Why Put Your Kids Through College When You Can Watch Orlando In 4k?

1992's Orlando is an adaptation of Orlando: A Biography, fantastic time-bending biography written by Virginia Woolf in 1928.  There are frustratingly few adaptations of Woolf's work to cinema.  There's this, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse... I think there are more films about/ referencing her as a famous figure (The Hours, Vita & Virginia, A Room Of One's Own... can we count Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) than actual films of her stories.  Come on, BBC, where are you guys?  But I guess we're at least lucky that what we did get here is actually an award winning masterpiece.  And Sony clearly recognizes this, including it in their impressive, new 30th Anniversary Collection Sony Pictures Classics 11-film UHD, $300 boxed set.
So, when I say this is a fantastic biography, I mean that in the traditional sense of fantasy (although it's also quite good).  Tilda Swinton's titular Orlando is an ageless nobleman during the time of Elizabeth I (played by Quentin Crisp, which should give you some idea of what's in store).  He falls in love with a foreign princess and follows her to Russia, then winds up in Constantinople where he's made ambassador and turns into a woman.  Orlando never ages, instead simply persisting throughout history, but is far from untouched by the loves (eventually including, yes, Billy Zane) and losses she experiences.  Sally Potter travels the globe to shoot the film's many exotic locales and lives up the opportunity to indulge incredibly in lavish costumes and production values.  But thanks to the source material, Orlando is much more than pageantry; it's witty and touching.  A few scenes and music choices might veer into the overly sentimental, but you won't be able to say this movie doesn't earn those moments.
Orlando debuted on DVD back in 1998.  It was barebones, but it was anamorphic widescreen, which you couldn't always count on back then, even from a major studio like Columbia Tri-Star.  Still, this film calls out for special features, so there was good reason when Artificial Eye released it as a 2-disc special edition in 2003.   But thankfully, Sony included all the extras when they released it on blu in 2010 - they even got Potter to record a new commentary.  That's gone out of print and can be a little tricky to find at a reasonable price these days, but fortunately it's back in a new, higher format as one of 11 4k Ultra HDs in Sony Pictures Classics' 30th Anniversary boxed set.  But the bad news is, like the Columbia Pictures Classics boxed sets, these titles aren't being released separately.  You gotta spring for the whole box... or find someone to sell an individual title to you on EBay, like I did.  😉
1) 1998 DVD; 2) 2003 DVD; 3) 2010 BD; 4) 2022 UHD.
The original DVD is slightly window-boxed to 1.81:1, and the UK DVD is a bit taller at 1.74:1, although that's more about cropping the sides tighter than revealing anything extra under the mattes.  And the BD and UHD fix it to a precise 1.85:1.  But the most obvious change across releases is the color timing.  Surprisingly, the blu is worse than the original DVD: too bright and too red.  Although the UK is the worst, because it just looks pale and washed out, perhaps an attempt to brighten up the low-light scenes, because a good chunk of this film takes place at night or in candle-lit castles.  But you can't really make a case for it anymore in the time of HD.  Sony's new edition is easily the most impressive with its new Dolby Vision/ HDR treatment, which maintains all the detail in the shadows without letting the lights blow out.
BD left; UHD right.
And of course, there's the increased resolution.  It's conventional wisdom that the increased colors of HDR matter more than the actual jump to 4k; but of course it's all on a case by case basis.  And here, the jump from BD to UHD is a real boon.  Besides grain being captured more authentically and soft edges being less pixelated and jagged, small detail is well restored here.  Look at the beauty mark in the shot above, which just looks like a messy rectangle on the right, but is revealed to be a distinct moon shape on the right.  And look how much more beautiful and realistic that earring is now (although I suppose a lot of that is the HDR).

Columbia Tri-Star starts us off with the original stereo mix with optional English subtitles, plus a Spanish dub and Spanish and French subs.  Artificial Eye cuts it down to just the English stereo mix and no subs.  The Sony blu bumps the audio up to DTS-HD and includes both standard and HoH English subtitles.  And the UHD has the same options, except it also brings back the Spanish dub.
Select Scenes Commentary.
So as I said, the 1998 DVD was barebones apart from the trailer.  Most of the extras we have now debuted on the UK DVD set, which in addition to the trailer, included several featurette/ documentaries.  The longest is Orlando In Uzbekistan, a 52-minute on-set look at the filming that took place in, you guessed it, Uzbekistan.  It's very compelling, fly-on-the-wall stuff.  Then there's the similar Orlando Goes To Russia, which runs just over half an hour.  These are truly excellent, and are followed by a short one looking specifically at the angel scene, an on-camera interview with Sally Potter, a 23-minute press conference and 4 photo galleries.  And finally, there's Sally Potter's "Selected Scene Commentary," or "Select Scenes Commentary" depending on which release package you're looking at, which is a little misleading.  You expect one of those audio commentaries where they only talk over selections of the film, like Jennifer Aniston on The Good Girl, right?  But it's actually a short featurette where Potter talks to the camera and about a couple of key scenes.  It's good, though, so at the end of the day who cares what they call it?

The BD and UHD keep all of that except the photo galleries, but better yet include an informal but intelligent audio commentary (a real one this time) with Potter and Swinton.  The UHD comes in its own individual amary case and slipcover.  It doesn't include a booklet or insert per se; but the full 30th Anniversary Collection comes with a 24-page booklet with info about Sony Pictures Classic and some details on each film, including Orlando.
This is a beautiful edition of a very beautiful film, and it's a shame it isn't available separately.  Although the other films in the set are worth your time, too (some more than others, of course); so you should probably jump on it if you can afford it.  Otherwise, you'll have to trawl EBay for your favorites or hope something pops up in another region in the ensuing years.  It's frustrating how Sony is releasing this in such a restricted capacity, but at least they're still putting out discs like this.

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