If you’re a fan of musicals, South Pacific is definitely one of the best. South Pacific is a 1958 film adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, which was based on James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. Director Joshua Logan (Picnic, Bus Stop, Sayonara), shot much of the film on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, with special effects providing distant views of the island of Bali Hai. The decision to film on location provides the movie with a real beauty and sense of realism that no studio back lot could have ever attained.
The story itself is a rather typical romance. Though to its credit, South Pacific does briefly touch on the serious issues of racial intolerance, prejudice and mixed marriages. The film focuses on four main characters as they deal with complex romantic entanglements during World War II in the South Pacific. Marine Lieutenant Joseph Cable (John Kerr) arrives with orders to secretly place observers on enemy occupied territory to provide information on Japanese troop movements. After careful consideration, Cable believes his mission has a better chance of success if he can enlist the help of Emile De Becque (Rossano Brazzi), a Frenchman who has lived on the island for years.
De Becque denies his request, because he has a new love. He has recently met Little Rock, Arkansas native and naval nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor). The two have very strong feelings from each other but his past and her prejudices threaten to keep them apart. Meanwhile the Navy brass get wind of Nellie’s relationship with De Becque and ask her to spy on him and try to ascertain what he’s hiding. At the same time, Lieutenant Cable finds himself falling in love with a young native girl named Liat (France Nuyen), and her mother, Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall), is trying to push the couple into marriage. However Cable’s own concerns about marrying a native girl and the dangerous mission he must undertake put those plans in doubt.
While the story is solid, it is truly the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein that makes South Pacific a bonafide classic. Every song is known to any fan of musicals: There Is Nothing Like A Dame, delivered by a score of rugged, bare-chested sailors, Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair, I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy, and of course, the irrepressibly joyful Happy Talk with its wonderful underwater scenes. It is all pure, wonderful and unselfconsciously camp. Yes, occasionally the musical numbers are a bit over the top but it’s virtually impossible not to sing along.
The film has been criticized over the years for its use of colored filters during many of the song sequences. Apparently, Joshua Logan wanted it to be a subtle change, but 20th Century Fox, the company that would distribute the 35mm version, made it an extreme change and since tickets to the film were pre-sold (it was a roadshow attraction), they had no time to correct it. Apparently A.M.P.A.S. (Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) didn’t mind, because the 65mm Todd-AO cinematography by Leon Shamroy was nominated for an Academy Award that year. Watching South Pacific on the clarity of Blu-ray, I had to wonder why the filmmakers experimented with filters when they had such a beautiful location in the first place.
Filters aside, South Pacific is a wonderful musical with a seemingly simple message; no matter the place or the person–love conquers all. Sometimes it’s only for a brief moment and sometimes its love that will last a lifetime but its love that sustains us. As the lyrics from one of the songs in the film say so well:
You have to be taught before you’re 6, 7 or 8/To hate all the people your relatives hate.
20th Century Fox presents South Pacific on Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1080p, 2.20:1-framed transfer. The film looks positively immaculate. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the disc is the mesmerizing color reproduction. Blues are the most pleasing to the eye, both in the beautiful and clear Pacific waters and the denim-colored shirts worn by the seamen. The sandy beaches and the tan-colored Naval dress uniforms, in addition to the lush and lovely green vegetation, all come together to offer the film a pleasing, classic technicolor look. South Pacific also enjoys excellent detail throughout; the wooden appointments of the military headquarters, the clothing, and the vegetation all offer viewers the chance to absorb the finer details and textures of practically every object on-screen. Flesh tones are consistently accurate throughout.
South Pacific debuts on Blu-ray with a quality DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, in addition to four-channel and two-channel Dolby Digital tracks. Like the video, the soundtrack is a pleasure to behold. Dialogue and song lyrics are presented with authority and vigor, strong and clear as the solos flow from the center channel with the singing of the full cast emanating from the entire front soundstage. From the most raucous of songs to those sung quietly and “internally” — the characters thinking to themselves in song — all are presented clearly and accurately. The accompanying orchestral music is strong and clear, each instrument heard distinctly and together making for a harmonious, pleasant, crisp experience. The rear channels are sparsely used, the best outburst heard during an action sequence near the end of the film. The lossless soundtrack adds a nice bit of extended range and clarity to the experience. Thankfully, the presentation here hasn’t been aggressively re-mixed to throw music and effects all over the soundstage. South Pacific makes for a pleasant, high-quality listen that supports the lavish visuals nicely.
South Pacific comes to Blu-ray with a myriad of special features spread across two discs. Disc one offers viewers the 157-minute “general release” cut of the film. The special features included on this disc begin with a feature-length commentary track with President of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization Ted Chapin and Gerard Alessandrini. The pair shares a wealth of knowledge about the history of the production, both the stage version and the film iterations. Their track is almost as interesting as the film, with honest comments and observations that often feels like friends discussing the film rather than dryly recounting anecdotes and filmmaking techniques. Also available on disc one is Singalong, an on-screen karaoke-style presentation of 19 songs from the film, and Songs Only Chapter List, simply allowing viewers to skip directly to their favorite songs.
Disc two features the long-thought-lost “Road Show” version of South Pacific, a cut that increases the film’s length by 14 minutes. The added footage is of noticeably lesser quality, particularly evidenced by faded colors, thanks to the limited availability of prints from which to cull the missing scenes. Please note that no lossless audio track is available with this version; only several Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks — 5.1, 4.0, and 2.0. — are included. Nevertheless, the additional scenes are a welcome addition, and one cannot knock either quality or the studio for including them. Disc two also begins with a commentary track, this one featuring Musical historian Richard Barrios. Barrios addresses the particular version of the film presented on disc two, pointing out the new edits and why the extended edition works better than the more readily available and widely-seen “general release” edition. Barrios delivers his comments with an easygoing authority, and his knowledge seems limitless.
Passion, Prejudice, and South Pacific: Creating an American Masterpiece (1080i, 1:34:05) is a four-part feature that examines the film in-depth, beginning by placing it in the historical context of World War II and the segregation of America, and moving on to looking at the writing of the screenplay and music for the stage and, finally, the silver screen. Examined is the search for lead characters, the themes of prejudice that run throughout the movie, the quality of the songs, the use of the Todd-AO wide-angle camera, and much more.
Making of South Pacific (1080p, 14:01) is a vintage black-and-white making-of piece that looks at the use of the Todd-AO camera, the construction of sets, casting, shooting the combat scenes, the native people’s hospitality towards the cast and crew, and more.
60 Minutes: The Tales of the South Pacific (480p, 22:25) is a piece hosted by Diane Sawyer that looks at the life works of Author James Michener.
Vintage Stage Excerpt (480p, 9:38) features several black-and-white clips from the actual stage production, including I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, Finale, Some Enchanted Evening, and A Wonderful Guy performed by Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza.
Fox Movietonews is a pair of vintage pieces — South Pacific on the Screen – A Perfect Hit (480p, 1:20) and State Department Confers Highest Honor on South Pacific (480p, 0:52).
Screen Test: Mitzi Gaynor (1080p, 6:51) features the actress rehearsing for her role.
Concluding this impressive assemblage of special features is a still gallery and the film’s theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:43).