A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
A LIMITLESS tracking shot showing the universe peacefully expanding and contracting shifts to a very specific night during World War II when a girl talks desperately on a radio to . . . . A sudden cut plunges us into the awful noise and chaos of a roaring, burning Lancaster Bomber, wind rushing through holes punched by ack-ack shells, as it descends into its final dive. The pilot who kept the plane aloft while his crew evacuated has no parachute, just courage, gallows humor, and style under pressure. And thus, two people fall in love without ever having met. When the man somehow survives his jump into the sea despite his being recorded in Heaven as dead, he argues that his love and this mistake give him the right to his day in celestial court. The conceit by writers-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, however, is that this all may be hallucinations caused by a head injury.
The Criterion Collection’s glorious restoration uses a 4K scan from the original 35mm three-strip Technicolor negatives. Jack Cardiff’s deep-focus compositions look sharp throughout, with plentiful detail even in shadows and the gloom of frequent low lighting. Figures and faces are solid and dimensional. Each of the worlds has a very different look, but both feature enough grain to convey a film-like quality without compromising resolution. Beach scenes show vast tactile waves of wet sand, pools, and individual blades of scrub grass, and the excellent contrast helps to differentiate everything. Technicolor terrestrial scenes have a gorgeous, painterly saturated-yet-restrained palette with a wide range of velvety colors and natural skin tones. Black-and-white
Heaven features an equally wide, beautiful range of gray tones.
Effects in the remastered mono soundtrack are very realistic. A shepherd boy playing pan pipes lends a scene an archaic quality until a bomber roars in low overhead. Rain, vehicles, and a ping-pong game are all convincing, and the classical score presents a clear, full wall-of-sound.
A commentary by film historian Ian
Christie focuses on the production, while an intro by Martin Scorsese and interview with Scorsese’s editor
Thelma Schoonmaker and Powell’s widow both offer analysis of the directors’ visual style.
BLU-RAY STUDIO: Criterion, 1946 ASPECT RATIO: 1.37:1 HDR FORMAT: NA AUDIO FORMAT: Linear PCM Mono LENGTH: 104 mins. DIRECTOR: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger STARRING: David Niven,Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Kim Hunter, Marius Goring