Well, I'm delighted to tell you that Rob Roy comes to Blu-ray with a very rewarding AVC transfer that does Lindenlaub's exquisite photography justice and paints the 2.35:1 image with all the ravishing colours of 17th Century pageantry, and enough rolling countryside beauty to have the Scottish Tourism Board rubbing their hands with glee. I'd seen some early reports that claimed the image was good, but not great. Personally, I think the film does look great and certainly way more breathtaking than I imagined it would be for a bare-bones, un-restored catalogue title.
The print is in terrific condition with little to no damage whatsoever. The grain structure is small and light, and totally unobtrusive. Fine resolution is exacting, although the image can appear quite smooth in regards to facial texture and peripheral detail during some of the wider shots. At first I wondered whether this was down to some degree of DNR having been applied, but this is not the case. Fine detail is on offer, and seen in everything from blades of meadow grass and material weave in clothing, to striations in the rock, wood-grain and the engravings on swords and muskets. Although Eric Stolz bows out far too early, his visage is the best for providing the hi-def transfer with the test of handling profuse facial foliage, with lots of separation and tight delineation of wayward strands. The copious wig that the prissy lairds and monarchs and marquis don are afforded similar attention. We can even clearly see the rather unpleasant moist patch resting beneath John Hurt's nose during his first scene. Shots of the soldiers reveal great definition on the headgear and the insignia, and the massive wound that a certain major character receives towards the end is delightfully captured with lots of gleaming viscera on show. Sadly, the same can be said for the grotesque cow's innards that Rob is forced to pull out of a maggot-ridden carcass. The weave in the ropes that bind our hero are also well-rendered. All of this means that a film that is, admittedly, quite softly lensed scrubs up extremely well and definitely stands up to close scrutiny.
Rob Roy is also a film that is often earthy in tone, but there is frequent dazzling contrast offered by the bright red tunics of the soldiers, the flowers and heather, the glow from fires, the warm brown hide of those big Airedales and, of course, all the flamboyant regalia that Our Archie bedecks himself in. The image certainly comes alive when the luscious green fields and hills are being swept by the soldiers, and there are plenty of wide and deep panoramic shots that are speckled with gleaming red. The disc makes no errors with its hold on the given palette, looking quite rich when required, or fallow and swarthy. Flesh tones aren't remarkable, but this is down to those pale Scottish complexions, the makeup and the photography. The image does well with the pampered and powdered faces of the toffs, and it is often a touch unpleasant to see John Hurt or Andrew Keir up close.
Contrast, on the whole, is very good, as we have already ascertained with the transfer's solid and consistent maintenance of the spectrum, but the image also delivers the goods in terms of shadow depth and delineation. Blacks are satisfyingly deep, and there is no question of any detail having been lost within them. I will say that flickering candles or lamps in the background do not hold much variance of hue, and can appear rather bland in terms of definition, but this is down to the source and the original photography. Interiors have a good and convincing level of gloom, often revealing the use of natural lighting or, at least, an realistically unspectacular use of lighting.
The transfer remains assured during the lengthy sequence in the mist on top of the hill. There is no banding or loss of detail amid the swathes of grey. Aliasing is never an issue, and only the distant mountain peaks seem to betray a hint of edge enhancement.
This is a great and consistent transfer that faithfully reproduces an already gorgeous-looking film and delivers with a hi-def vibrancy that is sure to please and even to entrance.
Rob Roy comes alive with hugely impressive musket-shots that issue a thunder-clap, an echo and boast fine directionality across a pretty wide soundfield, and the raging river and waterfall that whisk MacGregor to safety during that great escape scene have appropriate speed, violence and depth courtesy of the disc's fine DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. There are many more little delights on offer with this lossless mix too.
As you would expect from such a lush score, the music is rich and sweeping, full of epic orchestration and soaring moments of high passion and pounding derring-do. The width across the front allows Carter Burwell's themes to resonate and there is also plenty of depth too, catering for that warm, flowing full room swirl. The rear speakers also pick up some of the music for a natural sounding bleed-through. Separation is quite keen and even if panning around the speakers is not perfectly transparent, it is more than satisfactory. Most of the dialogue comes in close, unhurried and uncrowded moments. We can certainly appreciate the many varied accents, from the genuine (Cox, McCardie and Keir) to the comprehensively learned (Lange, Hurt and Stolz), and it always a pleasure to hear Roth and Cox banter and letch. The few scenes when more vocal ambience are called for, such as from the crowd during the duel between Archie and Guthrie, or when we hear the soldiers shouting as they torch a dwelling on the hillside, have a fair degree of immersive presence, but Rob Roy offers, perhaps, a more delicate display of verbal pyrotechnics, revelling more in the soft threats of modulated decorum. Dialogue, however, is always brilliantly discernible and crisply presented.
When things get exciting, the audio mix is no slacker. The thunderstorm and the rainfall as Roy and his men hide out in a cave to await information about the missing MacDonald is nicely realised and evocative. There is some stretch and character to the thunder that rumbles overhead, and the cascading water outside the cave provides a weighty variation for the front of the spatial environment. There is a nice echo to some of the more distinct and distant shots that are fired, such as when Archie shoots Mary's dog on the shore, and the wild flurry of hurried firing during the chase into the mist. The clash and clang of blades is also very well depicted without ever once being over-the-top or stupidly bombastic just for the sake of it. The sub won't get much of a workout, though. Bass levels are good, but this is not a mix that wants to pummel you with aggression.
Overall, Rob Roy sounds great in this lossless incarnation … and I can't imagine it being presented any better. So, as with the video, this is a serious improvement over what has gone before.
Absolutely nothing, I'm afraid. MGM deserve a dunking in the loch for this. Or a kick in the sporran. You decide.
A tale of men in skirts fighting men in wigs, Rob Roy arrives on Blu-ray with a bare-bones US release that offers fans a considerable upgrade over the lousy image that the DVD sported. It is also a great film that has been unfairly judged over the years, and fallen somewhat unfortunately into the shadow of the illustrious Braveheart that swamped it at the box office that same year. In truth, however, the films are totally different and strike out down paths that attack their subjects with far more diverse attitudes and methods of execution. Rob Roy is a traditional tale that Michael Caton-Jones tells in an Old School fashion, which completely supports the blending of intricate period detail and atmospheric evocation with the rascally nature of the characters flung together in conflict.
The cast are all excellent, but special mention must go to both Tim Roth and Jessica Lange, who find fantastic new depths and traits with which to imbue their, otherwise, stock characters. Neeson is a lumbering giant of battered heroism, yet he is perfectly at home as the principled renegade and you can't help but be moved by his indomitable will to put right some terrible wrongs.
The lack of extras is unforgivable, mind. MGM have just slipped the release out with nothing … not even a trailer. For a rich and lavish production such as Rob Roy, they have well and truly dropped a great big tartan ball. But it is the film that counts, and this is a beautifully constructed, authentic-looking saga that drips class and character with style to burn. We have a terrific, if unusual villain in Roth's poncified Archibald Cunningham, and there is a brutality in some respects that well and truly pushes the film out of that picturesque Sunday afternoon costume drama niche. The fighting is wonderfully done too, and, best of all, you really get the sense that you are actually there with that awesome cinematography.
Basically, if you love period dramas, you can't really go wrong with Rob Roy. It is rousing, witty, moving and fabulously entertaining … and it comes highly recommended.
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