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The Sound of Music: 45th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Sound of Music (1965) movie poster The Sound of Music

Theatrical Release: March 2, 1965 / Running Time: 174 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Robert Wise / Writers: Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse (book); Ernest Lehman (screenplay)

Cast: Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Captain von Trapp), Eleanor Parker (The Baroness), Richard Haydn (Max Detweiler), Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess), Charmian Carr (Liesl von Trapp), Heather Menzies (Louisa von Trapp), Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp), Duane Chase (Kurt von Trapp), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta von Trapp), Debbie Turner (Marta von Trapp), Kym Karath (Gretl von Trapp), Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta), Portia Nelson (Sister Berthe), Ben Wright (Herr Zeller), Daniel Truhitte (Rolfe), Norma Varden (Frau Schmidt), Gil Stuart (Franz), Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia), Evadne Baker (Sister Bernice), Doris Lloyd (Baroness Ebberfeld)

Songs: "The Sound of Music", "Maria", "I Have Confidence", "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", "My Favorite Things", "Do-Re-Mi", "The Lonely Goatherd", "Edelweiss", "So Long, Farewell", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "Something Good"

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By Kelvin Cedeno

How do you go about reviewing something that's world-renowned? As I sit here contemplating what to write, I find myself facing a task that's both daunting and pointless. It's daunting in that I'm analyzing something that means a great deal to a great many people, something that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, became one of the highest grossing films of all time, and has appeared on many "Best Films" lists, most notably the American Film Institute's. At the same time, reviewing this feels pointless as most people have already formed an opinion. It's permeated pop culture to the extent that even those who haven't seen it know how they feel about it. The film in this case is the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music.

My experiences with The Sound of Music aren't like most people's. I didn't exactly grow up with it. I knew of the film growing up and attempted to watch it many times during its annual ABC airings.
Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into it. I'd like the beginning well enough, but as the story progressed, I usually lost interest. Some would automatically attest that to being an ADD child, but that description is a disservice to me. Even as a kid, I enjoyed long movies, some of which were musicals (Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks). I just couldn't find anything in The Sound of Music I really connected with.

Fast-forward to my teens. As someone who really started getting into classic cinema at that age, I discovered something I already knew: I adored musicals. My love of the genre led me to purchasing a boxed set of Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, only two of which I had seen portions of (one being The King and I, the other you already know). Some of these I enjoyed greatly, others I was more lukewarm towards. As I made my way through the set, I finally arrived at The Sound of Music.

I already had an idea of what to expect based on my fractured screenings over the years: nice leading lady, pretty scenery, boring everything else. However, watching it in full for the first time as a teenager, I suddenly connected with everything I was seeing. In order to understand how this happened, I should share what the film is actually about for the unfortunate few who don't know.

While enjoying a day out, Maria (Julie Andrews) teaches the children to sing a song that will be ingrained in their minds and the audience's permanently.

The Sound of Music takes place in Salzburg, Austria in the late 1930s. The heroine, Maria (Julie Andrews), is a nun who doesn't quite fit in at the abbey. She's too careless, too quirky, too feisty. In trying to solve the problem of Maria, Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) decides to send Maria away for some time to help the young woman decide where she belongs in life. The recently-widowed Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) is need of a governess for his seven children, and so Mother Abbess places Maria there.

Terrified of her new life, Maria does her best to remain optimistic, but it's less than easy. The Captain is strict and cold, running his household as a regime. His children aren't keen on having a governess and do all they can to scare them off. Among the children are Liesl (Charmian Carr), Louisa (Heather Menzies), Friedrich (Nicholas Hammond), Kurt (Duance Chase), Brigitte (Angela Cartwright), Marta (Debbie Turner), and Gretl (Kym Karath). Slowly but surely, Maria wins them over by proving she's on their side and is unlike the stuffy governesses they've had in the past.

Meanwhile, we discover that Captain von Trapp is engaged to a Baroness (Eleanor Parker) who's only interested in his bank account and stature. As Maria and the children bond, the Captain is affected by the change happening within his household. The Baroness notices something blooming between Maria and the Captain and is determined to put an end to it. To complicate matters, Austria is taken over by Nazi Germany, and while the von Trapps are firmly against Hitler's politics, they find their friends changing sides.

Singing "Edelweiss", Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) finds himself reconnected to both his homeland of Austria and the concept of music his deceased wife had treasured. The von Trapps perform a medley of tunes at a local music festival while mentally calculating their escape from the Nazis.

Perhaps what struck me about the film as a teen was that I could identify with Maria in a way I never could as a child. Like her character, I had trouble fitting into my surroundings and was struggling with God's will for my life. I identified with her journey and, like her, always tried to remain optimistic about my situations (albeit without pulling song and dance numbers out of my pocket).

I believe that The Sound of Music has endured to this day because of those themes. At some point in their lives, everyone has felt like an outsider. Finding where you belong is a universal process and has been tapped into again and again by filmmakers. Sometimes a message is hammered into you so often that it loses its punch, so a filmmaker has to find a way to make that seem fresh and relatable.

Julie Andrews is a big reason why the film works as well as it does. The character of Maria could easily fall into what Christopher Plummer infamously called the "von trap." After all, Maria has a sunny disposition and tries not to let situations get the better of her. She can become nauseatingly cloying if mishandled. Miraculously, Andrews makes the character work, and it's because she approaches Maria as a person, not an ideal. At various points throughout the story, you see Maria run out of breath after performing a tune or anxiously notice that the children are expecting her to do something memorable. Little asides like that show that it's hard to be Maria. Being upbeat and carefree is something she has to work at, not something that's conveniently ascribed to her. People who look on the bright side of life should be commended, but those who actively pursue it in spite of initial misgivings set an even greater example. Andrews exhibits that excellently, and it goes without saying that her vocal range is unmatchable.

Paperboy Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte) advises Liesl (Charmian Carr) that someone who's sixteen going on seventeen should have someone who's seventeen going on eighteen to depend on. As the Captain (Christopher Plummer) drives the Baroness (Eleanor Parker) home to meet his children, Max (Richard Haydn) notices the sound of music emanating in the air.

Speaking of singing, it'd be ridiculous to discuss The Sound of Music without addressing the musical numbers. Rodgers and Hammerstein are two of the most famous and respected songwriters of the 20th Century. Their insistence that songs advance story and don't simply exist for the heck of it has influenced the way musicals on and off the stage have been produced. The selection of tunes found in this film are among their best.
"My Favorite Things" and "Do-Re-Mi" are exuberant in nature, and it's difficult not to use them as a form of Vitamin D. The title song and "Edelweiss" offer the heart of the picture, with their melodies being just as effective as underscoring. Even the lyrically awkward "I Have Confidence" (written for the film) works because of the spirit injected into it. These and all the other songs are pleasant to listen to, and once they're over, you feel as though something has actually happened in the story.

The concept of story progression works due to Robert Wise's direction and the breathtaking cinematography. It's been said that The Sound of Music is the first film musical to show passage of time through song, placing the characters in different locales via montages. I'm not sure how accurate it is (I can name several examples from Disney alone that preceded this), but the device is certainly noticeable. For the most part, characters don't just sit and sing. They move around, even traveling several miles or days in some instances. That furthers the feeling of progress.

While Wise's previous musical, West Side Story, offers brilliant examples of staging, much of it feels claustrophobic and a little too stagey. Here, he ensures the picture works as a film and not as a filmed play. The views of Salzburg both in the city and in the mountains are gorgeous and help sell the idea that this is a real place. At the same time, though, he avoids a problem director George Stevens faced that same year with The Greatest Story Ever Told. That film is so concerned with landscapes that it feels like a series of master shots, in which the actors are regularly swallowed by their surroundings, creating physical and emotional distance. In The Sound of Music, Wise juggles between intimacy and scale. We marvel at the sights of Salzburg, but we never forget why we're there.

Maria and the Captain share a private moment together in the moonlit gazebo.

With all that the picture does right, does it do anything wrong? Yes. Like any film, The Sound of Music isn't perfect. Its biggest problem is its Second Act. That half of the story is focused very much on the Nazi rise and the family's political stance. I can't speak for everyone, but I find that I myself just don't care. I care about the relationship between Maria and the von Trapps. Without giving too much anyway, that aspect of the story is resolved very early on in Act II. Yet the film continues for another 45 minutes in an effort to build unneeded drama. I care about the bubble that contains our characters, not the world that lies outside it. The final 45 minutes almost feel like they're from a completely different film.

Another thing to note is that, with seven children, we don't really get to know their personalities very well. Liesl, the oldest, is the only one we really learn about. The film attempts to rectify this in both their introductory scene and in a scene where Maria hotly tells the Captain all about the children he doesn't even know. Through those, we pick up a few facts to associate each child with, but we still don't get much of a feel of who they are. For the most part, they're one solid mass that thinks and acts alike. Perhaps that's for the better since it's Maria and the Captain we really need to focus on, but the lack of delineation is still worth noting.

Those caveats aside, it's difficult not to be swept up by The Sound of Music. Though indifferent to it in childhood, I've come to appreciate it (and other so-called "family films") much more as an adult. The story may be uneven, but the themes, performances, music, and cinematography all come together to make something resonant and remarkable. This may be too sunny for some, but if I'm addressing one of the few people out there who's yet to see this, I heartily recommend a viewing. You may find yourself surprised at how cheekily all that gooey sentiment is presented.

The Sound of Music: 45th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy combo from Amazon.com Blu-ray and DVD Details

2.20:1 Widescreen; DVD Anamorphic; Both: Dolby Surround 4.0 (English)
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 7.1 (English), DTS 5.1 (French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 2, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (2 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Eco-Friendly Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Limited Edition Collector's Set ($89.99 SRP), DVD Packaging
2-Disc DVD still available in The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection ($99.98 SRP)
Previously released to DVD as Five-Star Collection , Single Disc and
40th Anniversary Edition (all out of print)


The Sound of Music debuts on Blu-ray in its 2.20:1 aspect ratio. The results here, especially for anyone familiar with the film, are astonishing. In all of its previous home video releases, the image had a constant soft focus look to it, even in scenes that weren't designed for that. Here, the image is consistently detailed and refined, revealing more information than what's been seen in years. Everything from fabric textures to blades of grass are rendered exquisitely.
Other than some flickering and speckles in the opening helicopter shots, the image is rock solid and clean, revealing a nice level of fine grain that gives the film a velvety look.

Fans may find the color palette questionable. There's certainly a browner tint to the image now whereas older transfers were pinker in nature. I'm not enough of an expert to say which is correct, but to my eyes, the browner look is more pleasing. The image has sturdier blacks and purer whites, and backgrounds aren't as washed out. This is a reference quality transfer in every sense.

The DTS 7.1 track is impressive considering the film's age. There's absolutely no hiss or muffled quality to the dialogue. Instead, it comes across crisply and intelligibly. More impressive, however, is the score. There's a richness and weight to the orchestra, mixed in a way that completely envelops the listener as individual instruments are separated. Effects are understandably low-key but do manage to be heard fairly clearly in comparison to everything being mixed over them. There's nothing to complain about with this remarkable track.

Most movie money shots involve some big special effects extravaganza. This film has a woman spinning on a hilltop. (Screencap from 40th Anniversary Edition DVD). Maria's iconic hilltop singing introduction, as seen in the DVD of this 45th Anniversary Edition combo pack.
Left: screencap from 40th Anniversary DVD. Right: same frame from DVD in 2010's 45th Anniversary combo.


The Sound of Music may have received more releases on home video than any other film. At the very least, it's been revisited far more than most movies. The first release to feature extensive supplements was the 30th Anniversary Edition laserdisc in 1995. The Five-Star Collection DVD released in 2000 replicated most of those materials. In 2005, a 40th Anniversary Edition dropped most of the supplements found on those two releases and added many new ones. Now debuting on Blu-ray, this 45th Anniversary Edition is perhaps the definitive release of the film on home video. Nearly every supplement from the previous editions has been carried over, and with new content added.

The first of the new materials in Disc One's "Your Favorite Things: An Interactive Celebration", which is similar to the "Midnight Experience" on the recent Blu-ray debut of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You have the option of watching the film with as many as four additional layers of subtitles and picture-in-picture (PiP) content. There is "Making Music: A Journey in Images", which presents a PiP window in the top right hand corner. Here, a plethora of photos, concept art, and script excerpts play non-stop throughout the course of the film. "The Sing-Along Experience" is exactly what it sounds like: a subtitle track that features lyrics for all the musical numbers as they appear.

"Many a Thing to Know" is a PiP window on the top left hand corner that contains trivia about both the film itself and the real Maria von Trapp. Occasionally, this window is replaced by "Where Was It Filmed?",
a game that tests your knowledge on the various locations where the movie was shot. You have the option of having all four of these layers playing at once, or can you select which you prefer to have on. "Making Music" and "Many a Thing to Know" are particularly valuable as they share a great deal of interesting behind-the-scenes content. Those alone make this an exceptional viewing mode, but the sing-along and "Where Was It Filmed?" are cute additions, too.

"Music Machine" (58:02, HD) presents all of the musical numbers in the film. These can be viewed consecutively or one at a time. It's a nice feature for those who only want to relive the musical aspects of the story. "Sing-Along" is exactly the same thing, only with the subtitles from "Your Favorite Things" added on.

Originally recorded for the 40th Anniversary Edition DVD is a feature audio commentary by actors Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and Charmian Carr, choreographer Dee Dee Wood, and Johannes von Trapp, the youngest member of the von Trapp family. Unfortunately, none of these participants appear to be recorded together or even while watching the film. Instead, their remarks are pulled from interviews, presumably the sessions used for the "My Favorite Things" documentary that appears later in this set. Of the group, Andrews and Plummer are the most dominant and offer a refreshingly honest view of their experiences and of the film itself. Despite having so many speakers edited together, there are more than a few bits of dear air. As such, while it's a decent track on the whole, you're probably better off just watching the documentary these were culled from.

Next is an audio commentary by director Robert Wise, created for the 30th Anniversary Edition laserdisc. Actually, this is only partially accurate. It's more of an isolated score track with selected comments by the late Wise. While previous editions made this aspect clear, this new one drops the isolated score description. That may make some new listeners frustrated at the long stretches of nothing but music, but Wise's comments (like Andrews and Plummer's) are blunt and revealing. He covers everything from the casting process to location shooting and offers some perspective on the story itself. His comments are valuable, and it's great to have so much of the film's score present as few titles offer that nowadays. The only caveat is that since Fox has gone to such extreme efforts to restore the audio in this 45th Anniversary release, it would've been nice had Wise's comments been edited onto that new track instead of this old 30th Anniversary one.

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Reviewed November 17, 2010.

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