For years the sprawling saga Giant has had a rep among critics and fans as a great Hollywood movie. It won George Stevens a Best Director Oscar (out of 10 nominations) and respect for Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean (both men were nominated for Best Actor). It has also earned a morbid place in history as Dean’s swan song — he died in a car crash just days after he completed filming.
This two-tape, 40th-anniversary edition restores the film’s color (which looked wan in past video transfers) and its original wide-screen compositions, and includes trailers, footage of the New York and L.A. premieres, and a 1956 behind-the-scenes documentary. The extra width works for the Texas vistas, but, unlike previous full-frame versions, it often just adds dead space on the sides of indoor scenes, some of which have been cropped so closely that actors’ heads occasionally butt the top of the screen.
More problematic, Giant is like an overfed cow — lumbering and thick. The story about ranchers (Hudson and Taylor) at odds with a new-oil mogul (Dean in a mannered, out-of-place turn) is fine when it sticks to flirtin’ and fightin’ on the range, but awkward when dealing with racial intolerance among whites and Mexicans (the film’s symbolic image of a black calf with a white lamb is particularly wince-worthy). The exception: a funeral for a Mexican soldier (Sal Mineo) killed in WWII that’s shot and played with quiet eloquence. At best, Giant floats on the charisma of its stars, but that’s small consolation. C+