Release: 25th February 2019
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrives in Krakow in 1939, ready to make his fortune from World War II, which has just started. After joining the Nazi party primarily for political expediency, he staffs his factory with Jewish workers for similarly pragmatic reasons. When the SS begins exterminating Jews in the Krakow ghetto, Schindler arranges to have his workers protected to keep his factory in operation, but soon realizes that in so doing, he is also saving innocent lives.
At 25 years old, it is easy to forget that Schindler’s List was once a massive gamble for Steven Spielberg. This was a man at the height of his fame, known for aliens, adventurers and in the throes of re-defining the summer tentpole blockbuster with Jurassic Park. No one, even the director himself it seems, expected him to embark of creating one of modern history’s most historically significant motion pictures.
What is most striking about the 4K remaster of this classic is just how outstanding the cinematography is. It could be argued that this is Janusz Kaminski’s finest hour. This is a film designed for the format of 4K. The depth of contrast is so striking that at times you might find yourself outside of the film, admiring its beauty; and that is a strange thing to experience when watching a story about the holocaust. Scenes such as Schindler’s opening ‘con’ feel like the purest form of cinematic art, with every gorgeous detail embossed in a chrome-like glow. It is a fitting attribute for a film designed to etch itself in the mind of the viewer. This is cinematic masonry.
As for the story of Schindler’s List; it still remains a deeply moving and troubling depiction of human indecency. There is no doubt that Hitler’s army were committing unspeakable evils, but it is interesting that Spielberg and writer Steven Zaillain spend some much time exploring the German experience of this period. It feels as though he wants to search for humanity inside the inhuman. Then, there is a fleeting sense in the first 30 minutes of the film that Spielberg wants to treat this like a heist movie. Schindler works the Nazis, Itzhak Stern works Schindler. The whole ‘essential worker’ motif feels like a twisted inversion of something you might have seen in the likes of Ocean’s Eleven. But as situations become more dire, as the reality of Amon Goeth sweeps in to the ghettos, suddenly we are presented with the same truth that so many faced in those harrowing times; survival might not be an option any more.
What is most surprising, even now, is how humble Spielberg is in his treatment of the subject matter. He directs the film with such finesse and respect, and this is his master stroke. It is his absence as a filmmaker that allows the film proper breathing space to tells its own narrative. There is no need to be more brutal about the Nazi or sympathetic to their captors, because the sheer reality of this atrocity is significant enough. Even the treatment of the film’s protagonist, Oskar Schindler, is proof Spielberg is happy to trust in the minutia of the truth and does not press to make him some sort of hero. Here is a man who develops a conscience; and some might argue too late. But his is a story of a man presented with an opportunity to do right, and he rises to the challenge. It remains a devastating finale, acted to perfection by both Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley.
It is exciting to see Schindler’s List develop a new level of depth both visually and emotionally, with this presentation proving itself to be an essential addition to any film library. It might be a difficult watch, but now is as good a time as any to revisit one of Spielberg’s greatest contributions to cinema.
Film Grade: A+
A recent Panel makes up any new material. The rest is held over from older versions of the blu-ray. But still, all worth a watch.
Special Features Grade: B
A absolute gut-punch of a film. Gorgeous, sensitive, and even now, timely.