Unforgiven - 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review
Unforgiven comes to Region Free US Blu-ray in what is not a remastered release but actually more of a re-issue, certainly in terms of the VC-1 encoded video transfer that is identical to the original 2006 Blu-ray release. Still, that’s not such a bad thing – the original transfer was pretty good to start with – but it does give fans one less reason to regard this as an out-and-out ‘upgrade’.
Presented in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen, this 1080p High Definition video rendition promotes excellent detail, both in the long, panoramic vistas, captured superbly by the cinematographer, and in the tighter close-ups which reveal some superior fine object detail. From the battered look of Eastwood’s own ageing gunslinger-turned-farmer to the worn fabric of the clothing sported by the majority of the characters; from the snow-dusted open ranges to the stunning sunset shots, there is plenty to appreciate here thanks to the HD resolution.
There’s a suitable layer of filmic grain pervading the piece – grain which only really gets unwieldy in some of the indoor, less well-lit sequences (Eastwood, as a director, loves his shadows and low-level lighting) – and it’s these same instances where we spot the only traces of edge enhancement and digital anomalies apparent across the whole feature. All in all, though, DNR and other digital issues are practically non-existent even on this six-year-old master.
The colour scheme has been suitably stripped of vivid tones; given a dour, drab look totally in-line with the setting, where only the open range itself, and occasionally the sky, promotes anything vibrant (i.e. the green plains and the warm orange sunsets). That is not to say that we don’t get a rich and rewarding palette, however, which mahogany browns, some deep burgundies and solid blacks allowing for generally excellent shadowing and night sequences. In particular the more rain-drenched sequences stand out, painting a veritably atmospheric portrait of the downpour.
One of those, great, classic naturally-shot masterpieces, Unforgiven stands apart in its distinct lack of CG and digital processing, and this video presentation, however old, still provides a very good representation of the movie proper.
Perhaps less forgivable than skipping on a video remaster for this new release, Warner have elected to also retain the 2006 Blu-ray’s original, standard, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Whilst there was nothing desperately wrong with the original aural accompaniment, I dare say that a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 upgrade would have not only enhanced the soundtrack but also given fans some incentive (beyond packaging) to actually double-dip on this title.
As it stands – even accepting that a video remaster may not have made a great deal of difference – this distinctly standard audio presentation will likely be the biggest bone of contention amidst fans.
With all that said, reviewers have commonly been of the regard that this film does not particularly warrant a lossless HD track, purely because the sound design itself is more of the restrained, subtle variety, rather than pure bombast. I’m not sure this argument rings true as a more observant DTS-HD mix would likely better show up the nuances of even the most subtle offering. But I guess we’ll never know, at least until the movie hits its 25th Anniversary!
Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, from Clint’s trademark grumbling through to the shouts of and screams from all and sundry, with Hackman in particular standing out as a commanding presence in terms of vocals. The score is part-written by Eastwood himself and has his trademark melancholy feel, a minimalist style which can grate at times, but which – for the most part – perfectly suits this particular subject matter. It gets decent enough presentation, again more across the frontal array than the surrounds, but occasionally taking a more wide approach. Effects range from thunderous shotgun blasts, pistol fire, rifle shots and the penetrating crack of Little Bill’s bullwhip to the more subtle atmospherics that dominate and define the project. Certainly this is a film that is more interested in creating a suitable ambience than blowing your eardrums unnecessarily, and to a certain extent this track is perfectly acceptable with that in mind. It would still have been nice if Warner had upgraded this to HD lossless, but fans who do not own a copy of the movie at all should certainly not be put off by what is a perfectly decent aural accompaniment.
Completing the trio of disappointing aspects to this release is the news about the new extras; namely the fact that there aren’t any: it’s all the same material that was previously available on the 2006 release. I don’t propose to go into any great detail because, frankly, it’s all the same material.
There’s an Audio Commentary by Clint Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, who has covered a number of Eastwood’s WB movies, and who provides another informative, although not completely involving accompaniment to the movie. Then we get the whopping feature-length Eastwood on Eastwood Documentary which rivals the film itself in terms of its 108-minute runtime and which gives a complete career retrospective into the legendary actor/director (again, Eastwood fans would have come across this before on other WB releases of his films). All on Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger is a 20-minute Featurette which plays more like an extended promo, but comes complete with brief interview snippets from all the main cast members. Eastwood & Co. is only a little bit longer, running at 25 minutes, but it is significantly more meaty, offering up a decent behind the scenes look at the film’s production. Eastwood... A Star is a rather curious quarter-hour promo Featurette that basically plays out like an advert for... um, Eastwood. I suspect that fans who have gotten this far are probably already well aware of the fact that the great man is a star. Pointless. We also get a 1959 episode from the classic Western TV series, Maverick, entitled “Duel at Sundown”, which featured Eastwood, and which is worth a watch. The disc is rounded off by the original Theatrical Trailer and a booklet billed as a “54-Page Commemorative Blu-ray Book With Photos, Production Notes, and More”. Honestly, it’s a quality, comprehensive package, but the inclusion of a new 54-page booklet just doesn’t cut it when trying to get buyers to double-dip.
Taking aim and shooting holes through just about every clichéd trope that defines the very genre which brought him stardom in the first place, legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood crafted a career-high masterpiece in 1992’s multi-Oscar-winning Unforgiven, a dark and atmospheric examination of the true Old West, the horror beneath the false facade of bravado and arrogance and the haunting effect of the violence perpetuated by these vicious men. There are no heroes and villains in Eastwood’s vision of the West, none of his characters particularly deserve to die but, then again, as the film itself goes to great lengths to hammer home, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
On Region Free US Blu-ray fans will be disappointed to learn that this is little more than a repackaged re-issue, with no new features and, more importantly, no newly-minted video transfer or upgraded HD lossless audio track. Indeed the only difference is in the packaging, which now boasts that fan-loved digibook format, and comes complete with a lavish 54-page retrospective of the film and the actor/director’s work. There is certainly nothing here to warrant you even considering a double-dip – this is exactly the same release we got back in 2006 – but if you haven’t yet picked this masterpiece up and added it to your collection then this new release just about edges out the old version on account of the accompanying booklet alone.
Highly recommended as a must-have purchase for anybody’s collection, this is arguably the definitive Western-to-end-all-Westerns, a fitting bookend to the Eastwood’s accomplished career in the genre, and a truly insightful look at the harsh reality behind this romantically-viewed past era, transcending genre restrictions to remain a hauntingly powerful tale of the true cost of taking another man’s life.
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