Taxi Driver Blu-ray Movie Review
Taxi Driver is a piece of film history. So entrenched is its archetypal anti-hero, that the confused, lonely young man syndrome has played out dozens of times across the evening news, making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Before Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon and before John Hinckley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan (ironically to garner the notice of Jodi Foster) Paul Shrader wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver. The horrific story delves into the psyche and mysterious motives of the loner-outcast that is willing to go to terrible ends to do something, anything in a desperate bid to attach meaning to his life.
The movie drops us into the life of Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) with little sense of his personal history. In one of the first scenes we learn he's a Vietnam veteran and a naïve young man of 26 years who doesn’t know what “moonlighting” means. We don’t know what happened to him in Vietnam, we know nothing about his family or why he feels the sense of nocturnal unrest that drives him to become a night-shift cabbie. But we do see New York City through his eyes, as it was in the mid-70s. The Times Square he sees doesn’t exist anymore, filled with porn theaters, neon lights, reeking with prostitution and illicit drug deals. For him, it conjures visions of Dante’s Inferno that makes him beg for - "…a real rain to come and wash all this scum off the streets."
The movie contains detailed visuals of 70s New York City with long panning shots of the action that’s constantly unfolding on the sidewalk. They’re priceless pieces of bygone cinema. With today’s frenetic pacing, you just don’t get the kind of extended shots that let the viewer take in the environmental details. Taxi Driver's cinematography is a cultural time-capsule.
There are several memorable scenes in the film, including of course: "Are you talkin' ta me?" But my favorite scene is the one where Bickle seeks advice from an older cabbie called Wizard, played by Peter Boyle. Bickle explains to Wizard that he feels down, that he wants to go out and really… really do something.
This kind of naturalistic acting is almost unheard of nowadays. There is no slick dialogue. Bickle and Wizard are both unsure of what to say. DeNiro stammers, stumbles his words, then backs up and rephrases his sentence. Then Wizard attempts to give him some perspective.
This scene meant little to me in past viewings, but now I see a sense of sweetness coming out in DeNiro's character. You feel for the guy - he's earnest, generally well-meaning but he's hurting inside. You really get a sense that he could be on the verge of doing something desperate and stupid. Bickle even tells Wizard he has a lot of bad thoughts. But what can Wizard do? He pats Bickle on the back and tells him he'll be okay.
There's something universal about Travis Bickle at this point in the film. The young lone wolf driven from his pack, now he just wants to … to really do something, as he says. But what? How? The rest of the movie is Bickle's attempt to find out.
His first violent impulse was to attempt to attack what Scorsese calls the father figure of the woman that rejected him, Betsey (Cybil Shepherd). But when that fails he goes after another father figure, the one leading Iris (Jodie Foster) a 12-year-old prostitute astray. Bickle wants to save Iris, who believes she has found contentment with a sleazy pimp called Sport (Harvey Keitel).
Today, we'd say that Bickle suffers clinical depression and paranoia. In our politically divided world that too often believes easy answers lay in over-simplified ideology, there are too many outlets for Bickle's kind of confused, paranoia. He would easily have a ready-made scapegoat for his loneliness and a focal point for his unrest in social and political movements or conspiracy theories.
For those who haven't seen the movie, or who haven't seen it in a while, I won't divulge the ending here. For those who remember, the violent scene near the end would be hard to forget, but after that there's a sequence I know I didn't remember as well.
Seeing the movie again after a long time I am seriously considering that the ending never really happened, that it was a dream, fantasy or delusion. There are plenty of theories on the Internet that support the ending-as-fantasy stance. The ending seemed out of step with the rest of the film – or at least for the real world of the Taxi Driver.
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
For its 35th Anniversary Blu-ray transfer - Sony Pictures has treated Taxi Driver to a full 4K scan, after a meticulous restoration of the film's original negatives. According to Grover Crisp, Senior VP for Asset Management Sony: “The resulting HD master used for the Blu-ray authoring was derived directly from the final 4K files.” To translate, Taxi Driver's original negatives were cleaned of dirt and scratches. Scorsese and Chapman were on hand to ensure color was properly restored and that the negatives matched the original vision of the film. Then each frame was digitally scanned at 4K, deemed optimal to maintain the resolution of the 35-mm negative.
Back when the film was originally released, in order to get an R-rating and reduce the gore, Scorsese was forced to de-saturate the color. Before the restoration process, Chapman tried to find the original film with full color saturation, sadly it had long been destroyed. But the original color levels were restored as intended, which only served to make scenes like the film’s bloody climax so much more intense than any version of the film released previously.
The results of the video restoration are nearly flawless. Considering this is a 35 year old movie, there is very little in the way of grain or noise. Only in some of the darker scenes do converging shades of black become partially muddy. But most of the night scenes are exemplary. Bright neon lights provide flawless contrast on the inky blackness of the night sky. Even when viewed through a rain-soaked windshield, wipers steadily push at the light's reflections on the little trails of water across glass. Sony's detailed high-res restoration is a definite breakthrough.
By contrast, daylight scenes are bright and magnificent - it almost looks like a different movie. Travis himself reflects this contrast - it's murky night scenes where, driving his cab, he wallows in angst and self-doubt. But it's a bright, sunny afternoon when he gets up the nerve to walk into the offices of the Charles Palantine campaign and ask the lovely blonde Betsey (Cybil Shepherd) out for a coffee and some pie.
Audio and Musical Score
Master Audio 5.1
French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Portuguese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Like video, the audio restoration also received special treatment. The musical score’s original 4-track stereo audio tapes were restored separately from the mono magnetic master of the dialogue. Then, Scorsese had his own audio experts create a 5.1 channel audio track from these digitally restored elements.
The 5.1 soundtrack is flawless. While the musical score is the film’s audio gem, the overall ambiance through sound effects are stunning for a mix of a 35-year-old movie. You’ll hear some use of the surround channels to keep off-camera acoustic cues in perspective. The ambient sounds of a bustling New York City are spot-on, and you’ll feel the busy streets and traffic all around you. By contrast the apartment scenes where Bickle devolves into violent fantasy feel shut-in and claustrophobic. Throughout the film, the score lends a nervous energy to the closed-in feel of the soundtrack and makes for spectacularly subtle audible cues.
The score’s Betsey’s Theme, a mournful saxophone, is a constant companion to Travis Bickle’s fares and his first-person perspective of Times Square. The piece is by legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. Even for 1976, Betsey’s Theme hearkens to a bygone era - maybe it reflects Bickle’s yearning for a simpler time. Scorsese’s films have always been known for their prominent scores. Goodfellas was nearly wall-to-wall rock songs that set not just a mood, but the timeline of events on camera. Taxi Driver's score is just as important to the story, but in a very different way. It’s hard to say, but it's likely that Herrmann's score may have influenced some of those long, panning shots of New York City.
Movie score composer Bernard Herrmann worked extensively with Alfred Hitchcock, and was known for demanding his music play out in its entirety. Hitchcock would sometimes even extend scenes so a Herrmann piece could finish. Herrmann has also worked with Orson Welles and Ray Harryhausen, and even created the music for Twilight Zone. It's easy to imagine a young Martin Scorsese extending a scene to comply with the prickly Bernard Herrmann’s demands.
From the moment you get Taxi Driver’s collectible case in your hand, you know you’re holding onto something special. This isn’t Blu-ray’s signature translucent blue case. The cover has a leather-bound feel and opens to reveal the disc on one side and a collection of 12 post-cards featuring scenes from the movie including the original movie poster on the other.
This is one Blu-ray release that is so filled with worthwhile features it will surely keep any movie fan busy for days. Some of this is older content you may have seen on past DVD releases of this film. But there is enough new content to keep it interesting.
Original 1986 commentary with director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader recorded by the Criterion Collection.
- Commentary by Paul Schrader and professor Robert Kolker
- Script to Screen Interactive Feature: As the movie plays you can read Schrader’s original screenplay on the side.
- "Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver" featurette: HD, 17 minutes. 2007 interview with the director on Taxi Driver.
- “Producing Taxi Driver" featurette: HD, 10 minutes.
- "Influence and Appreciation" A Martin Scorsese Tribute featurette: HD, 18 minutes. Oliver Stone and Roger Corman, cinematographer Michael Chapman, Robert DeNiro and others talk about the man, the myth, the legend – Martin Scorsese.
- "God's Lonely Man" featurette: HD, 22 minutes.
- "Travis' New York Locations" featurette: HD, 5 minutes.
- Video Bonus: "Storyboard to Film Comparisons": HD, 8 minutes.
- "Taxi Driver Stories" featurette: HD, 22 minutes.
- "Making of Taxi Driver": HD, 71 minutes.
- Animated Photo Galleries
- DB Live
This is a near perfect presentation of a 35-year-old classic. Taxi Driver is easily on my short list of personally influential movies of all time. While I had no problem loving the movie itself, I was blown away by the video restoration, the conversion to Blu-ray and the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track.
For the love of film, this is one Blu-ray release that deserves to be purchased. I know many find it easy to download by seeking out a bit-torrent, 1080p rip of Taxi Driver on Blu-ray. Your download may look and sound almost as good as the disc. But what is the real cost of a free movie?
The detail studios put into restoration of classics isn't cheap. I fear for a time when it’s no longer viable to put this kind of effort into restoring old movies. I would like to humbly suggest you all vote 'yes' to Sony doing more 4K restoration projects by buying this disc and seeing Taxi Driver the way it was meant to be seen, for the very first time.