THE SCREENING ROOM
By William Kallay
TECH SPECS: 1.85:1/DTS-HD Master Audio
RELEASE DATE: March 5, 2013
"Schindler's List" is perhaps Steven Spielberg's most
magnificent and important film. Hugely talented in
entertaining audiences, as well as making them cry,
Spielberg has been one of those rare film directors with the
capability of going from one filmmaking extreme to another.
He could illicit laughs, tears, intensity, and awe inspiring
magic. In making "Schindler's List," Spielberg gained
respect from his harshest critics and made audiences sit up
and take him seriously as a filmmaker.
Very few feature films have taken on the subject of the
Holocaust. "Night and Fog" (1955) was a very early look at
the Holocaust which used actual footage from the Nazi
concentration camps. It was a terribly disturbing look at
the atrocities of the Nazis. The film was too short to be
considered a feature film, but it helped audiences see the
horror that many Jews experienced. "The Diary of Anne Frank"
(1959) was a feature film adaption of the famous book.
Mostly, though, Hollywood filmmakers have shied away from
When Spielberg decided to turn Thomas Keneally's book into a
feature film, most of Spielberg's critics raised an eyebrow.
How could this filmmaker of pop films make a serious movie
about the Holocaust? Spielberg was interested in making
"Schindler's List" as far back as 1982. That summer, he
released "Poltergeist" and "E.T. The Extra-terrestrial."
Audiences loved the films, but some of his most ardent
critics dismissed the films as pop. As Spielberg grew older,
he matured more as a filmmaker. "The Color Purple" (1985)
and "Empire of the Sun" (1987) demonstrated his maturity and
his desire to prove critics wrong. He could make mature
films for adults. Still, some of his peers saw him as
unready to be a mature filmmaker.
In watching Spielberg's earliest films, it is difficult to
escape his mastery of storytelling and his confidence behind
the camera. It is also difficult to dismiss his maturity
early on. "The Sugarland Express" (1974), "Jaws" (1975), and
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) clearly show
Spielberg's command of adult themes. Each one of those films
weigh the problems and issues of growing up and handling
scary situations. "Express" placed a young couple caught in
a bad situation with the law. "Jaws" placed three men in the
middle of the Atlantic to figure out how to kill a great
white shark. "CE3K" gave an unhappy family man the decision
on whether to stay on earth, or go into outer space.
By the time Spielberg made "Schindler's List," he had
established himself as the most powerful filmmaker of all
time. Most of his films made millions, but very few of his
peers and critics saw him making anything of so-called
substance. "Schindler's List" surprised everyone by being
chilling, historically accurate, charming, funny, and
emotionally devastating. Audiences left theaters in tears,
trying to figure out their own feelings about the Holocaust.
They were moved, and for some, haunted for days. Spielberg's
most harsh critics realized they might have underestimated
his filmmaking skills. He had made a truly magnificent film.
I don't believe that Spielberg was trying to prove his
critics wrong in making "Schindler's List." With "The Color
Purple" and "Empire of the Sun," I believe, in some ways, he
was trying to prove that he could make mature films. Not
with "Schindler's List." This was a personal story for him.
This was a story he wanted and had to tell.
The film looks like a documentary that would've been made
during the 1940s.Shot in black-and-white, it shows us the
reality and horror of the Holocaust in brutal detail.
Spielberg does not hold back any of the murders or cruelty
that the Nazis imposed upon the Jews. No matter how many
times I've seen this film, I am always shocked by every
horrific moment. The so-called cleansing of the ghetto. The
old man with one arm. The woman's "shower" scene at
Auschwitz. I have left this film with sadness over what
happened to so many innocent people. I have left this film
with anger toward the Nazis.
When I was in junior high, we watched "Night and Fog." The
real images of the Holocaust always stayed with me. Although
"Schindler's List" was a Hollywood production, it resonates
as if it was an actual documentary. It is very reminiscent
of "Night and Fog." We experience the atrocities seemingly
first hand because Spielberg places us square inside of the
time period. His choice to film in black-and-white with
occasional color cues is extremely powerful. Nothing about
"Shindler's List" is romanticized, with the exception of the
earliest scenes of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson).
During junior high, I read about the showers and the ovens.
I read about the pointless killings. Some of my peers were
typical teenagers and some laughed at the horror as we
watched "Night and Fog." I was shocked at their coldness and
immaturity. I wonder if any of my peers saw "Schindler's
List" and laughed. I hope they matured.
This film takes my own images of what I read about the
Holocaust and puts them up on the screen. It is a film that
aligns with my own impression of this horrific time. Every
time I've watched the film, I want to look away from what
Spielberg shows me, yet I cannot. It's a film that grabs you
and doesn't let go until the final fade out.
The cast is brilliant. Liam Neeson had been in a number of
films prior to "Schindler's List," but he takes command
here. He is truly the playboy and businessman that Oskar
Schindler must have been. Despite his vices for women,
alcohol and working with the Nazi party, we become quickly
endeared to him because we know he wants to save as many
people as possible. He is a man of dual personalities, but a
man with a heart.
Ralph Fiennes was quite the discovery in this film. He is
brutal, calculated, stone cold, and entirely vulnerable. He
portrays his character of Amon Goeth as a unpredictable
monster, and that's how I imagine he was. Nazi commanders
were killers and saw people as no higher than animals. This
is made clear in some of the sequences that Goeth
arbitrarily shots innocent Jews in the concentration camp.
These are made even more horrifying when Goeth lets his
guard down when it comes to his infatuation with his maid,
Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz).
Ben Kingsley is powerful in his quiet role as Itzhak Stern,
Schindler's bookkeeper. He plays his role with understated
strength, even though we feel he could be taken by the Nazis
at any moment. It's part of the tension Spielberg creates so
well. Kingsley portrays Stern with so much quiet strength.
The Blu-ray picture quality is excellent. Janusz Kaminski's
cinematography captures the time period perfectly. There was
a lot of handheld camerawork in this film, but it's never
exaggerated as many of today's films are. He brings out the
tragedy of the Holocaust in vivid detail and causes the
audience to watch, no matter how bad things become in the
film. The "digitally restored" transfer is breathtaking and
leaves in the film grain and starkness of Kaminski's
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent. This was
one of the earliest DTS Sound titles. DTS was put on the map
with Spielberg's own "Jurassic Park" earlier in 1993 as a
way of fitting six channels of sound onto a 35mm print.
Before the format came about, six-channel mixes were placed
on 70mm prints. Dolby Digital hit the market in 1992,
predating DTS, but DTS essentially spelled the end of 70mm
prints that were common during the 1980s and early-1990s.
I'm sure had digital sound not come around, it's possible
that "Schindler's List" would have gone out in 70mm. That
being said, the soundtrack is very powerful. John Williams'
score is lush and dialogue is clear. Gunshots are extremely
powerful on the soundtrack. In one of the most haunting
scenes, I have never jumped out of my chair when Goeth fires
his shotgun until now. I'm not sure if this particular sound
effect was remixed for the Blu-ray, but it certainly
startled me for the first time.
There have been hundreds of films, both based on fiction and
non-fiction, about World War II. Many have been powerful and
emotional, but none of them has moved me as much as
"Schindler's List." I cannot believe it's been twenty years
since I first saw this film in a crowded theater. I clearly
remember walking out of the theatre drained. The film stayed
with me and it always will. Spielberg has so many
masterpieces in his career, but "Schindler's List" is his
Special thanks to Jackie
Photo: © Universal Pictures. All rights
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