In my review for Blue Unberground's BD release of City Of The Living Dead I made reference to the horrible frozen fields of sharpened grain blighting the image on occasion. Well, Blue Underground's new AVC transfer for Django's 1.66:1 frame suffers from the very same thing, only to a much more detrimental degree. Now, looking into this effect and taking into account the various theories that have been expounded already, I find that I am at a loss to accurately explain how it has come about. Some say that this horribly sharpened grain is merely what you get when you present a film of this vintage, of this stock, in high definition. Others are of the opinion that this is, in fact, the result of the image having been extensively DNR'd and then having had grain re-added over the cleaned up picture. Now, I have no hard and fast evidence to back either option, and can only report on what I can see with my own eyes - and I have to agree with the verdicts delivered by many naysayers and doom-mongers on both sides of the pond. When you study this image, the grain does not look like film-grain at all. It looks much too digital and shiny. There are times when the image comes to resemble one of those metal-mesh fencing masks, so gleaming is the noise that stipples it.
Is it noise or is it grain?
I can't safely say when apparent experts in the fields of film restoration and hi-def transfers seem unable to agree on the culprit. All I can say is that there are times when this picture looks unsightly to me.
However, pressing on, we find that things are not always this way. Detail is often considerably greater than I've ever seen it before - and this comes even in the belief that the print has been quite extensively scrubbed. Close-ups look incredible in terms of sweat, stubble, pores, hair separation and material texture on clothing. Backgrounds and deeper image information, whilst far from great, have more solid and clean definition. Buildings, the paraphernalia in the saloon and the scratty-looking landscape yield more to peruse. The cold breath issuing from the actors' mouths is also more keenly noticeable. More often than ever before I found myself scanning the horizon through gaps in the town buildings, looking for things like roads and modern structures in the background. And this was down to the greater detail held in the image. Footprints in the mud and the glistening wet patterns of the stuff all across the coffin-lid stand out, helping to present Django with much more clarity than it has ever seemed to possess before, although there are still times when certain areas of the image seem faded or slightly blurry - indeed, when it comes to the deeper external shots, you can often find that the picture has all elements in it, good and bad, at the same time. Noise, damage, clarity and detail, bright colours etc ... all at once.
Now, when it comes to the colours, they seem boosted to me, especially the primaries - I mean the reds really jump from the screen with garish energy. Look at the livid throbbing crimson of the titles and the scarves of Jackson's mercenaries, the lipstick on the whores and the thick, bright blood of wounds. Blues are nicely saturated and very deep. Jewellery and embroidered patterns on frocks and on Mexican bandit clobber are now much more vividly rendered. And this enhanced spectrum doesn't do the image any harm at all as far as I am concerned. Regardless of the muddy squalor of the setting and the overcast sky, Django was always meant to be a colourful and vibrant film, and this transfer certainly gives it a shot in the arm. Skin tones may be a touch waxy in middle-shot and the occasional close-up, but they are massively more healthy and warmer hued than previous versions have allowed them to be.
Contrast is better and the black levels, I thought, were the strongest that I've ever seen them in Django. The print does have numerous age-related problems, and Blue Underground are quick to point this out in a disclaimer before the film starts. Frame judders, contrast wavering, flickers, flecks and smudges are almost ever-present, but they pose no distraction to those who know the film. Edge enhancement does appear to be evident on some objects, but I had no problem with it at all. There is no overt haloing.
Basically, whatever has happened, this ballyhooed restored edition of Django has moments in it that look absolutely horrible, as well as - get this because it is important - moments that look quite impressive and remarkably striking for a film that always looked quite terrible in previous transfers. Whenever you see a close-up of Franco Nero, you suddenly realise that there is, indeed, a nice hi-def image amidst all this. Just look at his face and eyes during his final words to Maria, and then when he struggles to prepare for the last gunfight, and you'll see Django looking quite amazingly clean, bright and vital. My only real grievance with this transfer is that damn pin-cushion honeycomb effect of the noise. It doesn't ruin the film as some people have claimed, but I feel it is one of those things that a few will either not notice or, at least, get over very quickly, whilst many others will grit their teeth in consternation and wish that they could scratch it away themselves.
So how do we rate this image in the score, then? Lots of good stuff to be sure, but marred by something quite horrible ... hmmm ...
It's getting a 6 out of 10, but I've a feeling that this is going to be controversial!
Blue Underground supply us with a choice of two lossless mono audio tracks, one in Italian and subbed in English, and the other in horribly dubbed English. I opted for the Italian, as I suggest you do, too, although you will find some startling differences between dubbed dialogue and what is written in the subtitles.
There really isn't much to say about what this track has to offer. Although a boisterous and noisy film, the mono mix simply cannot yield much in the way of excitement. In the few instances when I listened to the English track it did seem to be slightly more aggressive and punchier, but there really isn't much between the two.
Gunshots echo and whine - the Winchesters have the exact same sound effect that my son's vintage toy version has - in that flamboyant and exaggerated European style, though they are still massively restrained by the limitations of the mono mix. Having said that, though, ricochets are flung about within those constraints and there is a little bit of detail in the splintering of wood and the smashing of glass. Strangely, Django's machine-gun doesn't have much oomph when compared to the raucous blasts of the six-guns and the rifles, and it doesn't have much variation or depth. The sound of wagons rolling and horses galloping are tight and restricted. Dialogue, in either version, is flattened and harsh, but refuses to melt into mush. Bacalov's wild and weird score is actually reasonably well handled. Obviously it has no separation or spread, but the various themes are projected with pleasant enough volume and body, the title song sounding more robust than ever before and Roberto Fia's vocals slicker and dealt with more energy.
Thankfully, Blue Underground have resisted the temptation to meddle with the audio. You can imagine how easy it would have been to saddle Django with bogus surround channels. Thus, regardless of how you feel about that troublesome image, the film's audio mixes are quite respectful and unmolested.
The film plays with an optional introduction from Franco Nero, which is nice to see, naturally, but really doesn't deliver much beyond “Hi, I'm Franco Nero and you're about to watch Django.”
Blue Underground then provide a couple of features that probe the background and impact of Django, itself, in Django: The One And Only, and the genre, as a whole, in Western, Italian Style.
Django: The One And Only lasts for 13.27 mins and boasts a couple of extensive interviews with the star of the film, Franco Nero, and its Assistant Director Ruggero Deodato, a man who would rise to cinematic infamy with such nasty horrors as Cannibal Holocaust, The House On The Edge Of The Park and Cut 'n' Run ... and he's even working on a new Cannibals picture! We hear about Nero's indoctrination into the genre, his memories of working with Corbucci, his attitude towards the character and its samurai leanings and the impact that the film had on the scene, claiming, quite rightly, that every actor wants to be in a Western. Made by Blue Underground back in 2002, this remains a fine little testament to an iconic underdog.
And then we have “Western, Italian Style”, which lasts for 38 mins and is a very odd, tongue-in-cheek documentary that hails from 1968. American-made and played almost exclusively for laughs, this runs perilously close to actually belittling the Spaghetti genre. However, there are lots of on-set and location footage of various movies being shot, including The Great Silence, interviews with Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima and the powerfully built and posing Enzo Castellari, as well as glimpse of some of the stars drawn into the phenomena. People such as Chuck Connors, John Saxon and is that Dick Miller, there, too? Jean-Louis Trintigant, of The Great Silence, gives some background to the appeal of the genre and gifts that he can bring to playing a cowboy and Chuck Connors reveals the extent of the Italian he has learned. Very definitely a maverick look at the films and their creators, this is a strange feature, indeed. It even ventures beyond the assembly-line productions and looks at the Western as a new fad for Italian culture. We see a weird Western-infused wedding and listen to a Country and Western crooning duo called John and Wayne performing for an appreciative crowd in a Cavern-like club. The whole thing is odd, yet kind of cool.
L'Ultimo Pistolero, or The Last Pistolero as the menu calls it, is a ten-minute short starring the now aged Franco Nero as some ghostly gunslinger meeting his destiny in a stylish black-and-white production shot entirely in some old disused factory. Wandering in and shrouded in haunted mystery, Nero's veteran hero fixes a swinging signpost, listens to the sounds around him, readies himself for some eerie sort of showdown, draws his pistol and fires. What follows is neatly ironic and actually quite humorous, but the whole thing feels all rather stupid and overly elaborate. Set to Morricone's score from For A Few Dollars More, as well as some new material, this has the daft visual appeal of an 80's pop video, think Ultravox meets Sergio Leone and is a little too snigger-inducing to really do the star or the notion of an icon fading into the past any good. Nice try, but quite stupid at the end of the day.
Blue Underground's disc is rounded off with the original International and Italian trailer for Django.
Django swaggers on to Blu-ray, dragging not so much a coffin behind it as its tail between its legs. Glorious cover art aside, this is a troubled and, at times, downright ugly transfer. The reasons for this seem to be quite confusing and I wouldn't want to accuse such a valiant crusader for low budget niche exploitationers as Blue Underground of putting out sub-standard material. That is most assuredly not in their remit. But Django is a frustrating visual experience in hi-def. There are times when it looks glorious, but times when it looks utterly ghastly. However, getting past the frozen noise fields, you will find lots more detail, much stronger colours and a more robust and revealing image. The audio does not exactly set the world on fire, but it is worth applauding BU's decision not to embellish the disc with any needless and unwanted surround tracks.
The extras are an equally eclectic selection. The interview section is on the money, the vintage Spaghetti overview a wacky one-off that I'm still not sure wasn't just Hollywood attempting to pour scorn over the filmmaking trend that had already pulled the rug from under its own feet and had been luring-in cult actors and helping to make them superstars. The little Franco Nero gunslinger pop-video is just as bizarre, but worth a squinty-eyed look.
Will fans want to upgrade to this version? Of course they will. Blue Underground's boast that this is Django as you've never experienced it before is perfectly valid. Those stinging instances of maze-patterns of frozen noise are peculiarly unsightly, but there is plenty here to savour, nonetheless. And the film is an excessive, jacked-up, overblown riot of violence, black humour and iconic machismo that remains as irresistible and as indulgent as ever.
This coffin is filled with neither gold nor ammo, and there will be many who may feel cheated by a perplexing transfer ... but this is Django on Blu-ray. Amen, brother.
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