The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 2.35:1 1080p picture using the AVC MPEG4 codec and is locked to Region B. Remarkably, for a film from 1970, Soldier Blue’s print has always been pretty clean and free from many defects that would hamper a decent viewing experience – this is great news as this Blu-ray print has had precious little, if any, restoration work done to it, but this does not detract from what is a terrific looking image, considering the source material. Apart from the first few frames which play under the credits and suffer from some odd subtle horizontal shifting, the print is very stable and solid with few, if any, brightness fluctuations. Colours are reasonably strong (certainly bolder than their DVD counterparts) but fail to really ignite the screen with their depth; all the primaries are represented very well, but they don’t have that ‘lushness’ that one associates with a great picture. This is only fitting considering the age of the print. There is not waver, wash or bleed to contend with, and, at times, there are instances of real boldness, the red of the blood is particularly striking, but for the most part colours adequately show up the vast wasteland of the American outback.
Brightness and contrast are set a little high so that the sun drenched sands and scorching blue cloudless skies are suitably vivid and washed, this does have the side effect to bleach out some minor detail; clouds (if/when they occur), on occasion are a white mass rather than holding definition, sweat on characters faces can, on occasion be too white, and blacks, though seldom mused fail to reach inky levels.
Where the picture really shines though is with the level of detail now on show, which is a revelation, characters faces, clothing weaves, distant landscapes, vegetation, even the bullet holes reveal a level texture hitherto unseen in any previous version.
Print wise, as already intimated, the stock is extremely clean with very few marks to contend with, it also has a slight sheen of film grain; digitally there are no compression problems but there is a little edge enhancement here and there, nothing to get overly het up about. On the whole, considering the film, its source and age I think it’s a pretty decent image, it’s never going to stack up against a modern print, but I’ve certainly seen a whole lot worse.
Four tracks to choose from, all dts-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, I opted for the English version. A sound track of this ilk is never going to set the room alight, but it does achieve a decent amount of ambience and manages to get it’s information across without any significant defects. The opening song “Soldier Blue” by Buffy Sainte-Marie is well realised and holds a reasonable amount of depth, with decent enough bass, this too is the same for the dialogue which also comes across clearly and precisely, always sounding pretty natural without that ‘shrillness’ that some mono tracks can exhibit. Effects are extremely limited, of course, but there are some, the crackle and pop of the camp fires are a prime example (I actually thought that this was a track defect when I first heard it!). The rest of the score comes across well, but with limited depth due to the very limited bass. There are, obviously, no LF effects, though gun shots and horses hooves are suitably deep. On the whole I’d say this is a purely functional track managing to put across its information clearly and precisely, and doing so without any defects in the track, even at reference volumes.
Ralph Nelson’s provocative 1970’s Soldier Blue is currently only available in its uncut form from Germany. He cleverly tells the true story of one of the most atrocious acts committed by the army against an unarmed Native Indian village in 1864 by leading the audience down a ‘romantic comedy’ path before unleashing the most hideous and brutal violence to the unsuspecting – much as the villages were not expecting such horror, neither will the viewer, nothing can prepare you, not even this review. Candice Bergen and Peter Strauss take the starring roles as a couple who are forced together and grow very affectionate before they are pulled apart after witnessing one of the grossest acts of cinematic violence made all the more poignant by the fact that it actually happened as testified by a military tribunal. It is not for the feint hearted, but equally it deserves to be seen by a wider audience – pay no attention of the poster art, or to some respects the name, this is not a ‘blue’ film – it’s red; red with blood and red with rage.
As a Blu-ray package the set is quite lacking, the picture and sound are not much better than average compared to the latest releases, it is locked to Region B and contains no extras. However Soldier Blue is such a powerful film and one that is (unbelievably) little known, that it deserves better recognition and I for one am glad that it is available at all.
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