Release Date(s)1962 (October 11, 2023)
Studio(s)Brentwood Productions/Pakula-Mulligan/Universal Pictures (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
[Editor’s Note: The film review is by Adam Jahnke, adapted from his look at the 2005 Legacy Series DVD release. The 4K Ultra HD comments are by Bill Hunt.]
Like a lot of people my age, the first time I saw To Kill a Mockingbird was not by choice. It was a high school English class that introduced me to both Harper Lee’s novel and the beloved movie adaptation. I liked that class a lot. I was introduced to a number of great books that I might not have discovered on my own that year. Thanks, Mrs. Russell.
Although not everyone had to read or watch To Kill a Mockingbird in school, they probably should have. Harper Lee’s book is a masterpiece, rightly considered one of the best books of the 20th century. And while watching Robert Mulligan’s film is no substitute for reading the novel, it must be said that To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the finest adaptations of literature ever captured on film. It retains the elusive flavor of the book while standing on its own merits as a great movie.
Gregory Peck stars as Atticus Finch, a widowed small-town Southern lawyer assigned to defend a black man (Brock Peters) accused of raping a white woman. Peck’s performance became the defining role of his career and I imagine any actor would kill to be so closely identified with a part like this. Peck radiates nobility, intelligence, and compassion and certainly no other actor could have filled this role so well. But the fact that we, the audience, see him as such a hero is due in large part to the filmmakers making us view the story through the eyes of Atticus’ children, Scout and Jem (two outstanding performances by child actors Mary Badham and Phillip Alford).
We see Atticus the way they see him and the film is remarkably consistent at keeping that point of view throughout. Major credit for that must go to Horton Foote’s screenplay, as well as Elmer Bernstein’s hauntingly beautiful music. Director Robert Mulligan (Summer of ’42, The Man in the Moon) brings together all of these contributions from experts working at the top of their game and makes To Kill a Mockingbird into a film that feels remarkably organic and whole. Most movies, even the best of them, feel assembled. To Kill a Mockingbird feels as if it was grown from the ground up.
To Kill a Mockingbird was shot by cinematographer Russell Harlan (The Thing from Another World, Rio Bravo, The Great Race) on 35 mm black and white film using Mitchell BNC cameras with spherical lenses, was finished photochemically, and was released into theaters in the 1.85:1 flat aspect ratio. The film was restored by Universal in 4K from a then-new scan of the original camera negative back in 2012, for its 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release, and has recently been given additional digital remastering—including a new high dynamic range grade (HDR10 only)—to create the 4K Digital Intermediate from which this Ultra HD release is sourced. The result is a lovely upgrade over that previous Blu-ray, in terms of image detail, texturing, and overall contrast. The HDR grade is restrained, thankfully avoiding both crush and hot spots. Shadows still retain good detail, highlights are bright but never harsh, and the gradations in between exhibit greater nuance than before. Footage scanned from original negative is crisp and clean, with a light wash of organic film grain. As always, internegative shots (processed through an optical printer to create titles and transitions) look noticeably softer, and a bit of de-graining may have been applied to them. This is also true of several shots featuring zooms that appear to have been added in post production (including a profile of Bob Ewell’s face after he confronts Atticus at the courthouse, as well as a shot of Scott, Jem, and Dill from behind as they spy on the Radley house at night). But while not quite uncommon, these flaws are the exception to the rule. On the whole, this is a beautiful restoration of To Kill a Mockingbird, offering the film in best-ever image quality on disc.
Audio is presented in both English 5.1 and 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format, essentially the same mixes found on the 2012 Blu-ray. The 2.0 obviously preserves the original Western-recorded theatrical mono audio experience. The 5.1 mix preserves its spirit and overall tonal quality, while creating the feeling of a slightly larger soundstage via the subtle extension of music and sound effects into the surround channels. In both cases, dialogue clarity is very good and the restrained-yet-extraordinary Bernstein score exhibits pleasing fidelity. Additional sound mixes are available in French, Castilian Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, and Czech 2.0 mono in DTS format, while optional subtitles include English SDH, French, Quebec French, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Chinese, and Korean.
Universal’s new 60th Anniversary Edition Ultra HD package is a 2-disc set that includes the film in 4K on UHD and also 1080p HD on Blu-ray—a newly-authored disc, mastered from the updated restoration, and not the same disc released in 2012. (Note that there’s also a 4K Limited Edition that includes the discs plus a collectible booklet, a film cell replica, and art cards.) Both discs include the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Robert Mulligan and Alan Pakula
- To Kill a Mockingbird: All Points of View (4K – 25:06)
- Fearful Symmetry (SD – 24 parts – 90:14)
- A Conversation with Gregory Peck (SD – 18 parts – 97:35)
- Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech (SD – 1:31)
- American Film Institute Life Achievement Award (SD – 10:03)
- Excerpt from Tribute to Gregory Peck (SD – 10:10)
- Scout Remembers (SD – 12:03)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:52)
- 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics (HD – 9:13)
Most of this content is pre-existing, carried over from the original 1998 DVD release, the 2005 Legacy Series DVD, or the 2012 Blu-ray, though there is one new feature produced specifically for this Ultra HD edition. But new or not, most of this content is quite special. Carried over from the first release is an informative—though hardly lively—audio commentary by director Mulligan and the late Alan J. Pakula, the film’s producer, as well as Fearful Symmetry, an outstanding 90-minute documentary on the making of the film that’s shot in black-and-white and unfolds at its own genteel pace.
From the 2005 DVD, Peck’s Best Actor acceptance speech from the 1962 Academy Awards is included in its entirety, along with his speech to the AFI upon receiving their Life Achievement Award, an excerpt from the Academy Tribute to Gregory Peck with daughter Cecilia Peck’s fond remarks, and Scout Remembers, a 12-minute interview with Mary Badham taken from a 1999 episode of Dateline NBC (proving that corporate synergy sometimes has its advantages).
The best of the 2005 content is the 97-minute A Conversation with Gregory Peck, which was co-produced by his daughter and directed by Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple. This lovely and intimate documentary offers a moving look at Peck, both at home and on the road via his one-man Q&A lecture show. This should be mandatory viewing for all celebrities. Here’s Gregory Peck, a much bigger star than anybody today can ever hope to be, talking with fans and admirers backstage and on the street, listening to their stories and appreciating them as much as they appreciate him.
Finally, from the previous Blu-ray comes a generic piece on film restoration that was common on Universal’s catalog releases back in 2012, which was the studio’s 100th anniversary. And as one expects these days, a Movies Anywhere Digital code for the film is also included on a paper insert in the packaging.
The single new feature created for this release is To Kill a Mockingbird: All Points of View, a half-hour retrospective that features Leonard Maltin, various historians and academics, and Gregory Peck’s grandson Christopher (who also happens to be an English teacher). The piece looks back at both Harper Lee’s novel and Mulligan’s enduring film adaptation, examining various aspects of the production as well as the film’s context in history and its continuing legacy and impact. It’s quite thoughtful and well worth your time.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a true American film classic, featuring extraordinary performances by Peck, Brock Peters, and its young cast members, along with the first-ever role of a young Robert Duvall. Both on the page and on screen, the story raises two simple questions: “What do you believe in?” and “Are you willing to stand up for it?” Universal’s new 4K Ultra HD represents the definitive release of this film, combining a top-notch A/V presentation with a new bonus feature and fine legacy features from the Golden Age of DVD. Recommended.
- Adam Jahnke with Bill Hunt