Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's "Tommy" Blu-ray offers a restored and remastered version of the film.
That includes the original 5.0 "quintaphonic" soundtrack that preview audiences heard in 1975. Groundbreaking 35 years ago, but probably not that big a deal in the age of lossless surround audio.
Here we have high-definition high concept: "Tommy" on Blu-ray just sounds like an event. Seen it lately? I have.
So, how does Russell's oft-maligned film play these days? Intermittently dazzling and dreadful, depending on the sequence. Most of the time, the movie looks and feels like an extended version of "The Prisoner," heavy on scenery chewers. Still, the "Tommy" film has its goofy charms and some moments of startling surrealism.
A bit of rear-view: "Tommy" starred the Who's Roger Daltrey as the deaf, dumb and blind boy. Proto-cougar Ann-Margret gets most of the screen time, playing his mom. Jack Nicholson and Oliver Reed added more movie-star power. A gaggle of rock stars perform, including Elton John and Eric Clapton.
This being a musical, the actors all sang their parts -- way cool in the case of "Acid Queen" Tina Turner; horribly wrong when bad guy Reed swallows Pete Townshend's famous lyrics.
Townshend made numerous changes and additions to the sketchy narrative of his 1969 rock opera, notably moving its catalytic events from WWI to WWII. All of the Who's original music was rerecorded for the film, with new songs added and familiar ones expanded and shunted about. Remember Bernie's Holiday Camp -- er, wot?
Critics savaged the film, but even the grumpiest viewer hasn't forgotten the scene in which Ann-Margret slithers about in baked beans, melted chocolate and vile foaming liquids. The boys at the film Academy were impressed, as she received an Oscar nomination. (What to say of a movie in which Nicholson delivers the most low-keyed and nuanced performance?)
Sony previously released "Tommy" on VHS, laserdisc and DVD. In 2002, the movie showed up on Sony's high-quality Superbit DVD format, boasting a restoration of the quintaphonic sound scheme. Extras on the 2004 DVD special edition took an extended look at quintaphonic and its translation to digital home media.
Here's hoping for the best, but quintaphonic probably won't blow many minds these days, as its basic set-up -- three speakers up front, two in the rear -- has become common in homes, not to mention theaters. But back in 1975, "Tommy's" quintaphonic dazzled preview audiences, who were presold thanks to the (short-lived) quadraphonic home audio format.
Four-channel audio dated back to CinemaScope (at the least), but the stereo matrix technology used for quintaphonic -- with its discrete horizontal and diagonal separation -- proved groundbreaking. Quint was the forerunner of Dolby Stereo and the dueling cinema audio systems of the 1980s, such as DTS and SDDS.
Extras on the "Tommy" Blu-ray apparently are limited to a BD-Live feature with film facts and trivia. Viewers can synch their smart phones and computers so information flows without gumming up the Blu-ray visuals. There's also a theatrical trailer, perhaps the one shown below.
No sign of the 2004 DVD interviews with Townshend, Daltrey and Ann-Margret, or the hourlong commentary with Russell in which he admits he'd never heard of Tina Turner before the project.