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Friday, June 14, 2024

East of Eden (4K UHD Review)


The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements


Sibling rivalry, a strict father, and the secret of an estranged mother bring a family to blows in 1917 Salinas Valley ahead of the country entering World War I.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

1955’s East of Eden is one of the three films that James Dean had a starring role in before his untimely death. Directed by melodrama specialist Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire) from a 1952 novel by John Steinbeck and screenplay adaptation by Paul Osborn, the film also stars Raymond Massey (‘Dr. Kildare,’ Arsenic and Old Lace) and Julie Harris (‘Knots Landing,’ The Haunting).

Set in the Salinas Valley 1917 under the specter of the United States entering World War I, young and listless Cal Trask (Dean) feels like he is in competition with his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) for his father’s (Massey) love and respect. As Aron watches Aron get praise from their father and get a pretty girlfriend (Harris), his anger and frustration bubble over. Cal goes out in search of their estranged mother Kate (Jo Van Fleet), whom he and his brother believed were dead, but a man passing through town told him otherwise. When his father, a lettuce farmer, loses money on a plan to ship the produce on ice to the East, Cal devises a plan he hopes will earn his father’s respect. He borrows money from his mother to invest in bean futures, believing the eminent entry of the country into the war will raise the price. Things do not work out exactly how Cal planned, setting up a confrontation between Cal, his father, and his brother Aron.

As was Kazan’s signature, East of Eden is filled with plenty of melodrama that may seem a bit overdramatic by today’s standards, but still holds up in that glitzy, Hollywood sort of way. Dean, in his still young, early career, does showcase the method acting skills that made him legend, even if some of his takes, whether buy his own choice or at the behest of Kazan, seem a little unrealistic. See the famous scene where Dean breaks down handing the cash to Massey. It is not realism as much as it is very strange, almost Nicolas Cage-esque overacting. The scene still manages to be powerful, especially as Harris and Massey in particular balance the scene. Speaking of Harris, she is perhaps underappreciated in her role in this film, countering Dean’s angry young man, with a more reserved, confused young woman who brings a sense of equilibrium to the Trask men.

  • James Dean in East of Eden (1955)
  • James Dean and Julie Harris in East of Eden (1955)
  • James Dean and Julie Harris in East of Eden (1955)
  • Julie Harris in East of Eden (1955)
  • James Dean and Raymond Massey in East of Eden (1955)
  • East of Eden 4K Ultra HD (Warner Bros.)

The Video

Warner Bros. worked in partnership with Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation to restore and remaster East of Eden. The film is presented in 2.55:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) with HDR10. This is a fantastic restoration and transfer with a gorgeous, organic layer of grain that remains consistent throughout except in the scene transitions where the duping effects created a coarseness, softness, and reduction in color saturation. That is wholly expected and unavoidable. The colors, in “WarnerColor” AKA Eastmancolor look very vibrant and true to what this era’s filmmaking on this format usually looks like. The HDR10 offers significant extension in the shadow detail, such as the scene with Dean and Harris on the ferris wheel or the climactic scene with Dean and Massey in the bedroom. There is nothing to complain about here.

The Audio

East of Eden comes with its original theatrical mix in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo (this film ran with a 4-track stereo mix) and, for those who are not traditionalists, a very well done lossless Dolby Atmos mix that opens up the soundstage, with lots of height ambience for the score in particular. The spread of sounds across the front is very good and directional and the sound is clear. Don’t expect big low-end extension, but there is enough for this film.

The Supplements

East of Eden is a surprisingly barebones release for such a classic film. Warner Bros. only includes the audio commentary with Richard Schickel, who gives plenty of insight into Dean, Kazan, and his opinions on Dean as an actor. There is also a digital code.

  • Movies Anywhere Digital Code
  • Audio Commentary by Richard Schickel

The Final Assessment

A true classic that arguably outshines the famous Rebel Without a Cause in the small but powerful trio of James Dean movies, East of Eden is a perennial classic that is always a pleasure to watch and even more so now in this beautiful, reference quality audio/visual restoration from Warner Bros.

East of Eden is out on 4K Ultra HD August 1, 2023, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

  • Rating Certificate: PG (for thematic elements and some violent content)
  • Studios & Distributors: Warner Bros. | Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
  • Director: Elia Kazan
  • Written By: John Steinbeck | Paul Osborn
  • Run Time: 117 Mins.
  • Street Date: 1 August 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: HDR10
  • HDR Metadata:
    • MaxLL: 995 nits
    • MaxFALL: 223 nits
  • Primary Audio: English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Compatible)
  • Secondary Audio: Original Theatrical English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo | French DD 3.0 | German DD 3.0 | Italian DD 3.0 | Spanish (Castilian) DD 1.0 | Spanish (Latino) DD 1.0
  • Subtitles: English SDH | French | German SDH | Italian SDH | Spanish (Castilian) | Spanish (Latino) | Dutch | Danish | Finnish | Norwegian | Swedish

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Sibling rivalry, a strict father, and the secret of an estranged mother bring a family to blows in 1917 Salinas Valley ahead of the country entering World War I.East of Eden (4K UHD Review)