The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 2.35:1 1080p transfer that has been VC-1 encoded. Now, Disney know a thing or two about producing a good picture, from up-to-date releases such as Enchanted (2007) or National Treasure 2 (2007), to older classics such as Sleeping Beauty (1959). So it comes as such a shock that a film with such spectacular visuals as Gangs of New York has been treated so badly that it is travesty, especially on the HD format. The biggest problem is the digital noise reduction processing that has been applied to the film which has robbed it of significant detail and to compensate the edge enhancement has been ramped up; the result is a jumbled mess that looks little better than an upscaled SD and in some cases worse. But to add to this confusion there are also elements that look very good indeed.
Colour is rich and bold and grades very well. The pallet is mostly earthy with greens and browns so when a flash of red turns up is shines like a beacon; unfortunately there is some bleed seen especially with the red/orange of the candles. However, the red of Bills jacket at the beginning or the red of the Dead Rabbits uniform at the end, or indeed the many instances of spilled blood, show up rich and vibrant. Skin tones however are way to pink and rosy, this is a combination of the over zealous DNR and boosted contrast, more on which later.
Detail level suffers terribly with the DNR, skin defects are the main victims giving faces a video/waxy look at times. However background detail can be reasonable sharp, signs and bricks having good edges, long establishing shots are rich with plenty to see and make out while close up shots reveal some intricate detail. But to get to such a point there is a huge amount of edge enhancement; this really, really becomes noticeable and some shots (such as in the snow) become desperate.
Brightness is set well to give some decent enough blacks, however due to the other picture problems there is never any real depth to frame given and pop is non existent but at least there is still decent enough shadow detail. Contrast on the other had has been boosted so that detail is sometimes lost, again I point to the snow, or the sky line, but this is also true of any whites where they bloom.
Digitally, there are no compression artefacts because they've probably been wiped away and I've mentioned enough the edge enhancement. The original print still suffers from a number of blemishes, despite all the DNR and even grain is sometimes visible. Now I know this all sound terrible and in truth it is, but there are still instances within the picture that are decent examples of HD, take the close up shot of Bill's false eye at the beginning, or the intricate carvings on the wooden panelling of the Chinese green room. And this inconsistency really pushes the picture further towards mediocrity. Better then SD? I'd have to say yes. A good example of HD? Absolutely not.
Three sound tracks to choose from English PCM 5.1 (48 kHz/24-bit), English & French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, the former is reviewed here. Whatever misfortune might plague the picture at least the sound is no slouch. Right from the off Howard Shore's score fills the room, those whistles and drums of the Irish matching to war. The battle itself is full of surround effects, shouts, punches, kicks, the snapping of bone. However, it's not as immersive as reference tracks, the directionality is good but loose.
Yet where it really shines is with the directionality given to the dialogue which is spread throughout the frontal array mimicking the action on screen; particularly effective with the street singers as they sidle in from either the left or the right. The surrounds also spring to life to give plenty or ambiance to bar, street and dock areas but subtly rather then full on immersion.
Tonally the mix is pretty good, there is decent enough bass, Day-Lewis' growl is suitably deep, however it is not as deep or resonating when it comes to gun shots or cannon fire which remain satisfying rather then chest thumpingly good. In all a very good mix.
- Audio Commentary with Martin Scorsese
Director Scorsese comes up trumps with a truly engaging talk about his pet project. Full of enthusiasm and information it's like the man in in the room regaling you with exploits and history about the making, casting and just about anything else you can think of about the film. Understandably there are a few gaps, it's a long film, however this just gives you a time to absorb what's already been said. Though thoroughly entertaining, I just wish there had been a little more of the films problems (budgetary and editing) before it was finally released.
- Costume Design featurette - 0.08.00
We are introduced to Sandy Powell who heads up a talk, accompanied by some of the cast, about the enormous amount of outfits created for the film based on historical accuracy and dramatic licence.
- Set Design featurette - 0.09.12
Designer Dante Ferretti talks us through the preliminary art and model work before showcasing the enormous sets built in Rome for the film. Various actors pipe up to agree on the lavishness of the set and how they helped with the authenticity of the films look. Plenty of behind the scene footage and discussion of Ferretti and Scorsese's collaborations in past films.
- Exploring the Sets of Gangs of New York - 0.22.31
Somewhat of an extension of the above feature in which Scorcese joined by Ferretti walk around the massive sets, showing the attention to detail given. The aerial shots really hammer home the scale of these sets; and to think Lucas would have done it digital ......
- History of the Five Points - 0.13.33
Gives some historical context to the film, introducing the area, how it became the slum it was and the corruption of the gangs and government alike; fiction was never like this!
- Discovery Channel Special: Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York - 0.35.04
Working in tandem with the above feature the early history of New York is discussed by historian and archaeologist and how the Five Points was destined to be the den of depravity it became and how gangs and gang warfare were the only way to survive. Startling stuff indeed.
- U2 Music Video: The Hands That Built America - 0.04.39
I actually quite like the song, even if the video is just an ad for the film.
- Trailers - 0.0.05
Theatrical and teaser trailer for the film
A healthy set of extras to really get behind the scenes of the film, although none are new, all being taken from the SD 2 disc set, the ball has really been dropped by not making anything HD, even 1080i would be something, but alas no. For me the historical facts make these extras and that is where they are weighted as, apart from Scorsese's commentary, the rest of the information is a little light.
VerdictAmbitious, absorbing, allegorical and archetypal; violent, vicious and visionary - Scorsese's Gangs of New York is all of these and more. Telling the (mostly) true story of the birth of New York, the big apple indeed as it was rotten from the core out and nothing more so than the Five Point governed and ruled by the street gangs with the authority of the Government. The epic treatment that has been lavished upon this production is not lost; like all great stories it is a tale well told and the passion that Scorsese brings to each and every frame is right up there to see.
As a Blu-ray disc the package is sadly leaning towards the 'what a missed opportunity' pile, the picture being the biggest disappointment is given some slight grace by a decent enough sound track and, although the extras are plentiful, remain in SD and that is a great shame. On balance I still think this disc is worthy in any collection.
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- Audio Commentary with Martin Scorsese