Nineteen Eighty-Four

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday December 30, 2015

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Though there is an all-region Blu-ray edition of the film, a more definitive version is this, the Twilight Time Blu-ray edition of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (yes, the title appears on the package, puzzlingly enough, as "1984," but "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is how it's listed at the Screen Archives site, IMDB, and on the film's title card; it's also the title of the George Orwell novel).

Why more definitive?

The Julie Kirgo essay about this edition, included as an insert booklet, explains that the remarkable de-saturated cinematography by Roger Deakins was undone in earlier DVD editions. This new hi-def transfer restores the film's original and intended look. Also, director Michael Radford (who also adapted Orwell's 1949 novel into the screenplay for this film) wanted to use Dominic Muldowney's orchestral score for the film's theatrical release; the studio insisted on a synth score by the Eurythmics. (The soundtrack album sold well, and spawned one the Eurythmics' biggest hits with the singe "Sexcrime.") The default audio setting for this disc restores Muldowney's score, though the Eurythmics score can also be selected.

This cinematic adaptation had been preceded by a 1954 television version in Britain, and a 1956 theatrical version. But this film -- released in 1984, making it something of an event film, and shot faithfully on locations at places mentioned in the book, when possible -- rises above the earlier efforts. John Hurt portrays a civil servant named Winston Smith who, by day, labors at revising history, re-writing newspaper copy to bring it into line with an always-shifting ideology, and relegates former upstanding citizens to erasure in the official records. He also faithfully carries out ritualistic condemnations of so-called "enemies of the state." But all the while his native intelligence leads him into "thoughtcrime" -- a sense of doubt about the propaganda he and millions of others are force-fed all day, every day, via ever-present television monitors broadcasting disinformation.

Smith catches the eye of a fellow worker named Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), and his biological urges -- and her encouragement -- lead him into acts of "sexcrime," which is to say, illegal lovemaking. In the dictatorial nation of Oceana, lust and release are illegal because they cannot be directly turned to the service of a state run by the one-percenters (to use our own version of "newspeak") who pummel the masses with a barrage of edicts, punishments, shortages, and conflicts. The name of the game is carefully contrived social control, and even though the blueprint for the cynical, pitiless mechanics of the subjugation of the many by a scant few is outlined on a few sentences read aloud from a book, we can feel those very same precisely identified strategies at work in our world today. What was, in fiction, Big Brother glaring out of the TV screen with a Stalinesque scowl has become, in our 21st century reality, the brain-shredding clamor of Fox News (endlessly declaiming, without conscious irony, about "Big Brother"'s sinister agenda).

For the cinephile, weary rumination on the film's prescience regarding our current socio-political state of affairs is superseded by the delight in seeing how "1984" presaged and informed movies like Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." Also, Richard Burton, in his final film, is on hand as an embodiment of the State -- a ruthless torturer who relies on anti-factual authoritarianism (going so far as to assert that the state's political reality displace obvious mathematical truisms such as two and two adding up to the sum of four) and who dispassionately characterizes the future as the equivalent of "a boot stamping on a human face, forever."

We're a whole lot closer to "Nineteen Eighty-Four" in 2015 than we were in the year of the movie's release. It's of little solace to know that we've gotten where we are with our literary and cinematic eyes wide open. At least we now have this gorgeous hi-def transfer, with Deakins' desaturated colors restore to their intended look, to take along with us for the ride.

"Nineteen Eighty-Four"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.