Big Jake Blu-ray Review
The transfer that CBS has bestowed Big Jake is top-notch, folks. I was pleased with how they handled Rio Lobo, but this is much better again. Via VC-1, the glorious 2.35:1 image captures the beauty of William Clothier's stunning cinematography with a full panoramic vista that offers lots of depth and three-dimensionality to the multitude of open-air sequences. There are the usual tiny little contrast hiccups and perhaps the odd frame judder now and again, but the only real damage to the print that will be immediately apparent is when the colour completely alters in one shot about two thirds of the way through the film. It is overt and highly noticeable, but this is surely down to the fluctuation of the source material, and only lasts for a brief couple of seconds.
Detail is not crushed, smoothed or waxed. The film’s grain is retained. It is not at all intrusive, nor is it thick, but its structure looks fine to me, with Big Jake enjoying a crisp and film-like appearance that is full of astonishing depth and vitality. There are a couple of shots that appear softer than others (both interior and exterior), and the odd stock-shot (a poor deer that is about to shot at, for example) that stands out a mile, but this a consistently lovely image, nevertheless, that really does look eye-catching. Close-ups can be very good indeed, with lots of pockmarks, wrinkles and whiskers very cleanly delineated. Edges remain smooth and unsharpened which, when you consider the luxuriant backdrops and strong compositions could have been ruinous.
Colours are gorgeous. Well saturated and often radiant, the image is rich with primary Tecnicolor splendour. Just look at the foliage, the blues of the sky and the river, the vibrant green of Martha's dress, the burnished orange of the canyons and the desert-floor, the red of the splashy blood. And look at the fruit and veg on the stall in the Mexican village – so crisp and clear and zesty that you feel you could almost pluck something from out of the screen! Boosted? Well, you might possibly think so, given the lushness of the picture, but I doubt this is the case. Earthy tones of brown and yellow come across well, grounding many of the scenes set indoors at the hotel or in the bar. Midnight blues look great considering that many films of this type, what with day-for-night filtering and the like, tend to have a washed-out appearance. The contrast is mostly excellent, even down to the flashing of the lightning, and we get some pretty strong black levels too that aid immeasurably in some of the climactic scenes.
Overall, Big Jake gets a big thumb's up from me with a good solid 8 out of 10.
Big Jake packs heat in the form of DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a stereo surround option. Of the two, I stuck with the 5.1 which didn't exactly provide the surround experience I may have hoped for, but still gave a warm enough distribution of the soundmix to make it just that little bit more enjoyable.
This is quite a bombastic film, even for a Western filled with shoot-outs and brawling. For a start we have the vehicles that are utilised in the first third. The jalopies bounce and grind across the desert and Michael’s motorcycle roars and skids and careers through the dust and over the rocks with a meaty roar, skittling into various baddies and making that leap across the chasm with some throaty revs. The bellicose belch of the shotgun and the loud walloping shots of the automatic that Michael also likes to show off have some dynamic heft and ballistic depth to them. The crashing of doors and tables and the like as bodies are hurled through them, however, do not provide the sort of sonic aggression that I had expected. Whilst all of this is handled well enough, the actual physical effects of splintering wood and fists cracking into jawbones come up short, sounding sort of stifled and submerged. There is definite width across the front, with some directional qualities to match the onscreen action expanding this field further, which is nice, of course. The locomotive chugs down the left hand side, the cortège of vehicles trundle and wheeze over to the right as they pass by Jake over the bridge. Michael's bike weaves about a bit, though never with any pin-sharp accuracy.
The sub isn’t really going to be called upon, but there is some bass to add emphasis to some of the action. The track certainly doesn’t sound “light” or tinny and restricted when it comes to the gunplay. Naturally, one of the elements that is best catered-for is Elmer Bernstein's rich and rousing score, which is afforded plenty of space in which the typically broad and rolling orchestration can breathe. The music is allowed to bleed-through into the rears, which also carry some occasional atmospheric touches to help gather up some gently immersive effects. In the main, though, the rear support is low-key and rare, with the film remaining unashamedly up-front for the majority of the time.
Personally, I am happy with this track. We have the original mix if you prefer, albeit in stereo and not mono, and the slightly opened-out 5.1 variation. Neither have any tricks up their sleeves, and I'm sure that fans will appreciate the vigour of Bernstein's Duke-inspired music but, realistically, this gets a strong 6 out of 10. No more.
Absolutely nothing has hitched a ride into town with the Duke, I'm afraid. Not even a trailer.
The best of the recent crop of John Wayne flicks to have ventured bravely into Blu-ray country, Big Jake is ripe entertainment from start to finish. It is an Old School Western that isn’t afraid to embrace the nature of men whose time is drawing to an end and their reaction to the changing ways of society, and it is also a fantastic tale of righteous vengeance and valiant payback. Wayne rides tall and rides hard, but there is wicked dialogue and intriguing character-play to match the surprising brutality of the story. Maureen O' Hara is really only there to bring some stubborn nostalgia to the piece, but the ensemble cast is otherwise superb. It is also great to see the whiny-voiced Chris Mitchum come into his own after the squandered opportunity that he had in Rio Lobo.
CBS provide another great transfer that improves on Rio Lobo but, once again, arrives in town without any baggage. Whilst it is wonderful that these films look so good in their 1080p guises, and it is praiseworthy that they have been released on the format at all, I can’t help but wish that something in the way of commentaries or retro-making-ofs had been added to sweeten the deal.
This said, fans will still be in six-shootin', Winchester-twirling heaven just to have the worthy upgrade of the movies.
Wayne is on top form here and Big Jake packs in enough thrills and spills, sarcastically drawled banter and character snipes, chases and fights to keep a saloon-full of Duke-fans happy. The big man was in the twilight of his years, but you wouldn’t know it from this performance.
An excellent adventure, Big Jake comes highly recommended.
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