It looks rough, folks. But this is pretty much how Rolling Thunder should look, 1080p or not. Flynn's film is not a good looker. It is low-down, cheap and battered round more than just the edges. The AVC transfer can only do so much with this basically un-restored 1.85:1 print, and the resulting image has pops, speckles, stains, scratches, flecks and discolouration aplenty. The vintage and grungy appeal of the lean, mean thriller is laid bare for all to see and, warts and all, I can still fully appreciate the improvements that have been made. But there will certainly be people who take one look at this and start bitching most vociferously.
Grain is intact and authentic. The film-like texture is retained and the shabby, lived-in aesthetic is like dirt wedged down inside your nails. The contrast suffers from being too shallow, giving the image a hazy, suffused and dusty aspect. There are times when it shimmers and fluctuates. One shot as Rane returns to the family home after leaving hospital and his hand has been replaced with a hook has a large portion of the right-hand side of the frame wavering about with varying degrees of yellow/green mottling. This isn’t pretty, but it informs you that the image is totally raw and untouched by digital tinkering.
Even with the contrast being compromised in such a way, the black levels are more than decent. Sure we have times when they appear a little bit more weathered and jaundiced than at others but, for the most part, they aid the image to depict some fine shadow play and an agreeable, with concessions made, sense of depth.
So, we have an image that is old and rusty and rough-hewn. But how does this translate to the level of detail on offer. Well, to new eyes expecting tight delineation and impeccable clarity, this is going to come up woefully short. But if you know the film, then you will certainly see the gains that this hi-def presentation provides. Facial detail is more resolved – you only have to look at the “bubble-heads and the old Myrtles” during the opening homecoming sequence to see more information revealed on the screen. There’s absolutely nothing amazing or scintillating about any of this – the image still looks dowdy, mired and worn – but there are definite gains made in the visual integrity of the picture.
The palette is equally bashed-about and aged. And yet there is still much to commend. There’s no shying-away from the primaries, and reds, especially, have some vibrancy to them. You only have to look at Rane’s gifted convertible to see that. But look at the bottles and the little neon signs in the bar – these are nice and bright too, and they add to the smoky atmosphere of the final shootout by adding little highlights amongst the shadows. Skin-tones, possibly against the odds, actually look quite natural and convincing. And then there are the muzzle-flashes during the moment when our boys come blasting their way down the stairs – now these look terrific.
Dusty, grainy and dragged through the badlands – that's how Studiocanal's transfer looks. But that's accurate, folks, so you can't complain.
Studiocanal's disc has a DTS-HD MA mono audio mix … but it packs considerably less than a punch.
Right, I have to say that the PR disc that I received has a terrible authoring error that pumps the mono signal out through all the channels at once. I've encountered this before, but usually with just the extra features, such as some of Arrow's supplements. Whilst it is perhaps bearable for a fifteen to twenty-minute featurette, it can become extremely tiresome over the duration of a full feature film, with a horrible dislocation of voices occurring. I just hope that the full release does not carry this error.
>Well, I persevered with this, but really speaking, my verdict is not going to be strictly accurate. However, I can say that this is an extremely quiet film, with long stretches of often only mumbled dialogue. The track, so far as I was able to ascertain, reflected this low mix and had many periods when I had to strain to hear the dialogue. Turning the volume up obviously helped, but this also exacerbated the effects of the mixed-up channels. The sound of their footsteps upon the tarmac as Rane and Johnny arrive back in the States is overly amplified and truly horrible, though I suspect that this is more to do with the audio glitch than the actual transfer.
Most of the gunshots are hollow, although a couple of shotgun blasts have a nice retro boom to them. But the impacts during the fight sequence – broken chairs, thumps and swipes from a pool-cue - lack any sort of weight. This is not a track that can make all that much of the action. The roaring of the car and the squealing of its tyres as Rane and Linda make a quick getaway is dull, with zero impact for the thug whose body is hurled to the road as it sweeps around a bend, and the score Barry De Vorzon really has nothing to grip onto, with even that great rolling surge of tension getting swamped and dulled. This said, the theme song that bookends the movie – San Antone by Denny Brooks – does come across pretty well.
It goes without saying that the full release disc will sound clearer than this example, but I would still advise you to lower your expectations.
Sadly, there is an error with the PR disc here too.
Accessing any extra other than the commentary track results in my machine locking-up. Hmmm. The disc is region B coded and I have been able to check it on two separate machines now … all with the same result. Again, such things aren't uncommon with pre-release PR editions. For the record, there isn't a great deal of material here anyway. What we get is a TV Spot, a Theatrical Trailer that is Introduced by Eli Roth and then Commentated upon by him, which I've heard really isn't worth the effort, and an Exclusive Interview with Linda Haynes, which I was able to see most of. If you want to hear about the actress' rather limited experiences in the movies … then here you go.
The Commentary Track, mind you,is actually worth a listen though. In this, we hear from co-writer Heywood Gould, who is moderated by Document of the Dead's Roy Frumkes. The background to the film, and the societal circumstances that inspired it are discussed, and there are more than a few asides and anecdotes to entertain fans of the film.
This edition also includes a DVD copy of the movie.
Personally speaking, I love the film and I wish that more could have been amassed for this long overdue release.
An unsung gem, Rolling Thunder confirms that Vietnam may have been hell, but coming home was often just as bad. Every veteran will have his day, though. So, even if they kill his wife and his son, and cut off his hand, Major Charles Rane will, by hook or by crook, get even with them. Boasting wonderfully granite-faced performances from William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones, a deliberate slow-burn rage and some of the most economical dialogue you'll ever hear, John Flynn's vengeful powderkeg builds to one of the genre's best shootouts. This is seventies nihilism shot through with a grim streak of the purest, most streamlined bad-assery. It took the baton from Travis Bickle and delivered that “rain” he promised … in the form of Charles Rane.
Long time unseen on home video, this cult classic is back with a vengeance on Blu-ray.
Although I had problems with this PR disc, I have no doubt that the full release will be fine. The audio is no great shakes, and the video is rough and ready, but this is hard-edged grindhouse with a psychological stance … and you sure as hell don't want it looking pretty. The extras don't do the film justice, which is a shame … but at least there has been something added for the fans.
Listen to that Rolling Thunder.
"It's your time, boy.”
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