Dead Poets Society (Blu-ray)
Tradition, honor, discipline and excellence. These are the characteristics that define the young men who attend Welton Academy. Seven friends navigate the treacherous waters of parental pressures and the rigid standards upheld by every educator in the school. And then they are introduced to a professor who passionately teaches English while encouraging the class to question the rules and decisions made around them each day. As a result, he changes their lives forever.
Todd (Ethan Hawke) and Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) are roommates with the most dysfunctional of all their friends’ fathers. Todd prefers to blend into the background. His father’s lack of affection results in his feelings of low self worth. On the other hand, Neil receives daily pressure from his father who insists sacrifices should be made for the benefit of his family, and trudges on with the weight of a future medical degree on his shoulders.
The young men are soon sucked in to the inspiring energy of Professor Keating’s class. Students are overwhelmed by the instructor’s blatant disregard for conventional teaching styles as they are encouraged to rip pages from their textbooks, stand on their desks and listen to the wisdom from past students’ photos in the hallway. “Listen. Do you hear it? Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Keating also introduces the group to the Dead Poets Society that was founded back when Keating was going to school at Welton. The friends meet in a cave in the dead of night to recite poetry, make out with girls and stretch their creative wings. Slowly, each one begins to realize their true dreams and passions and together they’ll have the courage to seize their own lives with dreams to make them extraordinary. Robin Williams is phenomenal in this role. So many times, his boisterous personality can compete with his dramatic chops, but not in DEAD POETS SOCIETY. There was an appropriate amount of signature imitations and snappy one-liners, but his affection and determination to inspire and encourage his young students was beautifully acted. Hawke and Leonard were equally moving on the receiving end of his passion.
Neil’s storyline was by far the most compelling and Leonard was able to grasp the necessary joyful spirit of his character coming alive on the theater stage and equally crushed spirit when his father forbid him to return. As an 18-year-old, I was impressed by Hawke’s ability to transform a young, painfully shy kid, into a man courageous enough to stand tall in front of school administration in love and support of his “Captain.” If that moment didn’t move you to some sort of emotional reaction, I suggest you check your heart.
What’s interesting to me is the fact that audiences can be equally inspired by Keating’s words in DEAD POETS SOCIETY. The entire film is full of rich, eloquent poetry, philosophy and the stirring words of Tom Schulman who won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for the film. As a writer, I’m particularly moved by this conclusion from Keating:
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”
Life will always go on. What will your verse be?
Video: 1080p High Definition: Filming took place in Vermont. The architecture of the school and time of year in which the movie was filmed was a perfect setting. There was one shot of the friends consoling Todd in the snow was absolutely gorgeous.
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The audio quality was excellent on this feature.
Commentary with Peter Weir, cinematographer John Seale and writer Tom Schulman: They talk about the development of the script and changes made to scenes. It wasn’t too involved, but was a nice addition to the other supplements.
Dead Poets: A Look Back (26:55): Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and other members of the Dead Poets Society share memories of director Peter Weir’s method. Most of the young men compare him to a real life version of Professor Keating. All felt inspired, protected and trusted this man with their performances.
Hawke mentions the scene where he is encouraged by Neil to throw his birthday present (the same desk set his parents got him last year) off the roof of the dorm. Apparently, the scene called for him to cry about it, but Hawke told Weir that he would never cry in front of another guy. They worked out a new scene that actually made it into the film.
Raw Takes (7:57): This was actually a deleted scene. After Neil’s performance in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” Mr. Keating finds the Dead Poets Society in the cave and recites some of his favorite verses. Then he takes them to a frozen waterfall.
Master of Sound: Alan Splet (10:59): This feature showcased Alan Splet and his preference for natural and organic sounds. Apparently, he is a true master of sound, because people in the industry don’t know how he does it.
Cinematography Master Class (14:47): This was a very boring feature on learning how to get to a certain point of view when shooting in model dorm rooms. It was like a classroom video that instructed how to make it look like different times of day using light through the window. Yawn.