PictureAlthough the film has always had a soft-focus and very warm palette, and this 1080p VC-1 transfer is certainly no different, Cool Hand Luke has never so looked as good as it does now. It is not a pin-sharp, three-dimensional transfer by any means, but this is a noticeably sharper, cleaner and more detailed image than it has been presented with in the past - that I've seen anyway.
The widescreen print now boasts gorgeous framing that looks much more revealing and better saturated than ever before - the road gang scenes and Luke's escapes provide plentiful backdrops and sun-drenched vistas to captivate and roving the eyes about the screen will prove eminently rewarding. The picture is still soft, however, with edges, un-enhanced, which is nice, not as clinical as you may be used to with hi-def material. The very fine smattering of grain, that is occasionally upped in intensity for only very minute instances here and there, may seem slightly denied its once-filmic quality, leading me to suspect that some partial DNR has been applied, but - and let me stress - this does not hamper the enjoyment of this transfer one iota. In fact, Cool Hand Luke actually appears to have far less processing than many other titles around.
Colours are sublime and beautiful. The film is a definite ode to sun-ambered skin and the sheer proliferation of golden torsos on display bears tribute to the quality of such burnished and orange hues. Interiors feature nice subdued elements, but the glow of the overhead bulbs, the white of all those hard-boiled eggs and, of course, Newman's baby blues shine through with pleasing results. The blues of the prison denim shirts, the small splodges of blood - cuts and a gunshot wound - and the lively brown of the hunting dogs have a vigour that I have not seen before in other editions. What is also nicely presented is the red glow of the police lights and of the symbolic stop light on the bridge in the rain at the climax. This edition is a very smart and obvious improvement over any SD transfer as far as handling the spectrum goes.
But the good stuff doesn't end there.
Details that, before now, have always been submerged in the hot glow of the film's colour scheme now stand proud. The gleam in Boss Godfrey's sunglasses and the clear reflections mounted within them are clean and crisp. The facial details of Newman, Kennedy, Harmon and various others have been well picked-out, although I did find that Anthony Zerbe's Dog Boy seemed to lack anything extra. The grass and scrub either side of the eternal road, the bunks back at the camp, the dusty exercise area, the wooden boards of the clap-built church and the very texture on the prison garb all possess more authentic-looking visual information. The scruffy earth and dust that stipples Luke's back from being knocked on his ass every five seconds during the fight scene is much better delineated than before. The spikes on the barbed wire and the sheen on the streams, the tear in Newman's eye and the clarity on the mocked-up photo that he sends to the inmates also prove to be clearer and more revealing. One scene that, very appropriately, stands up to even closer scrutiny than ever before is the girl washing the car - the soap suds, the spray of the hose and the cascade of the water over the bumpers etc all have a keenness and clarity that was lacking in earlier versions. Again, reflections in the metalwork are much more apparent and Joy Harmon's hair now looks a little more lifelike and defined. Without getting more intimate, there are more bonuses to this sequence that the new transfer displays with gusto, as well. The sand that the guys heave onto the tarmac and the wisps of heat rising off the black stuff can also be seen with more clarity, ensuring that this BD edition of Cool Hand Luke is the most detailed one around.
The 2.40:1 image is often striking, making the most of Conrad Hall's superlative cinematography. As I said earlier, the image doesn't exactly pop with hi-def three-dimensionality, but that doesn't mean that it looks flat either. There is great depth afforded the picture with all those road gang scenes managing to convincingly convey a sense of the scale and isolation of the setting. Views down the road are great and images of the two rows of workers on either side of the frame look tremendous. However, during the first of Luke's escapes, the image noticeably softens, with some of the surrounding landscapes losing that crispness that they exhibit elsewhere. Black levels, for the most part, are more than acceptable, but they are still far from the best around, seeming as dry as the environment on occasion and lacking total solidity. Artefacts and damage are at an absolute minimum. The print has only the tiniest of specks and flecks here and there and noise, blocking or aliasing are so slight that they pose no distraction whatsoever.
All in all, Cool Hand Luke's BD transfer has absolutely no problem “communicating”. A very fine 8 out of 10 for a film that is now over forty years old.
SoundThis Blu-ray release of Cool Hand Luke is presented with a Dolby Digital mono track that may infuriate some people who feel the film deserves a meatier remix, but is actually a very fine, and solid rendering, all the same. If I had one complaint about it, it would be that it is definitely a tad on the quiet side, dialogue-wise. But, when you think about, there really isn't that much shouting going on and the majority of the talking is either intoned in intimate fashion or merely passed along in breezy, naturalistic conversation. Thus, sadly in comparison to the depth that we can go into when discussing the film's hi-def transfer, there really isn't much more that can be said about its audio capabilities.
But, of note, Schifrin's score is very well presented by this track, with that lackadaisical main theme for Luke and the road gang brilliantly coming across with presence. The occasions when it turns gruffer and with more of a beat - normally when we return to the men at work after a more leisurely interlude - it sounds appropriately forceful and emphatic. Little is provided in terms of depth within the track, in that the sound of distant search dogs yelping or voices emanating from further away don't seem to have any sort of prioritisation. A nice rolling peal of thunder just before the final act does come across well, however, and there is a pure sixties crack! to the various rifle-shots.
Overall, you can't knock this track. It's mono and makes no mistakes. The quiet voices aside - which could, as I say, be a part of the film's audio anyway - this audio transfer nudges itself from a 6 to a 7, if you feel so inclined.
ExtrasBesides the film's theatrical trailer, we have two great features to dig into. First of all is the commentary from Newman biographer and film historian Eric Lax. This is a fair chat track that imparts much trivia and revealing factoids about the production, the cast, the original book and how Rosenberg and Pearce chose to adapt it, but Lax - almost living up to his name - leaves a few too many lulls in his treatise to really provide your money's worth. He is scene specific and he does offer some great anecdotes and insight, though. The film's existential nature and the meaning of Luke's odd and thankless quest is nicely covered, as is the somewhat controversial ending that the studio insisted upon to make sure that audiences left the cinema with a smile on their face. So, not a bad track, after all.
The only other extra that we get is the half-hour retrospective documentary A Natural-Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke. With lots of clips and stills, this relatively new feature comes choc-a-block with participants who all clearly relish the opportunity to wax lyrical about their time in the sun and dust. We hear from George Kennedy and Anthony Zerbe, director Rosenberg and his assistant Moonjean, screenwriter Pierson and original novelist Donn Pierce, composer Schifrin and eternal soapy-girl Harmon (who has not aged as well as the fellers have!!!!) The focus is keen and the main star of Newman - who, unsurprisingly, is a no-show - gets universal and unconditional praise from everyone. Kennedy says of the entire cast, though, that it was “like a hydrogen bomb waiting to go off” and other members of the road gang, Ralph Waite and Lou Antonio seem to agree. But all confirm that the shoot was a happy one and that the movie had classic status stamped all the way through it. Like the film, itself, this feature is deliberately meandering and easygoing, but thoroughly enjoyable with anecdotes from all concerned.
So, although this is heralded as a Deluxe Edition on SD and in some BD circles, that's your lot. Not bad, but not exactly fifty eggs worth.
VerdictCool Hand Luke is spiritual, lyrical, exciting and downright funny. Paul Newman finds his most perfect role and George Kennedy, much like his character in the film, reaps the benefits from it. Stuart Rosenberg directs with the minimum of fuss, simply having his cameras point at his eclectic cast and letting them do their thing. The banter, the characterisation and the camaraderie are both convincing and compelling and the film's celebrated set-pieces remain just as iconic as they appeared way back in 1967. With a tough backbone of institutionalised ferocity and a gleefully free-spirited core, Cool Hand Luke stands at the forefront on not only prison movies, but of existential dramas too. That it dares to question, to ponder and to agonise without actually offering up any answers is a brave thing. Yet, if you delve deeper into the movie and look beyond the distracting symbolism which I feel is a deliberate decoy anyway, you may find some of the solutions are there already - all quite simple, all quite sincere.
Warner's BD release offers a fine transfer with a great image and a couple of decent extras. Some input from Newman would obviously have been the icing on the cake, but this is still a decent package that shouldn't be overlooked. Cool Hand Luke is, therefore, very highly recommended.
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