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Dead Poets Society (1989)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/17/2012

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/12/2012

In my recent review for Sid and Nancy, I wrote about the late 80s were a time when I was away from mainstream films, as I was attempting to see every low-budget horror movie which I could. Because of this, I missed both some popular and important movies. Despite being a fan of Robin Williams, I couldn't bring myself to leave the world of scary movies to see Dead Poets Society. So now, over 20 years later, I'm getting the chance to check it out on Blu-ray Disc.

Dead Poets Society is set in 1959 and takes place at Welton Academy, a private school for boys. As the story opens, we meet some of the students. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) has lived in his brother's shadow all of his life, and he's very withdrawn. His roommate, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), is more outgoing, but lives in fear of his tyrannical father. Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) is somewhat arrogant, but sullen. Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles) wants a girlfriend...which won't happen at Welton. The boys are very surprised when they meet their new English teacher Mr. Keating (Robin Williams). He loves poetry and attempts to inspire the boys to not only love the written world, but to also question authority and conformity. The boys learn that Keating attended Welton and was part of a secret group called The Dead Poets Society, and they resurrect this practice. As the semester goes on, the boys begin to find their own personalities and embrace the teachings of Mr. Keating. However, this doesn't sit well with the administration.

Robin Williams gets top-billing in Dead Poets Society and he was nominated for an Oscar for the movie. So, I was surprised to find that he isn't the main focus of the film, and truth be told, he's not in it that much. No, Dead Poets Society is the story of the boys at the school and the issues that they are facing. We see how the boys interact with the faculty and with one another, and slowly get to know them. The story splits most of its time between Todd, Neil, and Knox. Neil is interested in becoming an actor, but knows that his father will forbid this. Knox is introduced to a local girl (Alexandra Powers), and he becomes obsesses with her. Todd's issues are bit more vague. We learn that his parents dote on his brother, but this doesn't really explain how withdrawn he is.

Seeing the movie today for the first time, it's hard to believe that this won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. I say this because I had a very hard time buying the movie's central premise. Even at an all-boys school with little to do for entertainment, would a group of teenaged boys really get excited about going to a cave to read poetry. I simply found this to be far-fetched and these scenes felt very hollow and unrealistic, especially the scene where Dalton brings two women to the cave. Screenwriter Thomas Schulman reportedly based the movie on his own experiences in prep school, but this doesn't makes scenes any more believable.

This makes the movie feel very disjointed, as the rest of the movie comes across are realistic and engaging. Yes, it feels underwritten at times (as with Todd's character) and it spreads itself too thin by trying to examine too many characters, but there's no denying that there are some emotional scenes. While the fate of Robin Williams' character will be a surprise to only the move naive viewer, the moments where he's attempting to reach and inspire the boys are very good. Sure, Robin Williams acts a little too much like Robin Williams at times, but the mixture of humor and passion make it easy to see what it was nominated. The third act becomes very emotional, leading to an ending which contains a very famous scenes.

So, was Dead Poets Society worth the wait after all these years? Well, I'm glad that I saw it and some references in other movies now make more sense, but I don't reel like I was missing anything. Director Peter Weir was nominated for an Oscar for this (1989 must have been a slow year), but I feel that he's done much better work in other movies. Dead Poets Society has some funny moments and some touching moments, but the whole thing doesn't add up to a complete movie.

Dead Poets Society advocates the destruction of textbooks on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. The image is grainy at times, and clear at others, as if different reels were used to make the transfer. (I noticed that as the movie progressed, the image became sharper.) The movie features many dark tones, but when brighter colors appear, such as the red soccer uniforms, they look good. The image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is somewhat soft at times, which affects the detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a pretty unspectacular audio track, as most of the sound is confined to the front and center channels. The classical music played in the movie provides some bass, but it doesn't fill the speakers. Classroom and crowd scenes provide some stereo effects, but the surround effects are quite weak.

The Dead Poets Society Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Peter Weir, Cinematographer John Seale, and Writer Tom Schulman. "Dead Poets: A Look Back" (27 minutes) is an odd featurette, as it only features comments from the actors talking about what it was like to work on the film, specifically with Weir. Through intercut interviews, Hawke, Leonard, Kurtwood Smith, and others reminisce about the experience. "Raw Takes" is an 8-minute reel of unedited footage featuring a scene which was ultimately cut from the movie's third act. It's certainly interesting and actually reminds me of a similar scene from The Bridge to Teribithia. "Master of Sound: Alan Splet" (11 minutes) contains interviews with Weir and David Lynch discussing the late sound designer. "Cinematography Master Class" (15 minutes) is a special from the Australian Film Television and Radio School which goes into great detail about how Seale lit the film. The final extra is the TRAILER for the movie.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long