Master of the World (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Aug 05, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Master of the World (Blu-ray Review)

Director

William Witney

Release Date(s)

1961 (August 31, 2021)

Studio(s)

American International Pictures/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: B-
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: B+

Master of the World (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Master of the World is an adaptation of two Jules Verne novels, Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World, the majority of the story coming from the first. During the 1960s, many films based upon the works of Jules Verne were produced, and even American International Pictures got into the game, claiming Master of the World to be one of their most expensive films to date (doubted by many to be true). It’s old-fashioned moviemaking with colorful sets and lighting, models, rear-screen projection, matte paintings, and opticals aplenty. Adapted by Richard Matheson and directed by William Witney (The Lone Ranger serials), the final product was not to everybody’s liking. It was filmed in a mere fifteen days and required the use of stock footage to complete it. The main draw of the film is, of course, Vincent Price who had also worked with Charles Bronson several years earlier in House of Wax. At the time, Bronson was on the verge of becoming a bigger star with the release of The Magnificent Seven. In any case, Master of the World was not a film that either actor really looked back on with a particular fondness.

During the 19th century, a frenzy to create a flying machine is underway. Balloonists Prudent (Henry Hull) and Philip (David Frankham) argue over how best to propel their balloon. Nearby, a volcano is threatening to erupt and destroy their small town. Arriving to discuss the matter with them is John Strock (Charles Bronson), a government engineer who wishes to use their balloon to assess the volcano. Prudent’s daughter, Dorothy (Mary Webster), wishes to go with them. The four make their way to the volcano, but are shot down by an unknown aggressor. They wake up aboard a fantastical flying airship, piloted by a loyal group of crewmen and its captain and creator, Robur (Vincent Price). Though he has created something miraculous, he doesn’t want to share its secrets, holding his new passengers captive in fear of them telling the outside world of what they’ve seen. During the flight, he becomes increasingly psychotic, even threatening to bomb various cities from the air, and its up to the four passengers to stop him and get away safely.

Master of the World comes to Blu-ray for a second time in the US from Kino Lorber Studio Classics sporting what is assumed to be the same master used for the Shout! Factory release of The Vincent Price Collection III. It’s an older transfer likely taken from an interpositive and while organic, is littered with scratches, instability, dirt, changeover cues, and occasional tears. However, it's much brighter with improved contrast, appearing less oversaturated. There are also grain variations due to the vast amount of optical effects and overlays, as well as the use of stock footage. Still, colors proves to be strong, if not a bit inconsistent. Skin tones, however, are indeed a little more even throughout. Black levels are generally excellent as well. It's a slight improvement over the previous release.

The soundtrack is limited to an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track with optional English subtitles. It’s worth nothing that the Shout! Factory release also contained an additional mono track. The stereo track included here is sourced from the four track master. It’s often widely-staged, sometimes even too wide. The dialogue is mostly right down the center and much quieter than the rest of the soundtrack, especially in regards to Les Baxter’s score which tends to dominate with a minor amount of distortion. Sound effects are stuffy and dated as well. However, everything comes through clearly with no leftover dropouts, hiss, or crackle.

The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary with Tom Weaver, David Schecter, Richard Heft, and Lucy Chase Williams
  • Audio Commentary with David Frankham and Jonathan David Dixon
  • Richard Matheson: Storyteller (Upscaled HD – 72:05)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled HD – 2:31)
  • The Raven Trailer (Upscaled HD – 2:29)
  • The Comedy of Terrors Trailer (HD – 2:33)
  • The Last Man on Earth Trailer (HD – 1:51)
  • The Tomb of Ligeia Trailer (Upscaled HD – 2:31)
  • War-Gods of the Deep Trailer (Upscaled HD – 2:21)
  • Scream and Scream Again Trailer (HD – 2:22)
  • Theater of Blood Trailer (Upscaled HD – 2:31)
  • House of the Long Shadows Trailer (HD – 2:28)

Film historian Tom Weaver provides an excellent new audio commentary, along with fellow historians David Schecter, Richard Heft, and Vincent Price biographer Lucy Chase Williams. Weaver summarizes the original Jules Verne novel, discusses the era in which Verne’s novels and stories were being adapted for the screen, humorously comments on various facets of the film, and delves into the backgrounds of key cast and crew. The track also features actor recreations of Richard Matheson’s and William Witney’s comments, as well as a deleted scene. The other commentators pop up occasionally throughout to provide more information. In the audio commentary with actor David Frankham moderated by Jonathan David Dixon, Frankham talks about his experiences making the film (sitting mostly in the driving seat). Dixon pops up occasionally to provide additional content. The extended version of the documentary Richard Matheson: Storyteller features the writer discussing his career at length. The rest of the extras consist of nine trailers for the Master of the World and other Vincent Price films released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The disc is housed in a standard amaray case with the original US theatrical artwork. Everything is housed within a limited edition slipcase featuring the same artwork. Not included from the Shout! Factory Blu-ray release are two still galleries, which feature images of posters, lobby cards, and behind-the-scenes photos, including some of David Frankham’s personal photos. Not included from the Region B German Blu-ray release from Koch Media is the Super 8 version of the film, two German theatrical trailers, and a large still gallery.

Despite its star power and literary sources, Master of the World feels much longer than it actually is. Once the four passengers are aboard the ship, things tend to get tedious. It doesn’t help that Henry Hull’s character is often belligerent and unlikable, scoffing at every remark or notion presented to him to the point of straight up annoyance. Still, there’s something quaint and likable about the film that holds up, even if most of the special effects do not. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of the film ups the ante with an excellent new commentary, but the presentation itself leaves a little to be desired.

- Tim Salmons

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