Many who’ve been through high school had a teacher who affected them in a way no other one could; a teacher who makes a real honest-to-goodness impact on a student’s life. Perhaps that explains the enduring popularity of Dead Poets Society, the 1989 coming of age story directed by veteran Australian filmmaker Peter Weir. At the time of its release, the film was widely seen as a star vehicle for Robin Williams, but it became much more because Weir wisely chose to surround him with a group of talented, young actors to play his students. As a result, Dead Poets Society serves as a multi-dimensional look at teen angst, while providing moments of subtle humor.
The setting is the tony Welton Academy prep school, circa 1959. Newly arrived literature professor John Keating (Robin Williams) a graduate of the school, is not typical of the school’s teachers. Encouraging his pupils to refer to him as ‘O Captain, my Captain’, paraphrasing the name from a Walt Whitman poem, he lets them write creatively and encourages them to rip what he considers unnecessary pages of wonkish intellectualism from books and think for themselves.
So inspired are the students to “seize the day,” that they reform “The Dead Poets Society,” an ultra private group dating back to Keating days as a student. Together, while exploring their love for poetry, the young men form a strong bond. Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) has a passion for acting despite his controlling father’s (Kurtwood Smith) demand that he go to medical school; Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) has big shoes to fill, as his brother was a star pupil at the school; Rich boy Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) seems to feel strangled by the school system, and just wants to escape; Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles) has fallen hard for a public high school student named Chris (Alexandra Powers), much to the displeasure of her macho boyfriend, Chet (Colin Irving).
Director Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Truman Show) helped Robin Williams deliver one of the best performances of his career. While he does jump on desks and the like, his performance is dialed down several notches from something like Good Morning, Vietnam. Williams’s performance won him a Golden Globe. It should be noted that the young actors performances are top notch and believable.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer isn’t quite as good as Good Morning, Vietnam. While color and contrast is very solid, you’ll notice a heavy grain and edges that are less detailed than one might like.
The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack isn’t particularly punchy, but for a dialogue driven film, it does a fine job. The audio sits in the midrange, never exhibiting to much bass or treble.
English SDH and French subtitles are available.
The special features are ported over from the Special Edition DVD:
- Audio Commentary: Director Peter Weir, cinematographer John Seale and writer Tom Schulman offer a candid but reserved commentary that touches on everything from the development of the script to changes made during filming, details on casting and performances, notes on lighting and sound design, a primer on writing authentic period dialogue and creating convincing ’50s production design, etc.
- Dead Poets: A Look Back (SD, 27 minutes): Members of the Dead Poets cast, look back at the film, and offering praise of Weir as a filmmaker, personal memories from the shoot, etc. It should be noted Robin Williams is nowhere to be found.
- Raw Takes (SD, 8 minutes): Raw, unedited takes of a single deleted scene that was designed to intercut with a young man’s suicide.
- Master of Sound: Alan Splet (SD, 11 minutes): Weir and filmmaker David Lynch discuss the life, career and cinematic contributions of the late Academy Award-winning sound designer, Alan Splet.
- Cinematography Master Class (SD, 15 minutes): Seale discusses his approach to setting up the same shot with a variety of different variables.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 minutes)