Ragtime – Blu-ray Review


E. L. Doctorow’s acclaimed, best-selling novel Ragtime was a dynamic fictional chronicle of society between 1900 and 1913. The novel was so big that it presented a difficult challenge for Michael Weller. As is, his screenplay is bold but not entirely successful. As a whole, Ragtime condenses the novel but is still too long at 155 minutes. At the same time, it excludes crucial characters, and the story structure is all over the place.

At its core, the movie focuses on issues of social class and social change through three different plotlines. First, the film follows the story of an immigrant artist (Mandy Patinkin) who becomes a filmmaker. Next, it follows the tale of “Gibson Girl” Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern), who becomes indirectly responsible for the murder of the architect Stanford White (Norman Mailer) by Henry Thaw (Robert Joy). Lastly, the film follows Coathouse Walker, Jr. (Howard Rollins Jr.), who seeks justice after a racist fire chief (Kenneth McMillan) destroys his car.

Unfortunately, these three storylines intertwining with each other has led to some sharply uneven dramatic moments. The splintering epic-like saga moves from one subplot to another without rhyme or reason. Not to mention, the events are often seen through the eyes of a decent upper-middle-class family (James Olson, Mary Steenburgen, and Brad Dourif), which might not have been the best perspective.

Nevertheless, the cast does their best with what they got, and they are all spectacular. Chief among them is Howard Rollins Jr., who deservedly received multiple nominations as Coalwalker. Yet, every actor in the cast transforms into their characters with uncanny believability.

Overall, Ragtime is a messy flick that’s mostly saved by its stellar cast. For a sprawling film such as this, you’ll find intriguing storylines and boring ones. Unfortunately, the movie is full of boring ones.

Movie Rating: 3/5 atoms

Ragtime - Brad Dourif and Elizabeth McGovern


Ragtime hits Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-AVC with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The film hits Blu-ray as part of the Paramount Presents with a video transfer that’s from a brand new 4K film transfer. Needless to say, the new restoration looks fantastic. The whites liven up the lit areas, and the blacks are consistent and quite deep. Colors have a tonal balance along with an excellent blend of dominant tones and grounded colors. The picture is also super clear and reveals the subtle degrees of fine details and textures. The fine grain lends a practically perfect layer and accentuates the cinematic look of the flick.

Video Rating: 5/5 atoms

Ragtime - Howard E. Rollins Jr.


Ragtime hits Blu-ray with a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Master Audio track. The audio mix is a predominantly front-loaded presentation. The mix occasionally utilizes the surrounds for atmospheric effects without sounding unnatural or overly processed. As a result, it seamlessly combines crowds, horses, automobiles, and music, which leads to an always active aural experience. Dialogue is crisp and sharp throughout.

Audio Rating: 4/5 atoms

Ragtime - James Cagney

Special Features

Ragtime‘s Blu-ray disc has the following special features on Blu-ray disc:

  • Director’s Cut Workprint
  • Commentary by Director Milos Forman and Executive Producer Michael Hausman
  • New
    • Deleted and Extended Scenes
    • Ragtime Revisted: A Conversation with Larry Karaszewski and Screening Michael Weller on Ragtime
  • Legacy
    • Deleted Scene
    • Remember Ragtime
Features Assessment

A text introduction reads, “The following is a director’s cut workprint which differs from the theatrical release of the film. Thanks to the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation for preserving this material. As with all workprints, in its current form, it was never intended for theatrical or other distribution so it will have defects, black and white footage, and other anomalies consistent with the editorial process.” The print is certainly watchable, but the additional 19-minutes of footage are not in the best shape.

This 2004 commentary features director Milos Forman and executive producer Michael Hausman, who discuss much of the film’s production. Unfortunately, the pair seem to ramble on and stay silent for a while. If you want to see a more comprehensive featurette, then “Remembering Ragtime” is just for you. This featurette has Milos Forman, Michael Hausman, art director Patrizia Von Brandenstein, and actor Brad Dourif discussing aspects of the film’s production.

The deleted and extended scenes are entirely in black-and-white with no identifying titles or other markers. Also, “Ragtime Revisited” has Larry Karaszewski and Screenwriter Michael Weller talk about the film’s origins, writing the screenplay, story themes, characters, the plot, editing, and so much more. Much like the other deleted scenes, this legacy deleted scene is entirely in black-and-white. Also, this scene comes right after Tateh throws his wife out of their apartment.

Special Features Rating: 3/5 atoms

Overall, Ragtime is a film that’s full of weak storylines and not enough intriguing ones. The video and audio presentations are top-notch. Also, you can find a lot of bonus features in this release, but so few of them are worth watching.

Overall Rating: 4/5 atoms

Ragtime is now available in stores on Blu-ray.

This Blu-ray was reviewed using a retail/advance copy/unit provided by Paramount Home Entertainment.

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