Yep, that’s right. The Long Riders looks incredibly soft in this 1.85:1 hi-def presentation. But, you know what? This is how it should look. MGM’s AVC transfer has all of that muted, subdued appeal of DOP Ric Waite's overcast, rain-in-the-air visual look. Grain provides texture and it looks unmolested and unprocessed to me. There is no appreciable depth or visual “pop” to the image at all, but this looks perfectly accurate to every version that I’ve seen of The Long Riders before now. The print has not been given much of a restoration at all. Dirt and flecks and pops put in fairly regular appearances, though nothing to get worked up about, no scratches, fades or stains. The frame is sturdy and wobble-free. Contrast is also stable and does not fluctuate or waver.
Hill’s period yarn is laced with an evocative and rustic palette that makes its dirty, murky and yet surprisingly lush. The story is set in the cuds and meadows of the fertile countryside of Missouri … and the transfer makes no attempts to break that visual spell. Colours are, then, dour and dialled-down. The picture favours browns, greens and yellows, which are nicely established and never crushed or smeared. Skin-tones look very good too, and the copious blood, barring the night-time execution that the gang commit in fierce retribution for the unjustified loss of one of their own, which just looks inky black, is often bright and thickly red – which looks great. The dusty appeal of the setting is vividly portrayed and black levels, though not excellent by any means, are more than adequate. The picture has a warm tinge to it, faces looking pinkish or ruddy at times, but this looks faithful to me. Blacks are fairly strong and provide some effective shadow-delineation.
We can see lots of detail in this image, despite that murky aesthetic. Wood-grain, material, facial texture, foliage – it’s all there. It may not be pin-sharp but there’s not a home-video version that can touch this presentation. Close-ups reveals lots of whiskers and lines and wrinkles and, later on, some wounds that now possess more detail than is realistic – to wit, the stick-on exit wound in one character’s cheek. Look at the picket-fences too – they appear a touch blurry at first. But, look again, and take a closer gander, and you’ll see that there is much more definition afforded them than you first thought. This pretty much goes for the rest of the objectivity in the film. You won’t be amazed, but if you know the picture, then I’m sure you will see the rewards that this transfer has to offer. Long shots of the Riders seen against the skyline – such as at the start of the film, or as hey engage in shaking down the train - are probably not going to be held up as great examples of hi-def imagery, but they do still look good. Once again, as is often the case with such material, there is a tendency to blame the slight ringing on edge enhancement, but there really isn’t much of that in evidence at all. About the only element of digital tomfoolery that I actually noticed was some very slight aliasing taking place, but even this didn’t bother me.
All in all, this is a very respectable transfer for a film that was shot “soft”, has a murky palette and has not been meticulously restored. I thought it looked great.
Now, don’t go thinking that the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track that graces MGM’s release of The Long Riders is going to come up short in any way – because it most certainly does not. All things considered, this is a terrific track, folks. Sure, we’d have liked some whip-around dynamics and some acute steerage of bullets and effects, but if we’d have heard anything whistling about from the rear speakers, then it would have been from bogus elements added after … and I doubt they would convinced. As it stands right now, I can’t believe that The Long Riders could realistically sound any better. This is pumping, galvanisitic stuff.
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this track, it is only fair to say that dialogue is rich and clear and unimpeded by hiss or crackle or any noticeable traces of age-related wear and tear. Voices and more of those amazing Southern accents (and we’ve covered a few such examples already in reviews for True Grit and The Outlaw Josey Wales, haven’t we?) are detailed and authentically placed within the mix. No complaints there. The film’s lazy Blue-grass score and washboard skiffle-band cues have a great and very catchy appeal. Naturally there is not much in the way of separation, but the various fiddles, jaw-irons and shanty instruments possess a certain vigour that elevates the limited scope of the track. As well as the more gregarious ho-down moments, there is the playful twang of the gob-fiddle during the train ride and, very effectively, the mournful, shell-shocked lament that plays as the men struggle in their escape through the woods after the big shootout.
But it is action that makes The Long Riders stand tall, and the engineers of this new lossless mix have not made any mistakes in bringing the bash ‘n’ crash of Hill’s film to full and intimidating height.
During the knife-fight between Carradine and Remar, just listen to that delicious, spine-tingling chink! when the blades meet. This comes through with tremendous clarity. I’d left this sequence on for the kids (yeah, they like a bit of rough ‘n’ tumble) and had to vamoose to the kitchen to get them some snacks, and I could really hear this extraordinarily realistic metallic clash singing out with supreme precision and sharpness from all that way away. Body blows and thumps don’t resound with all that much aggression, but they are still solid enough to get by. The scuffling of leaves as a bullet-riddled Pinkerton is a nice touch, and the big explosion as a house gets unwittingly blown to bits offers some respectable, though restricted heft.
Now for the gunfights. Okay, the soundfield is limited to the front, so there are no spatial effects roaring out behind or across you, no bullets zipping around your ears, but there is a tangible degree of depth and positioning within the mix that brings such ferocious scenes to bombastic life. During the main attraction of the Northfield battle, there is a ceaseless cacophony from the dozens and dozens of guns blasting away from all angles of the frame. Couple this with the nerve-jangling shrieking of the horses and the thundering of their hooves and you’ve got an vintage action-junkie’s dream come true. There is clarity and weight to the impacts of the tumbling bodies falling from the roofs, some severe cloutage from the gang members who get flung from their mounts or collide with tree-branches … and just wait until you hear that solid, blood-freezing crash of the big store window. Wow. Mono, the track may be … but you will be impressed by this scintillating display of aural violence. And then there is the amplified slow-motion sound effect of the bullets walloping their way through the air and tearing into the flesh of the Riders. Now, like everyone else, I can imagine how this would be even more effective if unleashed with full surround and sub support – but, the way it is right now with this lossless mix, it sounds awesome enough.
We get nothing but the film’s trailer, which is a real shame, although still somewhat unsurprising. I would have loved a commentary or, at least, a little retro making of.
MGM release a plain-Jane disc of The Long Riders that boasts a fine AV transfer that respects the vintage of the time when the film was made with no unnecessary messing about having been perpetrated. A strong audio presentation really brings life, and death, to those epic action scenes, belying the fact that it is only in lossless 2-channel mono. The image is certainly more detailed than it has appeared before, but don't go expecting too much from this catalogue title.
Walter Hill was on the cusp of making a name for himself with this stylish exercise in period action. He would become synonymous with macho posturing, uncouth and amoral heroes, copious violence and uber-cool slow-mo set-piece mayhem. The Long Riders is able to bring all of these trademarks to bear, as well as celebrating the unique onscreen collaboration of so many acting siblings in one movie. David Carradine is the best of the bunch, but all the crew acquit themselves extremely well.
Part elegiac observation, part gung-ho exploration of lawless testosterone, this is a terrific Western that manages to combine, in a surprisingly brief running time (only 100 minutes as opposed the weighty epics that it sits between), authentic period charm with ultra-galvanising action. Hill would make more Westerns, though none would be as satisfying as this.
There seems to be a veritable stampede of horse-operas hitting Blu-ray at the moment , and The Long Riders certainly thunders its way to a position amongst the leaders of the charge. Great stuff, folks, and well recommended.
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