Fort Apache Blu-ray Review
Warner present Fort Apache’s 1.37:1 image via an AVC encode, with it’s opening titles window-boxed.
There’s been a lot of damage removed from this. All the major tears, pops and burns have been eradicated, although you should still expect to see plenty of flecks and marks about the frame. Grain is certainly visible, but it has been toned-down and is never obtrusive. However, one or two scenes actually soften-up and become blurred. Look at the moment when Lt. O’ Rourke delivers his report regarding the discovery of the murdered soldiers and the movement of the war-party – to me this reveals evidence of clear noise reduction and the texture-less void that Wayne becomes over in the corner sticks out like a sore thumb. There aren’t too many scenes like this, but you will surely notice them.
There is some “quilting” to be seen against the skies occasionally. I’m not wholly sure what creates this effect, but I am certain that it is part of the original source and not some digital tomfoolery.
The greyscale handles things very adequately and appears smooth. We get some reasonably deep blacks maintaining the integrity of the shadows and blending in quite atmospherically and providing the image with solidity. Contrast, too, is more than decently dealt with. Whites only have the minimum of blooming, something which I’ve grown accustomed to when watching these older Westerns on DVD. Detail is actually pretty decent. Don’t go expecting miracles, but there is no mistaking the extra layers of facial grit and stubble, the more finite attention to whiskers and insignia, buttons and badges and stripes. There is more texture in the adobe walls and the wooden beams, and in the charred and blackened spokes of the torture-wheels at the scene of the atrocity, and in the store-room at the traitorous trader’s post. But the massive, sweeping vistas, which have been blurred and indistinct masses of rock in previous home video incarnations, now have cleaner lines, more resolved detail and stronger definition, as do the individual figures and columns of men moving across them. Even when viewed from a distance, the appearance of travellers is much clearer than ever before. Previously, you would have struggled to make out a horse and rider in the mid-to-background of one of these deeper shots.
The disc handles the fast action without any smearing, or aliasing. Clarity is as good on the charging horses and attacking Indians during the madcap wagon-chase and the final battle as it is on the sedentary close-ups.
I think there is still some edge enhancement, but it is minor and not distracting.
Overall, I think Fort Apache looks fine on BD and represents a definite improvement.
Warner’s disc supplies Fort Apache with a DTS-HD MA 1.0 audio track that was hardly ever going to be remarkable.
Although there is nothing untoward with the transfer, you can expect background hiss, some slight crackle, tinny voices and a musical score that sounds severely contained, action that is muddy and un-detailed, and some slight clipping of the more strident elements. All of this, of course, is understandable given the vintage and I doubt that too much could have been done.
This is an old school Western. It relies upon barked dialogue, rousing musical passages, thundering hooves and jouncing-bouncing wagons, and gunfire. The rifles and pistols crack with a familiarly hollow and passionless pop, bodies tumble without any audio impact, the rush of charges just sounds tacked-on and uncoordinated, and bugle-calls lack clarity … and this is how the film should sound. But, I’ll tell you what, there is some detail to be heard in the fall of boots upon wooden floors, in the drawing of sabres and in the clang and clatter of pots ‘n’ pans and paraphernalia hanging on the sides of the wagons. There is even some finer splintering of wood as crates in the trading post are bashed open.
It is ironic that when we think about films getting a hi-def makeover, we bitch and moan about the restorations (or lack of) that they receive and you can never please everyone, but we all seem to understand and appreciate the vintage vagaries that lurk in the audio side of things. So long as the film sounds clean and intelligible
So, all in all, I think it would be hard to complain about how Fort Apache sounds on Blu-ray.
Sadly, this is a very underwhelming selection of supplements.
We have a dry and often tedious commentary track from F.X. Feeney that piles on the trivia and the anecdote, but does so with a monotonous and dusty air that struggles to maintain interest.
Beyond this, we just have the film’s trailer and some home-movies shot by Ford in his favourite stamping in Monument Valley: John Ford Country.
Erm … this is a poor show, considering the classic status of the movie. It gets a point for each and nothing more.
A classic Western appearing on Blu-ray is always a cause for celebration as far as I am concerned, and John Ford’s seminal 1948 sideswipe at Custer’s debacle at the Little Bighorn in Fort Apache puts the renowned filmmaker squarely on home turf. We have Wayne and Fonda on fine form, we have broad character-based humour, exciting chases across the badlands, a furious last stand action … and all of it staged against the eerie and iconic vista of Monument Valley. For me, the story is a thinly veiled accusation against, and marvellously enough, a celebration of the myth of heroism. There are not too many directors even now who could pull off such a thing with similar style and wit and get away with it.
I still wish the final battle was a little less rushed, but you have to hand it to Ford for being confident enough to establish his characters so colourfully, and to then spend a lot of time developing them so that we genuinely care what happens to them. His trademark wagon-chase is frantic and hell-for-leather. His treatment of the Apaches is forward-thinking and sympathetic, even if the film does eventually reduce them, visually, to hordes of war-whooping savages he provides them with genuine motivation and even with the desire to keep the peace if only the White Man would leave them alone. The romantic element, however, is poor and just succeeds in making you thirst for another charge. But this is still solid, top drawer entertainment from yesteryear that can’t fail to make you grin.
The lack of extras is a misstep. Collectors of these classic films really should be awarded with more material than this. I wish someone would approach me to provide a chat-track or some opinion on these films! But the transfer, whilst offering little in the way of revelation, is good for the most part, offering a substantial upgrade over the last couple of DVDs that I’ve seen of the film.
Although I still await the awesome They Died With Their Boots On, Wayne has been quite well-represented on hi-def frontier, and I think I’ve covered most of his iconic outings. It can’t be long now until we get the rest of the Cavalry Trilogy and The Sons of Katie Elder, and how about The Quiet Man and McQ while we’re at it?
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