MGM Blu-Ray Wrap-Up 2 (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out The Magnificent Seven, Blood Simple, and Dressed to Kill...
The Magnificent Seven
As an avid fan of the spaghetti/Euro Western tradition I have to recognize that Magnificent Seven had a massive, last minute influence on filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. Director John Sturges (who also acted as producer, though according to legend not sole producer) not only beat Leone to the punch on adapting Akira Kurosawa properties as westerns, he beat him to the punch casting Eli Wallach as a (obviously darker) loveable villain, and Charles Bronson and James Coburn as antiheroes with a dark pasts. Coburn’s character was also influential on Sergio Sollima, who’s crafted a similar character for Thomas Milian for use in The Big Gundown and Run Man Run. Sturges’ film isn’t exactly a full-on revisionist western, as it lacks Corbucci’s politics, but it is a stylized celebration of a then faltering art form, and like Leone’s characters, the Magnificent Seven are basically underpowered superheroes. And like Leone’s Fistful of Dollars, Magnificent Seven is the best kind of remake – it reconceptualizes Seven Samurai’s basic plot and characters without wasting our time saying the exact same things, and stands alone when needed. I’m more familiar with Kurosawa’s original, so I found comparing the two films quite fun this time around. Sturges’ style is more traditional than the Italian filmmakers that followed. Stylistically speaking he had less of an impact than John Ford, but his use of the widescreen frame, and action direction are graceful without being showy. In my mind Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape are forever intertwined, and I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve put together the fact that both films were made by Sturges. The style, themes and actors really should’ve been enough to clue me in. Though clearly Seven Samurai, along with some similar samurai efforts, predate it, Magnificent Seven represents a sort of beginning for a series of ensemble ‘tough guys on a mission’ movies that proliferated throughout the ‘60s and ‘50s, like The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, and The Wild Bunch, a list The Great Escape clearly belongs on.
Magnificent Seven hits Blu-ray with a magnific…erm, fantastic 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. I never owned the film on standard DVD, so I can’t directly compare, but can’t imagine the difference being negligible. The film is plenty old, and was shot the old fashion way, so utter clarity is positively out of the question. There is plenty of grain, and a handful of inconsistent shots, but these are all part of the print, and should not be eradicated with unnecessary DNR or other such production toys (though there is some minor evidence of such fiddling in facial close-ups). The details here are sharp, ensuring the entire widescreen frame is clear, and only minor edge haloes slightly damage the experience. Despite the grain the majority of the print is super clean, occasionally faltering for some of the darker shots, and fluttering a bit between some frames. The colours are rich and solid in that slightly unnatural way seen in many similar period features. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack matches expectations as well, and doesn’t add on any awkward or unnecessary tweaks to get more breadth out of the 5.1 encoding. The majority of the sound is centered in nature, especially dialogue, and including off camera gunshots. The included two channel original Mono soundtrack has higher volume levels, but there is more distortion at high levels, and muddling of Elmer Bernstein’s classic score. The extras include a commentary track featuring actors James Coburn and Eli Wallach, and producer Walter Mirisch, ‘Guns for Hire’: The Making of The Magnificent Seven’ (47:00, SD), ‘Elmer Bernstien and The Magnificent Seven’ (14:50, SD), ‘The Linen Book: Lost Images from The Magnificent Seven’ (14:50, SD), two trailers, and a still gallery.
(No screencaps at this time)
Blood Simple is an incredibly strong debut film, but it’s far from Joel and Ethan Coen’s best work, and despite critical praise, it didn’t have a huge effect on anyone outside than the Coen’s themselves and cinematographer-turned-director Barry Sonnenfeld. Stylistically speaking Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing are the more obvious early calling cards. There are hints of future visions (gliding cameras, long bouts with stillness, faith in the audience’s ability to follow a story with minimal dialogue, the brilliant, proto- No Country for Old Men climax), but there’s a more certain sense of experimentation, specifically experimentation with other filmmaker’s images (I see a whole lot of Ridley Scott and Michael Mann here). The writing is closer to where the team would end up, but the dialogue doesn’t quite feature that Coen-specific poetry just yet. Characters interact in the usual Coen fashion, have the usual Coen eccentricities, and discuss incidental stuff for extended periods, but there’s little to else to throw a first time audience off to who exactly made this film. Perhaps the most ‘problematic’ in comparing Blood Simple to the team’s other efforts is the fact that its 1985 setting is inherit in every frame, which stands apart from the usual pack of vaguely timeless despite period setting films in the Brother’s filmography. Now that I have that out of the way, I can add my voice to the long tradition of praising Blood Simple as one of the best of the ‘80s ‘neo-noir’ pack, standing proudly alongside Michael Mann’s Manhunter, Brain DePalma’s Dressed to Kill (see below), Dario Argento’s Tenebre and Donald Cammell’s under-seen White of the Eye. It’s tense, suspenseful, occasionally funny, character driven, and incredibly well shot. The screenplay is perhaps more cryptic than is ideal at times, and like many of the Coen’s films amounts to more of a series of discussions and set-pieces than a proper ‘storyline’, but the narrative is consistently intriguing, and supposing you haven’t already seen the film, unpredictable.
This new Blu-ray release, it should be mentioned, is the 2000 directors’ cut, which is a few minutes shorter, tightening up the whole endeavor (similar to Ridley Scott’s Alien director’s cut). I can’t recall enough of the original cut to bemoan its absence, and suspect this choice was based on the digital revamping that went into that release. MGM/Fox probably wasn’t looking to put any money into doing the same thing with the original cut . This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is, for the most part, quite good, featuring bright neon hues, deep, crisp blacks, and relatively impressive details (there are a whole lot of sweaty brows in this particular film). The print shows its age in terms of grain (the outdoor night scenes especially), and occasionally fuzzy edges, but there aren’t many digital compression issues, save a few noisy blends. The soundtrack has not been revamped into 5.1, but an uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is plenty adequate. I suppose a discreet central channel would make for stronger vocal performances, but not enough to demand a refund or anything. The mix is pointedly stark, ensuring that only the most important noises define the aural experience. Some of these are loud enough to garner a bit more stereo involvement, especially the throb of Julian’s office fan, but the lack of LFE enhancement doesn’t really hurt. Carter Burwell’s impossible to get out of your head score is plenty warm, and the additional music is both crisp and clear. Extras include an extremely technical commentary with Kenneth Loring, the artistic director of Forever Young film restoration, and a trailer.
Dressed to Kill
Of a rather sizable series of films, it seems that Dressed to Kill is the overall favourite among Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock inspired thrillers. Despite liking the film for what it is, which is a cocky exploration of screen sex and violence, I find myself forever more drawn to the director’s more unique thrillers, which is what I’d consider Sisters and Blow Out. Dressed to Kill is a studious film, one that explores visual themes and technical prowess without any particularly implicit meaning, which is a nice way of saying it’s extremely well-made, but generally speaking, kind of dumb. The film is most brilliant when no one is speaking, which is a sort of unfortunate De Palma trademark. The scene in the art museum where Angie Dickinson sits and observes life in an art gallery looking for a piece of action is genuinely worthy of similarly wordless sequences in the best Hitchcock films De Palma is looking to ape (the sheer quantity of Hitchcock callbacks here could fill a textbook). The following post-coital scene pushes the silent storytelling even further, ending on a genuinely funny joke. The scene does almost nothing to develop the story, but expects quite a bit from its audience in a way so few movies do. Arguably the film loses most of its gusto once Dickinson is killed and the proper plot line takes hold, but these first 30 plus minutes, minus perhaps the more talkative scenes, makes up a wonderful short tragedy. The story outside the wordless scenes, and all mystery that surrounds it is weak, evoking memories of that other famous pretender to Hitchcock’s throne, Dario Argento, who at his best makes up for his stilted scripts with dizzying, bloody details. De Palma generally does better with storytelling than he does with graphic, baroque violence. Not to say Dressed to Kill isn’t among his goriest films, or that the kill scenes, especially the early elevator kill, aren’t among the most evocative in screen history. The controversy that followed the film’s initial release really does seem a bit quaint these days, but makes sense given its mainstream release. I agree with the critics that it’s a trashy and lurid movie, but don’t find it inordinately misogynistic for type (for real, frothing misogyny see Lucio Fulci’s 1982 answer to De Palma’s film, New York Ripper).
This new Blu-ray release’s 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer is actually rather stunning, or at least more stunning than I was expecting, but isn’t so different from the DVD release that fans absolutely need to run out and buy a new copy. For the first time ever, having been too young to see the film in theaters, I can see why the MPAA objected to the opening shower scene. De Palma really doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. Most of the compositions are a bit on the fuzzy side, which is in keeping with my memory of every other release of the film, and I assume the intended look. I haven’t researched the film enough to be certain, but assume De Palma was trying to evoke a dreamlike atmosphere ( Carrie does something similar). This look leads to some less than sharp details, and a constant sheen of film grain, but this disc’s producers were wise enough to leave unnecessary DNR out of the equation. Contrast levels are perhaps a tad less aggressive than I’d prefer, which leaves some of the darkest sequences muddied, but overall colour quality is vibrant, and well separated despite the soft focus and grain. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack doesn’t move very far beyond the realms of the original stereo track, but sounds nice enough, and explores the dynamic range of the sound design, specifically during the largely wordless sequences, where Pino Donaggio music can exercise the appropriate shock. Dialogue is plenty clear, and volume levels are consistent, though I would prefer the previously mentioned music to be kicked up a notch. The surround channels get a bit of a workout during the thunderstorm, and feature some basic ambience on street scenes. The extras include the extensive and entertaining behind the scenes documentary entitled ‘The Making of a Thriller’ (42:30, SD), a comparison of the rated, unrated and television versions of the film (5:10, SD), ‘Slashing Dressed to Kill’ (3:50, SD), ‘An Appreciation by Keith Gordon (6:00, SD), an animated photo gallery, and the film’s original trailer.
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 6th September 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Guns for Hire, Elmer Bernstein and the Magnificent Seven, The Linen Book, Actor Commentary, Audio commentary with Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Institute, The Making of a Thriller, Version Comparison, Slashing of Dressed to Kill, An Appreciation by Keith Gordon, Image Gallery, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen, John Stuges, Brian De Palma
Cast: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, John Getz, Francis McDormand, Dan Hedaya
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller and Western
Length: 0 minutes