One of last year’s very best films, Lincoln, arrives on Blu-ray today. This excellent historical epic, which garnered its lead, Daniel Day-Lewis, another Best Actor Oscar, is also being sent on DVD to most school districts across the United States, so hopefully, it can become a standard for generations to come. Lincoln steps right where many other period pieces—including Amistad, from Lincoln’s director, Steven Spielberg—go wrong; specifically, the film has an abundance of wit and personality as opposed to wallowing in highfalutin dourness. In theaters and on an admittedly light Blu-ray, Lincoln retains its fast-paced, insightful tone.
Lincoln wisely does not attempt to tell the full life story of America’s 16th President, focusing instead on a four-month period in 1865 before his assassination, when he and his government worked hard to end the American Civil War and abolish slavery, once and for all. The battle to end these dual blights on the American dream is able to serve as a solid backdrop as we peer into Lincoln’s psyche at this crucial period. Spielberg, well-known equally for his trips back into the tawdry past of these United States as he is for delivering slam-bang adventures, delivers a surprising, thrilling, and stirring new film about a time in our country’s history when, through as many means as necessary, we were able to maintain our collective dignity. Both as a lesson of what really spurred on the end of the Civil War and slavery, and as a piece of popular entertainment, Lincoln soars almost entirely—its bookending moments are a bit unnecessary, but are only 5 minutes of 150.
There are two Blu-ray versions of Lincoln floating around retail stores: a 2-disc combo pack with one Blu-ray disc and one DVD, and a 4-disc combo pack with two Blu-ray discs, one DVD, and one digital copy. For the consumer, the question is simple: how much do you want to know about the production of Lincoln? That—leaving aside the digital copy—is the major difference between the two combo packs. The former combo pack only has two special features totaling 13 minutes, one of which discusses the journey of Lincoln from the page to the screen. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin, who wrote the book that inspired the film, Team of Rivals, along with Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner, producer Kathleen Kennedy, and others, all talk about the long, long road this movie took in coming to fruition. The other, titled “A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia,” explores the reason for setting and shooting the film in Richmond. This duo is somewhat meager, especially considering the expanse, relatively speaking, of supplements on the second Blu-ray disc.
While there are only four special features on that bonus disc, they are far more expansive than what’s on the feature Blu-ray disc. They range from discussing the sound and music of the film, from the perspective of composer John Williams and sound designer Ben Burtt; to delving into Day-Lewis’ stunning portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as well as how the rest of the cast responded to his work; to explaining the choices in costumes and sets throughout this epic film. Could there be more to display about this Oscar-nominated film? Of course. And, as always, the amount of discs feels a bit much considering the amount of content on them. (The DVD has only the feature about the journey of the film.) Four discs and only six special features is a bit of a letdown, even though expecting an audio commentary would’ve been a pipe dream. As with most Blu-ray releases from the Walt Disney company—Touchstone Pictures is one of the film’s distributors and took on Blu-ray distribution over 20th Century Fox—what matters most is the feature itself, with the supplements representing a tasty appetizer.
And in this case, the feature is worth the price. Lincoln was one of the best films of 2012, and may well hold up far better than the Best Picture winner, Argo. (Your mileage, of course, may vary.) Everyone walked out of Lincoln, appropriately crowing about Daniel Day-Lewis, once again proving that he’s one of the best, if not the best, actors of his generation. There is no hint or whiff of Daniel Plainview or Bill the Butcher in this version of Abraham Lincoln, no vainglorious ego present in his canny, lived-in portrayal of one of the great leaders of the past few centuries. Yet what makes Lincoln so enjoyable—yes, enjoyable—instead of being a dirge through history is that the massive ensemble, with actors like Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, James Spader, John Hawkes, and more, is brimming with vitality and spirit. So, too, is Lincoln, a lively, engaging tale of how, as one politician calls Lincoln, the “purest man” won a pair of moral and legislative victories through underhanded means. Lincoln the man may not have been so pure, but Lincoln the film is, and can find even more fans on Blu-ray.