‘Tommy’ back on video: It’s a Blu-ray

tommy movie bluray elton johnHere we have high-definition high concept: The visual freak show “Tommy” on Blu-ray.

Sony says the version of Ken Russell’s “Tommy” on Blu-ray comes “newly restored and remastered” for its Sept. 7 release.

The original 5.0 “quintaphonic” soundtrack returns from previous DVD versions, this time rendered in lossless audio. The regular Dolby 5.1 mix also has been remastered.

Lovers of the “Tommy” album looking for an amazing journey in sonics had best return to their SACD discs, however, as this movie’s soundtrack doesn’t feature the original 1968 recording. Instead, mainstream actors and a handful of rock stars help the Who perform Pete Townshend’s rock opera. (It’s a good 20 minutes into the film before we hear the ‘orrible Who do their thing.)

“Tommy,” of course, stars the Who’s Roger Daltrey in the eponymous role. Director Russell brought in movie stars Ann-Margret, Jack Nicholson and Oliver Reed in a bid to flesh out the rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy.

Townshend made numerous changes and additions to his sketchy narrative from 1969, notably moving its catalytic events from WWI to WWII. All of the Who’s original music was rerecorded for the film, a downgrade in every case.

The actors all sang their parts — terrific in the case of raspy Tina Turner; borderline tragic when Reed warbles his villainous nasty bits.

Actors from the rock world included Keith Moon (Uncle Ernie), Tina Turner (the Acid Queen), Elton John (the Pinball Wizard), and Eric Clapton and Arthur Brown (psychedelic priests).

Surreal/psychedelic highlights include the “Pinball Wizard” number with Elton John atop giant boots; the Marlyn Monroe worship scene with Clapton and Brown (“Eyesight to the Blind”), and the “I’m Free” sequence in which Tommy awakens from his addled state.

Here’s hoping for the best, but quintaphonic sonic 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, much less 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 (at the least) dated back to CinemaScope, 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.

(Update: Criterion released a sparkling version of “Quadrophenia” in 2012. Its audio was in mono.)

The “Tommy” Blu-ray extras include a cloud-based trivia track and a trailer, perhaps this one:

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