The Steven Spielberg: Director’s Collection is a fine selection, that Universal has access to, that general movies fans will appreciate, even if a couple aren’t that great (1941 and Always specifically). However, given the studio’s history, those who already own previous releases like E.T. and Jurassic Park, could wait as I’m sure the exclusive titles will come available on their own at some point down the road.
Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection
Universal | NR – 964 min. – $199.98 | October 14, 2014
I’m going to do something slightly different for this review. People know Steven Spielberg, who is easily one of the more prolific directors in the past 20-30 years, so I’m going to focus on this massive set, the features and the video and audio transfer, in particular the newly minted HD transfers for a few long-sought titles, for the most part anyway, and packaging in fan favorites… well, for the most part, sans one glaring film.
Quickly, here is what’s included in this set:
- Duel (1971) – A traveling salesman (DENNIS WEAVER) is terrorized by an unseen trucker on a remote desert highway.
- The Sugarland Express (1974) – A mother (GOLDIE HAWN) desperately attempts to reunite her family by helping her husband escape prison and kidnapping their son.
- Jaws (1975) – When a seaside community is under attack by a great white shark, the chief of police (ROY SCHEIDER), a marine biologist (RICHARD DREYFUSS) and a shark hunter (ROBERT SHAW) embark on a quest to destroy the beast.
- 1941 (1979) – Pandemonium erupts in Los Angeles after the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor in this wartime spoof starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.
- ET the Extraterrestrial (1982) – A lost alien befriends a 10-year-old boy (HENRY THOMAS) who helps him find a way home.
- Always (1989) – After sacrificing himself to save a friend (JOHN GOODMAN), a daredevil firefighting pilot (RICHARD DREYFUSS) returns to earth to help his surviving girlfriend (HOLLY HUNTER) move on.
- Jurassic Park (1993) – Journey to an amazing theme park on a remote island where dinosaurs once again roam the earth and five people must battle to survive among the prehistoric predators.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – Four years since the disaster at Jurassic Park, two groups are in a race against time that will determine the fate of the remote island’s prehistoric inhabitants.
It’s a good collection, though one glaring inclusion is the much lauded Lost World: Jurassic Park which, although I didn’t think it was awful, certainly pales in comparison to its predecessor. Heck, even 1941 is a worthy inclusion as it’s not nearly as bad as some make it out to be, though certainly one of Spielberg’s weaker outings, alongside Always, still ahead of The Lost World and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.25/5
This 8-disc set comes housed in a book-style case with each moving getting its own “page” with plot outline, a quote from Spielberg and the movie poster. This book is encased in a cardboard slip case and also inside is a 55+ page booklet dedicated to each movie with behind-the-scenes stories from Spielberg.
Duel — 3.0/5
A Conversation with Steven Spielberg (35:44; SD) – This retrospective featurette has Spielberg recalling making Duel and its origins.
Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen (9:27; SD) takes a look at the director and his resistance in working on television shows and movies, including Duel.
Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel (9:24; SD) has the short-story writer discussing the movie and how he came up with the story.
Also included is a Photograph and Poster Gallery and the Trailer (1:00; SD).
The Sugarland Express — 0.5/5
Theatrical Trailer (3:19; SD)
Jaws — 4.5/5 (Copied from Previous Blu-ray release)
Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (13:33; SD) is a collection of scenes, and outtakes, which don’t offer much and wouldn’t have added much, if at all, to the final cut. Of course, it’s nice to see them here.
The Making of Jaws (2:02:48; SD) – This massive, feature-length documentary takes the viewer through each aspect of making the film containing interviews with Steven Spielberg, Author Peter Benchley, Stars Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and many others. If only other making-of featurettes were this well put together; it’s well worth the time to watch.
The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws (1:41:21; SD) is a new, 10-part, retrospective featurette, narrated by Roy Scheider, which has been worked on for many years and compiles behind-the-scenes footage/pictures and audio from the set. It goes over many of the complications that permeated the shooting as well as the cultural impact it had then and today. This features new interviews with the cast and crew (inc. Dreyfuss, Spielberg, Scheider, Benchley, etc) and others not directly associated (Kevin Smith).
Jaws: The Restoration (8:28; HD) is a short but fascinating featurette showing how the film was restored to pristine condition.
From the Set (8:56; SD) is an archive featurette with old footage from the 1974 filming.
Under Jaws Archives there are Storyboards, Production Photos, Marketing Jaws (posers and ads), Jaws Phenomenon with overseas advertising.
Theatrical Trailer (3:15; SD)
1941 — 4.0/5
Extended Version (2:26:06; HD), with 27-minutes of re-inserted footage, is also available in HD via seamless branching.
The Making of 1941 (1:41:11; SD) is a multi-part featurette covering casting, script changes, real-life influences, etc. It’s a good look back and an honest one in its critical reception.
Deleted Scenes (8:39; SD) include a handful of scenes removed for one reason or another.
Also included are some Production Photographs and the Theatrical Trailer (6:07; SD).
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial — 4.5/5
Deleted Scenes (3:40; HD) include scenes removed though with no introduction, we don’t get reasons, though I suspect due to pacing issues.
Steven Spielberg & E.T. (12:31; HD) looks at the origins of the movie and how/when he came with the concept and how it personally impacted him.
The E.T. Journals (53:38; SD) is a two-part making-of documentary shot on location back in 1981 and is well made and unique to even get something this old when BTS was not exactly routine.
A Look Back (37:43; SD) is a retrospective featurette made, I think, back during its 20th anniversary or thereabouts.
The Evolution and Creation of E.T. (50:16; SD) is another well-made featurette, made for the 20th anniversary, containing interviews with the cast, especially Spielberg, to go along with BTS footage from back then.
The E.T. Reunion (17:56; SD) is a fun reunion with the cast and crew 20 years later.
The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams (10:04; SD) – The composer provides his insights into creating the iconic score.
The 20th Anniversary Premiere (17:49; SD) covers the premiere event for the big event release.
Also includes some Designs, Photographs and Marketing material, the Theatrical Trailer (1:57; SD) and the Special Olympics TV Spot (1:02; SD). And for the sake of completeness I will mention there is a BD-Live portal, but nowadays it’s a useless feature…
Always — 0.5/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:18; SD)
Jurassic Park — 4.25/5 (Copied from Trilogy Set)
Return to Jurassic Park: Dawn of a New Era (25:25; HD) – This retrospective featurette contains some nice on-set footage mixed in with new interview footage with Steven Spielberg, Actors Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Ariana Richards (Lex) and Joseph Mazzello (Tim), and those within the prod:uction department plus archive interviews with Michael Crichton, Stan Winston as well as others.
Return to Jurassic Park: Making Prehistory (20:16; HD) – The second part to the six-part documentary (spread across the three films) covers more of shooting the film (on sound stages) and gives more insight into Spielberg’s process. It’s more of the same and has the same participants as listed above.
Return to Jurassic Park: The Next Step in Evolution (15:03; HD) – Part three delves into the post production (VFX, sound design, scoring), theatrical release and audience reaction to the film as well as the box office smash it became.
Under Archival Featurettes we get: The Making of Jurassic Park (49:39; SD), an expansive featurette, hosted by James Earl Jones, which actually covers quite a bit of ground; Original Featurette on the Making of the Film (4:50; SD) is your usual EPK featurette that was only made to advertise the movie; Steven Spielberg Directs Jurassic Park (9:07; SD) is a fly-on-the-wall featurette focusing on the direction by Spielberg; and Hurricane in Kauai Featurette (2:09; SD) is a recount of the hurricane that hit the location they were shooting at.
In Behind the Scenes there’s Early Pre-Production Meetings (6:20; SD) containing some basic footage of Spielberg and others exchanging ideas for the different dinosaurs and their movements; Location Scouting (1:59; SD) finds the crew checking out different areas in Hawaii to shoot; Phil Tippett Animatics: Raptors in the Kitchen (3:04; SD) is some test footage for the raptor is it enters the kitchen; Animatics: T-Rex Attack (7:21; SD) is more test footage (along with storyboards to fill in the gaps), this time for the attack scene; ILM and Jurassic Park: Before and After the Visual Effects (6:32; SD) is an interesting featurette where you get to see how it all started in the numerous stages and then the finished product; Foley Tests (1:25; SD) are test footage for the sound effects; lastly there are galleries for Storyboards and Productions Archives like photos, sketches and paintings.
We also get the Theatrical Trailer (1:18; SD) and Jurassic Park: Making the Game (4:43; SD).
The Lost World: Jurassic Park — 4.0/5 (Copied from Trilogy Set)
Deleted Scenes (7:09; SD) – Here are a set of scenes that don’t add a whole lot, just some miscellaneous stuff that is downright boring (unless you think a corporate board meeting is thrilling).
Return to Jurassic Park: Finding The Lost World (27:40; HD) is part four of the six-part documentary, this time covering the sequel. Again, we get more on-set footage intermixed with new interviews with Spielberg, Goldblum, Peter Stormare and others. The group talks about how to approach the story for the sequel (including using the shaving cream canister Dino DNA hidden) but ultimately going with Crichton’s book and distinguishing it from the original in terms of style.
Return to Jurassic Park: Something Survived (16:30; HD) – This is the final part covering The Lost World and has some more behind-the-scenes footage, getting into the San Diego shoot, mechanical puppetry, sound design and visual effects.
Archival Featurettes includes: The Making of The Lost World (53:14; SD) which is a well made documentary that encompasses just about every aspect, from the story to visual effects, of filming the sequel; Original Featurette on the Making of the Film (13:17; SD) is very basic and uses some of the footage from the previous featurette and was probably used to promote the film; The Jurassic Park Phenomenon: A Discussion with Author Michael Crichton (15:27; SD) finds the creator chatting about how big the books, and how they came to be, and movies were; The Compie Dance Number (1:38; HD) is a thank you to Spielberg from ILM.
Behind the Scenes has: ILM & The Lost World: Before & After the Visual Effects (20:44; SD) featurette which is cool to watch; Production Archives containing production photos, concept drawings, models, posters, etc.; and a Storyboards gallery.
And last, the Theatrical Trailer (1:58; SD).
VIDEO (Avg.) – 4.25/5
Duel — 4.5/5
One of Spielberg’s early works, this 40+ year old film looks really good. Detail levels are sharp and colors appear to be
well balanced and not pumped up or oversaturated. This 1080p transfer is apparent that Universal took some care with it.
The Sugarland Express — 4.25/5
This crime-drama makes its debut on Blu-ray presented in its original 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer. Although at times the picture looks sketchy, showing its age in some spots, this HD transfer does have good detail levels and colors appear to be natural.
Jaws — 4.5/5 (Copied from Previous Blu-ray release)
Jaws swims and bites on Blu-ray for the first time with an amazing looking, fully-restored 1080p transfer. The picture is pristine, free of dust, scratches and other flaws that tend to permeate older films like this. The color array also looks incredible along with the detail level which is absolutely fantastic. They painstakingly restored the picture and didn’t just do a half-ass (i.e. cheap) transfer like so many other studios have done.
1941 — 4.25/5
This new 1080p high-definition transfer, presented in its original 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio, looks pretty good. Details tend to be good though it was shot with a soft lense, almost like fog, which inevitably looked pretty bad on DVD, and colors are well balanced. It’s a solid update.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial — 4.75/5
Previously released in 2012 for the movie’s 30th anniversary, E.T. looks fantastic in 1080p high-definition, presented in its original 1.85 widescreen aspect ratio, where colors are bright and cheerful, there’s absolutely no signs of banding, artifacting or aliasing and it’s just an all around pleasing looking HD picture.
Always — 4.25/5
The film comes back from the afterlife with a new 1080p high-definition transfer presented in its original theatrical 1.85 widescreen aspect ratio. The picture might not be the prettiest but details aren’t bad while colors appear to be well balanced ranging from brightness during daylight scenes, not to mention oranges in the firefight ones, to good dark starkness for nighttime shots.
Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park — 3.75/5 (Copied from Trilogy Set)
Universal has given each film a new 1080p, VC-1 encoded high-def transfer. First, on the whole, I was a disappointed with these mainly because they’re not a particularly pretty looking picture. Jurassic Park (4.0/5) looks pretty good at times, in fact I would say great during the close-ups, and yet during other times looked overly sharp and lacked fine detail and film grain. I don’t know if DNR was used but at the same time, given it is now 18 years old, it gets a passing grade. I can’t quite say the same thing about The Lost World: Jurassic Park (3.5/5), however. I immediately noticed that this transfer was very dark (though that is how Spielberg directed it) and surprisingly soft with very little film grain or noise. I won’t say it’s a bad looking transfer, but it is the worst of the three films. Colors aren’t bad and don’t look oversaturated.
AUDIO (Avg.) – 4.5/5
Duel — 4.0/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provided is pretty impressive providing the sights and sounds of the car vs. truck engine throughout the film helping give the track a more dynamic feel though the bulk of the audio comes through the center channel. Also included is a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track which is a mono stereo track.
The Sugarland Express — 4.0/5
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is serviceable though it seems this is more of a stereo mono track with the bulk of the audio coming through the center channel. Dialogue does sound crisp and clear while the more action elements does tend to be flat; still, on the whole, it’s a nice upgrade over any DVD release…
Jaws — 4.5/5 (Copied from Previous Blu-ray release)
Also an amazing upgrade is the disc’s 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track. With 7 channels, you get full immersed with John William’s signature Jaws theme to go along with strong dialogue levels from the center channel and ambient noises (often water) from the front and rear channels. Together with the video, any cinephile will be more than satisfied with the transfer.
1941 — 4.0/5
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a mixed bag. Dialogue is a bit uneven with one scene its soft, even quiet while others levels seem to be just about right. Also, when we do get some action scenes, such as when Belushi accidentally blows up a gas station, those elements are relegated to the center channel. Still, the track is at least functional and a certain upgrade over any previous incarnation.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial — 5.0/5
The movie includes an incredible 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio track which shows off not only clear dialogue levels, not to mention some of the more action-oriented scenes, but John Williams’ iconic score really shines through in every channel but especially the front and rear speakers. This is an all-encompassing lossless track and well worth showing off along with a fantastic movie.
Always — 4.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provided offers clear dialogue and the action/firefight scenes, give some good depth but as with E.T., the most impressive aspect of this lossless track is John Williams’ whimsical/dramatic score.
Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park — 5.0/5 (Copied from Trilogy Set)
Where the video might have been ho-hum or not up to expectations, each of the film’s 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks sounded absolutely fantastic (each film I give a 5/5). The dialogue levels all sounded great, never drowned out by the surroundings while the action sequences cranks up the intensity with floor shaking bass levels and incredible audio coming from each channel. If the video disappoints or causes you to be hesitant to pick this set up, the audio should alleviate any doubt as it alone is worth the purchase price.
OVERALL – 4.5/5
Overall, the Steven Spielberg: Director’s Collection is a fine selection, that Universal has access to, that general movies fans will appreciate, even if a couple aren’t that great (1941 and Always specifically). However, given the studio’s history, those who already own previous releases like E.T. and Jurassic Park, could wait as I’m sure the exclusive titles will come available on their own at some point down the road.