My Fair Lady a bloomin' nice experience on 4K disc
By Jim Bray
Wouldn't it be loverly if one of the all-time great musicals found new life in a pristine 4K video presentation, with newly-remastered and remixed Dolby Atmos audio?
It would, if you ask me. But no one asked me and we have to live with a newly scanned (at 8K, apparently) version of the restored and remastered My Fair Lady that debuted on Blu-ray several years back. So instead of a brand, spanking new and pristine print with state-of-the-art audio, we get a major upgrade from the Blu-ray as far as video quality is concerned, but that's about it.
Fortunately, that's enough.
I was all set to be disappointed. After all, Warner Brothers has made some really great 4K discs in the past, including ones from decades ago. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey, for example, looks and sounds so great in 4K it's almost like seeing it for the first time. Ditto for Paramount, who now appear to be distributing Warner video stuff.
Then I revisited the excellent "making of" documentary on the Blu-ray that accompanies the My Fair Lady 4K disc and was reminded just how much better the picture and sound are already compared to what they had to work with when they started the restoration process way back when. And I am once again amazed at what they've managed to pull off.
And it isn't as if the new 4K disc presentation isn't better than the Blu-ray. It is – appreciably. I A/B'd the 2015 Blu-ray with this 2021 4K disc and, while it definitely isn't as great a video experience as the abovementioned space oddity – and the new Raiders of the Lost Ark 4K is appreciably better as well – it's easily the best video version of this Lerner and Loewe classic, hands down.
So, yeah, if you love this film and you have the equipment to exploit the 4K disc, put aside some of your after-tax income to partake of this beauty.
My Fair Lady, besides reminding me of a Japanese sports car I owned back in the day, is one of the greatest Hollywood musicals. Based on the Broadway production starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, which was based on Fabian Socialist George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, it tells the story of an arrogant Brit (but I repeat myself..) linguist who bets an associate he can turn a poor, uneducated flower vendor into a lady who can be passed off as a "real lady" at an upper crust ball.
It's as elitist as all get out, but a marvelous fish out of water story made even more marvelous by Lerner and Loewe's music, with songs such as "I've grown accustomed to her face," "I could have danced all night," "Wouldn't it be loverly?" "With a little bit of luck," and many, many more. I'd argue it's Lerner and Loewe's masterpiece, and they've done some pretty good stuff as well (Brigadoon, Gigi, Paint your Wagon…). The only thing I'd change about the story is that I'd have Eliza shove those damn slippers up Higgins' you know what at the end…
I've loved My Fair Lady since my parents first took me to see it at a drive-in theatre when it first came out. So, I really, really wanted to see this given the "Indiana Jones" or "2001" treatment. I'm a tad disappointed. But only a tad.
On the other hand, as mentioned, I watched the documentary on the accompanying Blu-ray that showed a decrepit and failing film stock that was so far gone I'm amazed they even got great colour back into it (and, boy, did they!).
Helping me feel a bit better is the fact that the video really does look terrific overall. There's some softness evident in places, but for the most part it's really good.
And of course, the High Dynamic Range treatment doesn't hurt!
You can see the uptick in video right from the opening credits, images of flowers that are bright and colourful and crisp. Then we get to the "exterior" where the film opens, a rainy and depressing evening in which the elites' formal duds shine and the contrast between their clean faces and the smudged countenances of the "rabble" is even more noticeable than before.
Check it out! Colour, black levels, detail, contrast, you name it, My Fair Lady looks – well, loverly. Faces, costumes (wait till you see the costumes!), sets, it all looks great and is a definite upgrade from the Blu-ray that came from the same restoration. As, of course, it should.
I don't know why they decided not to redo the audio and I wish they had. It isn't as if the sound is substandard; it isn't. But having heard some "Dolby Atmosized" soundtracks from older movies (Raiders, for example), even though my audio system stops with 5.1, I wonder what could have been done with this great but old and analogue soundtrack.
'Twas not to be. Fortunately, other than a lack of the dynamics you can get from digital recording these days, it sounds really good anyway. I had to crank the volume a couple of notches from where I usually watch digital audio soundtracks, but the overall quality is still very nice.
It's a 96k Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack, crafted from the original movie's, and it even offers some good use of the rear channels.
The package includes a digital download code and the second Blu-ray, though the BD offers only supplements and not a copy of the film itself.
And those supplements are all ported over from the Blu-ray release, not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. Here's a list of what you get on that disc:
Most of these are pretty "missable", though I suppose they're interesting enough once. I enjoyed seeing "Show me" and "Wouldn't it be loverly" as sung by Audrey Hepburn (Marni Nixon, who also dubbed Natalie Wood's singing in West Side Story, subbed for her on the original soundtrack), who actually did a pretty creditable job – but the hour long "More Loverly Than Ever: The Making of My Fair Lady Then & Now" is first rate!
Hosted by Jeremy Brett, who played the love-struck Freddie in the movie, it's a fascinating look at the story, the filming, and the restoration – and if you had as much "4K angst" as I did, this look at resuscitating the classic might amaze you.
Bottom line? If you want the best My Fair Lady you can get to date, this one is definitely for you. As much as I wanted it even better, having compared it with the previous release I can assure you that this is, at least so far, the definitive My Fair Lady.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray