The Outlaw Josey Wales Blu-ray Review
Warner's 2.40:1transfer of The Outlaw Josey Wales hails from an excellent AVC encode. I've seen an awful lot of Westerns on the format – and a whole bunch of them only recently, too – and Eastwood's classic fares very favourably against them. Bruce Surtees' cinematography is dealt much respect, his anamorphic compositions superbly rendered, with the occasional softness that sits about the extremities or the southern fringe of the image inherent to the source and not at all distracting to the eye. The print is in top-notch condition, although, to my knowledge, it always has been, so this isn't too much of a surprise. Grain is intact, the film texture ably supported without hindrance from any overt noise reduction. Fast action and panning shots are smoothly maintained, depth could, perhaps, be a little deeper – but this may just be me being picky. Close-up imagery certainly has a level of three-dimensionality, but the deeper shots and the wide landscape vistas and the views down frontier streets or across the river during the ferry crossing have a level of hazy softness about them. Once more, this is down to the original photography and nothing that the transfer could alter without a lot of bogus digital tinkering. Also, we have no aliasing, banding or smearing. Which is nice.
Checking against the R2 Special Edition from many moons ago reveals that the inky black levels have always been present, so don't be worrying about those occasionally impenetrable night-time scenes or, especially, the incident set in the trading post which seems to fold in on itself in terms of thick, black shadow. Crushing? Well, I doubt it. A fair few of Eastwood's films favour this solid wall of Stygian murk, and when we see the intentional elements suddenly illuminated by a shaft of light – faces, gun-barrels, the daylight in the cross-shaped shooting-slit of a window etc – it looks tremendously mean, moody and well-contrasted. Contrast elsewhere yields fine results, if a little on the hot side. This is a film of distinct environments and settings. The opening act is soggy, sodden and overcast, but distinction between light and dark is still well-achieved. Once we get out of Missouri and down into Texas, things lighten up considerably. The desert sands can be glaringly yellow-white even though the sunlight is neither harsh nor bright. Riders seen against this backdrop are suitably delineated, and the difference between the dunes and the forested ridges behind them is natural-looking and precisely rendered.
Don't go thinking that there's any edge enhancement here either. I would say that the majority of those halos seen around figures against sunny, bright backgrounds are a product of the photography and the natural light of the environment.
Detail and colour reproduction are both excellent. The shift from stylish midnight blue to natural shades after the title sequence is smoothly done without hiccup. Skin tones are leathery and realistic, the earthy hues of much of the film just as convincing. Greens, browns and yellows, which seem to dominate, are well saturated. The blue skies and the blood on show both reveal hues that have not been boosted, but look appreciably vivid, just the same. Flames have that black interior, but the orange elements are suitably scorching. Facial texture is premium, as is the detail on clothing, with the weave on material sometimes quite staggeringly finite. We can even see plentiful grain on wood, such as the fencepost that Josey uses for target practice or the cross that he struggles to erect over the graves. Pockmarks in the walls of the old farmhouse, grass stems, the twine on the rope holding the ferry, the trickle of blood down Terrill's blade, the legs of the beetle that Josey spits on and the ridges and speckles on the horn-back toad – all are exhibited with a clarity that leaves any other home video version of Josey Wales scrabbling in the dust.
An excellent video transfer that earns itself a very fine 9 out of 10.
This is a mighty fine DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, folks. Much better, in fact, than I ever dreamed it would be. Immediately, the prologue delivers the type of goods that will become customary for this frequently bravura exercise in Western mayhem. Natural ambience emanates from the rears, effortlessly and convincingly placing you in the fields alongside Big Josey and Little Josey (played by his own son, Kyle) and that wretched plough. The sound of the approaching Terrill and his company of killers is wonderfully presented. The thundering hooves, like the rolling of thunder, fills the room with deep and ominous bass, well-distributed and growing in threat. The crackling of the house-inferno and the wild screams, shouts and gunshots all flow around the set-up, and then, after farmer Josey has reawakened as the “Outlaw” Josey, we get the fabulous target-practice sequence that reveals to us, quite emphatically, that the audio ballistics on this track are absolutely exquisite in terms of power, steerage, detail and volume. And once he has joined-up with Fletcher, the Civil War montage and opening titles reveal that the track has a flair with Jerry Fielding's evocative, period-laced score too, the jaunty Confederate anthem of Dixie, and its various interpolations throughout the soundtrack nicely mixed. I will say that the cue for the “Missouri Boat-ride” does, however, sound a touch dialled-down to me.
Dialogue, like that for the Coens' adaptation of True Grit, is meaty, chewed and spat-over. Of course, Eastwood has his own distinctive drawl anyway, which could be a test for any audio mix in its own right. But there are no problems whatsoever with the presentation of dialogue for the film. Plus, we get the sound of Josey's spat tobaccy with occasionally excellent clarity too. The clicking and clacking of the guns that I mentioned in the film review also gets a clean and suitably precise airing, the hammer falling on those empty chambers with genuinely metallic sharpness and the revolving of the cylinders adding a delightfully protracted tease in the pivotal final confrontation.
There is the requisite rainstorm that I always like to use to test the immersive dynamics of a surround track. Whilst the rainfall itself dances heavily about the frontal array, it doesn't progress a great deal of the way across the room. The thunder, however, reaches solidly and realistically right overhead, making you shrink down in the sofa. Canon-fire is pretty decent near the start too, so bass, whilst nothing to challenge the sub especially, is produced with some weight and punch. And with surround activity actually fairly abundant and proficiently, if subtly, delivered, there is no doubting that this thirty-five year old movie has never sounded so good. This lossless mix should please the casual fans as much as the die-hards.
Great stuff. No unnecessary bells and whistles, but the original mono source respectfully widened and distributed to fine and convincingly atmospheric effect.
Warner house the disc within a beautifully illustrated 32-page book that provides some well-picked movie quotes and sets them against terrific full-page stills, but lacks much in the way of really useful information as far as the text write-up goes. This is okay, for sure, but don't go looking or anything special beyond the pictures.
Richard Schickel, Clint Eastwood's biographer and a renowned film critic, provides what amounts to one of the most disappointing commentary tracks that I've heard in recent years. Long pauses are punctuated with unnecessary descriptions of “what we're seeing now” and this chat becomes tedious very quickly. Little in the way of critique comes across, and nor do we learn much of what went into the production itself. There are some very lethargic and long-winded overviews about what Eastwood was attempting to do with Josey Wales with regards to the Vietnam allegory and the auspicious occasion of America's Bicentennial but, really, this is all very obvious and lame. Schickel is almost as old as Eastwood and probably knows altogether as much as there is to know about the star, but little of this is offered to us in this dry, snooze-inducing ramble.
Thankfully, the rest of the features are great and go a long way to make up for this.
Clint Eastwood's West is a new thirty-minute documentary that charts the big guy's career from Rawhide to Unforgiven, but pays considerable attention to his own films, mainly The Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven, and the vision and style that he brought to an ailing genre. With great participation from a number of notable luminaries, such as Frank Darabont, who astounds himself with the sudden connection he has made between Josey and Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, James Mangold, who directed the remake of 3.10 To Yuma, and David Peoples, who wrote the original screenplay for Unforgiven, amongst other fans from the industry, this is a great little piece that is ably illustrated with notable clips from the films. Eastwood, himself, looks in and provides some of his usually humble and quietly spoken opinions and reminiscences about his distinctive oeuvre … and, perhaps best of all, there's good old Sir Christopher Frayling, the thinking man's Western-buff. And, for once, he doesn't use the phrase cinematic rhetoric! All seem keen to believe that he has another Western left in him, although Clint errs on the side of caution. Unforgiven was, admittedly, supposed to be his final word on the subject. Personally, I think that Clint could do it … and I live in the hope that he saddles-up one more time.
The features that follow all appeared on the previous Special Edition DVD.
The 1999 documentary Hell Hath No Fury: The Making Of The Outlaw Josey Wales is another half-hour production that goes into great detail showing us how Clint got the film off the ground, how he saw the material and found a way to make it relevant social mores of seventies America, how he cast the film and dealt with the marvellous Chief Dan George, and how he staged the copious action scenes. Other cast members appear and provide some interesting anecdotes, such as John Vernon and Bill McKinney and even Geraldine Keams who cheerfully discusses the battering she took during the production. With lots of behind the scenes footage, this is simply excellent and a great companion-piece to the film itself.
Going hand-in-hand with this is the vintage 1976 featurette called Eastwood In Action, which runs for about 8 minutes and shows us a glimpse behind the scenes of the production in an archival promo vehicle. A fair chunk of this material features in the more comprehensive Making Of, but this is still a nice little extra hailing from the time that Eastwood unleashes Josey Wales upon a dormant genre.
The disc also carries the film's theatrical trailer.
Not a bad set, really. The only disappointment is the commentary track, though I suspect that fans will still enjoy some of what Schickel has to say.
One of the best Westerns ever made comes to Blu-ray with a tremendous transfer that salutes the ravishing cinematography of Bruce Surtees and the powerful vision of Clint Eastwood at his most dynamic. The Outlaw Josey Wales was the seventies catalyst that re-evaluated and reinvigorated a genre that many believed had been shot, scalped, quilled with arrows and pegged-out in the desert sun. Eastwood came of age as a director with this, doffing his Stetson to the illustrious tutors – Sergio Leone and Don Siegel – who had helped to set him on the trail to superstardom, and yet forging a new direction for both himself and for a style of movie-making that would become immensely popular with audiences and critics alike.
With an excellent and hilariously eccentric cast, headed-up by the barnstorming Chief Dan George, and bolstered by lots of blazing set-piece action, Josey Wales is also a probing observation of a frightened and paranoid America, shell-shocked by the disaster of Vietnam, and a brave attempt to foster some sort of reconciliation. This, alone, would make Clint Eastwood stand out from the crowd. But the fact that he had crafted such an entertaining and exciting saga at the same time is just the icing on the bullet-riddled cake.
Josey Wales is the haunted, rage-filled avenger for a society that was in severe danger of tearing itself apart once again … but he was also the proof that such attitudes could change. The film is raw, violent, funny, dark … and yet deliberately optimistic. When you ride out with The Outlaw Josey Wales, you are witnessing the maturity of the Man With No Name. By all accounts, Sergio Leone didn't like what he saw … but Clint Eastwood was founding the new frontiers of the Old West with the bloody carcasses of the great Spaghetti Westerns. Only he had the audacity, the courage and the sheer talent to do it.
The Outlaw Josey Wales comes very highly recommended indeed.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.69
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