DVD Review: Average DVD minimally enhances quaint classic

“”Little Women”” is a sentimental-film favorite. Among the five film versions, director George Cukor’s 1933 rendition (the first in sound) has been called the “”definitive”” version for Katherine Hepburn’s precise characterization as protagonist Jo March. Although a bit melodramatic, “”Little Women”” deserves its place among the classics being introduced into DVD format. Unfortunately, the DVD boasts meager special features, making it only slightly preferable to the video version.

Based on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved Civil War-era novel, the story records the joys and hardships of the four March girls as they mature into “”little women.”” There is serious and petulant Meg (Frances Dee), vain but charming Amy (Joan Bennet) and shy and saintly Beth (Jean Parker). The movie, however, centers on Jo, the vivacious tomboy with literary aspirations. The movie follows Jo as she pursues her own unique path yet stays connected to her family and friends, dealing with sickness, death, romance and dreams deferred in their own turn.

The DVD’s benefits are mostly in the film itself. The film is preserved in the original widescreen film ratio, unlike VHS. If you look for it, you can see scratches and blips, but overall, the digital sound and crisp picture quality preserve the immediacy and timelessness of the tale. The snow and forest scenes are especially vivid — you can almost touch the snow. One thing that doesn’t change, unfortunately, is the still-tinny sound quality that makes the girls’ incessant squeals a bit too high-pitched for comfort.

For special features, the DVD has little extra to offer, but it’s decent and has a quaint interface to match the film. There’s only one language track, but subtitles in six languages. There are notes and pictures on the Hepburn/Cukor collaboration and a list of awards, but no Academy Awards clips or any interviews are included — a bit surprising for the “”definitive”” version as the DVD’s back cover proclaims.

The most interesting thing besides the trailer is music director Max Steiner’s scoring session music cues, including two alternate track takes. Only true fans will listen to every track, however, for although the music is good, there aren’t any truly memorable themes. The most annoying aspect is that the theme music starts from the beginning every time you return to the main menu. Still, the DVD makes the best of its special features.

In short, it is welcome to finally have the heart-warming “”Little Women”” on DVD, but unless you are a die-hard fan, it is advisable to wait for a bargain before buying it.

*** Three Stars

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