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The Red Shoes (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review)


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


A young ballet dancer who wants to be prima ballerina is forced to choose between her career and love in this post-World War II, impressionistic, behind the scenes look at the world of ballet.

The Red Shoes is generally considered the greatest movie about ballet every produced and one of the greatest three-strip Technicolor film productions ever made. This colorful, behind the scenes melodrama from directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger stars the stunningly beautiful Moira Shearer as young, aristocratic ballerina Victoria Page. She attends the Lermontov Ballet Company with her aunt at the same time, struggling composer Julian Craster is in attendance and recognizes parts of his own score in the production of “Hearts of Fire.” Craster lodges a protest to the ballet company director Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) about the unauthorized use of his work, which surprisingly leads to Lermontiv hiring him to compose the music for his next ballet, The Red Shoes. Lermontov also hires the young Victoria, who soon replaces the outgoing lead ballerina after she leaves to get married. “The Red Shoes” premieres and plays to great success, and Lermontov elevates Victoria to his prima ballerina, but all is not well.  Victoria is now a star and she and Julian Craster have secretly fallen in love, but Lermontov is also secretly in love with Victoria. When he finds out about Victoria and Julian, he forces Julian to leave the ballet company, causing Victoria to choose between love or her career. Further melodramatic tragedy ensues and saying more would be giving away too much.

The Red Shoes, a post-World War II release of all the pent-up British art and romanticism would help to lay the groundwork for the lavish musical and dance films to come like Singing in the Rain for example. The film is an expressionist, visually stunning melodrama that utilizes the then cutting edge three-strip Technicolor format to maximum advantage, with vibrant yet nuanced colors, gorgeous sets, and meticulous costumes. The centerpiece of it all is the stunning fifteen-minute ballet set piece for “The Red Shoes”. Of course, anchoring this all, is the charming and beautiful Moira Shearer who seems made for this Technicolor format, her ginger hair glowing like flames from the screen contrasting with her freckled skin, the vermillion lipstick, and the shock of black eyeliner.

This is not to be taken as a literal look behind the scenes of the ballet world, but more of a fantasy of what it is like, and as such, this film still remains the earmark that other such film, like Black Swan, for instance, aspire to.

The Video

The Red Shoes was originally shot on three-strip Technicolor film, meaning there were three separate black and white film strip negatives that would then be dyed with red, green, or blue respectively and combined to create the full-color image. The film was restored digitally in 2009 by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from the original three-strip Technicolor camera negatives. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is taken from this master and is graded in Dolby Vision HDR, with a MaxLL of 282 nits and a MaxFALL of 30 nits. It’s framed at 1.37:1 and encoded in HEVC 2160p (4K UHD). The 2009 restoration looks gorgeous, with the negatives being marvelously cleaned, mold, scratches, dirt, flicker, and blur removed and restoring crispness and detail to this film that perhaps makes it look even sharper than it even looked originally thanks to the wonders of digital technology. That being said, the 4K disc’s Dolby Vision brings very little to the presentation other than making the overall picture look much darker. Yes, it provides inkier blacks and shadows and creates and sort of artificial “contrasty” look, but comparisons between the included Blu-ray Disc (also taken from the 2009 restoration) and the 4K Ultra HD will show that the film detail is identical, film grain resolution is practically indistinguishable, and colors the same, so there isn’t any wide color gamut coming into play here to provide more ‘pop’ in Technicolor on the 4K disc. The nuance of the colors looks the same, the freckles on Moira Shearer’s arms and chest can all be seen with just as much detail on the Blu-ray, but the Blu-ray is brighter and doesn’t crush the blacks. The 4K has crushed some of the darker details, not terribly, but enough without raising the white levels that there is no real benefit other than making it dimmer. That’s not to say it looks bad. Without a direct comparison, it would likely pass as one hundred percent satisfying and true to the intent of the restoration, as per the 2010 notes as written in the booklet.

The Audio

The monaural soundtrack is offered in LPCM 1.0 and it sounds about as good as it gets given the 1948 vintage. Dialogue is clean, the musical score has enough breath to present airy and moving sound.

The Supplements

The bulk of the supplements reside on the included Blu-ray, the superb audio commentary, which is interspersed with interviews, is also on the 4K along with the reading of the novelization. Do also make sure to read the booklet, which has a fascinating essay and excellent notes on the restoration.

  • Commentary recorded for the Criterion Collection in 1994 by film historian Ian Christie features interview segments with stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
  • The Red Shoes Novel – In this Audio recording, made for the Criterion Collection in 1994, actor Jeremy Irons reads excerpts from director Michael Powell and writer-director Emeric Pressburger’s 1978 novelization of The Red Shoes.
  • Restoration Demonstration (1080p; 00:04:17) – A look at the 2009 Film Foundation restoration of the film’s original three-strip Technicolor negatives, supervised by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The video is hosted by Film Foundation founder and chair Martin Scorsese.
  • Profile of “The Red Shoes” (1080i; 00:25:30) – This twenty-five-minute documentary on the making of The Red Shoes was produced in London in 2000 and features interviews with film historian Ian Christie, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, camera operator Chris Challis, and family members of the film’s original production team.
  • Thelma Schoonmaker Powell (1080i; 00:14:41) – The Film Foundation’s restoration of The Red Shoes premiered to great acclaim at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, introduced by Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, who was married to Michael Powell from 1984 until his death in 1990, was a key member of the restoration team. In this interview from Cannes, she discusses Powell, the film, and the restoration.
  • Stills Gallery:
    • Cast and Crew
    • Filming in London
    • Filming in Paris
    • Filming in Monte Carlo
    • Deleted Scenes
    • Production and Costume Designs
  • Scorsese’s Memorabilia
  • The Red Shoes Sketches (1080p; 0015:57) – Animated film constructed from production designer Hein Heckroth’s original color storyboards and set to Brian Easdale’s score.
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p)
  • Booklet featuring an essay by critic David Ehrenstein and notes on the restoration by film preservationist Robert Gitt.

The Final Assessment

A fantastic film and a beautiful restoration with underwhelming Dolby Vision/HDR results, but this still should be in any cinephile’s library.

The Red Shoes is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo December 14, 2021 from Criterion Collection

  • Rating Certificate: NR
  • Studios & Distributors: The Archers | Independent Producers | Criterion Collection
  • Directors: Michael Powell | Emeric Pressburger
  • Written By: Hans Christian Andersen (fairy tale) | Emeric Pressburger (original screenplay) | Keith Winter (additional dialogue)
  • Street Date: 14 December 2021
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Run Time: 133 Mins.
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • Primary Audio: English LPCM 1.0
  • Subtitles: English SDH

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A young ballet dancer who wants to be prima ballerina is forced to choose between her career and love in this post-World War II, impressionistic, behind the scenes look at the world of ballet. The Red Shoes (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review)