Buster Keaton’s most remembered and technically accomplished feature films is, without a doubt, The General (featured in Volume 1 of the Buster Keaton Collection). If we are talking about innovation within the medium, however, few films have contributed quite so much as the accomplished Sherlock Jr., which is featured in Volume 2 alongside The Navigator, which displays Keaton’s endless creativity with slapstick and comedic timing. Sherlock Jr. is not only a great early slapstick film, it is one of the first films to really expand on the potential discovered in Georges Méliès’ ‘magic show’ shorts.
Sherlock Jr. features a movie projectionist who falls asleep and dreams that he is able to enter the movie screen. As the movie changes around him and he is forced to adjust to each new setting (his place in/on the screen never changing), it is one of the first great examples of utilizing match cuts for comedic purposes. And if subtlety isn’t as impressive to you, this is also the film that he fractured his neck on, speaking to extremes he was willing to go to in order to achieve a stunt.
This loveable loser projectionist is vying for the attention of a pretty girl (played by Kathryn McGuire), or ‘The Girl,’ as the credits list her. The projectionist/Buster’s advances are thwarted when ‘The Local Sheik’ (Ward Crane) frames him for theft so he can pursue ‘The Girl’ without competition. In his dreams, the projectionist imagines himself a cunning detective, able to solve the crime and clear his own name while dispatching the villain. Proving that the female characters didn’t always need to be saved, ‘The Girl’ solves the crime on her own in the real world.
Keeping the feminist theme continuing, The Navigator opens with Rollo Treadway (Keaton) proposing to his girlfriend, Betsy O’Brien (McGuire, again), only to have her turn him down in favor of independence. Angered, Rollo decides to sail away on a trip that was meant to be a honeymoon of sorts, only to discover that he has accidentally boarded a ship owned by Betsy’s father. After he is captured by spies, the ship is sent out to sea with only Betsy and Rollo onboard, leading to a hilariously timed bit where they are aware of each other’s presence, but can’t seem to find each other on the massive boat. What follows after that could be the precursor to the screwball comedy, as well as featuring the best of slapstick and Keaton’s ability to constantly innovate as he made films. The under-water sequences alone are a technical feat worth studying.
There is no denying that these films are classics, but that is not a matter of debate when they are re-released. The question becomes more about the quality of the release, and expectations are even higher when they are on Blu-ray. Fans can rest assured that at the very least, this version is an improvement from the standard Kino release. The 4K restoration can’t fix everything from a film nearly 100 years old, but this is definitely the best available presentation thus far. All-new scores are also recorded for the presentation, but that is all a matter of preference. Sometimes I prefer the older scores, even when the quality of the film is not as impressive, though this version does the film justice.
Included on the same disc, these films together don’t leave a great deal of room for supplementary material. The extras do include two restoration trailers for the films, along with two behind-the-scenes featurettes. They are less than five-minutes each, however, and basically just have a bunch of interviews with people praising Keaton, as though he needs their validation. The restoration is vastly more impressive than the extras.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 10/10
Historical Significance: 10/10
Special Features: 2/10