Sorcerer Blu-ray Review
Sorcerer has earned its 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition
Buried in 1977 by the unexpected success of Star Wars, William Friedkin's vastly underrated masterpiece Sorcerer celebrates its 40th Anniversary in style.Riding high on the success of The French Connection and The Exorcist, Friedkin undertook his most audacious production yet, taking to the jungles to shoot a remake of the classic French film Wages of Fear. Updated with the paranoia of the era, shot through with an existential, dream-like core, it followed the same basic premise - a group of individuals carrying highly sensitive explosives, by truck, across hundreds of miles of arduous and unforgiving terrain, to help put out a raging inferno. What his eclectic multinational cast brought to the piece was a more diverse crew with darker characterisations - criminals and outcasts who had little to lose but their own souls - thus enriching this tense tale. Whilst Tangerine Dream's unforgettable score and the director's nightmarish vision are evident in every perfectly-framed shot.Roy Scheider's on-the-run crook paves the way, giving the film its dark heart, as Friedkin takes his time developing the myriad core characters before he throws them into seven levels of hell. And, by all accounts, it was hell - as much behind the scenes as it was in the narrative - with the budget ballooning, the jungle terrain proving hazardous and the film's grandest bridge setpiece nearly finishing the cast and crew off (in the days of CG, scenes like this will simply never be undertaken again). The end result, despite taking much longer to be fully acknowledged (it was drowned on release by Star Wars and bad marketing), is as symbolic of the director-driven 70s golden era of filmmaking as another benchmark troubled genius production – Apocalpyse Now. It's a veritable masterpiece that was almost forgotten but is utterly unmissable.
Picture QualitySorcerer has had a somewhat troubled time of it, not just on its botched and buried cinema release, but also later on home video, where the director's repeated legal wranglings with the studio left little chance of ever seeing it given a decent release. This finally changed a few years back and, as a result, Friedkin was able to oversee some rather extensive restoration work for the production he openly admits was closest to his heart. The 4K restoration was completed in time for a glorious Region Free US Blu-ray release from back in 2014, which fans would have almost certainly sourced in the intervening three years.
Indeed in many ways, this touted 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition isn't trading in anything particularly new (although perhaps 37th Anniversary doesn't have the same ring to it), curiously released by Entertainment One, who Friedkin appears to have a fondness for after their backing and positive treatment of Killer Joe. This Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release delivers essentially the exact same gorgeous 4K remaster, with an excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen. (Of course this is the director's original chronological cut, rather than the studio-driven alternative version which retunes the prologues as flashbacks, since only one cut was given the 4K restoration treatment).
The 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition isn't trading anything new, delivering the same gorgeous 4K remaster
Detail is frequently astonishing for a film of this vintage, genuinely showing just what can be done with a loving remaster, rendering a rich and textured image that revels in the humid jungle setting and increasingly weathered visages on the characters (and, indeed, the cast themselves). The newly-reformed colour scheme is delivered with perfection, resulting in vivid greens and lush jungle canopies, as well as rich woody tones. The oil fire balloons into a bright orange inferno that pops with vibrancy. As the storms brew, the palette copes admirably, offering a rare in-the-eye-of-the-storm look at inclement weather conditions on a real shoot, whilst the final act takes on a striking dream-like look dominated by moonlit blues and purples on a landscape Friedkin picked specifically for its otherworldly feel. Black levels remain solid; contrast is unfaltering and it's a tremendous video restoration that finally does this film justice.
Sound QualityThe best the film has ever sounded.
Friedkin similarly oversaw some magic done with the audio, with a newly-commissioned (again, for the 2014 release) 5.1 remix based around the original stereo source material. It's a fabulously immersive offering, really delivering the goods with unexpected precision and potency, and arguably leaving this the best that the film has ever sounded.
Dialogue gets keen, clear and coherent placement across the frontal array, delivered with prioritisation although, in some respects, it's the least important element in this existential voyage. Effects are superb, from the howling inferno of the oil fire to the gunshots strewn across the prologues, and the guttural engine noises in the humid jungle environment. The South American environment comes to claustrophobic life here, a veritable character of its own, and the atmosphere crafted is tremendous, although nothing compares to the spectacle of that key bridge sequence, where the stormy winds threaten to tear your from your living room sofa. Tangerine Dream's haunting score provides perfect accompaniment, clearly defined with a nice resonance across the array, largely eschewing any era-familiar propensity to dip into tinny highs, with the LFE channel pleasingly engaged for much of the duration. This surround track is one of the better remixes commissioned on classics from decades back and a fantastic accompaniment.
ExtrasIn some ways it's not quite the 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition its title would suggest, but, as an overall package, it's still pretty impressive.
Although there's only one single, solitary extra on this 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition, it's a curious gem; Sorcerers, a feature-length 74-minute conversation between director William Friedkin and fellow filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn whose rather over-enthusiastic tone towards the famously irascible director results in a strangely tense session.
The package also includes The Mystery of Fate - a letter from Friedkin, as well as a reversible sleeve featuring both the original, iconic bridge artwork and some vivid, fiery newly-commissioned artwork, which also adorns the textured slipcover. In some ways it's not quite the 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition its title would suggest, but, as an overall package, it's still pretty impressive.
Blu-ray VerdictA veritable masterpiece that was almost forgotten and is utterly unmissable
Entertainment One's Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release of Sorcerer is a little late to the game for true fans of the classic, since Warner Home Video released the film with the same 4K remastered video and redesigned soundtrack back in 2014, on a Region Free disc no less, and even the extended interview included here was previously available on the French Region B-locked Blu-ray release.
Nevertheless it's great that the UK finally get their own, complete release, and it's an excellent package that for those who haven't yet picked it up, is a must-have. If you're a fan of all those director-driven masterpieces from the 70s, like Apocalypse Now and William Friedkins' own The French Connection, this stands up alongside them and should prove utterly captivating.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.