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Oliver!Oliver! The Gift Set on DVD and CD

Sony Pictures' new DVD release of Oliver! may be a bit of a rehash, but it's also a nifty way to get your Oliver! fix on both video and audio.

That's because the new Oliver! gift set includes two discs in two packages: the original DVD of the 1968 Oscar-winning film, and a compact disc of the movie soundtrack. It's a pretty neat package, though we'd have liked to see both video and audio discs being restored and remastered to bring them up to snuff technologically

Not that they suck, but they could be better.

The movie won six 1968 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it deserved them all. It's a bouncy and likable story "freely adapted" from Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," and features wonderful performances, sets, production numbers, and more.

The DVD has been mixed into Dolby Surround and it looks and sounds good, but having reviewed such remasterings as Gone with the Wind, we've come to expect more in late 2005. The color is great, but the picture's grainy in places and a tad thin looking. It's also a tad thin sounding, though still enjoyable.

The CD of the soundtrack appears to have been taken right from the movie, rather than being performed in a recording studio like many soundtrack records are traditionally. So while the performances are just like you see in the film, the audio quality is, unfortunately, on the thin side just like you hear with the film.

But it's a nice way to take along Oliver!'s memorable tunes when you aren't in the home theater.

Other than the unrestored quality of the sound, the only real problem with the audio is the dubbed singing voice of Oliver himself (Mark Lester), which was actually sung by Kathy Green, the musical director's daughter. It's a case of nepotism that should have been condemned, because it sticks out like a sore thumb and even threatens to spoil a marvelous production number like "Who Will Buy?" We don't know if Lester couldn't sing, but Green's voice is totally lifeless, so much so it threatens to suck the life out of the rest of the production - especially on "Where is Love" and "Who Will Buy."

Fortunately, even Green's voice can't destoy the latter number, which still manages to shine. The other major production number, "Consider Yourself;" is also full of energy and beautifully staged with Onna White's choreography.

Ron Moody is outstanding as Fagin, the lovable felon and dubious mentor of the band of children. Oliver Reed is appropriately menacing as bad guy Bill Sikes, Shani Wallace is a very likable Nancy - and Jack Wild plays The Artful Dodger to the hilt.

The film deserves its place in movie history as one of the great movie musicals, and even in its unrestored state the DVD does it justice.

It's released on the DVD only in widescreen, which suits us just fine. You even get the exit music.

Alas, Sony has split the movie onto both sides of the DVD, which would have really rubbed us the wrong way if they hadn't done it at the most logical time: Intermission. But they mislabelled the disc, so that side A is really side B and vice versa. Duh!

Extras include a a photo gallery and a short (but pleasant) feature on the making of the film.

Oliver!, from Sony Home Entertainment
approx 153 minutes, widescreeen (2.35:1), Dolby Surround
starring Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Shani Wallis, Jack Wild, and Mark Lester
Screenplay by Vernon Harris, from the musical by Lionel Bart
Produced by John Woolf, Directed by Carol Reed 


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October 5, 2005