Paramount’s Centennial Collection: Sunset Blvd. and Four Hepburn Flicks

In keeping with its ongoing commitment to retrieving and presenting treasured films from its nearly 100-year history, Paramount Home Entertainment will launch of a new line of classics that were digitally mastered and restored called the Paramount Centennial Collection. Debuting on DVD November 11, 2008, the first three titles in the collection will be Roman Holiday (1953), Sunset Blvd. (1950) and Sabrina (1954). All three films will be available in a 2-disc set including an 8-page Collectible booklet. Titles in the Paramount Centennial Collection will undergo processes using the latest digital technology for pristine presentations to protect these classics for generations to come, and most will include new bonus features highlighting elements of the film or Paramount’s rich cinematic history.

Does this mean they plan on releasing 100 titles by the year 2012 when the studio actually turns 100? Will these new releases be offered in Blu-ray soon? If so should you wait? And if so when?

Unfortunately I don’t have answers to those questions, but I can tell you this appears to be an attempt by Paramount to get as close to Universal’s Legacy Series releases and if rumors are true it might mean we may actually see the first ever Region 1 DVD release of The African Queen as IMDB lists Paramount as the DVD rights holder and what better time to debut the Oscar-winning film on DVD than just before Blu-ray takes over? Always keep ’em wanting more.

As for the first titles released in the Centennial Collection, the three mentioned above were joined by Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Funny Face this past Tuesday, January 13 and if you are keeping track there are some obvious similarities with these five films, and it does make for viewing the special features to be mildly repetitive. You get two Billy Wilder directed films, two William Holden films and four Audrey Hepburn films. Hepburn only did six films for Paramount and should this series continue I wouldn’t be surprised if War and Peace is added along the way. Fortunately the next two films added to the list break from the tradition started by the first two with the Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon comedy The Odd Couple (details here) and Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (details here) starring Cary Grant and the stunning Grace Kelly. Those two are due on March 24.

The five already available show Paramount is taking steps at really offering what appears to be the definitive DVD releases for their major titles. Blu-ray is certainly the future of at-home-movie-watching as studios have dipped, double-dipped, triple-dipped and so on when it comes to DVD releases. The only place to go is Blu-ray before everything goes digital. Paramount seems to be caught in the middle when it comes to going Blu with these releases and I wouldn’t be surprised if it deters many from making the leap even though the spine numbers are sure to get collectors out there drooling – no better time to start a collection than with #1.

The obvious benefit, and where the real care is found, is in how each film separates its features by having the movie on one disc and the complete group of features on the second. This means more room for the film on the first disc, which means less compression, which means a better picture. Of the initial five only Sunset Boulevard and Breakfast at Tiffany’s come with a commentary, which means the other three are all movie and thanks to DVDBeaver I can offer you three roll-over screen captures comparing the films to their previous releases. I have included one capture per film by listing a look at Sunset Boulevard, Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s in that order. The image you see initially is from the Centennial Collection release, simply roll your cursor over the image to see a capture, and the difference, from the previous release.

Sunset Boulevard

Mouse Over for a comparison. The first image is the new Centennial Collection and the second is the original Region 1 release

Photo: Paramount Home Entertainment via DVDBeaver
Roman Holiday

Mouse Over for a comparison. The first image is the new Centennial Collection and the second is the original Region 1 release

Photo: Paramount Home Entertainment via DVDBeaver
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Mouse Over for a comparison. The first image is the new Centennial Collection and the second is the Anniversary Edition release

Photo: Paramount Home Entertainment via DVDBeaver

As you can see, the picture is certainly improved on Sunset and Roman Holiday while the picture on Breakfast at Tiffany’s isn’t much different (perhaps slightly sharper) than the 2006 Anniversary Edition. Either way, I think we all realize the picture would be even better on Blu-ray, but for now this is the best you have.

Beyond the picture quality I had no problem with the audio on any of the titles with Sabrina, Sunset Blvd. and Roman Holiday all carrying mono audio and Tiffany’s and Funny Face include Dolby 5.1 audio. Nothing major here.

Features are where you begin to separate from the pack. I don’t own the original edition of any of these releases, but I can tell you there are new features and after reading around it seems one or two have been removed, but I can only assume it’s because they would have proved redundant.

Depending on what you are looking for you will find each disc offers a large variety of information with some of it occasionally overlapping due to repeat players. Sunset Blvd. comes packed with features, definitely the most extensive of the bunch as it has features ranging from the pre-production on the film to the casting of Gloria Swanson. You get a look at William Holden, but it doesn’t compare to the nearly 30-minute feature on Holden on the Sabrina disc. A similar feature for Hepburn can be found on Roman Holiday and while there are brief mentions of the affair Hepburn and Holden had none of the features ever go too far in depth, but I expect more of these features on future releases for a variety of Paramount players.

Hepburn love continues on the Roman Holiday release as well as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but the best feature on the Tiffany release is “Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective” which has Asian Americans addressing the obviously offensive portrayal of a Japanese man by Mickey Rooney in the film. Of course, it was a different time then, but it is impressive Paramount included a negative commentary on the portrayal on this DVD. It is also interesting to hear producer Richard Shepherd on his commentary say he asked director Blake Edwards to recast the part and then hear Blake inside the feature say he wished he had recast it but no one else ever approached him about it at the time. Who knows? Strange things happen like that all the time if you watch these features back-to-back like I did. For example, on another Tiffany feature one interviewee says that no one knew Hepburn could sing as she gracefully delivers “Moon River” in the film… too bad she made a little film called Funny Face four years earlier in which she sings and dances with Fred Astaire.

Speaking of Funny Face there is a great feature on the advancement of VistaVision on that disc and you will find another enjoyable feature called “Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist” on Roman Holiday, which takes a look at Trumbo as well as Hollywood blacklisting in general. Finally, there is a running feature on all of the discs outside of Funny Face called “Behind the Gates” and on the first four it takes a look at the camera, costumes, the Paramount tour and the Paramount lot. These take a look at Paramount and the behind-the-scenes goings on at the studio. Each is only about 5 minutes long and make for an enjoyable quick watch. Oh, and the 8-page booklets that come with each release are also good for a nugget of info or two.

As far as the films go my favorites would have to be Sabrina, Roman Holiday and Sunset Boulevard. I personally get little to no enjoyment out of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and while Funny Face has some great costumes and a fantastic “tour of Paris” photo session montage it wasn’t exactly up my alley.

I would say Sabrina was the real surprise as I think it is Hepburn’s best performance of the four films even though, like Funny Face, it has her hooking up with a MUCH older man, and on top of that the features touch ever so slightly on some of the behind-the-scenes hand-holding that was necessary to keep the late-to-the-cast Bogart happy. Hepburn was much better matched when she played alongside Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday and to hear Peck suggested her name be added above the title due to her performance in the film was a cool little story as it was her first major feature film and also went on to earn her the Best Actress Oscar.

Little needs to be said about Sunset Boulevard considering anyone that knows film is already familiar with it and even if you haven’t seen it you know the classic, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small,” line from Swanson. Personally I think that line is overrated based on the rest of the film from its mood, atmosphere and unique level of tension. If you want dialogue hit up Sabrina, that’s the reason I love that film so much. When Linus (Bogart) says to his father, “After all, this is the 20th century, Father,” to which his father says, “Twentieth century? Why, I could pick a century out of a hat, blindfolded, and come up with a better one.” Priceless.

The prices for each title range from $16.99-17.49 at Amazon (click here to browse) and you can click on any of the titles below to check out the bonus features for each release.

  1. Sunset Boulevard
  2. Roman Holiday
  3. Sabrina
  4. Funny Face
  5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  6. To Catch a Thief
  7. The Odd Couple