New to Blu: Laurel & Hardy - The Definitive Restorations (1927-1937) - Reviewed

The beloved slapstick comedy due Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, best known to the film world as Laurel & Hardy, remain two titanic icons of laughter.  And yet for decades, their illustrious filmography consisting of dozens of short films as well as features have remained in less than stellar condition over the years.  Given the time between the films’ inception and now, left to wear and tear against natural elements, it’s understandable trying to bring these comedy classics to a newer generation of viewers is something of an uphill battle.  For the longest time the only viable option to view many of the Hal Roach library of Laurel & Hardy shorts was through the expansive 2011 10-disc DVD boxed set known as The Essential Collection which offered the remastered shorts in varying quality.  

This week, however, that will change with the upcoming Kit Parker Films and MVD Entertainment 4-disc blu-ray set Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations.  Though not possessing all of the short films in the previously released The Essential Collection DVD box, this newly rendered boxed set produced with the help of the UCLA Film & Television Archive as well as the Library of Congress offers a handful of their most beloved shorts restored in 2K or 4K respectively from original 35mm nitrate prints.  The end result offers some of the dynamic duo’s most beloved films as you’ve never seen or heard them before!  Simply put, this treasure trove of Stan & Ollie shorts are offered in arguably the best looking and sounding versions possible.

Some of the shorts such as the Academy Award winning The Music Box, arguably their most well known short of the two trying and failing miserably to deliver a surprise piano birthday gift, I’ve been watching on VHS tape since I was 5 years old.  Having seen many of the shorts on this set countless times, watching them in this new Definitive Restorations set was a revelation.  While some of the shorts like Helpmates tend toward the blurry side of things based on the sources available, others like The Music Box and Hog Wild look like they were shot yesterday.  Dialogue and foley effects are exceptionally clearer now as well, in a way eliminating the patina of being an older film and taking you the viewer on a trip back through time. 

The 4-disc blu-ray set doesn’t simply offer these films in stellar new editions.  The set itself is packed to the gills with hours upon hours of exclusive bonus features and archival materials not seen for nearly a century.  Each short comes with its own set of production gallery photos, deleted scenes, differences in release versions and publicity materials.   Also included are Super 8 Kodachrome film interviews with cast members as well as Oliver Hardy himself.  Alongside it are plentiful audio interviews with the principal players and producers including legendary producer Hal Roach. 

Though only a fraction of their extensive filmography, Laurel & Hardy – The Definitive Restorations is a great starting point both for newcomers as well as longtime fans of the duo.  If nothing else, this has to be what might become one of many Laurel & Hardy blu-ray disc sets offering viewers some of the comedy team’s finest moments.  There’s more to unveil eventually but for now what’s in the Definitive Restorations set will keep fans busy for awhile.  If you’re as die hard of a fan as I am of these two, going back to my childhood, this blu-ray set is an essential pickup for cineastes and fans of old-fashioned slapstick comedy.  A strong contender for one of the very best blu-ray disc releases of 2020!

--Andrew Kotwicki