General, The (Blu-ray Review)22 Dec, 2009 By: John Latchem
Stars Buster Keaton.
Buster Keaton’s masterpiece The General bombed when first released in 1927. Critics hated its pacing, and audiences shied away from its tone, perceiving it to lack the comedy they’d come to expect from Keaton, who considered it among his best films.
It has since been voted the 15th greatest film of all time by Sight and Sound in 2002, and landed at No. 18 on the “AFI 100 Years … 100 Films” revised list from 2007. Now it is the oldest film to make its way to the high-definition Blu-ray format.
Mastered in HD from a 35mm archive print struck from the original camera negative, the Blu-ray version looks absolutely amazing for an 82-year-old film. Keaton’s skills as a director really come across in beautifully photographed landscapes and an impressive train chase that is on par with any action set-piece that could be conceived of today.
The film is based on an actual incident during the Civil War in 1862, when Yankee spies stole the Confederate train General and made their way northward in an attempt to sabotage freight routes. In what could be considered the Die Hard of its day, Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, the train engineer who wages a one-man war against the North to recover his beloved locomotive.
The Blu-ray contains the same extras as Kino’s 2008 deluxe DVD version. Most interesting for history buffs is a featurette about the real General, which is on display at The Southern Museum in Georgia.
Also informative is a tour of the filming locations with John Bengtson, author of Silent Echoes.
As a nod to Keaton’s love of trains, the disc also includes “The Buster Express,” a montage of train gags from his career.