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In this year of 'The Artist,' it only seems fitting to take a second glance at 'Wings,' the winner of the first Best Picture Academy Award and still one of the finest and most thrilling aerial adventures of all time. This World War I tale of courage, friendship, romance, and devastation, even after 85 years, still possesses the power to dazzle our senses and wring a potent emotional response, and Paramount's glorious restoration allows us to see this epic the way director William Wellman envisioned it. Excellent video quality, first-rate audio, and a decent smattering of supplements all contribute to a superior release that no serious film buff should rebuff. So buckle up, take to the skies, and marvel at the scope and artistry of this ambitious and affecting movie. Highly recommended.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
If only all of us could look this good when we're 85! Paramount has done a superior job remastering and restoring 'Wings,' making this silent antique look far younger than its advanced age. If you happen to steer clear of silent films due to poor picture quality, jerky images, and fast projection speeds, rest assured you won't encounter any of those nagging issues here. As smooth as silk and as pristine as a newly minted penny, 'Wings' is a visually enthralling experience from start to finish, featuring perfectly pitched sepia-toned and black-and-white photography, a fine grain structure that possesses a lovely texture, and excellent contrast.
Of course some scenes are clearer than others and a couple of rough patches creep in now and then, but that's to be expected for a film of this vintage. On the whole, however, all the elements have been meticulously massaged to create images that boast impressive depth and a stunning immediacy, putting us square in the cockpit or gunnery seat and up in the air with the steel-nerved pilots who navigate the treacherous skies with breathtaking virtuosity. Any print defects have been erased, and the hand-painted bursts of yellow flames used to enhance fiery crashes and heated dogfights are startlingly distinct, adding an extra layer of style and a flash of color to the brutal battle scenes.
Black levels are deep and inky, especially in the black-and-white sequences, and pleasing variances of tone lend the visuals greater presence and impact. Close-ups are a bit gauzy, but that's typical of the time period, yet clarity remains solid. Shadow detail is fine, too, and no edge sharpening, noise, or banding afflict the picture. A couple of missing frames here and there occasionally break the spell, but this is a stellar rendering made all the more remarkable when one considers the advanced age of this classic film.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
It seems odd to say sound is an important aspect in the overall success of a silent film, but a quality music track and crisp effects can substantially improve the viewing experience. A high-octane action movie such as 'Wings' gains momentum from solid audio, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers in spades. The music score, which incorporates many period and classical melodies, fills the room with superior fidelity and an exceptional clarity of tone as it perfectly complements light-hearted, dramatic, and warfare scenes. Bright highs and weighty lows are handled with ease by a broad dynamic scale, with plenty of palpable yet well-integrated bass seasoning the mix. When bombs explode, we may not hear the destruction or chaotic mayhem, but we feel their impact and force as they hit the ground, and it's enough to immerse us in the thick of the scene.
Directionality is quite good, too. The score bleeds into all five speakers, while many effects, such as propellers, engines revving and sputtering, marching feet, shells whistling through the air, even floating champagne bubbles in a light-hearted Folies Bergeres scene, benefit from distinct stereo separation up front. This is not an old track, so surface noise and age-related imperfections aren't an issue, and no distortion disrupts the sound's purity. For those seeking a more traditional silent movie experience, there's also a stereo organ track included on the disc, which represents how 'Wings' might have played to some 1927 audiences.
But it's the DTS-HD audio that really shines, providing a contemporary sonic experience for this antique film, making it more relatable, exciting, and involving.
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