The Inglorious Bastards Blu-ray Review
PictureThe Inglorious Bastards comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p image encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc is region free.
If ever there was a disc in which scoring should be irrelevant, this is it. Given the large amount of people who will no doubt be looking at investigating this film simply because of Tarantino's recent similarly named partial homage, marking out of ten could be misleading for a number of reasons. First let me start off by saying that quite how you view the presentation of this blood stained pulp classic is entirely determined by whether you are prepared for the type of low budget film-making that was involved. 1978 may seem recent in cinematic terms and could lead viewers to expect something far more polished than what is actually on offer. The low budget Italian film-making of that era was known for cheaply put together productions whose ideas of grandeur were constricted by its wallet and the high output also had a knock on effect on how well such fare was stored and preserved, which leads me to the first positive of the image - the lack of noticeable (and I use the word tentatively as there will always be some more eagle eyed than others) print damage. Other than the stock footage used, the frames are pleasingly free from specks of dirt and rogue hairs.
Given Severin also distributed the 3 disc DVD “Explosive Edition” of the film in 2008, you'd be forgiven for assuming that much of the colouring would be the same, in which case you'd be wrong. Whilst the previous standard definition offering had a boldness intrinsic to the palette thanks to boosting, this is a far more washed out affair. The muted hues are more naturalistic but I dare say a touch less “pulp” than one might expect. The skin tones are now less tanned and have a pinkness to them which bordered on ruddy in places. The primaries are still vivid and the reds of the Stars and Stripes as well as the crosses on the medic's vehicles stand out nicely. The multitude of green shades on offer is certainly subtler than before but can also show occasional signs of artificiality which can be jarring.
The sharpness is improved for the Blu-ray as one would expect but again there is inconsistency and some two shots move from one well delineated face to another that appears to have been filmed with the type of filter they used to shoot aging television actors but I'd wager this is the fault of the original material rather than the transfer process. If this sounds harsh, it's not because I dislike the image, but more because the work carried out sometimes highlights the limitations of the source rather than freeing it up. Something cannot be restored to perfection if it was never perfect in the first place. A clean presentation and more naturalistic tones are slightly countered by the increased perception of the wavering standards. There is more shadow detail than previous editions but there is also no great artistry to what is within the depths of the frame in the first place and the raised lights also seem to bring out touches of digital noise. It may be more of a purist's choice, given the muted naturalistic tones and lack of significant boosting and edge enhancement, but personally, I would have preferred some of the more vivid colours remain, however cartoony they may have been.
Scoring has to be considered a delicate subject here and I can see the argument for dismissing it as lo-fi budget schlock that looks somewhat out of place on a high definition format. When it is good, then the added resolution is abundantly clear and the rise in detail is also there to see. However, the lack of depth to the image, muddy blacks and sporadic softness balance somewhat against these positives. The improved palette will please some but may be seen by others as not in keeping with the material. I could probably go on all day, but in short this must be commended for the effort that has clearly gone into a title that could have been ignored, just don't expect too much. A clean print, lack of intrusive processing techniques and the abundantly clear extra resolution will be enough for fans of the film to pick this release up.
SoundSound options on the disc are either English Dolby Digital 5.1 or English Dolby 2.0, sadly no Italian dub is included for the purists.
If the image could be argued over until the cows come home, I'm afraid the sound is less ambiguous. Even without the blessings of a lossless format, the mix should have been a thunderous and brash depiction of the on-screen bravado. With a score full of military drums and a plot that hangs its hat on the sheer amount of rounds fired and grenades thrown, this had bass heavy written all over it. Unfortunately, the reality is almost the polar opposite. Having recently moved some furniture around I was left wondering if some of my speakers had lost connection with the amp as what was coming out was painfully low, as if from a mono television. After cranking the volume knob a hefty degree, I realised that this is simply a painfully muted mix.
There is little to no creative use of the surrounds and when they are brought into play, it is usually just to pump out the same as from the rest of the array. Given that these sorts of low budget Italian films tended not to shoot footage with direct sound, the lack of synchronicity with lip movement was to be expected and indeed, is in fact welcomed by some devotees. What is less forgivable is the occasional dullness and hollow sound of the dialogue. The whole package lacks any dynamic range or dimensionality, and betrays its lacklustre roots. I personally found the Dolby 2.0 track to be the preferable option as it seemed less watered down and a touch tighter. Similar to the 5.1 track, it didn't display the low end grunt that such a war film deserves but at least it was a touch crisper in its delivery. If you're looking for a disc to work your system, this is not the one.
ExtrasAudio commentary with Enzo G. Castellari
Enzo is given a helping hand in the commentary by Severin's David Gregory, as he needs a few prompts to talk about given topics that fans will want to know about, but he answers with great freedom, always speaking his mind and showing his enthusiasm for the project and the work of those involved. His English may be very rough around the edges but it is usually possible to make out what he is intimating even if he can't quite find the correct words. I'm a sucker for commentary tracks and although this may not be the most easy on the ears, it certainly contains enough new information and insights to be worthy of a listen.
Back to the war zone - 1080i - 13:00
A cameraman with a handheld camera follows Castellari around a few locations that were used in the film, such as Monte Gelato and the train station. There are a few nice moments when we get to compare the past and present but when in woodland locations, so much has changed that it isn't always possible. What could have been an interesting feature is in fact mainly filler, as the cameraman tries to inject some kind of artistry into his work and the end result is more comparable to a holiday video than anything else.
Train kept a-rollin' - 1080i - 1:15:21
Now this is clearly the main meat of the extras, and at over an hour in length it is certainly not a lightweight snack. A modern day look back at all elements of the film which includes contributions from a host of cast and crew including Castellari, Svenson and Williamson. There is far too much information for me to put across in this review but suffice to say this is one of the best retrospectives of a lower budget film I've yet seen and leaves no stone unturned. We learn, among other things, about the casting, the use of matte shots, the trouble they had with getting guns and a certain actor's need for scripts to be dotted around the set.
A conversation with Enzo Castellari and Quentin Tarantino - 1080i - 38:23
Clearly with this release playing off the media hype surrounding Tarantino's recent nod to this film, this is intended to be a draw to modern film fans. I'd like to say it was as gripping as the previous retrospective but unfortunately it never really delves into any great depths or gives us anything new to latch onto. It doesn't help that Tarantino appears unable to sit still and instead of gaining the audience's much wanted answers from Castellari, the rubber faced auteur spends the majority of his time flailing his arms, coming across like a creation of the Jim Henson workshop. Perhaps I simply fail to appreciate his style of back and forth repartee that was intended for this conversation but in my view his rambling somewhat undermines what could have been a charming feature.
Enzo's 70th birthday in Los Angeles - 1080i - 7:15
The majority of the small runtime is spent with Enzo, Bo and Fred standing in the hall of the building where the party is to take place, shooting the breeze and laughing with each other while answering an unseen interviewer's questions. There's a real sense of warmth between the director and his leads that is evident to see here. The rest of the time is devoted to clips of the party guests and the good time apparently that was had by all in attendance (which by the way included Lou “The Hulk” Ferigno!).
Inglorious bastards at The New Beverley - 1080i - 11:24
A screening of the film, which includes a particularly funny question and answer session at the end, with Williamson being the main joker in the pack. Perhaps not the most informative, but it's nice to see the lighter side of those involved.
Consisting of The Inglorious Bastards (3:52) and Eagles Over London (4:38), both are displayed in 1080p and the prior has the option of the original Italian dubbing. Unfortunately, for a reason I cannot quite fathom, the latter trailer appears squashed into the top 3rd of the screen and is thus hard to see.
VerdictThis won't appeal to everyone and although it will likely pick up a sale or two from the curiosity of many a Tarantino fan, it will most probably remain a cult classic rather than gathering any true mainstream success. I enjoyed the ride but, like watching a cheap slasher, it has to be taken at face value and not over analysed. The recent trend in cinema seems to permit the appreciation of any low quality horror or kung-fu fare but at the same time has deemed there not to be a comfortable place for titles such as The Inglorious Bastards, which is a shame as they share so many common roots. The emphasis is always squarely on action and attitude and the figure of Williamson looms over the narrative as an iconic figure, with his trademark cigar always in situ. If you can appreciate style over substance and the charm of small scale productions with large scale visions of grandeur then this may become a guilty pleasure.
For those already bewitched by the styling of such Italian fare, the treatment for this disc will be of great interest. The picture is one that can be argued over to a certain extent but what is clear is the sheer amount of effort that has gone into bringing an element of subtlety into the image with more realistic, if muted colours. The sound however, is 2.0 all the way, even though they tried to stretch it to 5.1, the mix never handled the multitude of speakers with any degree of vigour. The two channel option to my ear was the tighter and less distracting of the two choices. Purists might have wished for the Italian dub but I was more than happy with the poor lip-synching of the American version. The extras are a little inconsistent but when they hit their mark, as is the case with the wonderful retrospective, they bring out not only information, but also a good amount of the personalities that combined to create the atmosphere of the film.
This won't be to everyone's tastes, but if you have a soft spot for cheaply made flicks from the 1970's, be they action, blaxploitation, kung-fu or grindhouse, then I can certainly recommend you give this title further investigation. I can't rate it highly, as by all rational standards it isn't a great film, but the charm and ridiculousness of such pieces are what sells them to fans and this has it in spades.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.67