To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition

Universal kicks off its 100th birthday celebrations with a 50th anniversary restoration

Like a great piece of music or writing, a great film should leave its mark on the viewer. Few manage that quite as simply and effectively as Robert Mulligan’s screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel. A Hollywood great that’ll bring a tear to the eye of even the most hardened cynic.

Picture: Considering the abuse that Universal has received from some quarters over its treatment of catalogue releases on Blu-ray, this first of 13 highly-publicised new restorations scheduled for release in 2012 has a lot to prove.

While it’s considerably better than some of the company’s back catalogue, it also shows signs of digital-tampering – albeit nowhere near severe as on some of the studio’s earlier BD restorations. The main offender, as always it seems, it noise reduction. As Universal Studios Technical Services vice president Peter Scahde makes clear about the studio’s approach to grain retention in one of the disc’s featurettes, ‘We certainly don’t want grain to be nonexistent and make everything look flat, but where it causes an objectionable or distracting aspect of enjoying the film we want to manage it’. So while there’s plenty of grain in the VC-1 1.85:1 1080p encode, it’s clearly been digitally filtered, resulting in a smoother image that loses some of the finer details.

If this all sounds incredibly negative then it shouldn’t. For the most part this is a solid restoration, and a significant improvement on previous home releases. Indeed, most casual viewers might never notice the noise reduction issue. But, having seen what other studios have been able to do with similar material, it’s hard not to think that Universal has missed out on perfection this time around. With a little less reliance on digital tools, To Kill a Mockingbird could have been a crown jewel for Blu-ray restorations.
Picture rating: 3/5

Audio: The Blu-ray features both DTS-HD MA dual-mono and 5.1 audio options. While the former is naturally truest to the original mix, the surround track is worth a visitsing, sounding slightly more tonally balanced and keeping almost all of the audio (bar music and the odd effect such as an owl’s hooting) confined to the front of the soundfield.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: This single-disc release is loaded with extras including a U-Control mode packed with behind-the-scenes info and photos, an audio commentary, a 90-min retrospective documentary, a 98-min Q&A with Gregory Peck, a restoration promo and archival footage. The limited edition book-style packaging also features 44-pages of additional goodies including reproductions of Peck's original script pages, personal letters and storyboards.
Extras rating: 4/5

We say: The image isn’t quite perfect, but this is still a great Blu-ray package

Universal Pictures, All-region BD, £20 approx, On sale now