Release Date(s)1968 (October 12, 2010)
Studio(s)Romulus Films/Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: Though we’re reviewing the films in this set one by one, Oliver! is currently only available on physical 4K disc in Sony’s Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 2 box set. It’s available on Amazon by clicking here, or on any of the artwork pictured in this review.]
An orphan named Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) finds himself adrift in the slums of 19th century London in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel. Living in servitude in an English workhouse, young Oliver makes the mistake of asking for more gruel at dinner one evening. This outrages Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe), the workhouse master, and soon Oliver finds himself up for sale. Purchased for a paltry sum by a mortician and his family, Oliver is treated cruelly but quickly escapes and makes the trek to London. On his first day there, he runs into a wily young pickpocket nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild), who admits Oliver into his secret society—a hidden den of street thieves, led by the wizened and crafty Fagin (Ron Moody). Oliver is welcomed by these castaways, schooled in the art of pickpocketing and told that, if he works hard, he can one day become as good as Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed), a cold-hearted professional thief whom the boys all admire. Oliver is also befriended by Sikes’ girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis), a kind barmaid resigned to the life she lives, but who believes that Oliver deserves better.
Although none of the actors here won Oscars in 1968 (all the awards went to the production, including Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Sir Carol Reed), their performances are first rate. Oliver! couldn’t have been better cast. Young Lester has a soft-spoken, rosy-cheeked manner that you immediately empathize with and he’s got an angel’s voice. Jack Wild is equally good as the mischievous Dodger. Shani Wallis was a newcomer when she took this role, but she’s wonderful too. It’s Ron Moody as Fagin, though, who really shines here in a clownish, funny, and highly-entertaining performance. His scraggly beard, rumpled clothing, and shifty eyes give the impression that he’s always thinking three moves ahead as he scurries and darts among the shadows. And the songs in this classic musical are gems, including Oliver!, Food, Glorious Food, Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two, Be Back Soon, I’d Do Anything, and Who Will Buy? among others—they’re delightful to a number.
Oliver! was shot on 35 mm photochemical film by cinematographer Oswald Morris, and finished photochemically at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Sony has scanned the surviving original camera negative in 4K, along with a 1970s-era 35 mm interpositive (which was used for two reels of the OCN that have been lost). Significant digital clean-up and restoration followed in a process supervised by Sony’s Grover Crisp (work that built upon a photochemical restoration of the OCN that Crisp was involved in back the mid-1990s). The image was then graded for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is available here). The result certainly can’t be called reference-quality, but it’s significantly better than either of the previous Blu-ray editions. Detail is notably improved—save for a few shots that are optically soft as originally filmed—with more refined texturing visible in faces, costume fabrics, and especially in the stone and brickwork that’s abundant in the London settings. Contrast is much enhanced by the HDR grade, with deeper shadows that still retain detail, and more naturally bold highlights that benefit snow, bright skies, gleaming brass, lamplight, and torch flames. Photochemical grain is moderate (and occasionally strong, likely the interpositive material) but organic at all times. The wider gamut improves the palette too, with more life-like skin coloring, greater subtleties of earth tones, deeper blues and reds, and much greater overall naturalism. In the Bloomsbury Square number (Who Will Buy), the children’s school uniforms veritably burst off the screen in vivid yellow and blue. On a personal note, I’ve seen Oliver! at least a dozen times over the years, including multiple theater screenings (one occasion for which I was the projectionist), and this is by far the best this film has ever looked in my experience.
The primary audio option on Sony’s 4K release is a new object-based English Dolby Atmos mix that has a significantly bigger, broader, and more immersive soundstage—with a fuller tonal quality and a higher reference volume level—than the previous Blu-ray’s English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix (which is also included here, as is that BD’s 2.0 DTS-HD MA mix). The original audio stems no longer survive, so an AI process was employed to separate dialogue, music, vocals and effects discretely from the original 35 mm magnetic 4-track LCRS master, and from this the Atmos mix was created. Oliver! certainly doesn’t require an Atmos mix, as there’s not a great deal of surround play or movement in the mix. The most sonically lively scene in the film is the tavern drinking number late in the second act (Oom-Pah-Pah) and even then the soundstage is mostly front loaded. Still, the Atmos does offer the aforementioned improvements. Overall clarity is excellent, with ample low end, and the music is presented in fine fidelity. What this mix does quite well is to create unique sonic spaces—the cavernous workhouse lunch hall, for example, or the undertaker’s basement. The streets of London bustle with activity, and the train whistle actually has a bit of lift in the height channels. Some analog hiss, crackle, pops, and distortion have also been eliminated. This mix isn’t likely to dazzle, but the film has certainly never sounded better than it does here. Additional audio options include German, Italian, and Castilian Spanish in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format, French 2.0 mono in DTS-HD MA, Czech, Mandarin, and Thai 2.0 mono in Dolby Digital format, Portuguese 2.0 stereo in Dolby Digital, and Latin Spanish Dolby Surround. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Bulgarian, Traditional Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
Sony’s 4K disc includes no special features, however the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, sourced from the new 4K master. That disc adds the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Steven C. Smith
- Jack Wild Screen Test (HD – 1:26)
- Original Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (HD – 7:35)
- Meeting Oliver! (HD – 14:43)
- Meeting Fagin! (HD – 13:21)
- The Locations of Oliver! (SD – 5 segments – 4:37 in all)
- Sing-Alongs (HD – 8 tracks – 36:09)
- Dance-Alongs (HD – 3 tracks – 12:53 in all)
- Dance and Sing-Alongs (HD – 3 tracks – 10:13)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:41)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:41)
- Awards Trailer (HD – 4:09)
The audio commentary, Jack Wild Screen Test, and a couple of the trailers are new inclusions for this release. The Locations of Oliver! was produced for Sony’s 2018 Blu-ray release. The rest of these extras appeared on Twilight Time’s 2013 Blu-ray edition (reviewed here). Really, the only thing that’s missing is the Isolated Score Track from the Twilight Time BD, so be sure to keep that edition if you wish.
It should also be noted that the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 2 box includes Movies Anywhere Digital codes for all of the films in the set, including this one. It also offers a beautiful 80-page hardcover book with liner notes (including Notes on Oliver! by John Kenrick), as well as a bonus Blu-ray that features 20 short films from the Columbia Pictures library. For the record, that bonus disc includes the following, all on HD:
- Umpa (1933 – 16:32)
- The Three Stooges: Disorder in the Court (1936 – 16:38)
- Charley Chase: Man Bites Lovebug (1937 – 17:50)
- >Color Rhapsodies: Little Match Girl (1937 – 8:17)
- Charley Chase: The Sap Takes a Wrap (1939 – 16:16)
- Color Rhapsodies: Dog, Cat and Canary (1945 – 6:10)
- Jolly Frolics: The Ragtime Bear (1949 – 7:14)
- Jolly Frolics: The Wonder Gloves (1951 – 6:50)
- Jolly Frolics: Georgie and the Dragon (1951 – 6:43)
- Jolly Frolics: Madeline (1952 – 6:40)
- Jolly Frolics: Pete Hothead (1952 – 6:52)
- The Tell-Tale Heart (1953 – 7:45)
- When Magoo Flew (1954 – 6:31)
- The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1954 – 6:49)
- Christopher Crumpet’s Playmate (1955 – 6:30)
- Stage Door Magoo (1955 – 6:28)
- April in Portugal (1956 – 20:14)
- The ChubbChubbs! (2002 – 5:40)
- The Early Hatchling Gets the Worm (2016 – 2:06)
- Puppy! A Hotel Transylvania Short (2017 – 4:53)
And while the individual discs come packaged in a traditional 2-disc keepcase (with a cardboard slipcover), the insert artwork is based on the film’s original theatrical poster (you can see both pictured below).
Oliver! is worthy Best Picture winner, and a rousing and engaging big-screen musical gem—one of my favorites in this genre. The film holds up extremely well all these years later and Sony’s new 4K restoration presents it well indeed. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt