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Schindler's List: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition (Blu-ray)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz

(US DVD: 5 Mar 2013)

I was born in 1970, so my upbringing more or less mirrored Speilberg’s filmmaking career after he became a household name when he directed Jaws. From the fanciful notions of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. to the thrills of the Indiana Jones movies, he and George Lucas gave some hope to my difficult childhood.

As I matured, so did Spielberg, tackling movies like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun before culminating in Schindler’s List. Yes, it wasn’t quite a linear progression, since such films as Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Hook were sprinkled in there during the late ‘80s and ‘90s, but the overall trend was always toward more serious subject matter.

Of course, it was probably better for Speilberg to make Schindler’s List later in his career rather than earlier. As he has noted, he needed time to mature as a director before taking on such a weighty subject—he is said to have responded “Ten years from now” when the question “When are you making the movie?” was posed in 1983. That’s something I’ve always admired about him, even when he makes a movie that misfires, he directs films when the time is right for him to do so, not when the studio demands it or the whims of a fickle moviegoing public may be headed in a certain direction.

A mostly black-and-white film about such a dreary subject was certainly not guaranteed to be a box office hit, but Spielberg and screenwriter Steven Zaillian had an intriguing character at the center of the story. Oskar Schindler was a Nazi Party member interested only in making as much money off the war as he could before heading for less-stressful surroundings, and early in the film we see him enlisting the help of Itzhak Stern purely for that effort. Like the other Germans, he is only interested in getting out of the Jewish community whatever he can, while he can.

Even his eventual change is not like a lightning bolt suddenly striking him. He witnesses abuses here and there but does not begin to act until the Krakow ghetto liquidation happens. Eventually he spends his entire fortune to save several hundred Jews from deportation to a concentration camp, but he is left a tortured soul by the end, wondering how many more he could have saved had he only given up every last bit of his wealth.

I’m among those who find Schindler’s final speech a bit overwrought, but it’s certainly not enough to derail the cumulative experience of this film. It remains a vitally important movie that will, along with other Holocaust films, help future generations never forget what happened.

This Blu-ray + DVD release is mostly a port of the earlier DVD edition. The film occupies the Blu-ray disc by itself and has never looked nor sounded better. The two accompanying DVDs contain a standard-def version of the movie along with an introduction to the USC Shoah Foundation Story by Spielberg and About IWitness, a new piece that discusses an online application for schools to use when teaching students about the Holocaust.

The second DVD also contains the 77-minute Voices From the List, which was found in the earlier release too. It features interviews with Holocaust survivors and their descendants and is a worthwhile supplement to the film.

I would have liked to see some additional materials about the making of the film, but I certainly respect Spielberg’s feeling that any home video release of Schindler’s List should focus on the subject matter, not on him. It’s another reason why I like him: While some directors might feel the need to talk about themselves on a home video release, he prefers to stay in the background as much as possible and let the subject matter speak for him.


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