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Legends of the Fall: Deluxe Edition

If Steven Spielberg wants to be this generation's Hitchcock or Capra, Edward Zwick wants to be George Stevens. Zwick's Legends of the Fall — which opened in early 1995 and earned $66 million dollars for TriStar while making a matinee idol out of Brad Pitt — epitomizes what the director of Glory likes about movies. It's true that the film was designed by Zwick and screenwriters Susan Shilliday (I Dreamed of Africa) and William D. Wittliff (A Perfect Storm), from Jim Harrison's novella, to create a romantic icon out of Pitt, or at least his character Tristan Ludlow. Ludlow is the middle, and favorite, son of retired officer William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins). The family live on a ranch in Montana, their mother having fled back to the East, and Tristan is the "wild" one, the golden child who can do no wrong no matter how reckless he may be. A cross between James Dean and Marlon Brando from the '50s, we are invited to admire Tristan as the free spirit we all want to be (if we are guys) and love him (if we are girls), regardless of the virtues of his brothers. They consist of the eldest, Alfred (Aidan Quinn), the serious, responsible one who ends up in politics, and the youngest, Samuel (Henry Thomas), the idealistic but finally rather conventional intellectual who buys into the propaganda that leads the United States into World War I, which happens under the protest of their father, who has seen enough of war. Samuel enlists, and he drags his two overly protective brothers along with him. But he leaves behind his fiancé, Susannah (Julia Ormond). When she appears on the scene, dragged back from college by Samuel, the two other boys fall in love with her instantly. And then she instantly falls in love with Tristan (as everybody does). The love story is the central thing of Legends of the Fall, but Zwick also likes epical family dramas. The narrative ranges from the southwestern Indian wars, to Montana pastoral, to the trenches of World War I, to Prohibition. There were even further scenes, but Zwick took them out (three of them are on this disc, with commentary). Zwick's films are usually watchable, but in the end there's something shallow, sentimental, and manipulative about his work. On the other hand, Legends of the Fall was one of the few movies at the time that successfully captured the look, feel, and scope of a big, old-fashioned Hollywood epic. With its tale torn from the pages of 20th century headlines, and its story of impossible love set against a backdrop of international turmoil, the film harks back to the way movies used to be. Pitt actually does a pretty good job of embodying Tristan, and the rest of the cast is quite good. Hopkins is an admirable old coot, and Julia Ormond, in only her second movie, is dazzling.

Legends of the Fall makes its third appearance on DVD in a "Deluxe Edition," which offers a new anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), sorely missing on the previous "Special Edition," where the film showed various problems, including marks and dust on the source print and shimmering and pixilation in the transfer. Here, the image is cleaner and far more presentable. Most features are sourced the previous DVD release, including the commentary by Zwick and Pitt, and a very informative commentary by production designer Lilly Kilvert and cinematographer John Toll. Three deleted scenes with director's commentary appear, while production-design featurette (4 min.), a brief, indifferent "making-of "featurette (6 min.), and an isolated score are on board. Theatrical trailers have been replaced with trailers for other Sony titles on DVD. Enclosed on the paperboard slipcase is a full-color "scrapbook" with additional cast and crew info.
—D.K. Holm

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