terrible presentations of films to the point of walking out. The African Queen was a film that I have always enjoyed ever since the first time I saw it one Saturday night with my grandparents on Bill Collins’ Golden Years Of Hollywood.
Set in Africa during World War I, The African Queen follows the story of Charlie Allnut (Humphery Bogart) an old river boat captain who captains the rickety old boat who bares the same name as the film. Charlie delivers mail and other supplies to a remote mission run by a pair of brother and sister missionaries Samuel (Robert Morley) and Rose (Katherine Hepburn). The duo are completely unaware of the circumstances occurring in the world with regards to the war until informed by Charlie during one of his stops. Shortly thereafter the German army arrive and destroy the mission by burning it down. Devastated by what has happened, Samuel dies of the trauma due to the loss of the mission leaving Rose to fend for herself.
Charlie returns to the mission to find Rose alone and offers her passage away from danger only to find that their path to freedom is thwarted by a large German steam ship called “The Louisa”. Rose devises a plan with Charlie’s help to use the rickety old ship as a tool to destroy “The Louisa” to fight for England. Initially the plan is met with some trepidation from Charlie who believes it to be a suicide mission, but he eventually comes around to her point of view and along the way this mismatched pair fall in love.
The African Queen is a classic film for many reasons which have been discussed over and over. To me, what makes the film great is it’s simplicity and innocence. It’s a simple story of two people who meet due to circumstances beyond their control and make the best of a bad situation. It’s a film that contains some brilliant dialogue and whose characters are likable and well developed and that includes the ship!
The African Queen still stands the test of time some fifty-nine years since release is notable as the only film the great Humphery Bogart ever won an Oscar for best actor. In the mid nineties, 20th Century Fox released a collector’s edition VHS of the film (which I still possess), but that stood as the last official studio release of the film. The African Queen was always a film high on my list of must have discs during the days of DVD. Thanks to the joys of lapsed copyright, no official DVD release ever surfaced of the film and only an average quality public domain edition of the film, which even by DVD standards was average surfaced. Finally now we have a fully restored edition released not just on DVD, but now bluray too thanks to Paramount.
This bluray release contains a fabulously restored 4k image from the original 3 strip technicolor negative. From a technical standpoint, this transfer is marvelous in it’s detail to the point of thinking that it could have been filmed within the last ten years, it’s that good! Presented in it’s original 1:33:1 aspect ratio, this bluray presentation is the best this film would have looked since it’s release over 60 years ago. Film artifacts are next to non existent and the film has been cleaned up superbly. Shadow detail in the image rivals some of the newest transfers on bluray of modern films. Film grain is present in the image as it should be, just like when it was presented all those years ago.
For the uninitiated, or just plain young who think everything should be sparkling clean, film grain is a natural by product of film. Some film stocks and filming processes will vary in levels of grain which in many cases is deliberately intended by the film-makers as an artistic choice. Some other films released on bluray of this vintage that have been “cleaned up” excessively to the point of the image not looking realistic at all, so it’s promising not to see any excessive DNR used. It’s obvious that a lot of money and time has been invested into the film and it’s still promising to see studios willing to invest in these old classic as they do. Audio wise the film retains it’s original mono soundtrack and while this has also been optimally processed, Paramount have not opted for any HD audio track on the disc as it would have made next to no difference in resolution. Supplements wise, the disc only includes one real extra and that is the excellent hour long documentary, “Embracing Chaos” Making The African Queen which is presented in HD and contains interviews and footage from the making of the film. For the serious fan, this is not to be missed.
The African Queen is a classic that should not be missed by any serious film lover. It’s non official release on DVD has meant that a large portion of the younger population will not have seen this classic at all. Now that the film is freely available again, hopefully a whole new generation of viewers can appreciate this film for years to come. This bluray release, while comparatively basic, is still one of the best releases on the format to date and shows why this format is the best home format for the ultimate presentation of films in the home.