Midnight Cowboy Blu-ray Review
The only 'X'-rated film to ever win an Oscar
Midnight Cowboy Film Review
John Schlesinger's 1969 classic Midnight Cowboy, featuring celebrated performances by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, endures almost half a Century on.Based on the novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy, Midnight Cowboy follows the increasingly nightmarish journey of discovery of initially hope-filled Texan Joe Buck (Jon Voight), who packs his bags one day to head to New York City so that he can be a male prostitute, planning on servicing all the lonely unfulfilled women in the Big Apple.
Things don't quite go according to plan, and then he bumps into Enrico "Ratzo" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a slimy little con man with a limp who initially cons Joe before the two end up as unlikely friends, cathartically working their way through mutually tragic childhood scars whilst trying to find their place in a world that is particularly unforgiving towards outcasts.
It's strengths come from not only the storytelling and impressive direction, but also the defining early performances from Voight and Hoffman.
Midnight Cowboy is a colourful, if often surprisingly dark, reflection on loneliness and psychological baggage, using the twin sides of New York as a symbolic backdrop towards the dark and light sides of life. The narrative style is superb, meticulously drip-feeding you dashes of the horrors that moulded the two lead characters through interstitial flashbacks that intentionally don't fully coalesce, but give you enough of a clue as to how damaged these people are.
It's strengths come from not only that adept storytelling and impressive direction (and John Barry's score), but also the defining early performances from Voight and Hoffman; the former making his lead debut here, and really showing some star presence, whilst the latter really gets his teeth into a textured character. The two are fantastic together, unlikely partners and even less likely friends, but together increasingly out of a need to survive.
Half a Century on and Midnight Cowboy is still a powerful piece, sometimes shocking, sometimes touching, and treading the same breathtaking cinema-definining territory that Scorsese expanded upon in both Mean Streets and Taxi Driver.
Midnight Cowboy Blu-ray Picture QualityThe film comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection, who afford it a 4K digital restoration but, unfortunately, since they haven't quite gotten around to adopting the new format, don't deliver it on the Midnight Cowboy 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc that fans might have hoped for.
Nonetheless, the remaster makes for a rock solid foundation for this 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition Blu-ray, presenting the movie in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. In true Criterion style, it's been throughly cleaned and meticulously finished, leaving an end production which could be argued to be likely better than the original print runs were back on release almost half a Century ago.
The film has simply never looked any better.
Although it gets off to an understandably rocky start - between the opening zoom-out and the credits sequence - once the credits stop and it settles in, detail is generally very good indeed, particularly considering the vintage, and the new release revisits the colour timing and style of the piece (replete with hallucinogenic dream sequences and trippy party visuals), delivering the vivid primaries as best as they could possibly hope to be delivered.
Sure, there's still some bleeding, and the grain levels fluctuate somewhat dramatically at times - reportedly due to stylistic choices during the shoot - but the film has simply never looked any better, with Criterion's meticulous restoration cleaning it up and presenting it in the best possible shape imaginable.
Midnight Cowboy Blu-ray Sound QualityMidnight Cowboy is given two flavours of audio on Criterion's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release, with the more authentic, original uncompressed monaural soundtrack available on an LPCM 1.0 track, whilst those preferring something a little expansive are afforded a fuller DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix.
The reality is that the film sounds more authentic in its original mono, but, as many have discovered particularly with recent releases like the 60 year old Bridge on the River Kwai - which earned a Dolby Atmos track - the six-speaker surround sound remix does offer something different.
The film sounds more authentic in its original mono.
Dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array, weathering the vintage without showing too many signs of age, whilst effects are limited by the period but still managed to bring the grimy underbelly of New York to colourful life with gritty atmosphere.
It's hardly an engulfing surround effort, even on the 5.1 remix, but there's some healthy environmental ambience to the piece, complete with a suitably effective background score.
Midnight Cowboy Blu-ray ExtrasCriterion's UK Blu-ray release packs out the package with a hefty selection of extras, both old and new. Headlined by the original 1991 Audio Commentary from the Director, we also get a new half-hour selected-scene Commentary from Cinematographer Adam Holender.
These are supported by the two great Documentaries from the 35th Anniversary DVD release, including the half-hour After Midnight: Reflecting on a Classic 35 Years Later, and the 11 minute Controversy and Acclaim, both of which boast some great little interviews with the cast and crew.
A hefty selection of extras.
The Crowd around the Cowboy is a 1969 Short Documentary Film made during the original shoot, and on location, which runs at 9 minutes in length and contains some interesting behind the scenes footage, particularly of the period location.
There's also an Award-winning archival Documentary, Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey, which spends almost an hour looking at the life and career of the celebrated screenwriter.
A new quarter-hour Interview, Michael Childers, spends some time with the director's life-partner, who worked with the director on the production, and a quarter-hour archival Interview piece with the director himself, reflecting on the homosexuality explored in his movies.
There's a further half-hour Bafta tribute piece on the director and a couple of features afforded to star Jon Voight, including a 1970 David Frost Interview, and some footage of the original Screen Tests he did. The disc is rounded out by a Trailer.
Midnight Cowboy Blu-ray VerdictThe 1969 John Schlesinger film Midnight Cowboy is certainly a memorable entry in the classic 60s/70s era of breathtaking director-driven Hollywood output, with fabulous performances from Hoffman and Voight. It's a frequently tough watch, carrying a similarly gritty vibe to other darker films of the era, including output from Scorsese himself.
Certainly the definitive edition.
Criterion's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release affords the film excellent 4K-remastered video and superb audio selections as well as a huge selection of extra features. It's certainly the definitive edition and, for fans, a must-have addition to your collection.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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