The Wild Bunch Blu-ray Review
PictureWarner present the disc with a widescreen 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that is VC-1 encoded. The detail level is quite, quite superb, the rocks of the desert, the scrub, the distant grass lands, moving closer the horses manes, the cracks in the warn skin of the Bunch, the weave of their sun bleached clothing, the gleam of the weapons, the dust kicked up; everything is in pin point clarity. Distance landscape shots are postcards, close ups are photographs. Colours are strong, bold and bright, look at the crystal clear blues of the skies, something that both standard DVDs have had problems reproducing. The red of the blood has never looked so, well red, the green of the trees, the yellow of the sand, all are definite. Although not all is perfect here; the red is a little strong in places giving skin a slightly leathery hue. Contrast and brightness are set to give near infinite blacks. The depth to the picture is incredible with shadow detail strong and definite.
Original print damage has nearly been eliminated, but not eradicated, Mapache’s escape on a train still suffers from tram lines and poor colour but it’s far better then it has ever been. Grain has been smoothed out, but not at the expense of waxy features. Digitally all compression problems are gone, the skies are absolutely pristine, not a blemish of noise or artefacting to be seen, dust swirls are just that, no blocking anywhere, but unfortunately, there is a little edge enhancement which is a bit too noticeable for my liking.
But in the end, for a near forty year old film, this transfer is superb and clearly the best it will ever look despite its occasional flaw.
SoundStill no option of the original mono sound track, unless you want Spanish, German or Italian dubs … why? The surround options are limited to just English Dolby Digital 5.1, and French Dolby Digital 2.0. The English track is not that much of an improvement over the old DVDs, but where it does improve is on the separation and depth of the bass during Jerry Fielding’s score and the explosions. There really isn’t much in the way of front rear separation, in fact the rears are used very sparingly indeed, so when they do pipe up there is some welcome ambiance, such as gun shots or wind. But for the most part it is the front three that take much of the credit. LF effects are sparse, being reserved for the numerous explosions for thump and rumble, but when they do occur are satisfyingly low. Otherwise the majority of the bass is reserved for the score, but again terrifically low with wonderful separation. Everything else sits in the high middle to high bracket which means that mid range is, I felt, a bit lacking. Dialogue is natural sounding, clear and consistent. Horses hooves thud across the stage while gun shots sounded, perhaps, a little thin. I’d have liked a tad more oomph from the sub to flesh these out a bit. However these are small niggles in what is an otherwise excellent sound track.
First up there is an audio commentary with Peckinpah Biographers/Documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. These four individuals' knowledge of the great man is unparallel and none are ashamed of their passion about him. There discussion is a kin to a battle of wills at times, but there devotion to the subject matter is clear, even is it can get lost in contradiction and observation. But is all good natured. Whether or not it is a good commentary is open to debate, I adore Pechinpah’s films so their discussion and insight was absorbing, though I can see it being less than appealing to those not quite so enthralled by the man.
There are a number of additional scenes, more readily entitled outtakes and show us various different cuts of familiar scenes. There is no sound (excerpts from the score are used so it’s not silent) and the picture quality is somewhat patchy and even though there is not much really here, mainly horse riding, it’s quite a fascinating look into some different aspects of the film making.
Now onto the real meat of the extras; three documentaries. The first is entitled Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade and is a quite excellent piece of film making. It is amazingly in-depth and talks though Peckinpah’s early life and influences with particular attention to his western output. On hand to spread their views are Ben Johnson, L.Q.Jones, Stella Stevens, Garth Craven, R.G.Armstrong, Bobby Visciglea with the ever present above biographers David Weddle, Garner Simmons and Paul Seydor and other such names as Paul Schrader, Elvis Mitchell, David Thomson and Roger Ebert, all with a gravely narration by Kris Kristofferson; though best of all there are some archive interviews with the man himself. Although concentrating mainly on his western ‘three’ of The Wild Bunch, Cable Hogue and Pat Garrett there are snippets of information on Straw Dogs and Cross of Iron too. Taking the approach of talking about Peckinpah through his films rather then about the films in general; If you know nothing about the man then this is a good a place as any to start.
Next up, and actually found on the 1999 DVD release is the Oscar winning documentary The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage. This is a beautiful little making-of documentary, filmed more like a remembrance piece than anything else, with contributions from Nick Redman, L.Q.Jones, Walon Green, Jim Silke, Jerry Fielding, Sharon Peckinpah, Edmond O'Brien, Ernest Borgnine with monologues from William Holden and Gordon Dawson recited by actors and a selection of Peckinpah's own words read gruffly by Ed Harris all set the music of Jerry Fielding. Using a combination of out take footage, production photographs and film it builds in nature, much as The Wild Bunch itself does, to a powerful and moving picture that explores as much of the man as it does the film. Truly deserving of its Oscar award and one that deserves a second (or third) watch.
Next up is a short twenty minute except from Nick Redman's documentary entitled A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and The Wild Bunch. Essentially this segment covers the commentary crew plus Lupita Peckinpah (the youngest daughter) as they revisit the various Mexican locations centred around the final climatic shootout at Mapache’s Villa. There are some enthusiastic titbits of information from all concerned, connected by a sobering but compelling narration by Redman himself. Was over altogether too quickly.
Peckinpah movie trailers round off the extras package.
The Wild Bunch is a magnificent film, not just one of the all-time great westerns but one of the all-time great films. If Peckinpah had only made this film he would still have gone down as a visionary director. Such is the raw power, empathy and drive, The Wild Bunch cannot be ignored and deserves all the praise heaped upon it.
As a Blu-ray package Warner has given us a superlative set, the outstanding picture and sound are backed-up by a wonderful array of extras. The Wild Bunch is simply a must-own disc.
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