When it comes to Buster Keaton, like most anyone that’s heard the name, I’ve seen The General enough times there was actually about a two month stretch where I couldn’t get the theme song out of my head. However, my experience is limited other than having only seen The Garage, which he made with fellow silent film icon Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, whose name is mentioned frequently throughout the special features on Kino’s Blu-ray double feature release of Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages.
Before I get too far into this review it should first be said — to make sure it’s quite clear — just as I loved Kino’s Blu-ray treatment of The General, a more than 80-year-old film restored to look as if it was made yesterday (my review here), they have done it once again with both Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages. However, it should also be mentioned the source prints for these two films weren’t as well preserved as those for The General, but somehow that adds to the experience.
At one point during Sherlock Jr. the print is so damaged you think the reel may begin to burn before your eyes. I was legitimately anxious for the briefest of moments, almost thinking I was going to miss something. Once things cleared back up it was almost a revelation. I had been transported and almost forgot I was watching a Blu-ray and there wasn’t a projectionist in a booth behind me handling an 86-year-old print of the film.
Both films suffer from several scratches on pretty much every scene including debris, mold and other staining, but none of it affects the viewing as much as I’d say it almost enhances it such as the example mentioned above. Kino has done such an excellent job restoring the film to the best image quality they can, that the damage that does remain almost feels like it belongs there.
As for the films, Sherlock Jr. is excellent and features some spectacular in-camera effects, one of which I had to pause, rewind and watch in slow motion so I could figure out exactly how they did it. Best part about it was that while I could figure it out upon second glance, there was hardly any evidence giving the gag away. Three Ages isn’t as good as Sherlock, but Keaton is such a flawless performer that his sheer will to entertain the audience bleeds through the performance and makes for a highly enjoyable film.
The audio on both films is just as you would expect, excellent, with Kino offering a varied number of ways to enjoy both films. Both Sherlock Jr. and Three Ages include three different audio tracks. Sherlock is treated to the one “cleaner” mix of the six with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, but if the perfection of a DTS track concerns you, don’t worry, it fits perfectly and doesn’t sound over-produced or too modern for the content you’re watching.
Additionally on Sherlock Jr. there’s an audio commentary by film historian and admitted Buster Keaton fanatic, David Kalat. Unfortunately this track sounds way too scripted to absolutely fall in love with, and some of the material is duplicated in the other included featurettes, but there’s enough here to make it worth a listen.
Other features include a modern day tour of the filming locations on both films, which is actually more interesting than it sounds as John Bengston not only shows you where the films were shot, but gives information as to why and what significance those locations may hold. Both films also feature stills galleries and on Three Ages there’s an excerpt from D.W. Griffith’s Man’s Genesis, which partially inspired the “Stone Age” act of Keaton’s Three Ages, and the inspiration is quite evident after you give it a watch.
Kino also offers a way to watch Three Ages as three separate two-reel shorts. For modern day readers you can compare this to the way Dimension Home Entertainment split up Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City into separate stories for their special edition release. This results in “Stone Age” running just under 14 minutes, “Roman Age” running nearly 19 minutes and “Modern Age” clocking in at just over 26 minutes.
However, the best feature of the lot is the 22-minute featurette for Sherlock Jr. titled “Movie Magic and Mysteries.” Today’s films use CGI to wow us while in the 1920s they had to be a bit more creative if they wanted to pull certain moves off. I assume most people will be wowed when they consider when the film was made, but to watch this feature and learn to what lengths Keaton went is truly astonishing.
As I said in the opening, Kino has done it again with another great Buster Keaton Blu-ray release. If you’ve yet to purchase The General on Blu-ray now is as good a time as any to pick it up and add Sherlock Jr./Three Ages to your cart as well. Kino doesn’t issue Blu-rays all that often, but when they do they certainly get it right.