Blu-ray Review: Taxi Driver

When I think of the 1970s as a golden age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, the first image to come into my mind is a lonely Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath.

Three young geniuses–writer Paul Schrader, director Martin Scorsese, and actor taxidriver1Robert De Niro–came together with this film and everything clicked, resulting in the perfect study of loneliness as a disease. De Niro’s Travis Bickle isn’t lonely because he hasn’t found the right companion, or because society has failed him, or because he doesn’t want intimacy. He’s lonely because he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. He can’t make the judgments or read the signs, or even see individuals for who they are.

He manages to be charming enough in one early scene to get a date with an intelligent and beautiful young woman (Cybill Shepherd). Then he’s clueless enough to take her a porn flick.

Porn plays an interesting role in Taxi Driver. Bickle has a strong puritan streak, and complains about the whores, perverts, and other sickos he sees driving his cab through the night. But in his off hours, he goes to porn movies.

This is a sad and pathetic man, and you can’t help feeling sorry for him. But he’s also a very scary man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. To the world at large, how and where he explodes will define him as a villain or a hero .

First Impression

taxidriverboxThe disc comes in a three-part foldout case. A pocket in the case contains 12 lobby cards.

When you insert the disc, it brings up the opening menu as quickly as technically possible. No trailers to annoy you. That’s a good trend!

How It Looked

I can’t say this is a beautiful transfer because Taxi Driver is not a beautiful picture. Nor is it a particularly sharp one. As he says in one of the commentaries, Scorsese wanted the film to look grainy.

And in this 1080p transfer, it does. The grain, the dark, and the filth come through dramatically in this transfer, done from a new 4K digital restoration. The violence at the climax almost made me gag.

How It Sounds

As with The Ten Commandments, the original mono track isn’t there. The movie soundtrack is only available in a relatively new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix.

I can’t complain too much about the mix, much of which still sounds like mono. Only the music (Bernard Hermann’s last score) is spread across the three front speakers, and sounded very nice that way. I don’t recall noticing anything in the surrounds, or anything but music from the front side speakers.

Still, I wish they had included the original mono mix, as well.

And the Extras

Few single-disc titles come as loaded with extras as Taxi Driver. I should make it clear that as I write this, I haven’t had time to enjoy all of them. I hope to, however.

First, there are three commentary tracks. The first is a rare Criterion Laserdisc commentary by Scorsese and Schrader (mostly Scorsese). The menus claim that this commentary was recorded in 1986, but since Scorsese refers to Goodfellas as his most recent film, 1990 or 91 are more likely. The other two commentaries, by Schrader and Professor Robert Kolker, came from earlier DVD releases.

Thanks to Blu-ray’s Bonus View technology, another option allows you to read the script as you watch the movie. Another Blu-ray technology, BD-Live, drives the movieIQ feature, which lets you read regularly-updated trivia off the Internet as you watch.

However, this disc’s BD-Live features didn’t work on my player. I have no idea why. This is the first disc on which I’ve had this problem. And yes, I tried another disc and it worked fine. Perhaps a future update of my player’s firmware will fix this.

In addition to extras that play with the movie, the disc includes 12 documentaries of various lengths. Their combined running time is well over three hours.

That’s a lot to watch. But Taxi Driver is worth it. It goes on sale Tuesday.