The Essential Steve McQueen Collection DVD Review
PictureNever So Few
Presented for the first time on DVD in an anamorphic 2.40:1 image that is amazingly colourful and bright, Never So Few looks great for a film from 1959. There is print damage, but it is not excessive, and there is some grain still apparent, yet this fails to detract from an image that pleasantly vibrant and engrossing. The widescreen framing is well maintained and detail is fairly well rendered, with heaps of jungle foliage picked out, good close-ups and objects far at the back of the frame kept reasonably clear. There is some edge-enhancement and a small amount of noise, but with solid blacks and a robust colour palette - with only the slightest touch of bleeding of the reds - it is hard to imagine this film looking any better.
The Cincinnati Kid
Presented here for the first time on DVD in an anamorphic 1.85:1 image, The Cincinnati Kid carries its picture quite proudly, although without distinction. There is some damage, but it is minimal, and the level of detail is pretty nice and consistent throughout. Colours, however, are a little dull and muted. Ann-Margaret's blood-red dress is the standout moment, colour-wise. Skin tones have that heavily made-up Hollywood glow and, as such, look finely cinematic, if not at all realistic. Blacks are nice and deep - Slade's shooting gallery, for instance - and the disc keeps up with the card-playing without any judders or digital demonising. A fine transfer that is never less than pleasant to watch.
Although this new version has been restored a little more than its prior incarnation, it is still prone to a few problems. The framing is an anamorphic 1.85:1 that, to my eyes, still doesn't look quite right with several scenes coming across as rather ill-fitting or slightly cropped. The picture is very grainy, some shots far more so than others, though in compensation there is an agreeable improvement in detail - the reflections in glass doors, the brickwork in the buildings - and the scene in the hospital basement when Frank is rooting out the hitman looks very good, with lots of gleaming instruments and nice, deep shadows. There is an overall grubbiness to the image that is, in part, intentional, however, on larger screens this can make the picture look a little dull and drab, the grain sometimes getting the better of the detail on offer. The colours aren't too strong, but then again, Yates has given the film a deliberately downplayed palette. That said though, the blue skies don't really have much vibrancy. Contrast levels are pretty reasonable with some good transitions from light to dark, but there can be a slight tendency to glare in the bright sunlight. To be fair, this is the best that seen I've Bullitt look and the grain can often add to the realistic and gritty feel of the movie.
This 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is best of the bunch, in my opinion. Boasting extremely good colours - with no hint of smearing, bleed or over-saturation - and a very rich, very detailed image, The Getaway looks fantastic. Offering great contrast and black levels that are full and deep, terrific skin tones and lovely, sharp close-up detail, it would be churlish to complain about the slight smattering of grain that seems to affect only a couple of shots here and there, or the occasional print damage that mars an otherwise extremely well-restored picture. This is a bright and highly polished job that has Peckinpah's lacklustre movie looking quite splendid. Check out the rich reds and the sunny aspect of the Texas locations. There is some slight aliasing, but beyond that the disc is blissfully free of any digital errors that I could see. A fine transfer indeed.
Presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 image, Papillon is crisp and colourful, but undeniably grainy and rife with artefacts. Distant shots are poor and indistinct, and the contrast levels are quite ineptly handled leading to some hostile glaring in some scenes. Close-ups are nicely and detailed, however, with some harrowing visages - particularly Papillon's after a long stretch in solitary - really well-defined. In the middle act mainly, there are some very unpleasant and distracting horizontal blue lines flecking about the screen for a few sequences. They appear later on, too, but not as prevalently. These were present on the original R1 release, as well, and it is a shame to see that Warner's haven't taken the time to remove them. Overall, the image is pretty shabby in long and wide shots, and generally murky throughout. In my opinion, only the close-ups show what the disc was really capable of. Not too grand, I'm sorry to say.
Well, we finish off with Tom Horn. Right from the word go, the anamorphic 2.40:1 image is clean and provides very good contrast. We have a scene of Tom inside a gloomy barn and silhouetted against the bright daylight shining through the doorway, which looks terrific. Light and dark in the same shot handled very well. The colours, whilst not subjected to any major defects, are still undeniably muted, but this is purposely so. Still, there are occasions when they positively shine - Linda Evans' face, for example, looks particularly radiant despite the chilly air, and the gory head-eruption, or the blazing house, offer some nice splashes of colour, too. Blacks are reliably deep and consistent and detail is very good, on the whole. The landscapes benefit from the disc's clarity, with only one or two far-off shots of the distant mountains getting the fuzzy-edged treatment. Digitally, I only noticed a little bit of edge enhancement but this did not detract one iota from what is essentially a very agreeable transfer.
Bear in mind that the overall marks out of ten are an average based around the entire package.
SoundNever So Few
Furnished with English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a French Dolby Digital Mono track, there isn't really much to be said about the soundmix other than that it delivers a fine, and clear reproduction of the original four track sound design that accompanied the film's initial release. The rears pick up a fair bit of jungle ambience, but the action mainly comes from the front. Voices, and occasional bursts of gunfire, are steered from left and right, and the film does feel as though it has been opened up quite nicely. The sub largely sits this out, but there is an agreeable bit of oomph to the explosions. The score and the dialogue are always clear and there is no hiss or crackle that bothered me.
The Cincinnati Kid
With English and French Dolby Digital Mono tracks, The Kid plays his hand without much in the way of aural dynamics. Everything scoots out from the centre channel with a little bit of background noise and can, sometimes, sound harsh, or tinny. But this does not detract from what is, on the whole, a pretty acceptable presentation.
Bullitt has an English Dolby Surround track and a French Dolby Digital Mono track. The Surround is perfectly clear and carries a nice range, but it lacks any kind of fizz or spark to elevate it. The movie keeps the dialogue deliberately muted and conspiratorial, so don't be surprised if it sounds a little subdued. The ambience emanating from behind you is, sadly, almost imperceptible and steerage is relegated to the odd voice and, thankfully, the roaring of the cars' engines and the planes at the end. Gunshots don't sound too lively, I'm afraid, but the new mix does serve to remove any old hiss or crackle. Not as good as I'd have liked.
Here we just get English and French Dolby Digital Mono tracks. I really can't find much to say about this soundtrack, to be honest. It does what it is supposed to, and delivers a nice, crisp and clear presentation of the dialogue, score and the effects, but it does so without any fuss or showboating. Nothing too special, then. But no errors, either.
PapillonCarrying only the one track - an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix - Papillon isn't going to set the world on fire with its aural dynamics. However, it is nice that the film has received a makeover ... just don't expect anything too spectacular. The original film was in four track stereo, and the 5.1 enhances that with an added clarity and a tiny smattering of rear directionality. The set-up comes alive during the rainstorms and the sea-voyage does offer some reasonably realistic ambience, with the sloshing waves that hit the sides of the ship emanating nicely from rear right and left. However, be prepared for when Jerry Goldsmith's score suddenly intrudes, which does so loudly and unexpectedly. I had the sound cranked up - as the track is a little quiet for most of the time - and the sudden acoustic flourish had me and the dog jumping out of our respective skins. In fact, the treatment afforded the score, whilst nicely aggressive, is a little too overbearing for the film in the middle of it, coming across as vaguely unrealistic. However, I must say that the film has been agreeably opened up with the new mix.
Tom HornErnest Gold's score is the only thing to really benefit from the English Dolby Digital Mono track presented here. Clear, for the most part, I still found that dialogue could often be slightly muffled and submerged in some scenes, which is a little disappointing. Gunshots don't carry too much clout and it is a shame that this film could not have received a little more attention to widen it up. Sadly, a touch underwhelming for the most recent film in the selection.
ExtrasNever So FewThis disc carries only the film's Theatrical Trailer and a preview of Season 1 of Steve McQueen's terrific bounty hunter TV series from 1958, Wanted Dead Or Alive (well recommended by the way, folks ... despite McQueen's young and pudgy face and often painfully quiet line delivery.)
The Cincinnati Kid
Well, here we get two Commentary Tracks - one from the director, Norman Jewison and a fairly clever one from Phil Gordon and Dave Foley, the hosts of the American TV show Celebrity Poker Showdown. Jewison's is on the ball and full of trivia on the production, the card-playing, the characters and, of course, on working with Steve McQueen. He is articulate and fondly reminiscent of the movie and his friendship with the star, but he also offers lots of praise for the others in the cast, like the young Tuesday Weld and the great stalwarts of Malden and Robinson. A great chat track. The second track is very scene specific as the commentators talk us through the card-playing antics we see on screen. This is quite good fun and explains a fair bit of what is actually happening.
We also get a Theatrical Trailer and a vintage black and white featurette called Plays According To Hoyle (6.11 mins) which reveals how the cast learned to play and to handle cards convincingly. Taught by a professional player and magician, we see Joan Blondell learning how to shuffle and deal. This guy also performs some pretty neat tricks, too. A smart little piece, this. Check out Blondell's amazed face.
Bullitt 2-Disc Special Edition
Well, this is where the real action lies, folks. Already released earlier, this 2-discer has absolute quality stamped all over it. Disc 1 features the Theatrical Trailer and Peter Yates' brilliant Commentary Track, which is jam-packed with trivia and anecdote. A genial talker, Yates does the film proud. The characterisation is fully covered as is most of the production's minutia and the car chase receives some smart analysis. He tends to follow the on-screen action quite well, whilst delivering lots of genuine praise and honest reminiscences. Excellent.
Disc 2 contains three features. The first is Steve McQueen: The Essence Of Cool (76 mins), which is an absolutely fantastic feature-length documentary about the life and times of the star from Turner Classics, made in 2004. Boasting a vast and varied selection of contributors from friends, filmmakers and co-stars, as well as his first wife and his son, this comprehensive chronicle offers many stories and anecdotes from those who knew him best. Robert Culp takes us back to the days when the two competed in womanising and we get some frank contributions from some of the stuntmen who doubled for him. What is especially nice about this doc is that, whilst everyone clearly loves McQueen, they are still able to discuss his egocentric, cavalier attitude and the downside that it brought to him, with honesty. Top quality, folks, and long overdue.
The second feature is not actually about Steve McQueen, or Bullitt for that matter, but it is no less awesome. Entitled The Cutting Edge: The Magic Of Movie Editing (99 mins), this is a thorough, and very engaging, history and dissection of the way in which films are cut. From the dawn of moving pictures in the time of Edwin Porter and Edison, right on up to the likes of The Matrix films and Gladiator, this is a full-on and exhaustive examination of how a snip here and a frame-splice there can radically alter and enhance the movie-making art-form. With numerous contributions from the likes of Martin Scorcese, Ridley Scott (who, rather nicely, uses my favourite scene from my favourite movie, Gladiator, to illustrate his point), Lawrence Kasdan and Walter Murch, we are taken through the process from intimate sex scenes to large scale action set-pieces. An incredible documentary, folks, and well worth sitting through more than once. Top marks.
The last extra is a vintage featurette going behind the scenes on the production of Bullitt. Called Bullitt: Steve McQueen's Commitment To Reality (10.13 mins), this takes a look at how Yates went about attaining that gritty realism for the film. However, I found there to be too many clips from the film to really have the theme come across properly. Still, it is nice to see.
The Getaway Deluxe Edition
Well, first up we get one of the most enthusiastic and fact-packed Commentaries that I've heard in a long while. A roundtable discussion format that sees Peckinpah biographers and documentarians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle, moderated by Nick Redman, rampage through their hero's film with a fine-tooth comb. They make many fascinating observations and really go into the nitty-gritty of what the director strived to achieve, mixing anecdote and production fact with amusing and intelligent opinion. I don't agree with a lot of what they say, but it makes for a very entertaining listen, just the same. Better than the film, I feel compelled to add.
A second chat track really isn't a commentary at all, despite being entitled a Virtual Commentary, but rather a cut'n'paste set of archive interviews with Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw and Sam Peckinpah, culled from around the time of the film's release. Lasting only around ten minutes or so at the start of the film, this is still a nice little extra in that we finally get to hear McQueen and Peckinpah discuss their motivations behind the film. And, finally, we get the Theatrical Trailer. Hardly a Deluxe Edition as the tag says, eh?
All we get here is a Theatrical Trailer and a 12.20 min vintage featurette called The Magnificent Rebel, which reveals a little bit of behind the scenes footage culled primarily from the final scenes of the film, but is significant primarily for having Papillon, himself, Henri Charriere, taking us through the prison set and discussing how the real execution happened. But the whole thing carries a slightly smug tone that lessens its interest-value, somewhat. Oh, and there's a tiny Cast and Crew credit page, too.
Tom HornSadly, apart from its Theatrical Trailer, Tom Horn has no extras at all. A crying shame, in my opinion. I would have loved some background on this unusual movie.
So, taken into account, the extras on three of the set are excellent (Bullitt, The Getaway and The Cincinnati Kid) and would garner good marks in their own right. But, as an entire package, the law of diminishing returns is in effect. Bullitt remains a fantastic release, but The Cincinnati Kid is on fine form with its cool commentaries and nifty little card-trick featurette. But, then again, it is the films themselves to which you will be returning.
VerdictThe Essential Steve McQueen Collection is a brilliant selection of movies, cleverly taking in some unusual choices as well as the more obvious examples of the star's finest hours. The omission of such classics as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape is understandable as they were ensemble pieces and not just vehicles for McQueen, himself. The inclusion of Never So Few may seem a little odd then, considering that he is not the main star, but it is still a worthwhile addition to the set as it is of historical value, and certainly led McQueen onto bigger and better projects. But it is to The Cincinnati Kid that I will be returning to most often from this selection.
Like it says on the box, this collection is, indeed, essential. Cool films, cool transfers, some cool extras. One cool package, overall.
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