They say more eyes have watched Gone With the Wind than any other film. With this new version on DVD, even more people can get their chance to see this epic of the American South during the Civil War. This isn't just any re-release; it's only the third film to be completely re-mastered at Warner Bros.' new high-tech film-resurrecting facility. Every frame has been cleaned and brightened -- even the soundtrack has been redone, based on a pristine copy recently discovered. The result is spectacular: It looks the way it must have back in 1939.
There are four discs in this set, two for the film and two for the special features. Unlike so many DVD sets, the extra discs here are worth watching, especially the feature-length documentary about the making of the film. The story behind Gone With the Wind is filled with drama, too. Maverick producer David O. Selznick moved heaven and earth to make this movie, and some of the factoids are amazing. The burning of Atlanta was actually a controlled fire on MGM's back lot to clear out old movie sets, including the giant old gate used in the original King Kong. And it wasn't until the filming of this scene that Selznick met Vivien Leigh, whom he immediately cast as Scarlett O'Hara.
The film itself stands the test of time very well. Human drama set on top of actual historical drama is always a great formula, and the film -- like Margaret Mitchell's novel -- captures the tragedy of war along with the resiliency of survivors. Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, is among our earliest anti-heroes. He's a me-first kind of guy, but he's powerless against Scarlett.
Because of the novel, Scarlett herself was a sensation even before the film premiered.
But why? Scarlett is basically a spoiled, generally horrible person. Her one redemptive quality is her endless font of will power. Perhaps her ability to overcome any obstacle -- even when they are of her own making -- made her America's sweetheart. Or maybe she was a vision of what women dreamed of -- to be unbound by convention and free to follow their desires. Whatever the appeal, this isn't the kind of character you find in mainstream cinema all that often, and Leigh's devious little pixie interpretation was perfect.
The ending isn't tidy either, leaving viewers knowing little more than that life goes on. But now, looking and sounding better than ever, so will this film.
Publication date: 12/09/04