Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

  • Reviewed by: Barrie Maxwell
  • Review Date: Nov 17, 2010
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Ken Hughes

Release Date(s)

1968 (November 2, 2010)

Studio(s)

MGM (20th Century Fox)

Review

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is based on the 1964 children’s book “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car” by Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming).  Beyond Fleming’s source novel, the film version has a pretty impressive pedigree.

The screenplay was co-written by renowned children’s author Roald Dahl; the film had music written by the Sherman Brothers, then just fresh off doing Mary Poppins; and it starred the multi-talented Dick Van Dyke and fresh-faced Sally Ann Howes.  The result should have been impressive, but unless you’re 12 years and under, the film is likely to disappoint.

The story concerns an eccentric inventor called Caractacus Potts (Van Dyke) who rebuilds a dilapidated racing car in order to please his two children.  The resulting vehicle is nicknamed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the noise it makes.  While on a trip to the beach along with his children and Truly Scrumptious (Howe), daughter of a candy magnate (James Robertson Justice), Caractacus recounts a fictional story about Chitty and the four of them, in which they get involved with the ruler (Gert Frobe) of the fictitious country of Vulgaria and the ruler’s minion, Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann).  The story transforms into a real-life adventure in which Chitty seems to take on a life of its own, becoming an amphibious or flying vehicle whenever necessary to get out of awkward situations.

The problem with the film is certainly not the performances.  All the actors, both stars and supporting performers, are very good.  They look as though they’re really enjoying themselves and that does rub off on the audience.  Look for a lot of familiar British faces among the players, such as Lionel Jefferies, Benny Hill, Desmond Llewelyn, Barbara Windsor, and Victor Maddern.  The real fault lies in the music and script.  At 145 minutes, the film is far too long.  That difficulty might have been overcome had any of the songs been at all memorable, but despite impressive staging, not a single one sticks in the mind at the end of the film.  Nor has the intervening 42 years changed that evaluation of them.  The music totals about 45 minutes; take all that out and what you’ve got left is about right.

Some people have taken issue with the special effects that are such an important aspect of the film.  Sure, Blu-ray does them no favours, and although they don’t stand up to close scrutiny even more so now, it seems to me there’s still a charm to them that fits the essential goofiness and fairy-tale nature of the whole enterprise.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has received two previous DVD releases – a 2000 pan and scan atrocity and a very satisfying 2003 2-disc SE.  The new Blu-ray edition ups the ante noticeably on both image and sound.  The film was shot in 70mm originally and the Blu-ray transfer is a substantial achievement.  The image is consistently sharp and very well-detailed.  Textures on clothing and inanimate objects such as rocks, roadways, and the surfaces of the various cars in the films (especially those in the car races at the beginning) are strikingly conveyed, as are facial skin imperfections.  Colours are quite vibrant and fidelity seems very good. Skin-tones are accurately rendered.  There is very mild grain apparent and only the very odd minor digital imperfection (a couple of instances of moiré and edge enhancement).  The image is strikingly clean as well.

The film has been accorded a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that grabs you right away when the film first starts with the noise of racing cars circling around you.  The musical numbers otherwise benefit most, with a robust feel to most of them.  Surround effects are not as pronounced during the numbers as in that introductory sequence, but there is a nice subtle enveloping atmosphere to them.  The sound across the fronts is quite dynamic and exhibits good directionality in both musical numbers and straight dialogue sequences.  As with The Sound of Music, both upper and lower registers are well rendered.  Dialogue is always clear and concise.  An English stereo track and French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are included.  Also provided are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.  The overall audio impression is very good, though slightly behind the sheer consistent lushness of The Sound of Music.

The supplements consist mainly of those carried over from the 2003 DVD, the best of which are a 26-minute featurette in which Dick Van Dyke reminisces about the making of the film and a 30-minute audio only demo of the Sherman Brothers doing some of the early versions of their songs for the film.  Also included are a featurette on the owner of a couple of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang cars used in the film, three vintage featurettes, various trailers and teasers, a photo gallery, a couple of sing-along possibilities both with or without scrolling lyrics, and a couple of games.  A second disc containing a DVD version of the film is also contained in the Blu-ray package.

Anyone who knows and likes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will be very pleased with its Blu-ray rendition.  For them it is a recommended upgrade over the already good DVD SE.  Others unfamiliar with the title should try a rental first.

- Barrie Maxwell

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