Taxi Driver on 4k Blu-ray is only available in the Columbia Pictures 4k Ultra HD Vol. 2 boxed set that was released in the US starting on Sept. 14, 2021. It seems not all pe-orders were ready to ship though, as we only received our copy on Oct. 12. The second Columbia Pictures collection includes Anatomy of a Murder, Oliver!, Sense and Sensibility, Stripes, Taxi Driver, and The Social Network, as well as 20 Bonus Short Films from the Columbia Pictures library. Vol. 2 is just as handsome as Vol. 1, with a sturdy fold-out box that holds three Blu-ray cases on each side and a photo book in the center. Each 4k Blu-ray combo edition is packaged with similarly-designed slipcovers but unique case inserts under the plastic case sleeves. The collection is priced $106.99 (List: $164.99) on Amazon.
Taxi Driver is clearly the “flagship” of this collection from Columbia Pictures. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jodie Foster), and Best Original Score. It is ranked No. 47 is The American Film Institute’s “100 Greatest American Films Of All Time.” Surely, this is a movie worthy of a release to 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Taxi Driver can really be considered a piece of cinematic art. The combination of Martin Scorsese’s direction and the cinematography by Michael Chapman created a visual masterpiece for the ages. What’s more, the film is so rich with images of the city that it’s almost a time capsule of New York in the 70s.
The movie was released not without controversy though. A 12-year old Jodie Foster plays the role of a young prostitute named Iris (also 12 years old) who Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) tries to save from her pimp. Foster was also very young to be in such an explicit film, especially in the violent and bloody shootout at the climax which almost got the movie an X-rating but was reduced to an R rating after Scorsese agreed to mute some of the color saturation of red blood in some scenes.
This is the first time Taxi Driver has been available on Ultra HD Blu-ray. However, it’s not the first time the film has been offered in 4k. Apple iTunes has been selling Taxi Driver in Digital 4k for a few years now, and truth be told there isn’t much of an advantage to the disc version. Sure we’re looking at bitrates in the 60Mbps range from the UHD BD (about twice as much as Apple delivers), but bitrates don’t mean anything if the source material doesn’t make use of what HDR can deliver.
We’ve taken some off-screen shots of both formats to display the range of values in both the disc and digital 4k presentations. For example, in the scene at the diner, we can see a nice range of values from pure black to white, and lots of detail in the shadows. The only noticeable difference is in the neon HESS Gasoline sign that looks more red and glowy in the Apple digital presentation (with Dolby Vision). Another example is in the closeup of Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) which are almost identical when comparing 4k disc and 4k digital.
The aspect ratio of the Taxi Driver (1.85:1) just about fits on a 16×9 TV with small black box bars on the top and bottom. There is noticeable grain in this film, so much so that it almost looks like a theater projection. It’s good the restoration team left the grain though instead of something different than the time period it came from. But there are also some details that HDR in this 4K restoration have delivered. For example in the taxi cab station when Travis applies for a job there is a lot of detail behind him that is not noticeable in previous Blu-ray prints.
Black levels are definitely crushed in Taxi Driver, mostly in the night scenes and in the taxi cab. This is just an inherent quality of the film that was shot at the time, and maybe processed with not a ton of latitude. But the lean towards darker values in the night shots doesn’t detract from the quality of the film, it just makes it look more like 70s cinema.
Other footage has been slightly improved from Blu-ray. For example when Travis drives his taxi to confront Harvey Keitel’s character “Sport” Higgins at 1:38:10 the scene looks completely out of place, the color and film grade mismatched, and exposure much darker compared to the rest of the film. But the shoot-up at the hotel has gained some depth in the shadows with the help of Dolby Vision – both on disc and digital.
The audio in this 4k Blu-ray edition does not seem to be any different than previous Blu-ray releases, notably the Mastered in 4k version released back in 2013 with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. This is certainly not a surround sound extravaganza like you might find in a new Disney film, so we can talk more about the background music.
The score to Taxi Driver uniquely contrasts ominous-sounding jazz with cooler, more upbeat phrases that seem to understand the psychological condition of Travis. The movie was dedicated to composer Bernard Herrmann who passed away in 1975, before Taxi Driver was released to theaters and just hours after submitting the score to Scorsese.
Herrmann had an incredible resume before taking on Taxi Driver — notably his work with acclaimed directors Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock on some of the most memorable and acclaimed movies of all time. His scores for Psycho and Vertigo, specifically, are on the list of the 25 greatest film scores from the American Film Institute.
Taxi Driver on 4k Blu-ray offers the film in both the DTS-HD 5.1 channel mix and mono mix. Both formats offer crisp dialogue and a warm rendering of the music score. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
The good news is there is bonus material on the 4k Blu-ray disc. The content is accessible from the Extras section on the Home screen. The extras include Making Taxi Driver Documentary, Storyboard to Film Comparisons, photo galleries, and 20th Anniversary Re-Release Trailer.
There are also previously-released extras on the included Blu-ray disc such as the 40-minute Taxi Driver Q&A panel with cast members, writer Paul Schrader, and director Martin Scorsese, as well as other bonus material.
This classic from Director Martin Scorsese is must-own in 4k. Classic performances by Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster, a timeless script from Paul Schrader, and an unforgettable music score by Bernard Herrmann make it an essential film in any home theater library. It’s a rare occasion when we can compare an older movie already streaming in 4k to a new 4k Blu-ray release, and in this case, the Digital 4k version (at least streaming from Apple) is a more affordable option if the expensive Columbia Pictures 4k Ultra HD Vol. 2 collection is out of reach.