Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Jun 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £80.57


    With the exception of The Dead Pool, which is presented in 1.85:1, all the movies in the set are 2.35:1. All are VC-1 1080p transfers and all are distinct improvements over their SD counterparts.

    Dirty Harry looks the sharpest and most detailed that I have ever seen it. What I will say right up front - and this goes for the first three movies, in fact - is that the transfer seems to be biased towards Clint, as his face is always crystal clear and tremendously detailed, whilst others around him don't seem quite so distinctly drawn. Grain is minimal - really only surfacing during some exterior location shots - and the transfer looks nicely filmic without any overt use of noise reduction and very few elements of edge enhancement or artifacting. But the first instalment is filled with higher definition bonuses that maximise on many pivotal scenes - the failed bank job near the start is brighter and more detailed, the deeper blacks during the ransom-drop and rooftop gun battle produce an image that has a convincing depth, the now brighter colours allow for more vivid splashes of blood, such as Scorpio's stabbed leg, his almost comical balaclava, the gash on the liquor store owner's head after he is bottled, etc - and more three-dimensionality bringing the .44 Magnum into sharper, more intimidating relief.

    Magnum Force is initially a bit of a disappointment. That terrific title sequence suffers from print damage and some over-saturation of the thick red background, and the opening scene of the mobsters coming out of court and meeting the business end of a rogue cop's .357 appears grainy and softened, but, as the film progresses, there is a definite step-up in quality that sees the transfer come to shine in terms of shadow delineations, contrast levels and detail. What I will say about the transfers for both this and Dirty Harry is that whilst close-ups have plenty of detail and often look great for their vintage, the surrounding image can seem softer by comparison, almost as if the remastering and clean-up process has been slightly selective in its sprucing.

    The Enforcer leaps out of the screen almost immediately with an incredibly vibrant and clear image that really makes you appreciate why you bought Blu-ray in the first place. Beautifully crisp, sharp imagery as the blonde babe-cum-urban terrorist stands at the side of the hill-top road, an incredibly soothing azure blue sky dominating the picture and detail at an absolute paramount, the only thing that lets it down is the tiny circular smudge that hovers towards the right side of the frame - though even this is swiftly elbowed aside after a couple of changes of camera angle. This time around, the far more appealing print offers yet new levels of detail throughout that bring San Francisco and Alcatraz to life. Colours are well saturated without looking washed-out or downplayed and the much sunnier aspect of the predominantly day-time filming is presented with great contrast and a rich, bright palette. Facial and hair detail are much more striking than in the previous two features - check out the lead terrorist for sparkling blue eyes, Californian tan and bushy blonde locks. The flames of the exploding truck are suitably bright and vivid too.

    Sudden Impact takes all this a stage further, and reveals grain really only during a few of the night-time scenes and no damage or compression artefacts to speak of. Otherwise, with its good, solid print and natural-looking transfer, this is a really fine and rewarding image. Colours are nice and don't go overboard - the bright sunny aspect of the daytimes in San Paolo doesn't appear enhanced and contrast is pretty decent throughout the interiors and low-lit scenes. Detail is extremely good throughout - check out the exposed bone on the side of a goon's blasted head. The action in the dark is always clear and, although the blacks are definitely blacker than I've seen them before, there is nothing lost within them. The latex appliances on the heads of shot victims look a little more apparent now due to the clarity of the high-definition picture, but this is still a major upgrade over any version that I've seen of Sudden Impact before.

    The Dead Pool's sudden leap to the 1.85:1 aspect isn't anywhere as jarring as you may think. The image still has plenty of widthh and a big, bold aesthetic that feels nicely cinematic. Being the most recent of the series, this entry is in the best nick. Damage is unnoticeable and colours and contrast are stable and well-maintained. The picture is often very sharp and crisp, yet there are moments when it can appear a fair degree softer, as well. Although the newest film of the bunch, this actually has less of a visual pop than the others - even Dirty Harry managed to produce some interesting depth of field. Perhaps this is just because The Dead Pool is a little more mundanely lensed with more interiors and a less dynamic sensibility. Still, the flames of the loud-mouth suicide are bright and vivid, the detail on the little remote control car is good and the twisted metal of blown-out vehicles is pretty intricate.

    So, let me state again - all films look better than they have previously. Colours are either more natural - the last two - or more interesting and strong - the first three. Detail gets better as we go along and none of them suffer from any serious digital bugbears at all. The real surprise for me was just how good The Enforcer looked. Overall, you'll be pleased with this lot.

    Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector


    All the movies carry a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and, whilst none of the audio transfers pose a threat to those on newer films, all sound great and, in my opinion, improve on the originals. It may have been a mistake not to have included all the original audio tracks to allow for a proper comparison and I'm sure that many purists will bemoan the new, and clearly faked extra-channelling of sound. But, there is a definite attempt to supply the films with more dynamism and surround immersion which, to be honest, I quite liked.

    The first three films gain greater power from the gunshots, which now boom and echo, ripping across the soundstage with more aggression than ever before. When Scorpio returns fire from the roof with his sub-machinegun, it definitely gained some extra vitality from the new audio. Separation across the front speakers is cleaner and more distinct, with plenty of stereo movement. Dirty Harry really sends out a few gunshots to the rears, although there is some sporadic ambience thrown out that way too and there are a nice couple of helicopter fly-overs for when Scorpio is spotted on the roof. Dialogue is clean and well integrated throughout, with Harry's taunting and Scorpio's squealing on the football pitch better presented than before. Scorpio's little whispered threats to the bus driver towards the end are clearer now, as well.

    Magnum Force offers more of the same, with cleaner dialogue and much more dramatic gunfire. The car chase offers up lots of squealing tyres, impacts and throaty engines. As with Dirty Harry, Lalo Schifrin's score sounds tighter and more polished, more dynamic than I've heard it on disc before. Love the music over the opening titles and the cue for the stakeout scene once Harry has fired through the window - oh, and listen out for the shattering pots and what-not as the crim ducking and diving down the aisle returns fire. The airport sequence is also louder and more bass heavy.

    Although The Enforcer has a couple of explosions up its sleeve and they do rattle around the speakers with a bit more ferocity than before, this is the most disappointing of the transfers. There just didn't seem to be all that much going on. The gunshots are great, the dialogue is clear and Jerry Fielding's score comes over warmly, but there is little to wax lyrical here. Then again, The Enforcer, like most the films here was mono to begin with, so I shouldn't really be complaining that it doesn't sound quite as artificially pumped-up as the first two. But this is most subdued of the bunch.

    Sudden Impact gives Schifrin's score a nice presentation and there is a lot more ambience at play around the speakers. The city sounds, the crowded restaurant scene when Harry gives a rich hoodlum a heart-attack, the noises of the San Paulo fishing port and the garish music of the funfair all sound more immersive and detailed than before. The sound of feet on the boardwalk, the cracking of wood and the meaty whack of fists and bullets have more distinction and placement within the mix, and they definitely sound moe open and natural in TrueHD than the accompanying DD 5.1.

    The Dead Pool offers up lots of fire-fights, clanging metal and screaming and throw in a couple of explosions and nicely rendered shattering glass as Harry's elevator gets to shot to pieces and you've got one of the naturalistic and detailed soundtracks of the series. Although this is cleaner than the others and boasts a wider stereo spread across the front, the differences between this multi-channel track and its original lowly stereo-surround mix are not quite as profound as the deeper impacts and, admittedly, more processed effects to be heard on the previous films. Thus, The Dead Pool doesn't offer quite the same level of “supposed” improvement.

    All the films carry a DD 5.1 mix as well, but, to me, the TrueHD tracks enable them to sound better than I've heard them before. Just don't expect them to compete with the likes of 300, 3.10 To Yuma or Rambo, eh.

    Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector


    With a very rewarding approach to giving the fans plenty to explore, Warner Bros have kitted out each film with a commentary track and at least a little featurette or two. The quality varies considerably, but there is no denying the effort that has gone into making this Dirty Harry collection the most comprehensive yet.

    Naturally faring the best of all is the original and most revered film in the series. Dirty Harry features a commentary from movie historian and Eastwood aficionado, Richard Schickel that delves studiously into the production, its themes, the casting that could have been and the casting that was, the controversy that greeted the character and the resounding success of the film. He covers an awful lot of ground but, although I quite like Schickel's authoritative spiel, he can come across as rather dry and academic.

    The Long Shadow Of Dirty Harry (25 mins) is a recent effort that charts the impact of the movies and their legendary main character. Obviously an overview, this features plenty of interviews and provides opinion and recollection from those involved with the series. There's nothing too profound to be gleaned here, but the piece rattles along quite nicely and is well-produced.

    Dirty Harry: The Original clocks in at 29 mins and hails from the previous Special Edition DVD of the film. Hosted by Vegas' Robert Urich, who also played Officer Grimes in Magnum Force and sadly died of cancer in 2002, this is little more than a sycophantic saccharine-coated praise-fest that rankled upon its first release and is something that I skipped this time around.

    Little better, and far more vintage, is the 7-minute long Dirty Harry's Way, which is pure promotional fluff from the time of the film's release. On-set footage is about all that matters here.

    The famous 1993 documentary Clint Eastwood: The Man From Malpaso comes next. Lasting for 56-minutes, this detailed and interesting look at the star's life and career in front of and behind the camera actually had a disc release of its own, if I remember rightly. Eastwood had only just made Unforgiven by the time of this feature's production, so the resume is obviously missing a lot of more recent classic material from him, but this is still a worthwhile look at his meteoric rise to fame and cult-status. With participation from the likes of Michael Cimino, Gene Hackman, Forest Whitaker, Ted Post and Heartbreak Ridge's Aggie, Marsha Mason, this is slightly offbeat in its approach and varied in its presentation. It is interesting to think that whilst the filmmaker was already renowned to taking risks - what with Play Misty For Me, the Dollars Trilogy, Bird and Pink Cadillac to his name - much more of unique and unpredictable fortune was to come later, what with Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and the Flags Of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima combo all in the pipeline. A good strong documentary.

    In addition to all of that, there's an interview gallery with Patricia Clarkson, Joel Cox, Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Evan Kim, John Milius, Ted Post, the great Andy Robinson, Arnold Schwarzenegger (!), and Robert Urich, amounting to 27-minutes in all. These snippets appear to have been culled from the same featurettes found elsewhere but are a nice extension. And, as with all the other movies, there is a trailer gallery for all five "Dirty Harry" instalments.

    Magnum Force next.

    Here are we are treated to a commentary from John Milius who co-wrote the film with Michael Cimino. This is reasonably good stuff as the ever forthright and outspoken Milius chews the fat with some frank and often critical observations of the film and how their screenplay was treated by Ted Post's finished production. His politics don't worry me at all and the track benefits from being neither dry nor academic, neither condescending nor overly fawning.

    A brand new mini-doc, A Moral Right: The Politics Of Dirty Harry comes next and lasts for a decent 27 minutes. Doing exactly what it says on the tin, this investigates the hard-line stance that Eastwood's valiant no-nonsense copper takes and the moral murk that this takes the films and the character into. A reasonable feature, but there's nothing here that you didn't already know.

    An 8-minute puff-pastry promo entitled The Hero Cop: Yesterday And Today follows. This was also found on the SD edition of Magnum Force and, sadly, doesn't amount to much.

    Moving on to The Enforcer.

    Here we get a commentary from the likeable James Fargo who is cheerful and clearly fond of his time working with Eastwood on another Dirty Harry movie. He knew the score going in and knew what he was following, yet was still keen to attempt something new. He is honest about the amount of clout and control that Eastwood had over the production and, having worked as Second Unit Director on several earlier pictures for Clint, was overjoyed at the leap to full director in this, his debut in that capacity.

    The Business End: Violence In Cinema is a new 30-minute feature looking at the effects of cinematic carnage. To be fair, this can only really airbrush its way over such a hot and perpetually locked-at-loggerheads topic, but it is great that such a confrontational subject gets some coverage.

    Then we get another of those rather banal vintage promos with Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films. Running for 5 minutes this tells us roughly nothing.

    Sudden Impact features a rather lacklustre commentary from Eastwood-authority Richard Schickel that does the job but somehow drags on a bit and, by now, feels too dry for its own good. Schickel is certainly knowledgeable, but perhaps, at this stage in the game, even I - a huge fan of these films - can't help getting a little weary of the assessments and factoid-delivery.

    The documentary “The Evolution Of Clint Eastwood” is, on the face of it, much better value. Yet, to be honest, this is merely a twenty-or-so minute fawn-fest for the filmmaker from a variety of other filmmakers, actors and writers and sprinkled with a few sentiments from the main man himself. Copious clips pad the affair out and there are some lengthier stop-overs for the acknowledged classics in the Eastwood canon - such as the Dirty Harry series, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Nothing is said that you didn't already know, or couldn't have gleaned already from watching the films, and people like Michael Madsen and Paul Haggis are utterly superfluous to the piece, offering nought but slavish praise.

    The Dead Pool provides us with a joint commentary from the film's producer David Valdes and its cinematographer Jack N. Green. The pair are jovial enough, but stuttering at times and not above making certain mistakes at times. They seem to think that the remote-control car chase was something exciting and fun and a great homage to Bullitt - it is none of those things. Lots of little asides crop up and it is certainly nice that something like this was added to the poorest of the series, but, even so, it is hard to imagine anyone actually sitting through this.

    A final feature entitled The Craft of Dirty Harry and lasting for 21-minutes rounds out the disc. This perfunctory piece takes a brief look at the cinematography, editing, music, and production design of the Dirty Harry films but really just feels like so much padding ... and certainly an entire featurette covering Lalo Schifrin's and Jerry Fielding's scores would have been more beneficial.

    Whilst the impressive assortment of extras are enough to keep fans happy for quite some time, some real gems are provided elsewhere. First of all, and in a great touch that is akin to the replica Spinner in the Blade Runner collection and the miniature Robby the Robot in the Forbidden Planet 30th Anniversary Edition, we get a replica shield and ID for Harry Callahan. By the way, I used this to get into my work place the other day, and not one of our security guards even blinked!

    We also get a map of San Francisco pinpointing the pivotal moments and places in the hunt for Scorpio. The hardback book is a cool little guide to the series of films - supplying a brief synopsis regarding each partner for Harry, a snapshot of the villain of the piece and that particular entry's killer-quote. The book is also lavishly illustrated with stills from the franchise. There is also a series of lobby cards and a note from Clint Eastwood, but the real scoop for this set of peripherals is the set of production letters, memos and telegrams regarding the potential casting coup of Frank Sinatra, the cost of Clint's wardrobe of Harry gear, a go-ahead from the Chief of Homicide from San Francisco PD declaring that he has no objection to the depiction of his department as seen in the first film and a letter from Clint to the head of Warner's regarding the success of Sudden Impact and what it means in terms of his relationship with the studio. All great stuff to see and hats off for their inclusion in this set.

    Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector


    Did I say six discs ... or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I've kind of lost track, myself. So ... you've got to ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky? Well ... do ya, punk?”

    One of the most iconic of iconic characters, Dirty Harry can be interpreted in sociological, philosophical, political and, naturally, mythological ways. But the plain and brutal fact remains that he is so damn cool, belligerent and anti-authoritarian that he couldn't be anything other than a world class hero. The first film sealed the deal and ripped through the crime-addled fabric of America's liberal wasteland, gunning down the laws and legal attitudes that the World, his Wife and his Dog all knew were profoundly flawed. This incendiary movie whipped up a storm that even now, thirty-six years later, is still raging. Morals, ethics ... rights for killers - send them all to hell on a benediction of lead. Harry was right then ... and, even popping shots off from his rest-home window, he'd still be right now. The series inevitably declined as it went on, but the one constant was Clint and his character. The acerbic retorts, the blazing Magnum, the callous disregard for the rulebook would remain firmly entrenched throughout. The Man With No Name was a more deliberately enigmatic hero, his mystery mythical and more overtly stylistic. It took some balls to deliver Harry Callahan to the screen. On the face of it, he was much more black and white, linear and politically allegorical ... but, dig a little deeper and Dirty Harry becomes all the more mysterious. Clint's own persona is sifted through his cinematic incarnation and the hybrid produced is nothing short of inflammatory, inspiring and totally inimitable. The maverick cop genre started here and no-one did it better.

    Warner's have released a fantastic collection here. The extras may dip here and there in quality, but there is no getting away from the sheer comprehensiveness of the whole package. Whilst the observations from the makers and the biographers, the social scientists and the cultural writers inevitably rake over the same material, many individual voices still resonate. Obviously, it would have been perfection to have had Clint Eastwood, himself, providing a commentary for each of the movies, but this assortment still offers gold to those who treasure this series of society-bucking movies. The AV for each film definitely improves on their SD counterparts - though it is, perhaps, an oversight to have left off the original audio tracks. But a good boxset always knows its limitations.

    So, there really isn't an excuse is there? So ...Go Ahead ... Make Your Day.

    Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £80.57

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