aka: Tommy by The Who

Written by Pete Townshend & Ken Russell

Directed by Ken Russell



Theatrical:  Robert Stigwood Organization

Video: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 35.29 GB

Feature Size: 32.80 GB

Bit Rate: 27.91 Mbps

Runtime: 111 minutes

Chapters: 16

Region: All


English DTS-HD MA 5.0

English DTS-HD MA 5.1


English, English SDH, French & none


BD Live

Movie IQ


Blu-ray Amaray case

Release Date: September 7, 2010


Ah - those Sixties and Seventies!  What a peculiar time for America.  Everyone thought Edward R. Murrow had killed Joseph McCarthy and everything he stood for, but the powers that be led us right into Vietnam without blinking, believing that somehow Communism would sweep over the world like Nazism if we didn’t stop its spread in Southeast Asia.  Our particular brand of nihilistic paranoia and the conspiracies that grew out of it – and still do – found expression and reaction in everything from Vietnam to The Parallax View to rock music, and its attempt to find its way into the mainstream: that often jittery art form that came to be known as the rock opera/musical.


There was Hair (1967), Godspell (1971), Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and The Who’s entry into this rarified world: Tommy – first on LP in 1969, then in 1975 immortalized by that most flamboyant of film directors, Ken Russell.  (Funnily enough, Tommy didn’t find its way to a major stage production until 1992.)  Russell was over forty in 1969 when he directed his breakthrough feature film, an adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love with Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson. The Devils (again starring Oliver Reed plus a delusional Vanessa Redgrave) followed two years later, along with The Boy Friend (a film I enjoyed despite generally tepid reviews).  Tommy came four years later.  Russell evidently enjoyed music and musical artists (notably Tchaikovsky in The Music Lovers, Liszt and Mahler), but he seemed more interested in Tommy’s potential for a riotous, razzle-dazzle circus of color, costumes, fantastic sets and eye candy in all sorts of flavors.


The Movie: 6

Russell’s adaptation follows Pete Townshend’s double-LP for the most part except in one crucial detail, and one I approve of altogether.  Tommy is the child of Nora (Ann-Margret, in a Golden Globe winning performance) and Captain Walker (Robert Powell), who is sent off to war in the RAF at the onset of WWII.  Presumed dead, Nora takes up with Frank Hobbs (Oliver Reed), a snake oil charmer, with and without the snakes.  When Tommy is about six his father returns only to find Nora and “Uncle Frank” in flagrante.  Frank kills Walker (Townshend originally had it the other way around) and he and mom caution Tommy that he sees, hears and says nothing of what just happened – a demand that Tommy takes to heart quite literally.  From then on until his epiphany quite some way into the movie, he is as if deaf, dumb and blind, a fact that leads Nora to seek out all manner of low-lifes, pseudo-professionals and dilettantes -Tina Turner as the “Acid Queen,” The Preacher (Eric Clapton) cousin Kevin (Paul Nicholas) and Dr. Quackson (Jack Nicholson) - to “help” Tommy.  One day, in a junkyard, Tommy (now a wide-eyed, near catatonic Roger Daltry) comes across a pinball machine – and the start of a career that would bring him fame, thanks to his match with the Pinball Champ, played by a glittering Elton John, and eventual worldwide attention as a religious cult leader.


Image: 8/9

Tommy lives or dies in its color and music.  The Blu-ray does a splendid job of bringing to life the intentions of its Art Director, John Clark and Costume Designer, Shirley Russell (wife of...)  Running their transfer at a deservedly solid bit rate, Sony’s colors are rich and exuberant, with eye-popping contrast where the source material calls for it.  Russell uses a number of films stocks and processing techniques which, at times, flatten the image or produce more or less grain.  In any case I don't see that Sony has made any attempt to ameliorate the situation.  There are precious little transfer issues or noise to speak of.


Audio & Music: 5/7

I wish I could say the same for the music but despite its uncompressed 5.1 (or the original quintaphonic 5.0 DTS mix, the music - band and vocals (keep in mind that there is no spoken dialogue for the entire movie) - is without nearly the punch and clarity obtained in the LP.  Still there is a fat sense of space that seems appropriate with music at times emanating from this corner and that.  Vocal syncing is generally abysmal as, too often, are the instruments.  The scene with Clapton and The Who is a dramatic case in point: there is little connection between what we see and what we hear. As for the music, The Who are purely a matter of taste, though if the audio were better I think I would have found the band and the singing less noisy.


Extras: 1

BD Live and a Movie IQ that turns out not be very smart after all.

Recommendation: 7

I don’t imagine Tommy will look better on home video in my lifetime, and though the audio is far less than killer, it may never have sounded much better.

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

September 20, 2010




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