A year and a half ago, in the throes of an international lockdown, Paramount Pictures released the first movies in its new, ongoing series called Paramount Presents. After painstakingly creating new masters from the original films and giving the audio tracks a makeover, Paramount brings some classic movies from their archives back into the forefront once more. From Elvis' 1958 King Creole to Tom Cruise in 2001 Vanilla Sky, the list of films is as eclectic as they come. November brought the latest releases including 1981's Ragtime, which is perfect timing for a revamping as the movie celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year.
New York in the early 1900s was a time of growth and prosperity, at least it was for white people. However, others were not so lucky as discrimination against black people still existed and was evident at every turn. Even when a well-dressed African American drives down the street in his motor car, he is detained by obnoxious firefighters who move his car and soil the seat with horse excrement. When he demands it be cleaned up, events escalate quickly, leaving a path of destruction and death in its wake and making a negro infant an orphan.
There are so many terrific elements that makeup Ragtime, it is difficult to figure out what to focus on first. While not exactly central to the story, Ragtime boasts a fantastic soundtrack/score with the piano singing under able fingers. The costumes and sets are elaborate and detailed, which makes watching this film a treat. The script is well written but adapting a novel and condensing it down doesn't always work and this is maybe the film's only failing. There isn't time to develop all the characters, hence the movie is somewhat choppy and, though Ragtime is over two hours long, the third act seems a little rushed.
The cast does their best with what they have to work with, and they are wonderful. From Debbie Allen (Fame) portraying the young black woman who is so desperate she leaves her newborn in a garden of a house belonging to a rich, white couple, to James Cagney's (Yankee Doodle Dandy) last role as Commissioner Rhineland Waldo, the ensemble works well together to create a very entertaining movie about a not so glamorous time in American History. Howard E. Rollins, Jr. (In the Heat of the Night) was nominated for numerous awards based on his portrayal of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a talented musician who takes up a crusade to attempt to gain equality with white people in this country. And it is easy to see why. His passion and conviction comes through with every scene.
Restoring the master was well worth the time and effort it took. The picture is noticeably sharper and cleaner and the vibrant colors pop throughout. Shading is deep and the shadows are not too dark therefore offering a distinct variation between the hues.
In a film where the music and dialogue are important, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is crisp and robust, especially in the bombing sequences. There is a good balance between the dialogue, the score, and the ambient noise, and nothing stands out as being distracting.
The new release offers a mix of extras, many of which are previously released. Besides the collector's packaging with a fold-out of the original poster, the set comes with a digital code, Commentary from the Director and executive producer, Deleted Scenes, Remember Ragtime, New deleted and extended scenes, and Ragtime revisited.
The restoration offers an upgrade in video/audio quality that is noticeable and the films offers some excellent performances. However, the script is choppy, and it is obvious that details from the novel are left out making the story seem somewhat incomplete. Otherwise, fans will be pleased with this latest release.