Raging Bull(MGM Home Entertainment, 2.8.2005)
If you haven't seen this movie, I'll keep my review simple: you have to see Raging Bull because it is, simply put, one of the great stylistic achievements in the history of motion pictures. The meeting of two of the greatest minds in the medium (director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro), it contains what might be the finest work these two masters have achieved over their long careers.
To simply call this a boxing movie does not do it justice. This is a boxing movie in the same way Citizen Kane is a picture about a newspaper man. What Scorsese and De Niro, with some mighty assistance from all corners of the ring, manage to say about the story of Jake La Motta is impressice and varied. It's a powerful statement about family, the need for redemption, the effects of violence, and the destructive power of jealousy. The movie's Jake La Motta is a warning to the world of what can happen when brute force is applied to life outside the ring and it is a message that does not fade over time.
If you've seen the movie, chances are you might have purchased that first, bare-bones DVD that MGM issued in the early days of the format. You know the disc...it's the one with the pan-and-scan and non-anamorphic widescreen transfers and "extras" that amounted to some skimpy liner notes and a trailer. You may now use that disc as a coaster (or trade it in to the nearest "previously viewed" video store) because this 2-disc collector's edition does to that previous edition what Jake La Motta did to Tony Janiro's pretty face.
Even a casual fan of the movie has to be impressed with the thought that went into this new edition. To begin with, the transfer is visibly better: the black and white almost shimmers, the contrast levels are better, and the color "home movie" footage (which the disc reveals was shot by teamsters on something of a lark) looks so freakin' good that you'd swear this movie was shot last year, not 25 years ago.
There is an almost ridiculous abundance of special feature riches in the set, including four featurettes (totalling around 90 minutes) that cover the making of the film, a featurette on Jake La Motta that runs a little under a half hour, a short visual comparison between the real La Motta and De Niro that showcases just how accurate his portrayal of the pugilist was, a newsreel covering one of La Motta's title fights, and the film's theatrical trailer.
The featurettes include some genuinely suprising revelations such as the fact that Martin Scorsese didn't want to make the picture. It was De Niro's dogged determination that eventually changed his mind. Considering this will probably end up being one of the pictures he is most remembered for, this tidbit was a real stunner for me.
In addition to the upgraded transfer, the first disc features no less than three commentary tracks. The track with Scorsese (who is joined by his longtime collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker) is particularly terrific and, while it has a few silences here and there, it is so full of technical information and history (Scorsese has always been honest about acknowledging his cinematic influences) that you can't help but enjoy it.
There is also a track featuring writers Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, along with Jake La Motta and his nephew Jason Lustig (who were recorded separately). I enjoyed listening to La Motta because his contributions sound so rehearsed, you can almost picture him going over the stories in front of a mirror before going into the studio, much like the scenes that open and close the picture.
A great film finally gets the deluxe treatment it so richly deserves. -- Christopher Hyatt