Blu-Ray Review- Picnic at Hanging Rock
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Street Date: June 17th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 107 Minutes
“What we see, and what we seem, is but a dream. A dream within a dream.”
Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock begins with an opening title scroll that presents the viewer with the morbid premise of a tale that will soon unravel. On St. Valentine’s Day in the year 1900, a group of schoolgirls from Appleyard College went on a picnic at Hanging Rock near Mount Macedon in the state of Victoria. During their afternoon visit, several members of the party disappeared without a trace.
What follows are the hourly events leading up the disappearances on that tragic day, as we get to know the school girls, their relationships with one another, each of their quirks and personalities, before setting off on their school sanctioned day trip to Hanging Rock. The girls are warned about venomous snakes, poisonous ants, and the accidents that could occur if they go exploring on the cliffs themselves. During the horse drawn carriage ride there, the girls are given a history lesson on the rock, listening intently to their headmistress as she details its inception. Once there, a group of the girls ask their teacher if they can briefly explore, which she allows. The visuals and hypnotic imagery that follows throughout this sequence was rather brilliantly conceived by Director Weir, as we, the viewers, are left with very little to go on regarding the girls’ disappearance.
Soon, the headmistress at the college, the local authorities, and the community are in a state of panic as they search for the missing girls, and rumors and theories begin to spread about the various possibilities. Were they murdered? Did the young men picnicking nearby have something do with their disappearance? Does the rock itself hold some mysterious power over the girls? The film provides few answers, but the focus on the mass hysteria and guilt-ridden accusations drive the story to its unsettling conclusion.
This was my third time seeing Picnic at Hanging Rock over the last decade, having first experienced it during a Film Studies course in college. Though it’s not a movie one would necessarily revisit often, it remains a gorgeously shot exercise in local hysteria when a tragedy strikes. The dialogue is believable, and the lack of clear answers leaves the viewer to interpret their own conclusion. I’ve always found it interesting that the original novel had a “final” chapter that was excised before publishing that went more in depth with the near supernatural elements from the film.
This Blu-Ray Dual Format edition from The Criterion Collection features an exquisite image that retains the sepia-gold color timing and authentic natural film grain. Colors are bold and sharp, and fine object detail, especially in the elaborate costume design on the girl’s wardrobes, is very clear and precise. The cinematography is simply stunning to behold, with beautiful scenic shots of the college courtyard, hanging rock, and the surrounding woodlands. Scratches, debris, and other anomalies are hard to find, this is a very clean print!
This 5.1 DTS-HD audio track serves the film very well, highlighting the eerie but beautiful piano score. Dialogue is always easy to hear, and comes through very clean across all channels. Background sound design is elaborate, coming off very dynamic on this track.
The Criterion Collection has provided fans of Red River with some fantastic bonus features to accompany this High Definition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
Disc One: (Theatrical Version)
- David Thomson Introduction- Recorded by Criterion in 2014, this nearly ten-minute introduction is filmed in High Definition and features David Thomson discussing Peter Weir’s film and it’s impact in great detail.
- Peter Weir- This 25 minute interview from 2003 is presented in standard definition and has the Director detailing the production of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Footage from the brand new High Definition transfer is edited in as well with production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and much more. Weir is a fascinating filmmaker and goes quite in depth with his reasons for wanting to make the film and his retrospective thoughts are insightful.
- Everything Begins and Ends- This is a brand new documentary from Criterion, filmed in 2014, and featuring the likes of Producers Hal and Jim McElroy, Executive Producer Patricia Lovell, Cinematographer Russell Boyd, and actors Helen Morse and Anne Louise Lambert. Running nearly 30 minutes, this is the definitive documentary on the film, and though the interview footage itself is older, it’s still as relevant and fascinating. This is brilliant and captivating throughout.
- A Recollection…Hanging Rock 1900- This is an on-set documentary made during the films production in 1975 and features interviews with the novel’s author Joan Lindsay, Director Peter Weir, and select cast. Presented by the National Film and Sound Archive for Criterion, the quality shows its age, but this is a great vintage featurette for fans of the film.
- Homesdale– Leave it to the fine folks at Criterion to include an entire film as an extra on their Blu-Ray release! This is Peter Weir’s 1971 black comedy short that was filmed in his house in black and white, and went on to win some major awards on the Australian festival circuit.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film, presented in standard definition. The quality is more than a bit rough to look at, but it provides for a nostalgic throwback trailer for this important Australian film.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Dual Format release from The Criterion Collection features the lovely ladies during their picnic at hanging rock. You have to admire the lighting and costume design for the film, and this image certainly serves as a fine cover for the release. On the reverse of the slip-box packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis for the film, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside of the case, Criterion was kind enough to include the original novel by Joan Lindsay from Penguin Books, as well as the digi-pack design for the single Blu-Ray disc and two DVD discs. The art design throughout the package is downright gorgeous, featuring iconic scenes and frames from the film. As always, Criterion has also included a glossy photo booklet with a wonderful essay by Megan Abbott. This is as good as it gets for fine cinema aficionados, and Criterion continues to prove that it’s the best in the business when it comes to incredibly well packaged home video releases.
This was my third time seeing Picnic at Hanging Rock over the last decade, having first experienced it during a Film Studies course in college. Though it’s not a movie one would necessarily revisit often, it remains a gorgeously shot exercise in local hysteria when a tragedy strikes, and one of Peter Weir’s finest films. The Blu-Ray edition from The Criterion Collection looks stunning in High Definition, with the gorgeous cinematography being a highlight on this release. Natural film grain is authentic, detail is clear and clean, and the color timing looks accurate. The audio is a standout as well, with the eerie piano score sounding very dynamic on this HD track. Once again, Criterion has loaded this dual format release with incredible special features, making this edition the “must own” version of the film. Picnic at Hanging Rock from The Criterion Collection comes highly recommended.
Pete Macabre (“Film Fan” Pete)
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