The Definitive Taxi Driver

Martin Scorsese's masterpiece, Taxi Driver, has been restored in 4k and released as such on blu for a long time now.  But it's only available on an actual 4k Ultra HD disc now, exclusively as a part of the Columbia Classics Vol. 2 boxed set.  It seems like a surprisingly popular title to hide away in an over one hundred dollar collection, but most of the titles from Vol. 1 are still only available in 4k via that set, so I guess this is how it's going to be for a while.
Even 45 years later, Taxi Driver still digs under the skin to probe facets of human nature few other films have even thought to hint at, marking it as one of the indisputable pinnacles of cinematic art; and this is coming from someone who's seen The Killing of Satan.  Writer Paul Schrader and the Mean Streets team proved ideal collaborators, and all the other elements managed to fall just perfectly into place.  There's Bernard Herrmann's final score, NYC's inimitable personality, and all the brilliant supporting players including Albert Brooks, Young Frankenstein's Peter Boyle, a very young Jodie Foster and yes, that's Maniac's own Joe Spinell in that shot above.  People give Cybill Shepard a hard time, but every note she hits is as pitch perfect as everyone else's here.  Obviously, there's a huge pool of talent behind and in front of the camera here (it's easy to forget how powerful an actor DeNiro was when you see all the silly stuff he's committed himself to in recent years), but the planets still had to align just right to achieve these results.
Columbia Tri-Star first released Taxi Driver as an anamorphic widescreen, but completely barebones DVD in 1997.  A disappointing half step backwards for owners of Criterion's special edition laserdisc.  They had to've realized that was pretty paltry, and released a souped-up collector's edition in 1999.  It still didn't have the Criterion commentary, but it had an impressive documentary.  They improved on that further in 2007, with a 2-disc Collector's Edition, this time with a wealth of new extras.  Then it was HD time, and in 2011 came their first Taxi Driver blu-ray.  They released it again in 2013 as a surprisingly barebones "mastered in 4k edition."  It wasn't until 2016 when they really got it right with the 40th Anniversary 2-disc set, which had the 4k master in HD and all the previous extras, including for the first time since laserdisc, that Criterion commentary.  And that was the definitive edition, until now, as Sony has released an ultimate 3-disc set in their Columbia Classics Vol. 2 box, with the film finally on true 4k Ultra HD, plus standard blu and with all the past extras (yes, including the Criterion commentary again).  This is it, assuming they didn't screw anything up.
1) 1999 DVD; 2) 2016 BD; 3) 2021 BD; 4) 2021 UHD.
So yes, like I said before, this film has been restored in 4k for a long time.  In fact, the Columbia Classic book tells us the OCN got its 4k scan back in 2010, and this latest release is still presenting that same restoration, albeit newly color timed for HDR on the UHD.  But first we have a slightly pillar-boxed, distinctly pre-4k 1.75:1 DVD.  The resolution doesn't matter so much when we're talking about a transfer that's going to get mushed down to standard def anyway, and the framing really isn't too different from the properly matted 1.85:1 BDs and UHD (just a little off the left and a bit of extra headroom).  As far as DVDs go, it's fine except for the heavy red push over the whole picture.  So it's nice to see that get corrected along with the much clearer HD boost of the BDs, and again, the minor framing correction.  There's also a slight vertical stretching that gets fixed.  But for 1999, you could've done a lot worse.

Now, the 2016 and 2021 BDs are exactly the same, right down to the 27.1GB encode.  But what's new is the UHD.  Yes, it's the same root transfer.  And it's also true that the previous BD's encode kicks ass, finely capturing grain without the frequent macroblocking.  But look at any portion of any of the UHD screenshots, and the grain is so much clearer and more distinct.  In terms of detail, there's not a lot more to pull out, but in terms of the image matching the original film as opposed to a pixelated digitization, the UHD really succeeds.  The only question is if you'll notice it in motion.  Like, just how big is your TV?  But the difference is there when you look closely enough.
The DVD just features the original audio in 2.0, but it's got a bunch (6) of subtitle options, including English.  The 2016 blu replaces that audio with a DTS-HD 5.1 remix, and adds 11 lossy foreign dubs and offers 22 subtitle tracks, including standard English and English HoH.  So here's where the UHD gets good again.  It adds a couple more foreign dubs and subs, keeps the lossless 5.1 mix, but best of all, it brings back the original mono mix - lossless for the very first time.
So the DVD starts us off with a feature length documentary that talks to just about everybody: Deniro, Scorsese, Foster, Brooks, Schrader, Sheppard, etc.  It's pretty great, and honestly, if this was Taxi Driver's only special feature anywhere, that'd be pretty fine.  The DVD has a couple other odds and ends, including the trailer, storyboards and most interestingly, a 9-minute photo gallery with an uncredited audio commentary by the DVD producer who relays all the interesting anecdotes that didn't make it into the doc.

Jumping ahead to the 2016 doc and the 2021 set (which have all the same extras, except the UHD adds a 20th Anniversary rerelease trailer), we now have everything.  Well except for that photo gallery commentary, but all of those anecdotes wind up getting told, and often retold, in the other extras.  In fact, it's kind of a real problem.  With the Criterion commentary restored, we now have three commentaries, the doc, seven featurettes, an intro by Scorsese, a 40th Anniversary reunion panel, five galleries and two trailers, plus the notes in the book.  So we here the same stories repeated again and again.  By the third or fourth time, it's no longer cute to hear how DeNiro drove a taxi in NY for a week to prepare for the role and was recognized by another actor.  I just wish someone who was overseeing these releases paid attention to what was in these extras and edited how all the redundancy... because there is a wealth of great stuff here, talking to pretty much everybody, revisiting the shooting locations, go over Scorsese's entire career, and even a few weird odds and ends, like a featurette where they interview working NYC cab drivers or talk to Ed Koch.  Some of that's a little excessive, too.  All told, it's both terrific and a real slog, but at least erring towards too much beats erring towards too little.
If you want the best, this is it.  The increased resolution and HDR give us the most authentic picture yet, if you have the set-up to appreciate it.  And even if you don't, getting the original mono track back is a nice little coup for the purists.  Or if you need Icelandic subtitles... those are only on the new UHD.  It may be annoying that this is only available in the box, but fortunately, the whole set is more than worth it.  Could be a good Christmas present for yourself.

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