HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Death of Salesman
HTS Overall Score:60
Ambition is a powerful motivator. It drives people to greatness. It pushes a person to be better than they are. It’s what made America so great in the first place. The motivation to succeed. However it also has a negative side to that selfsame coin. It can drive a person to drink with overly inflated egos and pushes a man to forget what’s actually important in life. This is the theme of the famous 1949 play by Arthur Miller (who also wrote the screenplay for the film as well). “Death of a Salesman” has been required reading for high school literature classes for as long as I have been alive, and the play itself has been in production in just about every major theater company for just as long. Back in 1985 when Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich were announced as starring in the play turned into film the cinematic world was shocked. Nobody ever thought it would translate well from the stage to the silver screen, and the made for TV film was one of the most watched broadcasts of its time.
Willy Loman (Dustin Hoffman) is a 60 year old salesman who’s slowly starting to lose it. He’s been a hard worker all his life, but now age and failure is creeping up on him. He can barely afford to put a roof over his supportive wife’s head (Linda Loman, played by Kate Reid). He’s been fired from his job as a salesman and he doesn’t know where to go. He’s spent his entire career working as a salesman and he’s been told that his life is basically over. To make matters worse the man is also suffering from early onset senility or dementia, reliving pieces of his past present only in his mind while his embarrassed family watches him stumble around talking to himself. His son’s Biff (John Malkovich) and Harold (played by a VERY young and unrecognizable Stephen Lang) are living at home due to some poor life choices, which doesn’t make matters any better due to the fact that Biff and Willy are at odds over Biff’s seemingly failed life.
Willy Loman really is a pathetic character. He’s lived his life thinking he was better than everyone around him, and constantly wondering just how everyone has something better than he does. His supportive wife is abused verbally by his constant haranging and he’s driven his son to be a bigger failure than he was due to doting on boy when he should have been telling him to work hard. Now all Willy has left his is fleeting memories and the anger that he’s had built up over a lifetime of passing the buck. At no time is he ever at fault, and at no time does he deserve the failure that has been heaped up on his head. However, this delusion is not going to keep up, as Willy’s long life is coming to a sad close.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84594[/img]“Death of Salesman” is a true definition of a tragic play. At its heart is the knowledge that with some dream changes and tweaks here and there, Willy’s and Biff’s lives could have turned out differently. But as they say, pride goeth before a fall, and Willy Loman’s life has taken a huge fall. While it is not uplifting and exciting, “Death of Salesman” does drive home the powerful points of taking personal responsibility and not letting foolish dreams get in the way of ACTUALLY living your life. Not letting them consume you to the point where your life is just a shell to try and achieve dreams that very well may be outside of your control.
Performances are good all the way around the table, but Dustin Hoffman is the one who breathes energetic life into the film. He over acts just a bit with his portrayal of Willy Loman, but that surging energy also adds to the realism of Willy being a washed up character. It adds an intensity that makes the audience commiserate with him, yet at the same time be repulsed by actions. However, as good as Hoffman’s “old man” performance is, there are some major flaws that keep the made for TV movie from being as great as the legendary play. The main problem is that they tried TOO hard to make it seem like play on screen. The sets, the acting, the lack of scenery changing all feels like you’re watching a play on the TV. Something which works better when you’re in and audience, but not as much when you’re at home watching the tube. Once the film breaks the hour mark the locations change a lot more and open up the viewing range, but by that time it’s almost too late as the slow shifting from Willy’s life to a more expanded universe can’t make up for the boredom that came before.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84602[/img]Here’s the sad part of the review. I have no idea whether Shout couldn’t source a proper master, whether there was no money for one, or if there was a problem in the pipeline encoding, but “Death of a Salesman” is a rather poor looking Blu-ray. Covered in speckles and print flecks it is unnaturally soft and dim looking. Colors can be vibrant at times, but otherwise the softness just gets in the way of the fine detaling leaving us with a heavily obscured looking transfer. I didn’t notice any major compression aritfacts and the contrast seems to be pretty good (at least in terms of the encode), but overall the image is a very disappointing looking 1.33:1 AVC encoded disc (to replicate the 1980’s TV scope of the film).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84610[/img]The 2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono track for “Death of Salesman” is just what you’d expect from a 1980s TV production. It’s not flashy, it’s not gussied up, and it has a few hisses and pops in the background noise. However it is entirely suitable for the production and works well with strong dialog (sometimes REALLY strong, I had to turn it down a little bit which is abnormal for a Mono track). Dialog is crisp and the limited sounds that bleed through are replicated just fine. There’s not a whole lot to really liven up the sound stage as most of the film takes place inside an apartment building or a hotel room. Simple, slightly dated, and definitely satisfactory, the Mono mix does just what it did during the TV production.
• Private Conversations (1 hour 21 minutes)
“Death of Salesman” was a shocking turn of events for 1985, and it was really made possible due to Dustin Hoffman’s personal involvement with the behind the scenes production and his involvement as an actor. Had he not been involved this would have just been your run of the mill 1980’s TV production that would have been lost in memory lane. It’s still an odd production that hasn’t aged as well as they may have thought it would, but still a worthy watch. I’ve LOVED Shout Factory’s “Shout Select” line so far, but I have to objectively admit that this is one of the weaker entries into the line of premium films. Usually they get 2K-4K remastering’s and are loaded with tons of special features. I definitely get why “Death of a Salesman” was included into the line, but the weak video and audio combined with only a singular extra feature (although it is a GREAT feature) make it not as appealing as it could have been. Still worth a watch if you’re any fan of the classic stage play.
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid, John Malkovich
Directed by: Volker Schlöndorff
Written by: Arthur Miller
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Studio: Shout Factory
Runtime: 136 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: November 15th, 2016
Buy Death of Salesman On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Solid Rental
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