Unforgiven Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
There is no glory in the Old West
It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man. Take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna haveThe linear plot line for Unforgiven is quite simple; after a whore is viciously assaulted and the law refuses to protect them, they hire a killer to murder the men responsible. Clint Eastwood, takes directing duties: his own contribution to westerns either in front of or behind the camera being unprecedented, from early TV appearances through the 'Man with No Name' of Leone's directing, to his own classics, The Outlaw Josey Wales (a personal favourite) and Pale Rider; his character remained somewhat unchanged - a hero, be it a violent killer, whose presentation was always that of the 'good'. So it is with great kudos and self-awareness that he takes that knowledge of himself and shines a light on exactly who he was playing for all those years. For whilst the plot line of Unforgiven is simple, the characters that make it up are anything but, with each being allegorical of some aspect of the genre as a whole.‘English’ Bob is the hired killer, the man with no name, if you will, with a gaggle of daring dos and a history to prove it – the past. Daggett is the man of now, stripping away the past, he knows the truth, and does not fear it. Munny the retired killer represents the new, the moving on - the ‘unforgiven’. While The Schofield Kid could be regarded as our expectation, Ned Logan becomes our conscience. Then there is Beauchamp, he writes a history of the west and embellishes the stories; they become legend until he is corrected by Daggett. When he is put right he becomes the physical manifestation for the films message; literally rewriting the past. He sees the violence for what it was: no heroes, just desperate men in desperate situations, or worse cowardly men in cowardly situations. There is no glory in the Old West and it should never been seen or told as such.
Picture QualityUnforgiven was shot using Panavision cameras on 35mm film with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and has recently undergone a 4K re-mastering and scanning process, by Warner themselves, approved by Eastwood then finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate. It is this 4K DI that has been used here for this Ultra HD Blu-ray. The film is presented with a 3840 x 2160p resolution and in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The disc uses 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec. We review the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Unforgiven on a Panasonic 65DX902BUltra HD 4K TV with a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
The Blu-ray of Unforgiven has always looked very good, even by today’s standards, but this remastering has breathed new life into it; nothing revolutionary just upgrading to the pinnacle of technology. Incidentally the 1080 re-mastered Blu-ray, itself a reference disc, and struck from the same master as this UHD is included in this set and is currently the only way to get it. Whilst side-by-side viewing of the two formats is not a ‘night and day’ affair, the differences are there and do make the UHD the standout performer.
A reference picture through and through
Detail is absolutely stunning. Skin texture, stubble, clothing weaves, horse hair, dust, dirt, wood panelling: each and every one is pin sharp in its execution – crisp and clean. And whilst these are a wow to behold it is actually the many vista shots that impress the most. The sun set silhouette shots that booked the film have never looked more elegant and sharp; the many landscape shots show picture postcard perfect images; scrubland, mountain ranges, trees in the foreground – everything is simply wonderful. Yes the same could be said about the Blu-ray, but it is not until you directly compare that you can see how soft the 1080 image is!
Detail of course is only half the story and when you take the WCG and HDR into account the image takes another step up. Now, I must qualify this by stating that neither stand out as immediately eye scorching and obvious, as say, Fantastic Beasts, but they are used more subtly to enhance the image so as to keep in tone with the original Academy Award winning cinematography; thus daylight feels more natural, the greens and greys of the landscape take on more definition, the maroon of Munny’s shirt has a richer deeper tone; while the blacks remain deep and dark and impenetrable. Check out the campfires, or the oil lamps at night and how crisp and defined the flames are (the Blu-ray is a bit mushy in this regard) or how much deeper the darkness is. Whites, such as clouds or the whore’s underwear, too contain much more detail with no hint of clipping. Look back to the opening and closing sunset silhouettes for some glorious colouring.
So whilst the UHD image is not, at first, a head and shoulders improvement, what it really is, is the most filmic, naturalistic presentation of the film there has ever been. With no digital problems, no source problems, a tighter grain structure and a clean, bright and depth filled image; Unforgiven is a reference picture through and through.
Sound QualityPreviously only available in lossy formats, the UHD disc now has a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, and like the image is not immediately head and shoulders above what has been around before; but what it does have is more immediacy, more presence and an improved richness. Dialogue is clear and precise and dominated by the frontal array, sounds very natural and given some directionality when required. Surround effects, such as weather – especially rain – provide a terrific immersive experience, sounding like you are actually in the storm, or in Daggett’s leaking homestead. Gunshots have a greater presence, and there appears a wider expanse to the surround field; check out the first ambush in the mountains. Bass is tight and controlled and used to fill out the gunshots and particularly thunder, which rolls and echoes around you. The perfectly fitting score makes full use of the surround environment as well. A lush, naturalistic and ambient surround track.
ExtrasAll the available extras have been available on previous releases and as such are dated to that time:
Audio Commentary – Available on both the UHD disc and the re-mastered 1080 Blu-ray and with film critic, friend and biographer to Eastwood, Richard Schickel. The man is obviously very knowledgably about his subject, he was also on set during the filming, so he exudes information at a phenomenal rate, however, his delivery is not particularly enthralling, plus there are many gaps. It can make for tiring listening, but if you stick it out or are a die-hard Eastwood fan, you will be rewarded.
Eastwood on Eastwood - A mammoth 108 minute documentary produced and directed by Schickel and narrated by John Cusack. This is an extremely rewarding piece and delves deep into the career of Clint Eastwood in an extended one-on-one interview format liberally spiced up with film clips throughout his years in the business. Although not Unforgiven specific this is nevertheless hugely entertaining and has a great deal of information on the man himself, as told by the man himself.
All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger - A twenty minute featurette that is very much an entertainment channel ad for the film containing more film clips than original content but does, however, contain sound bites from the likes of Eastwood, Freeman and Hackman.
Eastwood & Co - Running at about twenty five minutes this feature does a reasonable job of a behind the scenes look at the making of the film and at least manages to get across what Eastwood was trying to achieve with the film.
Eastwood... A Star - A curious sixteen minute piece on Eastwood that I'm not sure is all about, we all know he's a star we don't need an advert to tell us; plays out like an Eastwood for dummies, best ignored.
Episode of the TV series Maverick - Entitled Duel at Sundown and featuring Eastwood. Contrast this with the film if you will...
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictUnforgiven accumulated four Oscars, another thirty awards and some fifteen further nominations upon its release in 1992. It is an amazing study of the people, the Old West and an entire genre with each and every person involved giving near career best performances. There is no glory in the Old West and it should never been seen or told as such. Few films have broached this touchy subject, those that have are met with varying degrees of subtlety; here Eastwood gets the pathos just right. Even right at the end, when Beauchamp tries to quiz Munny about his order of shooting in a sly nod to Josey Wales, his reply sums up just how many of these so called famed outlaws made their way through life.
It continues to enthral with its message to this day
The Ultra HD Blu-ray set from Warner is for the most part very good; the re-mastering is sympathetic to the original cinematography and approved by Eastwood himself, and thus the 4K image is spectacular; quite simply the most filmic, naturalistic presentation of the film there has ever been. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound creates a wonderful sense of space, while the gunshots pierce silence in what is an ambience filled track. The only down side is the lack of any new extra features for this wonderful slice of cinema.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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