Ever since I started reviewing films, I have had my
own scale. It goes like this:
0 – no redeeming qualities
1 – bad, but something was good about it
2 – almost good, but something was bad about it
3 – good, entertaining
4 – above average, very good
5 – extremely well done, exceptional
6 – legendary, historical, epic
I have been accused of liking everything, but I think that is because in most cases, I do get lost in films and find something to enjoy in almost anything. I think my scale covers pretty much any level of enjoyment (or lack thereof) in any film. While very few movies get a full 0, it is also true that very few movies get a 6. There have been many 5’s, many of my all-time favorite films are 5’s, but it is rare to find a 6 among even the best films. One film that has always been a 6 in my book is Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which is finally making its Blu-ray debut on March 5, 2013.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is a shrewd businessman and a war profiteer. As World War II commences, Schindler initially sees it as an opportunity to make a lot of money. He is well connected and greases the palms of many high ranking officials in the Nazi party of which he is also part of. Schindler acquires a factory that makes army mess kits. As he employs more Jewish workers, he starts to realize the true cost of the war and decides to start hiring as many Jews as he can since they are deemed relatively safe if employed by Schindler. He continues to bring in as many Jews as he can at immense cost to himself, trying to keep them from the inevitable fate they would be doomed to outside of his employment.
Schindler’s List is an example of a film that is so much more than a film. Not only did it portray real life events, it told a story that desperately needed to be told. People had to know that even amidst the worst evil the world has known, there was good operating as well. Spielberg also started the Shoah Foundation when he made Schindler’s List, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of the Holocaust and documenting the genocide by recording firsthand accounts of survivors. To date they have recorded over 50,000 testimonials.
The film itself is a towering achievement as well. Every frame is a haunting yet beautiful portrait; every performance is taken on with a heavy heart and a yearning for authenticity. Liam Neeson brilliantly portrays the unbreakable determination of a man who never wanted to be a hero, but came to realize the value of life and dedicate himself to preserving it. The same goes for Ben Kingsley’s performance and the courageous and equally determined Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s stalwart assistant. In stark contrast, Ralph Fiennes horrifying portrayal of Amon Goeth, the commander of the Płaszów concentration camp. Fiennes is scarier here than any horror movie maniac could ever be. He does not see himself as a bad person, he believes what he is doing is good work. He even has the capacity to love a Jewish girl, but ultimately his beliefs even overpower that love. His performance is the definition of chilling and to this day is one of the best screen performances I have ever seen.
Aside from all of the stellar and too realistic to even believe they are not real performances, the other thing that is so incredible about the film is the look of it. Spielberg went with black and white for Schindler’s List; a choice that I think artistically was very smart. For some reason I think it was much more haunting and stark in black and white, and I almost think if the film was in color it would have been too overpowering. I think technically this is easily Spielberg’s most accomplished work, and I tend to think there is little chance he can ever top it in terms of pure brilliance. The fact that he was so personally connected to the material and so passionate about the project really made him a better filmmaker than he already was. Every single frame of the film is a beautifully composed work of art. Every set piece, every costume, every bit of light filtered through smoke was the right choice and awe inspiring to look at. Schindler’s List is the definition of a masterwork and rightfully claims its place among films like Lawrence of Arabia and Citizen Kane, but does tend to surpass them in terms of overall importance. It is the heart of the story in Schindler’s List and the combination of everything about it and how it all came together that really makes me think this may be the greatest film ever made. And I do not say that lightly. This really is the one film that every human being should see at some point in their life. It goes beyond entertainment, beyond art, and becomes something more. It is about humanity and what we have done wrong, and what we can do right.
The Blu-ray from Universal is perfection. Watching Schindler’s List on Blu-ray is like sitting in an art gallery and watching the paintings dance. The contrast in the black and white picture is minutely detailed and rich beyond what I thought possible. The small parts that do incorporate color do so effectively and flawlessly, and the soundtrack is wholly immersive and can often be just as terrifying as the visuals. Also included are hours of essential supplements that are required viewing not only on the making of this landmark film, but on the work of the Shoah Foundation. There are not many films in my collection that I would actually claim to be proud to own, but Schindler’s List fits that bill. No collection should be without this Blu-ray, it should be an essential element to any library.
Available March 5. 2013 on Blu-ray and DVD.