Shane Blu-ray Review
Heart-breaking, heart-felt and heroic: a true classic
A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.Although based on a book of the same name, director George Stevens has a just claim on the story of the mysterious stranger entering a town to dispense justice. Although our character has a name, Shane, in every other aspect he is without one; no past to speak of, mysterious, enigmatic, good with a gun and effortlessly cool with it. He stands with the down trodden, the lowly and the meek; a champion for the underdog and willing to take a beating (or worse) for it, and then, just as mysteriously he rides away, leaving death and justice in his wake.For that is exactly the tale of Shane, riding into a battle between homesteaders and a cattle baron warring over the land, but it is also so much more; Stevens provides poignant dialogue about guns, the land, nature of man, law, order, position and more. His characters are more than single dimensions; multi-faceted with motivations and ethics – there is no bad guy just a difference of opinion and the lead up the final shoot out is peppered with alternatives to destiny. Little wonder the film has maintained is standing as one of the greatest westerns ever made, I’d also wager it's one of the best films, full stop.
Picture QualityThis Limited (to 2000 copies) Edition set from Eureka has two discs with three aspect ratios: Disc 1 has the original 1.37:1 academy ratio that the film was shot in, disc 2 specially for this limited run houses the 1.66:1 theatrical release and an optimised re-framing for the 1.66:1 ratio by George Stevens Jr.
Originally envisaged, composed and shot in this ratio the film looks quite simply stunning. Detail is sharp and well defined, there are clear clothing weaves, skin has good texture, the muddy river banks or town streets, the grasslands, the filth and muck of the corrals, the mountain ranges, the clouds in the sky; each and every one has definite edges, save those filmed in soft focus.
Colour is reasonably strong and vivid; the Technicolor print, as well as the cinematography choices, favour earthy tones, so the print is skewed towards this hue, flesh tones are therefore towards the brown, while the landscape is heavy with greens and russet, all coming across without wash or bleed. Blues fair extremely well, check out the skies.
Brightness and contrast are set to give strong blacks that add decent depth to the frame. There is a good amount of shadow detail in the genuine dark, while the day for night shooting hides most in a sea of inky blackness, no crush though. Whites are clean and bright and never clip, again I point to the clouds.
Digitally there are no compression issues or edge enhancement. The original print is in very good nick and has cleaned up well, grain is well layered and the frame never wavers, though there is the occasional brightness fluctuation, nothing to get too worried about. All in all, it's a fine picture.
This unique set allows you to choose which aspect you like most
1.66:1 Theatrical Print
Much the same can be levelled at this image, which is itself clean, bright and detailed. There are no issues with a ‘zoomed in’ picture (i.e. cropped from 1.37:1 and filling the screen, which is exactly how this was achieved); colours, detail and black levels all hold themselves firm. Most of the frame composition is fine with only a few shots that look a little cramped or are missing edges (Joey looking at Shane’s pistol for example). But what can be said is the centre of the frame remains dominant with the bottom having the most cropped.
1.66:1 Re-framed Theatrical Print
The picture itself is exactly the same as the print above in terms of image clarity, detail, colouring and black level – all that has changed is a re-framing of the cropped area: where the Theatrical crop has a dominate central image which favours the top of the frame (i.e. the bottom is preferentially cropped) this print evens out the cropping giving much more image to the bottom of the frame at the expense of the top – therefore mountain tops are missing in favour of giving horses something to walk on.
This unique set allows you to choose which aspect you like most; personally I prefer the 1.37:1 as is gives a scale and height to the image that is missing from the others. However, the re-framed image works extremely well, in many respects better than the theatrical crop as is grounds the image rather than trying to give a faux height. But it is great to have all three options in one set.
Sound QualitySound options for each aspect ratio are LPCM mono or LPCM stereo; I went with the stereo which is the exact same track on all three prints (I know this as all exhibited an audio dropout close to the end credits). This is an OK sounding track that gets its information across without much issue. Dialogue is very natural sounding and with the exception of one scene ('Swede' Shipstead bringing back Stonewall Torrey’s body) is well layered into the mix and clearly audible. That scene is difficult to hear the dialogue over the score and effects, for some reason; not impossible just not as defined. There is also a slight drop in the higher fidelity towards the end of the film, as if the ‘tone’ has been turned down a notch, again doesn’t interfere too badly. There is no back ground hiss and it never goes shrill or tinny, even at reference, but the score has the occasional bout of distortion. I am making this track sound bad, it certainly doesn’t, it is clear and well layered, though lacking in any significant bass, excepting the gun shots which sound like cannons (because they were!).
ExtrasLimited Edition – There are only 2000 pressings of the 2 disc set which contains the film in three aspect ratios, the original 1.37:1, the theatrical crop 1.66:1 and a reframed for this release 1.66:1. Once exhausted the set will only contain disc one with the OAR.
Audio Commentary – With George Stevens Jr. (director’s son) and associate producer Ivan Moffat who talk at length about the film, its casting, production, locations and history. It is rather dry and plenty of gaps making it, at times, a bit of a chore.
Video Interview – With film scholar, writer and Professor Neil Sinyard who in this 20 minute chat, talks about Stevens, the man, his place in history and the film itself in what is a very informative and engaging chat.
Lux Radio Theater – A radio adaptation of the film, runs for 53 minutes and has questionable sound but notable for Alan Ladd and Van Heflin reprising their roles.
36 Page Booklet – Writings on the film by Penelope Huston, unpublished interview with Stevens, a treatment for the unfilmed prologue and an essay on the different aspect ratios, all with archival imagery.
Blu-ray VerdictRightly hailed as a masterpiece the Academy Award winning Shane is director George Stevens telling of the ‘mysterious stranger’ who rides into town, leaving justice, and bodies, in his wake. Just as Shane rides into history, so does the western in general, for this kind of pioneering storytelling defined the genre for years to come with the likes of Leone and Eastwood taking it to its zenith.
The story tells of a gunslinger riding into a dusty town where there is a battle raging between the new homesteaders (farmers with fences) and a cattle baron (who needs the open ranges) and when things turn ugly and blood is shed, there is only one man to spearhead justice. The film is far more than this simple line though, with multi-faceted characters and discussions of land ownership, right, wrong, guns and more, Shane transcends its genre to become a terrific film in its own right. Heart-breaking, heart-felt and heroic: a true classic.
There are only 2000 copies, so don’t get fenced out!
This Blu-ray set from Eureka is a wonderful package: in this limited edition form you get three aspects ratios of the film, the original intended 1.37:1, the theatrical release at 1.66:1 and an optimised re-framing for 1.66:1 supervised by George Stevens Jr. himself. The picture itself has cleaned up very well, being bright and detailed with strong blacks. The sound tracks (mono and stereo) are clean and bright, for the most part, serving the visuals well. The extras package is light but worth spending time on, the audio commentary can be a bit hard to get through but the Neil Sinyard feature is well worth a visit. However, it is the three different aspect ratios that makes this set so worthwhile – there are only 2000 copies, so don’t get fenced out!
You can buy Shane on Blu-ray here
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