Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid comes to Blu ray in a 1080P theatrically correct transfer of 2.35:1. Of course, the film was made in 1969 - and as far as I am aware has never undergone an extensive restoration the way, for example, Lawrence of Arabia has. Therefore, we need to consider what the encoders had to work with when authoring this transfer.
The first thing to say, when watching the Blu ray for the first time, is that it certainly does look as bad as the early comments on the web were suggesting. However, this is an old film - and what we are interested in here is whether this is better than the film has looked before. Hence, it was time to break out the SD release.
Once I did this, the difference between the two became extremely noticeable. The immediate improvement is in the background detail. The film is shot in some gorgeous locations, and the background is far sharper and more detailed than it has ever looked before. Far flung hills and mountains stand out with much more clarity, and detail on character's faces is more pronounced and obvious than it was. One particularly obvious example of this is the raindrops sequence - when hay is thrown from the loft and every strand can be seen clearly.
Admittedly, when viewed on its own without comparing the quality is not up to other HD transfers you may have seen. However, I feel as a reviewer I have to point out the improvements as well as the flaws, and there are certainly plenty of both here.
Ah yes, the flaws. When a film makes the step up to a higher resolution, the flaws in the print are more likely to be obvious - and boy there are some flaws here. The print really does suffer from dirt and scratches in places, and there is excessive grain in certain scenes. Of course, until an extensive re-mastering is done (just why has this film not received this treatment yet?) this problem is always going to be prevalent. It is just that the HD release shows up the flaws much more than the SD release does.
As for the colours, well again - whilst improving over the SD release, they are not up to the standard of other HD discs. Blacks are certainly not as dense as they should be, and some areas are completely washed out. Admittedly the original film was not one that employed vibrant colours, so the muted look of the palette was never going to look at its best on HD. But I would say in this area there is little obvious improvement.
Despite the increased detail present in the transfer, and a noticeably increased contrast level over the SD version, we are still presented with a rather flat looking canvas - with absolutely none of the 3D pop that can be seen in the best transfers. In some places, the backgrounds are clearly back projections (the close up of the train run near the beginning, for example), and in others they look almost like still photographs that have been blown up and therefore lack resolution - but again these are likely to be flaws with the original stock.
Overall then, the words “mixed bag” could have been invented for this transfer. However, I am still giving it a six. Why? Well, the flaws in the transfer really could not have been helped. They are either down to the way the film was shot or flaws with the original print. Despite this, HD is probably the most faithful rendition of how the film should look that has yet been released into the home market. It is just a shame that a film that has been so highly regarded over the years hasn't had more care taken of it.
Of course, there have been many arguments since the days of DVD over sound mixes like this. Should the original transfers be messed with, or should we always be presented with the soundtrack the way that the film-makers intended? Personally, my view of the matter is quite simple. The disc should ALWAYS be released with the original soundtrack. If the company choses to release it with an extra mix that upgrades the original then I do not have a problem with that.
So, the Lossless mix it was for me initially - and I wasn't expecting too much. I have never yet experienced a mono mix updated into 5.1 that has even remotely sounded halfway decent. The soundtrack here does improve slightly on what I have heard before but still lacks dynamism and punch.
The first thing to notice is that for the vast majority of the film, the sound field is flat and uninspired. Not only do the rears get very little work out at all, but there is also very little front separation as well. The mix sounds very centered towards the front, and the sub gets no workout at all.
However, very occasionally the rears burst into life, and when they do the result is to give the listener quite a shock. Example of this is when the snake is shot, and the train is blown up - although there are other less obvious moments. In these scenes, we suddenly get a sense of being enveloped within the action.
Sadly, there are very few scenes like this in the film, and the rest of the time we are presented with a very flat experience indeed. However, despite this flaw, the music within the film is still extremely well presented. The Raindrops sequence sounds very clear, as does the musical interlude after an hour when we are seeing the sepia toned photographs.
Dialogue is always clear and well presented and there is no need to artificially raise the DB level to hear what people are saying. Overall then, purists will go for the mono soundtrack and get exactly what they expect. Those who go for the lossless track will get occasional dynamism - and increased clarity. But little sense of envelopement and immersion.
Despite my usual hobby horse complaint arising yet again, let's see what is included here:
We start with two audio commentaries. The first is with the director, cinematographer, associate producer, and lyricist. A strange group, for sure - and it seems as if the comments are pieced together rather than being spontaneous group discussion. The sense of nostalgia is palpable - but the interesting nuggets of information are rather few and far between. This, coupled with lengthy periods of silence, mean you are not likely to want to watch this more than once. The second commentary is by William Goldman and by God he comes across as an arrogant, ungrateful man. I did get to the end of this commentary, but only with a cushion beside me for punching material to substitute for his face.
We then come to the first documentary on the disc All of the Following is True - The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This documentary provides talking head interviews with the key participants, and covers the making of the film, as well as the legacy that was left behind. This is a solid an interesting documentary, not too long or too detailed - but also has a complete lack of promotional fluff. This is certainly the best extra on the disc.
The second documentary is The Wild Bunch : The fact vs The Fiction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is a very interesting history lesson that tells us the difference between the real characters and the way they are portrayed on film. This includes interviews with historical experts, and is a surprisingly detailed look at the history without being boring.
The chances are that you have already seen this film, and possibly already know it like the back of your hand. What you want to know is, is it worth upgrading your standard DVD? Well, the improvement is certainly noticeable, but is probably not big enough to convince you unless your display and audio equipment is really top quality.
Finally, we get one deleted scene with optional commentary - and a few rather poor quality trailers.
The picture has certainly improved in many areas, but unfortunately the leap in resolution also reveals flaws in the source print that are probably unavoidable without a full remastering. We are also presented with a Lossless soundtrack which is certainly one of the better examples of a mono track upgrade that I have come across, but is certainly not something you will be using as a demo material. All the meaty extras have made it across from the SD edition, but some of the less substantial ones are MIA.
If you have not seen the film before, and are thinking of taking the plunge - is it worth it? Well, it certainly is a very enjoyable two hours of filmmaking, but I have to say I am a little puzzled as to just why it has achieved such classic status. True enough you have an engaging story and three photogenic and entertaining leads, and if that is all you want then you will enjoy this immensely. If you are looking for a bit more substance and depth, though - you are likely to be disappointed.
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