Taxi Driver

Featured In Issue 156, April 2011

WSR Score5
Basic Information on new release titles is posted as soon as titles are announced. Once reviewed, additional data is added to the database.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
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Martin Scorsese
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Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS HD Lossless 5.1
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Taxi Driver is a film about the pathology of loneliness and isolation and the lonely melancholy of an individual alienated from his environment. Twenty-six-year-old ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a psychotic cab driver who tries to solve his insomnia by driving a Checker yellow cab on the night shift. He cruises the miserable, hellish streets of Manhattan 12 to 14 hours a day, watching the women he can't have, including the angelic presidential campaign worker Betsy (Shepherd)—who rejects him when he takes her to the hard-core sex film Karlekens språk. He tries to save a 12-year-old prostitute (Foster) from her pimp (Keitel). As he wrestles with his ever-deepening alienation and mounting hatred, he develops a goal that becomes a dangerous obsession—to help wash all the scum off the streets and make the world a better place. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked Taxi Driver as the Number 52 Greatest Movie of All Time. (Gary Reber)

Special features include an interactive "Script To Screen" feature in which the script will automatically scroll as the film plays so you can read along and discover the stage direction notes, along with differences from the original script to the finished film; the original 1986 commentary with Director Martin Scorsese and Writer Paul Schrader recorded by The Criterion Collection (originally appeared on the Criterion LaserDisc reviewed in Issue 26); commentary with Professor Robert Kolker; commentary with Writer Paul Schrader; four featurettes: Martin Scorsese On Taxi Driver (HD 16:52), Producing Taxi Driver (HD 09:53), Taxi Driver Stories (HD 22:23), and Travis' New York (HD 06:16); the following documentaries: God's Lonely Man (HD 21:42) in which Schrader and Kolker discuss loneliness themes as seen in the film and the circumstances that lead Schrader to writing the screenplay, Making Taxi Driver (SD 70:55), and Travis' New York Locations (HD 04:49), which compares the film's famous locations in New York City used in 1975 to the same locations as they appear today; storyboard-to-film comparisons, with a Scorsese introduction; animated photo galleries that include photo montages featuring the film's music score, location shots taken during filming, and Scorsese at work; MovieiQ™+sync; previews; BD-Live functionality; and 12 miniature lobby card reproductions inserted into one of the package's six panels.

First reviewed in Issue 26 on a Criterion Collection LaserDisc that was released on February 9, 1997, the picture quality exhibited an overall soft focus with undefined shadow detail. Colors were somewhat oversaturated and sometimes looked muddy. The first DVD release also was reviewed in Issue 26. The anamorphically enhanced DVD, viewed in component video, exhibited better sharpness and detail, with higher resolution. Fleshtones were more natural, but overall, the color fidelity still appeared dated. Slight background noise and artifacts appeared on both versions. The LaserDisc was matted at 1.80:1, while the DVD, letterbox and anamorphic, was 1.78:1. A Special Edition DVD release in June 1999 was reviewed in Issue 34. Though the anamorphically enhanced DVD claimed to have digitally remastered video and audio, the picture appeared to be the same anamorphically enhanced transfer as the DVD reviewed in Issue 26. Colors were somewhat oversaturated throughout and sometimes looked muddy, but exhibited improved clarity over the Criterion LaserDisc. The DVD letterbox and anamorphic aspect ratio measured 1.78:1. Later in August 2007 a Limited Collector's Edition on two DVD-9 discs was released.
For the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray Disc™ release, a full "4K" workflow restoration, including color correction, with no downrezing, was employed. Scanning was completed using a specially designed wetgate 4K scanner at Cineric in New York. The resulting files were then color-graded at Colorworks, matching the director-approved prints by colorist Scott Ostrowsky, along with guidance from Cinematographer Michael Chapman. During the grading process, the 4K files were transferred to MTI Film, where an extensive digital cleanup removed embedded emulsion dirt and meticulously repaired torn frames and scratches, one frame at a time. Once the restored frames were completed, the 4K files were re-inserted into the Baselight 4K workflow at Colorworks for final completion. After additional consultation with Scorsese on grading, framing, and repair, the restoration was completed in January 2011. The HD master used for the Blu-ray MPEG AVC 1.85:1 mastering was derived directly from the final 4K digital files, with bit resolution that exceeds 22 megabits per second and often over 30. The entire procedure assures that the resolution of the original 35mm negative is preserved. As noted, Scorsese and Chapman were both involved in the restoration process, to ensure that the original creative intent was realized. Thus, there was no attempt to modernize the look or the color palette, which was originally produced in Metrocolor. No attempt was made to "pump" the color up in the shooting scene at the end of the film, which was desaturated, using a Chemtone process, in order for the MPAA at the time of the picture's release to issue an "R" rating, instead of an "X" rating. Noteworthy is that the original negative with the original color for this portion of the film has never been found; only the substituted desaturated negative portion exists. Chapman, in the Special Edition DVD supplements, regretted the decision but not only is the original negative lost but no print with the unmuted colors exists either. While previous home video releases all exhibited degrees of noticeable scratch, noise, and dirt spec artifacts, the restoration succeeds at minimizing such artifacts and even lost frames, due to a torn negative. The major issues in the technical restoration were dirt and scratches, especially with the optical sequences, including the opening title sequence and the shooting scene toward the end of the movie. The original grain structure and natural essence of the film appears to remain authentically present and true to the vision of the filmmakers, which imparts a gritty emotional feeling.
The overall look of the film is amazing and reflects Scorsese's original vision within the context of the time and place that Taxi Driver was made, and convincingly replicates the 35 mm cinema vérité experience when initially released in theatres! It is difficult to imagine the movie looking any better than this without re-shooting everything. The integrity and authenticity of the image, as it was and was meant to be seen, is perfectly preserved. Even the classic Columbia Pictures' "Torch Lady" logo is intact, the last feature it would be used on. The Metrocolor palette is nicely saturated, which projects a natural picture quality. Hues are warm and vivid throughout. Fleshtones are naturally hued as well. Contrast is well balanced, with deep blacks and generally good shadow delineation. Though, at times, some scenes exhibit a slight black crush, resulting in less-than-optimum shadow delineation. But given that the film was shot pretty much with natural lighting, the image quality is remarkable, especially given the age of the film. Resolution is excellent and nicely resolves facial features, clothing, and object textures, especially during close-ups. Some scenes

While dated, there was no distinguishable difference in fidelity between the Criterion LaserDisc linear PCM Dolby® Surround matrix-encoded soundtrack and the first DVD, which sounded to be PCM as well. There was no Dolby Digital credit on the DVD nor on the packaging or liner notes. The soundtrack sounded dated, but Bernard Herrmann's glorious music score sounded relatively well recorded, with a wide and deep soundstage. The narrative dialogue sounded slightly distorted, but elsewhere dialogue sounded generally well integrated. These were essentially monaural soundtracks, except for the music score. The soundtrack for the Special Edition DVD was presented in matrix Dolby Surround, which added spatial dimension to the original mono sound mix on the previously reviewed LaserDisc and DVD. Bernard Herrmann's wonderful music score had a more engaging presence, with some deep bass. The fidelity was still dated, with constrained spectral and dynamic range. The narrative dialogue had some distortion, but was otherwise naturally presented.
The Blu-ray Disc release contains the audio restoration that was completed by Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California. For this restoration the original monaural magnetic master with separate dialogue, effects, and music was used, as well as the original isolated four-track stereo tape recordings of Bernard Herrmann's score. The beautiful score pervades the jazz idiom. Scorsese had his own team create the re-purposed discrete 5.1-channel soundtrack from the restored elements, which was encoded in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio™ format. Herrmann died in his sleep on Christmas Eve of 1975, just hours after conducting the final recording sessions for the film. Uncredited Ronny Lang delivered the dominant, haunting alto saxophone solo motif over Herrmann's Academy Award®-nominated score. Lang, who played with the bands of Les Brown, Harry James, Stan Kenton, the Dave Pell Octet, and Henry Mancini, as well as on hundreds of film, TV, and record studio sessions, delivers one of the most beautifully melodic saxophone solos in recorded history. Jazz saxophonist Tom Scott is credited on the Original Soundtrack Album but plays only on the "Additional Interpretations" arranged by David Blume, Hermann's music director. The smooth, jazzy tones of Lang's saxophone set the theme, which varies in tempo as it follows Travis in his Checker cab, driving his often-sordid passengers around the city. Herrmann uses dissonant chords played by trumpets over rhythmic snare drums, and a harp, to portray Travis' psychotic tendencies, whose theme ultimately dominates the score. In the end, the two themes clash with one another, signifying Travis' transformation from a lonely taxi driver into a murderer. The recording quality is superb, with the entire instrumentation of the orchestra clearly discernible. In fact, the soundtrack's surround enhancement of the music score is preferred to the otherwise excellent fidelity of the 20-bit mastered Original Soundtrack Album CD released on the Arista (Germany) label entitled The Vinyl Classics: Music From The Motion Picture Taxi Driver. The Blu-ray would be absolutely complete if included was an isolated music track to match that CD, but in surround. A number of the film's music tracks include Travis' monologue of his thoughts, including the ad-libbed "You talking to me?" dialogue into a mirror. The sound quality of the monologue is perfectly intelligible, with a forward presence that is surreal. The music projects a wide and deep soundstage that extends deep into the surrounds, to create a spacious soundfield experience. Dialogue is production sound and sounds "recorded," with spatial integration that at times is wanting. Still, the slightly distorted character is characteristic of the time that the film was made. Some of the interior cab scenes sound less distorted and better integrated. Dialogue is center-channel focused. Atmospheric sound effects are "stereoized" and distributed to the surrounds as decolorated signals, but subdued in level. One of the most effective segments is the noticeable "ticking clock" background to Travis' weapon practice in his apartment. This is an effective mix that opens up the soundfield and projects a more realistic soundscape, to accompany the visuals. The .1 LFE channel is subtly used but provides effective bass enhancement during music segments and, in some instances, gunshots. The music score is, without question, the element that conveys the emotional communication in the storytelling and is the element that succeeds the most in this restoration. Overall, this is a wonderful re-purposed soundtrack that delivers a spatial dimension that was never effectuated in the previous home video releases or the theatrical releases.
Well done! (Gary Reber)