Paramount Presents ‘Ragtime’ Blu-Ray Review – Milos Forman Crafts A Beautifully Sprawling Portrait Of American Life

Based on E.L. Doctorow’s best-selling novel, RAGTIME tells an unforgettable story of disparate characters in New York City in the early 1900s. From the emerging New York suburb of New Rochelle to the flashy spectacle of Atlantic City, a family faces racial tensions, scandals, and violence that will test everything they believe in.  With music by Randy Newman, the film features a spectacular cast including James Cagney, Brad Dourif, Moses Gunn, Elizabeth McGovern, Kenneth McMillan, Pat O’Brien, Donald O’Connor, James Olson, Mandy Patinkin, Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Mary Steenburgen, Debbie Allen, Jeff Daniels, Fran Drescher, Samuel L. Jackson, Norman Mailer, John Ratzenberger.

For thoughts on Ragtime, please see my previous article here.

Video Quality

Ragtime gets a much-needed Blu-Ray upgrade with a strong 1080p transfer sourced from a 4K remaster of the original elements. This presentation ranks with the very best of the Paramount Presents line and is overall very pleasing as it preserves the filmic look with proper film grain and texture throughout. The level of clarity and detail on this release is truly striking as elements of the sumptuous production design pop off the screen. There are very subtle details that are visible here for the first time from minute details on outfits to some of the complexities of the environments. The black levels are extremely deep and allow for true detail to come through. There are a lot of stunning colors in the film that are every bit as vibrant as you would want. Skin tones are natural and lend themselves to showcasing an amazing amount of detail. Paramount has done a good job of restoring this with nary a spot of damage remaining. Those who have been waiting for this one to be treated with the proper respect on Blu-Ray should feel this is a worthy effort.

Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack that sonically represents the film quite well. The activity focuses heavily on the front channels with the Randy Newman music occasionally making its way through the room. The music is a major part of the presentation, but it never overpowers the dialogue or other important information. There does appear to be some very minor fluctuations in fidelity in a few spots. The dialogue comes through clearly and never falls victim to any digital anomalies. Rear speakers get some occasional activity with ambient sounds, but it is not a standout in that regard. There is next to nothing in the way of low end support for this film, but the few times it pops up brings some nice texture. This track accomplishes everything it needs to do really well. 

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Special Features

Disc One

  • Audio Commentary: Director Milos Forman and Executive Producer Michael Hausman deliver a really fascinating and informative commentary track in which they discuss their love of the source material, the original intention to have Robert Altman direct the film, adapting this sprawling text for the screen, the performances in the film, working with Dino De Laurentiis, the cameos in the film, the film’s legacy and more. 
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes: 17 minutes of unused material is provided here in black and white which features many great moments that fans of the film will eat up. 
  • Ragtime Revisited – A Conversation with Larry Karaszewski and Screenwriter Michael Weller: A 21-minute conversation between these two Forman collaborators in which they discuss the development of the screenplay, some of the themes of the story and character nuances, the complex nature of various aspects of the story, cutting this material down to the most essential elements, and much more. 
  • Deleted Scene: A ten-minute unused sequence is provided here. 
  • Remembering Ragtime: A 19-minute vintage piece in which the cast and crew discuss the development of the feature, the themes it tackles, the production of the film, getting the right performers for the characters, the set design and more. 

 

Disc Two

  • Director’s Cut Workprint: The 174-minute workprint cut of the film is provided here thanks to the preservation efforts of the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation. Since this material was never meant to be released to an audience, not all of the elements are exactly perfect including much of the additional footage being presented in black-and-white, but the results are still quite stunning. It is very fascinating to get a look at what this story originally looked like before it was edited down to what we got in theaters. While the Theatrical Cut flows better in many ways, there is some footage exclusive to the workprint cut which really enriches the film. It is amazing that this was included. 
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Final Thoughts

Ragtime is a momentous story that weaves many different narratives together quite deftly to create an unbelievable portrait of American life. There are certain aspects of the movie that could have been tightened up just a bit, but having such a wide representation is part of what makes this text so special. Milos Forman brings an unyielding energy to this material that allows each and every performer to bare their soul and deliver something transcendent. Paramount Home Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray featuring a terrific A/V presentation and a collection of special features you will not soon forget. If you are a fan of the feature, you could not ask for a better release. Highly Recommended 

Paramount Presents Ragtime is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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