The French Connection Blu-ray Review
“The French Connection” is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 with MPEG-4 AVC 1080p coding.
As is to be expected from such an old movie, the print exhibited plenty of damage with speckles of dirt and girt present in most scenes. In the opening scenes the print demonstrated a surprising clarity with some actual depth to the picture, which is impressive for a movie so old. In saying that, if you don't like grain “Connection” is not the movie for you as the majority of scenes are crawling with it. It's absolutely everywhere from walls to faces and although the remastering process has made it less noticeable in some scenes (such the highly detailed car strip scene), it's most definitely still present. The grain really poisons the darker scenes with individuals' faces in the Copacabana club appearing very soft and indistinguishable; these scenes also suffer from a bad case of black crush (although throughout the presentation blacks are solid). The high contrast ratio and low colour print that Friedkin has chosen results in a very cool colour temperate, giving everything a bluish tint, with some of the darker night time scenes almost appearing black and white due to the low levels of chroma in the new masters. A lot of these negative points are due to the age of the print and the style in which it was originally filmed but there is still plenty of detail on show in this presentation and I was constantly amazed that a movie as old as this one could look so good. The level of grime and the gritty nature in which Friedkin has chosen to portry Manahattan really shines through and some of the indoor scenes can look quite sharp and detailed.
Friedkin has obviously invested a lot of his own time in the remastering process for this release. Although he has preserved his original intention for the movies appearance, this of course prevents the picture quality from reaching the heights of perfection that Blu-ray can obtain. Some may complain about this choice but to produce a version of this cinematic masterpiece that appears over enhanced and false would be an even greater travesty. It is, however, slightly disappointing to see some of the screenshots from the “Colour Timing” feature where Friedkin as takes some immaculate looking remastered scenes from the movie and applies a 70% reduction to the colour palette (amongst other techniques) which results in a partially washed out, slightly soft finished product. It seems that the choice was made to deliberately degrade picture quality to create the “feel” that the director was looking for. In saying that, colour representation and skin tone both look spot on as a result of this process. There were a couple of instances where a strange, hazy halo like effect was noted around the heads of some of the characters, for example, when Doyle is accosting Willy in the alleyway. This could be down to the mastering process or it could be due to the lighting effects, either way it can be pretty distracting but thankfully not overly prevalent. It would have been an interesting inclusion on this BD release to have the remastered full colour version available alongside Friedkin's remastered version and let the viewer decide which one they would prefer to view.
“The French Connection” comes packed with an impressive dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
”Connection” was nominated for a Best Sound Oscar and right from the opening credits, as Bob Ellis' iconic score makes its presence felt, the high definition upgrade on this audio track is noticeable. The score contains some unusual notes, especially in the brass section, which create a biting, dissident sound that has the effect of setting the audience on edge and is helped along by an unrelenting, underlying percussion beat. Piano notes enter the mix creating chaos before the whole symphonic segment falls away suddenly on an off bass note. The score is quite dominant in the mix and, although only features for about 25 minutes, it has the ability to inject pace and excitement to on screen proceedings when required, and also draws attention to key plot developments. It's possible, due to the HD upgrade, to differentiate between the large selection of instruments that Ellis utilised, with deep bass and intense string/percussion aspects clearly audible. Aside from the score, period music such as “Everybody's Going to the Moon” performed by the band in the Copacabana, features in a couple of the scenes and are very well represented with twanging bass notes, kick drums and all other instruments sounding absolutely spot on with accurate activity from all speakers, especially the subwoofer. Even in the “drugs” bar scene the music from the jukebox actually sounds like it's coming from inside your living room. p>
All the city scenes, including bustling Marseilles and downtown Manhattan, are very busy aurally, with plenty of traffic noises and general chitter chatter from pedestrians emanating from the surrounds with some nice steerage. There are some nice ambient effects, such as the echo effect when Hackman is accosting Willy in the ally-way and all the gun fight sequences are superb, especially the sniper sequence, where the shots fired by the Francophone marksman rip through the whole left soundstage stage with some great accuracy. All impact scenes during the car chase sequence are well realised with some nice LFE thumps and the climatic train crash sequence reverberates around the room to great effect. In fact the majority of the outdoor city scenes have ambient surround activity, for example, the train station sequences are full of activity and also demonstrate some nice steerage.
There are extended periods of silence during the movie, where both score and sound effects are absent. In these quieter moments Friedkin focuses on the exploits of the characters with completely audible, crystal clear dialogue (as is the case for the entire presentation). It appears that during the car chase sequence that Hackman's yells of frustration at motorists and pedestrians who are hindering his pursuit were removed from the mix, I'm not too sure why but I found this slightly distracting. The sound timing during the musical sequence in the Copocabana club was also slightly off. Aside from these couple of minor gripes it really is amazing what Friedkin and his team have done with this aging audio track (that was originally mono) and it's refreshing to see a careful and accurate remastering technique applied to get the most from the capabilities of the new high definition audio codecs. It's quite obvious that a significant effort has been made to beef up this track for its first Blu-ray outing.
“Fench Connection” comes as a two disc edition release with a very comprehensive selection of extras including two commentary tracks. We also have the DBox motion code and an isolated track for the score. This track runs for the entire length of the movie but the score is only present for approximately twenty five minutes of the total running time. The rest of the movie is in complete silence but at least this segment is mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1. There's also a trivia track which features an almost continual pop-up menu at the bottom of the screen containing interesting factoids (and photographs) about every single aspect of the movie. We also get an introduction from William Friedkin to this Blu-ray presentation.
The first commentary track features William Friedkin as he explores the making this movie. In depth analysis on the adaption of this movie from the novel and technical aspects on many of the scenes as well as plenty of background information are divulged by the director on this very informative track.
The second track features Hackman and Scheider and I have a minor complaint here in that it's not a proper commentary track. Two twenty minute interviews have been inserted over the movie's soundtrack. Hackman speaks first and gives his thoughts on making the movie and the difficulties he had playing the tough Eddie Egan. Hackman humbly gives credit to this movie for launching him into true celcebrity status. This section of the commentary finishes up approximately thirty minutes into the movie and we have to wait for the fifty fifth minute before Scheider makes his appearance, with complete silence in between. Scheider also speaks on making the movie and the characters portrayed with a nice anecdote on how he got the gig. Following this brief segment (that again lasts for approximately twenty minutes) it's back to the silence for the remainder of the running time.
Deleted Scenes (HD) - A collection of seven deleted scenes from the movie with an optional, interesting commentary from director William Friedkin, who also introduces this segment. Some of these are merely extensions of scenes that are already present in the movie while others were simply not included. There's some interesting content here.
“Anatomy Of A Chase” (HD 20mins) - Friedkin returns to the exact location where the infamous car chase sequence took place thirty eight years later. Aside from being the movies big action sequence, he explains that the chase sequence is merely only a vehicle (if you'll excuse the pun) to highlight the unstoppable nature of Doyle. Friedkin is accompanied by the producer for “Connection”, Philip D'Antoni (who has some difficulty with the stairs!), who both walk through the scene step by step along with expansion on directorial and production choices and some brotherly love!
“Hackman On Doyle” (HD 10mins) - A retrospective interview style feature with Hackman as he describes the difficult nature of playing the though and crude Doyle who was in contrast to his own mild mannered nature. He also mentions how “Conenction” was really the start of his movie career.
“Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection” (HD 19mins) - Eddie Eagan and Sonny Grosso were the detectives involved in the real life French Connection incident. Friedkin meets with Grosso and they discuss how the original duo exposed the drug smuggling ring and how “Popeye” and “Cloudy” compare to their two infamous real life counterparts. This provides interesting insight into the true story that inspired the movie.
“Scene of the Crime” (HD 5min) - Friedkin meets with former detective Randy Jurgenson who assisted the director in clearing some of Manhattan traffic so that the movie could be made. This feature focuses on the Brooklyn bridge scene, which was filmed illegally, causing massive gridlock.
“Colour Timing The French Connection” (HD 13mins) - A mini-doc featuring Friedkin as he explains the remastering and colour timing techniques used for this presentation. We see that he wanted a dark and gritty presentation and so removed a lot of the colour form the print to achieve this. We get to see the mastering process on some the original prints in this informative feature. The original prints were drained of all chroma to create a new black and white negative to which colour was added (although only at a level of 28% to increase the pastille nature of the colour palette). Although a very subtle process, the colour palette and timings that Friedkin has chosen, casuses haziness and a slight softening of the image in comparison to the original 100% colour print, although it does smooth out some of the grain in the image.
“Cop Jazz: The Music of Don Ellis” (HD 10mins) - Expansion on the unusual sound timings, quarter tones and high harmonics present in the score by a cinematic historian. There's also insight into Ellis's creation process for this Grammy winning iconic score and how he integrated the score with natural sound effects from the movie.
“Rogue Cop - The Noir Connection” (HD 13mins) - A look at how the gritty and realistic nature of “Connection” rejuvenated the noir style of filmmaking in conjunction with other gritty cop dramas such as “Dirty Harry”. Comparisons are also drawn to the noir movies of the 40's.
BBC Documentary: “The Poughkeepsie Shuffle” (SD 16x9 53mins) - A BBC documentary on the creation of “The French Connection”. This is a detailed look at the movie from its beginnings as a real life incident with insight from Sonny Grasso (including photographs of the crime's perpetrators). We then see how the story was adapted for the big screen and how the actors were chosen (with insight from Friedkin and other crew members). Hackman and Scheider comment on the nature of making the movie, and how they incorporated some of the exploits of Grosso and Eagan into the movie. There's even an explanation for the phrase “Picking your feet in Poughkeepsi”. A very thorough look at the making of the movie.
“Making The Connection: The Untold Stories Of The French Connection” (SD 4:3 56 mins) - An in depth documentary for the 30th Anniversary of “Connection” featuring Sonny Grasso as he retraces the series of events that led to the creation of this ground breaking piece of filmmaking. There's also archive footage featuring the legendary Eddie Eagan. Other cast and crew members, and justice officials give their thoughts on the movie, the real life French Connection and these two detectives.
“The French Connection” is an exciting and interesting piece of filmmaking that has influenced countless other cop thrillers over the years. A lot of the scenes, such as the infamous car chase sequence, are just as exciting today as when they first appeared on the silver screen thirty eight years ago. Hackman and Scheider both do an impressive job portraying the two tough, unrelenting cops as they ruthlessly investigate a French/American heroin smuggling operation with 70's style brutality. With a cracking pace and clever plot, this elder statesman of the cinematic world can still deliver a very enjoyable experience.
It's very obvious that this movie has been given a very thorough audio and video upgrade for this Blu-ray release. While the audio track is very immersive and engaging, the video presentation may leave some viewers slightly frustrated with its overly grainy, washed out, over cool appearance. This is, however, how the director envisaged “Connection” to look and I have to say that it looks impressive for a movie that was made nearly forty years ago.
This two disc edition of “Connection” features an impressive extras package which covers every aspect of the movie with enough content to keep even the most hardcore fan amused for hours. My only complaint was the bogus commentary track but the rest of the material more than made up for this. Overall a very impressive package for the Blu-ray release of this iconic film.
"Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?"
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.69
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