PictureThe Professionals lands on BD with a vibrant and often dazzling MPEG-4 encode that makes the epic 2.35:1 image look suitably grand. I've seen a number of different versions of this film before and I can safely declare that this is, by far, the most detailed and pleasing of them all.
Straight away the colours leap from the screen with a rich, opulence that typifies the Technicolor of the day. The various hues of the desert and its rugged terrain are wonderfully etched across the screen - from rocky browns to fierce orange canyon walls, by way of pure yellow sand and golden hazes. The colour and texture of clothing is nearly always very abundantly clear and crisp. Eyes have a lovely gleam and there is a natural glow from lanterns and torches, the warm suffused light in the hacienda where Maria waits for Raza is sumptuous and just look at the detail and clarity and fidelity on the bead doorway that Dolworth and Rico are waiting on the other side of. Flesh tones are natural and textured - given the setting and the conditions that these people are in. Cardinale's huge brown eyes and lush warm brunette are the type of things that I could get carried away about - even in black and white (!) - but, take it from me, the subtler shades of hair and facial tones are well catered-for. In fact, there is a certain increase in the ruddiness of faces as the film wears on, perhaps in line with the genuine increase in sun-exposure.
Scene transitions are great and smooth, and don't betray any judders, softening or contrast wavers. Contrast, across the board, is precise and consistent. Blacks are spot-on - very deep and stable and yet still full of detail. The big tester for this is when the team raid Raza's encampment under cover of nightfall. But the transfer comes out on top with an image that brilliantly conveys thick shadow, precise lighting elements, detailed movement through the murk and on the walls and clothing of all within the gloom. Look at Lancaster's face pop up out of the inky shadows into the warm light cast from a fire down below his vantage point - beautifully clear, detailed and natural-looking.
There is also some nice three-dimensionality to the transfer, both across the desert-scapes, the rocks and the canyons providing great backdrops for figures to be projected from and also evidenced within interior sets such as Joe Grant's train, the carriages of the captured Mexican locomotive, or Raza's hacienda. A simply captivating shot is offered up when Lancaster moves in front of the picturesque, multi-hued canyon wall at the scene of the small graveyard. Detail is fantastic, folks. Just look at the beads of sweat on Robert Ryan's face as he succumbs to sun-stroke, or the striations in those breathtaking canyon walls - again, the moment when Lancaster stumbles across the little graveyard proves to be a standout here. But the film definitely gives up a lot information - weapons, locations, sets, attire, people - than I have ever seen it do in any previous version.
But the problem that brings this, otherwise, glorious transfer down a peg or two is the rather over-judicious edge enhancement that plagues silhouettes of people, distant mountain ranges and train carriages. Anything set against the skyline exhibits this and the haloing is always very apparent. So, those painfully allergic to edge enhancement, be warned.
But, now that little bugbear is out of the way, the transfer, elsewhere, does not make any other glaring mistakes. There is no noise excessive noise - the grain looking perfectly filmic and proving that no detail has been erroneously robbed - and damage is absolutely minimal, just a tiny nick here and pop there. Fans will be happy with this, I'm sure. The Professionals gets a borderline 8 out of 10 - it is only the edge enhancement that spoils things.
SoundThe Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track (no original mono option, folks) offered here is not the best you are going to hear, that's for sure.
Whilst it certainly brings the film a bit more life, vigour and width, it doesn't sound particularly natural or convincing. This isn't to say that it does anything wrong as such, or that there are some horribly bogus effects thrown out around the environment, just that spatial spread is undermined by the vintage of the material. Gunshots are hardly all that exciting - nice bark and boom, mind you, but they don't exactly resonate or trick you into thinking that bullets are flying around the place. The big explosions - and there are quite a few - are hollow and centre-based, although the TrueHD does make a couple of attempts to hurl the odd echo or shockwave out of the rears. The sub doesn't really get involved, merely a slight tremor here or there.
However, if you forget about the rears and any semblance of convincing surround, you will find that the track is quite nicely presented across the front three channels. Voices are clear and distinct, if slightly tinny, with some degree of separation and there is a smart little crack! to the right when Lancaster's bomb-maker throws a nitro-stick in a demonstration for the lads. But what really benefits from the new mix is Maurice Jarre's unusual score. Richly presented, his music is beautifully clean and flowing, and stuffed with instrumental detail. The castanets and the mariachi guitar are well pronounced in the mix and the main title fanfare is gloriously stated with power, clarity and enough rousing pomp to make the neighbours saddle-up as well.
So, The Professionals doesn't exactly sound awesome, but it does reasonably satisfying, just the same. The thing is, if it had contained amazing wraparound effects and wild steerage, we would probably have complained all the more ... wouldn't we?
ExtrasDuration-wise, the meagre assortment of extras that furnish this release may not look like much. But this slight gathering of retrospective love for The Professionals actually packs quite a bit into three featurettes and goes some way into making this a surprisingly satisfying package, overall. All three are from a larger piece made by the super-prolific Laurent Bouzerau in 2003.
The Professionals - A Classic (6.27) offers us a resume of the plot, an introduction and overview of the characters and some lavish praise for Richard Brooks, his cast and the witty, exuberant movie they all managed to come up with. Participants include Martin (Goldeneye/Casino Royale) Campbell, Claudia Cardinale and Burt Lancaster biographer Kate Buford.
Burt Lancaster - A Portrait (12.39) is started with memories from his daughter Joanna and then taken up by Kate Buford. The star's films and career are discussed superficially - given the running time - but with a genuine warmth and affection that more than gets the job done. What is great is that the piece incorporates a lot of on-set footage from the filming of The Professionals and that the featurette does actually revolve around this particular entry in his catalogue and his relationship with Brooks. There is also a nice reflection on The Swimmer - a magnificent movie that had a profound effect on me when I first saw it - which followed on from The Professionals and marked the turning point for how Lancaster wanted to be perceived and the direction in which he would choose to go, character-wise in the future.
Memories From The Professionals (23.21) is the lengthiest and best feature on offer. Again this supplies copious and terrific on-set footage and stills from the making of the film. The always-awesome Cardinale delivers some great anecdotes from the experience regarding the cast and the director and we hear some amusing stories from Conrad Hall (who sadly passed away shortly after this was made) about the troublesome dust-storm sequence, and especially from Maria Gomez who is simply ecstatic at the opportunity to recall her experiences with Burt Lancaster in a joyously thick Mexican accent. But I can't wait for Cardinale's contributions to Once Upon A Time In The West when that finally comes out of the desert and onto Blu-ray!
Taken as a whole, these little bites are very pleasing and the only shame is that none of the male stars are alive to reminisce. We also get BD trailers for First Sunday, 21 and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder.
VerdictThe Professionals will always ride side-saddle to the likes of The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch or The Good, The Bad And The Ugly in terms of its “men-on-a-mission” concept and, as such, it can't help but lag behind in the classic Western stakes. But this takes nothing away from a great, rip-roaring adventure yarn dominated by wonderfully drawn characters, sharp and witty dialogue, a handful of exciting set-pieces and a cast that lift the story way up and out of the pulp novel that kick-started it. Broadly cinematic and thrillingly told, The Professionals marked a serious detour for the genre on the road to its big turning-point in 1969 with The Wild Bunch, retaining the sheer exuberance of an over-the-top cast and a pure ensemble-yarn, whilst still delivering a stronger, more morally complex oater than many of its ilk. The transfer is let down a tad by edge enhancement, but this remains a terrifically engrossing and captivating image. Dolby TrueHD may not have been a completely necessary development, but it does provide a nice extension to the audio that makes the film feel a little livelier than previously. The extras may not look much, but there is enough warmth, anecdote and background to the film and, primarily, its main star of Burt Lancaster, to make the release feel more loaded than it actually is. For Western fans this is a must. But, for others, The Professionals still provides a grand-slam opportunity to see some Hollywood icons clearly having a ball at, what could be considered, the onset of their career twilight. Great stuff and well-deserved of repeat-viewing.
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