The Gauntlet Blu-ray Review
PictureWell, being frank, I've never seen The Gauntlet look so good. So, once again, flying in the face of what some people consider to be a transfer that has been DNR'd to hell and back, I will stand my ground and say that this is the cleanest, sharpest, most detailed and vibrant transfer that a fan could hope for. Yes, the grain in this VC-1 2.40:1 image - except for that seen in a couple of shots - has been removed, but when comparing it to both my R1 copy and a borrowed R2, this reveals heaps more detail than I have ever seen before. And, to poke further mud in the eye of those who revile such digital sprucings, the facial detail is all there, too. Clint and Prince especially have their weather-beaten countenances offered up for inspection. Look at Clint's furrowed brow, in the motel room calm-down spell, for instance, and the glistening cuts, the bruises and the sweat that stipple it. William Prince's face yields spots, crags, blotches and all manner of things that most actors would have paid to have hidden by DNR. Locke, however, and McKinney do sometimes appear a little too smooth and bland.
Detail even further back against the far-off mountains and out over the desert or the sweeping view into Phoenix is actually excellent. There is a smidgeon of edge enhancement along some cliffs and crags and silhouettes but this is nothing to worry about. For a film from '77, this looks remarkably clear and if you look at moments such as when the pursuing helicopter is seen weaving across the screen in a long shot, the detail revealed in the landscape - rock and sage-brush - is infinitely better than in any other home video presentation. Striations in the rocks and clumps of foliage are nice to see so well picked-out. Obviously, this is not a patch on more recent movies transferred to BD, but this still looks quite remarkable. Just check out the damage wrought about on Gus's house and then on the bus, itself, as it runs the gauntlet - debris, chewed-up wood, metal and upholstery and shards of glass are well rendered without being too enhanced by digital tomfoolery. The bullet smashing into Shockley's leg and the gleaming detail on some of the weaponry also stand out.
Colours are extremely bright and clean, offering plenty of saturation and a decidedly warm aspect. Clothing and vehicles pop out, as does the odd splash of blood. The orange fire from the couple of explosions are more than decent and the red roses, the green beer bottle, the blue skies and the paintwork on the bus, and the little flame from the acetylene torch are all smartly rendered and draw the eye. Blacks are strongly integrated with the night-time scenes in the cave dark and imposing and shadow play quite convincing. Contrast does have a couple of tiny fluctuations near the beginning, but I can't recall anything amiss once it had settled down, with only small very slight hue-switches on peoples' tanned faces to speak of afterwards. Whites can bloom a little hot on the odd occasion, too, but even this is hardly detrimental. Digitally, the transfer exhibits no blocking, no aliasing, smearing or artefacts. I did notice some shimmering on the metal grill siding on a building in Phoenix and also on the pattern on Pat Hingle's jacket, but this was also fairly minimal is much worse on the SD edition - which is also prone to jaggies, noise, a poor colour palette and is wretchedly soft by comparison. The BD version only seems to soften during the long pullback shot at the end that combines with the final credits. Beyond that, the image is very crisp.
There is even a lot of three-dimensionality to the picture. The vast landscapes are obvious - the view of the desert as seen from inside the cave, the helicopter chase and the shots of Shockley and Mally running to catch the train, for instance - but the street scenes during the final act in Phoenix are what really made me sit up and take notice. Just look at Pat Hingle's Josephson (looking a lot like Ricky Tomlinson, don't you think?) as he gazes down the road at Shockley's approaching bus - there's a real sense of width and depth going on there that many newer movies would struggle to make anywhere near as convincing. Likewise, the bus turning around corners and entering the cordon of bullet-spewing death - very well depicted with a true sense of image spatiality.
DNR be damned, The Gauntlet gets itself a strong 7 out of 10 and its loss of grain does not hamper its filmic quality one iota.
SoundWell, to begin with, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track seems to have some range and a fair bit of presence. Jerry Fielding's jazzy score breezes in along with the main titles and there is definitely a nice degree of clarity and spread to the musical delivery. However, this quality is not kept up throughout the movie and, before long, The Gauntlet becomes quite frontal-based and pedestrian.
Things do hot up during the action scenes though. The early scene when mobsters pursuing Shockley and Gus in the ambulance put rounds through the back windows features some fairly clear exit blasts via the rear speakers. The sound of the ambulance veering over the central reservation also boasts some grinding metal effects and some sweeping from left to right. The sharp crash of a door being taken off also sounds quite punchy and aggressive. The motorbike/helicopter chase, though, is a bit of a disappointment, though. Although the bike delivers some deep roaring whenever it enters a tunnel, the chopper, itself, struggles to provide any realistic or interesting effects around the soundscape, other than a rather irritating high-pitched whine. Even the explosion lacks vigour and only vaguely incorporates the sub. The massive unloading of firearms that occurs in four major episodes - the demolition of Gus's house, the execution of the constable at the border, and two separate gauntlets that the bus has to go through at the end - also vary in their power, detail and success in delivery. The first is pretty full-on with lots of individual shots and impacts drilling throughout the set-up. The second is a mass of gunfire that lacks inner detail. The two gauntlets are much more fun - but the second is by the better one. Here we actually get the shattering of glass with more finite clarity, the punchier crunch of metal being blown inwards, more detail of individual weapons and one or two welcome ricochets bouncing around the rear speakers.
The track is far more consistent and reliable when it comes to the dialogue of the movie. Voices are always clear and discernable and there is a fair degree of depth and naturalism to the speech that adds a bit of presence to the track across the front. Fielding's score is afforded a nice build-up as Shockley makes ready to enter Phoenix and the trumpets really sound like they are in the room with you. So the track is one of mixed results. But it has to be said that this is best that I have ever the film sound.
There is also a DD 5.1 alternative. Now whilst the differences between the two are hardly vast, there is a noticeable increase in clarity with the TrueHD and a smoother sense of dynamics. Fielding's score is a little more detailed and sublime and the gunfire is definitely more immediate and reverberant.
ExtrasSadly, I have to report that this often sidelined entry in Eastwood's canon is thoroughly and typically neglected once again. We get nothing ... not even a trailer.
VerdictAn agreeable transfer for one of Clint's neglected actioners gives the fans a treat, but the lack of bonus features is a major sore point. The Gauntlet is one of those guilty-pleasures that offers a good time, every time. It sure as hell doesn't hold up to scrutiny, though. The bad guys are mere one-dimensional ciphers and the set-up smacks of simple set-piece concoction with a loose story thrown around it like a lasso. But with Clint at the helm, there's no way that it could fail to deliver the goods. The chemistry between him and Locke is unmistakable, which only adds spice to their initial distrust and contempt for one another as well as their eventual compassion and affection. The episodic thunder of the explosive situation may have been eclipsed by the likes of Stallone, Arnie, Willis and Gibson throughout the next decade, but the template for such stratospheric high-concept stories was laid down here with likeable dummy Ben Shockley and his determination to run The Gauntlet, come what may.
A definite must-have for Eastwood fans and a damn fine thriller by anyone else's standards. Recommended.
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