DVD review: Criterion rears restored 'Children of Paradise'

Marcel Carne's unforgettable "Children of Paradise" ("Les Enfants du Paradis") — widely (and justly) considered one of the masterpieces of world cinema — showed up in theaters a few months ago in a remarkable restored version. At the time I hoped that the restoration and release foreshadowed an upcoming Blu-ray, which Criterion has now issued (along with an updated DVD version).

Since my review in late May talked about the film ("Film review: 'Paradise' revisited"), let's just assess the current packages (each containing two discs). The content of both editions is identical, except in terms of visual quality and menu access, where DVDs by nature fall short of Blu-ray. The first disc contains the entire three-hour-plus feature, accompanied by a commentary track, ported over from Criterion's original 2002 DVD package. Back in 1945, when “Children of Paradise” was first released, the film was chopped into two parts shown as separate features. Oddly enough, Criterion has a different scholar doing commentary for each half; both (apparently recorded nearly a decade apart) are informative, but the second half (Charles Affron) holds interest better than the first (Brian Stonehill).

Only two of the other extras from 2002 are repeated here: the U.S. trailer and Terry Gilliam's five-minute introduction (from 1999), detailing the film and its impact on his work. The only significant omission from the earlier edition is screenwriter Jacques Prevert's film treatment.

We get a wealth of material in its place, most notably two documentaries about the film's production: the hourlong English language “Once Upon a Time: Children of Paradise” (2010); and “The Birth of Children of Paradise” (1967), a German documentary that revisits some of the film's locales, accompanied by Prevert and other then-surviving participants. Finally, there is a four-minute “before and after” presentation, showing the sorts of flaws corrected in the recent restoration.

Children of Paradise (Criterion, Blu-ray, 2 discs, $39.95; DVD, 2 discs, $29.95)

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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