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South Seas Adventure: Deluxe Combo Blu-ray/DVD Edition Review

South Seas Adventure (1958) movie poster South Seas Adventure

Theatrical Release: July 15, 1958 / Running Time: 125 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Directors: Francis D. Lyon, Walter Thompson, Basil Wrangell, Richard Goldstone, Carl Dudley / Writers: Charles Kaufman, Joe Ansen, Harold Medford

Narrator: Orson Welles / Tagline: The story of six who surrendered to the lure of South Seas!

Cast: Diane Beardmore (Kay Johnson), Marlene Lizzio (Marlene Hunter), Tommy Zahn (Ted Hunter), Igor Allan (Jean-Louis Martin), Ed Olsen (Amos Dorn), Walter Gibbons-Fly (Oley the Engineer), Fred Bosch (Pete the Cook), Eddie Titiki (Himself), Ramine (Turia), Jay Ashworth (Jim Perry), Maxine Stone (Nurse), Don Middleton (Her Husband), Hans Farkash (Stefan Koschek), Jannice Dinnen (Anna Koschek), Eric Reiman (David Koschek), Margaret Roberts (Betty Koschek), Frank Basden (Chief Operator Communications Base), Don the Beachcomber (Don the Beachcomber), Walter Coy (Supplemental Narrator), Ted de Corsia (Supplemental Narrator)

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In 1952, Cinerama was introduced to some fanfare. Shortly before the advent of CinemaScope and 3D and the standardization of widescreen and color, here was a format that attempted to reproduce the human field of vision with three cameras, three projectors,
and an immersive, curved screen. By 1958, Cinerama was already on the way out. It was then that South Seas Adventure, the fifth and final of travelogue documentaries produced in the format was released.

South Seas Adventure takes us to three scenic locales to which its wide high-resolution photography lends. Serving as unseen narrator at the start and occasionally thereafter is the legendary Orson Welles, who the same year saw the release of what is considered his last great film behind the camera, Touch of Evil. Welles and the footage he speaks over turn our attention not only to the lush natural beauty of Hawaii but also the photogenic visage of one Kay Johnson, a single working gal from Akron, Ohio who has long saved up to afford this vacation. Kay makes a lady friend over a telegram mix-up and soon after finds a suitable, eligible blonde bachelor who hopes she'll switch the flower placed over her left ear to the right ear, meaning she has a serious boyfriend in him.

Cultural facts like that emerge over a survey of surfing, pineapple farming, volcanoes, the site of Pearl Harbor, hula dancing, and fire twirling. In Hawaii, we're told, every evening is an enchanted evening.

Grass skirt dancing inevitably features in the Hawaiian segments of the 1958 Cinerama film "South Seas Adventure."

Our attention moves to a painter from Paris who is looking to work his way to Hawaii, where he makes pilgrimage to the Tahiti site where the great Paul Gauguin lived and worked. He does a little narration and is subjected to a strange bit of impromptu theatrical hazing on the ship that takes him in.

Such scripted bits (all of which are performed by semi-professional actors) are corny, to be sure, but South Seas Adventure becomes kind of boring when it gets away from them. This is a bit dry and very dated, but intriguing nonetheless as a snapshot of 1950s life and two hours of content determined most suitable for showcasing with the newest technology cinema had to offer, an ancestor of sorts to IMAX. Our time in Hawaii includes looks at a Christian church service in Pidgin English, a precursor to bungee jumping, and a ritual involving kava, a drink likened to "warm dishwater" ("you get used to it").

After a short intermission, which is stated as 15 minutes but runs less than four here, we move to New Zealand, which an American expat describes amidst telling us of his war shrapnel story. He compares regions like Christchurch to other parts of the world, pointing out Kiwi assets like plentiful trout, geysers and mudpots, and those indigenous Maoris with their eye-grabbing customary dances and chin tattoos.

To make a pilgrimage to Tahiti, Jean-Louis Martin will have to endure some nightmarish theatre.

The final stop on this adventure is Australia, where a man welcomes two Central European refugees, his brother and niece, to his home of the past ten years. Life in Australia is shown to be a bowl full of cherries, with amusement parks, rugby, koala bears, horse and car racing tracks, and a beach that is the place to be on those summer days of December.
There are also shorn sheep, hoppy kangaroos, and the School of the Air, an elementary correspondence institution conducted via transceiver (two-way radio) for children of the remote Outback. The students include a boy who hurts his collarbone during play, an injury not too severe to miss out on the annual big picnic meeting.

South Seas Adventure cornily returns us to Hawaii to close with Kay Johnson's wedding.

After underperforming in theaters (compared to its lucrative predecessors, anyway), this 1958 film quickly became a forgotten relic as the format was retired and theaters equipped to show it dwindled. There was also never an afterlife in home video, until early last month when Flicker Alley treated it and 1955's Cinerama Holiday to deluxe Blu-ray + DVD combo packs loaded with bonus features and recreating the original curved exhibition with the Smilebox simulation.

South Seas Adventure: Deluxe Combo Blu-ray + DVD Edition cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.01:1 Curved Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 2, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Two discs (1 DVD-14 & 1 BD-50)
Clear Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Smilebox presentation gives us South Seas Adventure as it looked in Cinerama exhibition, with the picture curved within the flat screen. Though composed from three distinct cameras, the picture looks whole, with seams remaining faint and slight distortion limited mainly to the edges of the frame. Subjects can even move from one third to another smoothly. In close scrutiny, you'll spot the rare imperfection and you may notice that though vivid (save for the very instance of fade-outs), the colors are also pale. Still, you're unlikely to be anything but delighted by the clean, sharp, detailed breathtaking photography treated to restoration of the highest order, which is a wonderful surprise after decades of basically being out of circulation.

Sound is offered in both 5.1 DTS-HD master audio and plain Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. If you have a home theater, you'll definitely want to listen to the default former, because Cinerama technology made use of many microphones and multiple tracks to convey the directionality of our world. You'll appreciate that when, for instance, you hear a dog barking moments before he comes into view on a surfboard. The audio is extremely potent, with the exception of Welles' narration which sounds strangely distant and hollow with a faint echo effect (the bonus restoration featurette explains some work had to be done to correct the speed of the narration, so I'll assume this is the best it could be and not a studio gaffe). The one slight bummer about this set is the complete lack of subtitles, which a portion of those who saw the movie in theaters may lament.

"The Wake of Captain Cook" covers the production of "South Seas Adventure." Cinerama publicity man Saul Cooper reflects on the film in this 1999 interview.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Flicker Alley displays Criterion Collection-like passion for their few releases, treating each to copious amounts of relevant bonus features. South Seas Adventure's loaded Blu-ray and double-sided DVD are no exception.

Their extras begin with an audio commentary by Cinerama historian David Coles. Clearly an expert, a character, and someone who enjoys speaking for anyone who'd care to listen, Coles is full of information on the format, the film, its makers, and cinema at large.
South Seas Adventure and the length of their engagements, having Seaman help him.

On the video side (where extras appear in high definition unless otherwise noted), things kick off with The Wake of Captain Cook (23:04, SD), a vintage short film that takes you behind the scenes of South Seas Adventure's production on all of its locations. Not produced in Cinerama format, it lacks the impact and beauty of the feature presentation.

Excerpts of a 1999 interview with Carol Dudley Katzka (11:09, SD) allows the daughter of worldly director/producer Carl Dudley to recall his experiences making this movie.

Also from 1999 come clips from an interview of the film's location publicity worker Saul Cooper (29:36), who speaks about the Cinerama format in general and comes around to this and other films made in it.

David Strohmaier discusses his work restoring "South Seas Adventure." Dancer Ramine Seaman poses next to the poster for a 2012 Cinerama film festival.

"Restoration of South Seas Adventure" (19:29) gives David Strohmaier a forum to discuss at length what he did to make the film look so good and true to its original form for this Blu-ray and DVD release. Making use of before and after comparisons to illustrate specific challenges, he goes into greater detail than most will care about, but it's still a somewhat interesting glimpse at the magic of this release.

Fitted with musical excerpts from the film, a slideshow (5:51) nicely displays a mix of black & white and color photos from the making of South Seas Adventure.

The trailer for "South Seas Adventure" promotes the thunderous blow holes of Tonga! Workers assemble and test cars in the Cinerama short "Renault Dauphine."

An impossibly clean, sharp-looking South Seas Adventure trailer (3:52) is preserved in Smilebox.

On-disc extras close with Renault Dauphine (6:15),
a Cinerama short film promoting the French car company Renault with assembly line and test track footage.

Not available on its own, the DVD here contains all the extras of the Blu-ray, utilizing both sides of the disc (one of them dual-layered) to fit them.

The Blu-ray's menu plays a bit of music over the lower part of the cover art. The disc does not support bookmarks, but does resume unfinished playback.

The Criterion comparisons extend to the packaging, which employs one of the boutique line's clear keepcases of DVD width and Blu-ray height. Joining the two discs is a 28-page booklet that recreates the film's original program distributed to moviegoers and adds a few pages of disc credits.

In the Australian Outback, students participate in a monthly School of the Air play by wearing a costume at home.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In the right context, South Seas Adventure makes for fascinating viewing as a taste of technically innovative 1950s cinema. While the modern narrative-minded viewer may be underwhelmed by this blend of documentary and staged silliness, this still qualifies as light entertainment whose historical interest makes it more than that.

Flicker Alley gives this forgotten travelogue a deluxe Blu-ray + DVD combo sure to exceed the wildest dreams of fans and film history buffs. Sporting a dynamic feature presentation and an abundance of substantial extras, this set is easy to recommend to interested parties in spite of its steep price tag.

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Reviewed December 24, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1958 Cinerama Corporation and 2013 Flicker Alley.
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