Appaloosa Blu-ray Review
PictureAppaloosa comes to Blu-ray presented with a rich and shiny new 1080p High Definition rendition in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1, the broadest commonly-used framing which is ideal for the Western settings. Detail is generally very good indeed, at times offering up a pristine image, although - oddly - occasionally suffering from light grain and even some minor softness (I'm not sure whether this was the lens used for the wider shots, but it is apparent as people ride away into the distance). Still, by and large the clarity is excellent and the moments where it is not quite perfect - whilst noticeable - don't really detract from your visual enjoyment of this sumptuous period piece. The colour scheme is lavish, populated by rich mahogany browns, reds, lush landscapes and sun-glazed scenery, one particular sunrise being strikingly beautiful, and one shot where Viggo Mortensen's Hitch recovers some of Miss French's clothing also stands out as superior. Blacks are resoundingly solid, making for superb clothing and strong night sequences. Overall, whilst not perfect, it is certainly one of the better visual renditions out there on Blu-ray.
SoundTo accompany a solid video presentation on this next generation High Definition Blu-ray format we get a good Dolby TrueHD aural rendition which is remarkably meticulous in its attention to sonic detail. The dialogue comes across well throughout, clearly and coherently emanating from the frontal array, with even the gruff murmurs of the likes of Ed Harris and Lance Henriksen coming through nicely. Effects are myriad, which is slightly unexpected considering the limitations of the material, but they do well to give us not only the standard loud stuff - rifle, pistol and shotgun blasts aplenty (which offer up some nice echoes and dynamic directionality) - but it is the quiet atmospheric accompaniment that really rings true for this track, the wind and thunder across the plains, the splashing of hooves in the water, it all sounds superb and really brings the movie to life. The score is a slightly odd affair - with moments of strangely out-of-place film noir saxophone - rounded out by a track performed by none other than Ed Harris himself, but it only vaguely distracts and never actually detracts from your viewing pleasure, nominally backing up the dialogue, the tension and the more action-orientated setpieces.
ExtrasFirst up we get an Audio Commentary by the Writer/Director/Star Ed Harris, as well as co-writer and producer Robert Knott. Ed Harris dominates the track (Knott is either in a coma or recorded separately) and talks at length about the intricacies of the production, how he used the contacts he made over his last few years, questions over the scoring (which they got both right and wrong) and about the opening and closing narration (which is awful), the casting choices (some of whom they could not get), the set alterations, the lighting and the original two-and-a-half-hour cut. Harris is remarkably quiet and contemplative, knowing every little aspect of the movie's production (as you would only hope he would), and clearly showing this comprehensive knowledge even at the expense of occasionally leaving the track a little dry.
There are six Additional Scenes, which are available with Optional Commentary from the same participants. The original prologue could never have really been included because it further prolongs the real kick-start of the movie, but it does offer some background into the initial Marshal's quest to apprehend the criminals, and most of the other scenes are fairly redundant - a little insight into Hitch's Spanish chica girlfriend's perspective on Cole's wife, and a few extra exchanges between the three main leads and a vaguely interesting speech from the main villain. Although not excellent, a couple of them could have been integrated back into the movie and are probably worth your time checking out here.
We also get four Behind the Scenes Featurettes that detail the making of this movie - Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life (Ed Harris' uncompromising vision to create a film true to the understated style of the book challenged and motivated everyone, including cast members Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger) that focuses on the characters and cast; History Accuracy of Appaloosa (As a result of meticulous investigation of the photos, literature, newspapers and periodicals of the era, Appaloosa presents a not-too-far-off portrait of the Western Frontier) that looks at the real-life events and surrounding general history that make the movie ring true; The Town of Appaloosa (How the Ford Ranch set was dramatically transformed into the town of Appaloosa) that looks at the setting and sets used and finally Dean Semler's Return to the Western (with conscious decisions made in regard to how the actors would be framed and lit to evoke a deliberately antiquated look and feel in the film, Selmer's stunning photography captures the rugged beauty of the era in every frame) which looks at the cinematography.
VerdictAppaloosa isn't quite a modern classic Western, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable, solid entry in the genre, adopting the same refreshing approach as the greats Unforgiven and Open Range, but falling down slightly by trying to inject a new twist on females in the West. Still, the end result is extremely entertaining, taut material, with solid performances and gunfights with gravitas. On Blu-ray you're looking at a good visual presentation of the movie, a well-observed audio mix and a wealth of nice extras to round off the disc and keep fans occupied for hours. If you like Westerns then this should already be in your shopping basket but if you're not quite convinced then this may not do the job. Still, it comes recommended.
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