Well, I have to say that the film, as poor as it is, looks wonderful in this VC-1 transfer – unmolested by any nasty digital tampering (no DNR, no artificial sharpening and colour boosting) and retaining its original grain, it looks film-like and faithful. In a way, this can go against the movie, though, as its cinematic texture clashes awkwardly with the sometimes flat and uninvolving TV production values.
But that's possibly a bit below the belt because this is actually a great image that CBC have prepared. Rio Lobo's 1.78:1 frame benefits from lots of detail, unflattened by grain or noise, the Technicolor palette nicely rendered right across the board although given a somewhat more realistic and dry cast, excellent contrast and strong blacks that provide some fine shadow-play in the night-time scenes of creeping about and hunkering in houses, jails or ranches. I mentioned TV production values, but this really only applies to the unconvincing interior scenes, which refuse to offer much in the way of visual spatiality or depth. Outside, however, there is a level of depth to the location work, seen excellently during the opening train robbery as the camera sits atop the speeding locomotive and curls through the splendidly sunny countryside, and in the dusty sprawls of Rio Lobo and the scrublands that surround Ketchum's place or that of old man Philips.
Facial detail is certainly catered-for, and if the sunburned chops look a touch uncraggy or wrinkled, this is down to the over-zealous make-up and the softer, star-friendly photography of the era and not down to any unwanted noise reduction waxiness. There is detail to be found in the clothing and the weaponry, and especially in the wooded environs of the first act. Interiors seem to lack much to actually look at, however, but the image is still crisp and clean and clear throughout. One shot, seen a couple of times, becomes engulfed in grain and looks far grubbier than the surrounding film. But this is par for the course with these older films and not something that has occurred during the hi-def transfer.
There is still some damage on display with the print, but it remains of the tiny pop and fleck variety and shouldn't bother anyone. We get a couple of frame wobbles too but, again, they are slight and not distracting. I did notice that shimmering takes place fairly often on the sideways panning shots. It can be picked up on leaves, shutters, window-frames or the sides of buildings. Again, this isn't all that intrusive, but my eyes were drawn to it each time, just the same.
Rio Lobo bodes well for other CBS hi-def transfers.
Rio Lobo hits Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix but, really speaking, you can disregard the surround channels as there is very little emanating from them that is at all worth mentioning. CBC furnish the disc with an equally lossless DTS 2.0 mix as an alternative, which makes the 5.1 option pretty much redundant, to be honest. So, now that we've ascertained that there is no real action from the rear-speakers, it is still important to note that this is not a hollow sounding affair at all. I wouldn't say that the mix is doing anything wrong with the original sound design – I mean it certainly isn't adding-in elements just for the sake of sonic incidence – but this is can be quite an ambitious experience when it gets to the action in the last act. All of a sudden, we have booming shotguns, mainly courtesy of Jack Elam, lots of blasting rifles and six-shooters that provide some hefty ballistic wallops, and splintering wood from doors and window-frames, and even the odd dynamite explosion, which sends a very welcome little bass-embraced shockwave out at us.
There is no drop-out with the dialogue and the many variations on the main theme that Jerry Goldsmith comes up with are treated well. I like the fact that even the more lyrical and bittersweet renditions have clear presence and movement across the soundfield. All things considered, this audio transfer is more than decent and should please those with realist expectations.
Nothing added to this release at all, I'm afraid.
It is trendy to pour scorn on Rio Lobo – in fact, the film has never enjoyed much critical praise since its original release – but it gives me no pleasure at all to denounce it. I adore this genre and usually can't get enough of it, but even seeing the Duke blazing away and hearing that cantankerous drawl of his can't provide Rio Lobo with enough of the right ingredients to make it entertaining. There's a wagon-train of Wayne movies hitting Blu-ray at the moment. We've had The Comancheros and The Horse Soldiers already, and besides this there is still Big Jake making its hi-def debut. But whilst the others all have great moments and show the Duke doing what he does best, Rio Lobo lacks that essential magic. Outdoors, it manages to at least look like it knows what it is doing, but the interiors are spartan and low-rent, robbing the film of the visual clout that a Hawks/Duke offering should have in spades. Yakima Canutt was an expert at orchestrating mayhem at the gallop, but even the action that he brings to the picture feels dry and rusty. Jerry Goldsmith, ever the pro, is happily creative with his score, yet even this fails to deliver the required goods. But what sinks the film beyond repair is the terrible script and the lousy performances from a bunch of people who were evidently very inexperienced and simply shouldn't have been there in the first place.
Rio Lobo is not at all a missed opportunity. It is an example of an opportunity that should have been missed.
Those Duke or Hawks completists out there are not going to complain about the transfer that the film has been awarded, though. It looks very nice indeed, and the original stereo source has been dutifully given a lossless makeover (the 5.1 alternative doesn't really add anything extra to the deal). There's no supplements and this is a definite shame. With a film as poor as this coming from two Hollywood heavyweights it would have great to have heard some background on the production, and upon what went wrong, but we don't even get the trailer.
One thing is for certain - Rio Lobo is a major disappointment, however you cut it.
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