Miller's Crossing: Special Edition (1990)
Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Shooting Miller's Crossing
Audio Bites-Interview Soundbites
|Year Of Production||1990|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (71:21)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||
Twentieth Century Fox
Marcia Gay Harden
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
This movie warrants a superficial comparison with The Godfather, in that both are high quality, extremely well crafted and well acted "gangster" (or "mob") films. But here the comparisons quickly fall away, as the two films are concerned with completely different story elements. Where The Godfather's warmth and charm lay in the exploration of the various relationships within a powerful mob family, Miller's Crossing is essentially one man's story. Gabriel Byrne delivers a brilliant performance as Tom Reagan, a player, a wise guy and a loner, the quintessential right-hand man running the show behind the scenes. The character development in Miller's Crossing is arguably just as impressive as in The Godfather, but is just more focused. It is also interesting to note that while The Godfather had the benefit of being born of Mario Puzo's bestselling novel, it speaks volumes for writer/director brothers Joel and Ethan Coen that they were able to absolutely nail this genre at one attempt with their own original story.
Many of the Coen brothers' films can be described as a little off-centre and this turns many viewers off a bit - a pity as their films have a very quirky but enjoyable style about them. The brothers pitched Miller's Crossing a lot more down-the-line, making it more accessible for mainstream audiences, but at the same time without losing their characteristically witty approach to film-making. One of the great selling points of this film for me is the witty repartee in the dialogue between the characters. We start with Reagan (Byrne), the wise-cracking, cool, collected, manipulative but likeable rogue. If he was any more Bogart in his delivery of the character he'd be..... well, Bogart! but miraculously he still manages to keep it from being completely hammy. Then there's his relationship with Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) - the chemistry between these two is just great. The tone and speed of witty banter between them is among the best I've heard for a long time. The two actors work very well on-screen together and it looks like they are having an absolute ball doing it. Competing for attention we have some extremely funny and memorable one-liners from support characters such as The Dane (J.E. Freeman) and his boss Johnny Casper (the brilliant Jon Polito), the man who suffers from everyone giving him "the high hat"! Altogether, this movie contains more one-liners, more witticism and more cynicism than you can poke a stick at. But still, above all this, Miller's Crossing manages to maintain the dignity of a seriously engaging and emotional story. Well written indeed.
The story revolves around a rather complex plot of intrigue, crosses and double-crosses, so you're never really sure who is on whose side and who is about to double-cross whom next. The only thing you become relatively comfortable with as the film progresses is the belief that somehow, no matter how tangled the web becomes, Tom Reagan should continue to outsmart and outmanoeuvre his opponents - that is, unless he pushes his luck just that little bit too far. The story starts with Tom as the right-hand man for Leo (Albert Finney), Irish mob boss in an America town during the Prohibition era. Leo is having a bit of trouble with upstart Johnny Casper (Jon Polito), a big-talking, small-time, wannabe Italian mob boss. But far from taking Johnny seriously, Leo gives him "the high hat" and that pisses Johnny off. Enter Bernie Birnbaum (John Turturro), a loud-mouthed, crooked bookie and the brother of Leo's girlfriend Verna (Marcia Gay Harden). Verna thinks she can keep her brother protected by keeping Leo well and truly tamed, but at the same time she is attracted to the wise-talking man of action, Tom. And so the plot develops, on the surface a mob war film, but underneath an exploration of the relationships between these interesting characters, largely from Tom's point of view. Most importantly by the end, it is an examination of Tom's internal conflicts.
The presented aspect ratio of this transfer is 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, which is the same as the theatrical ratio.
Sharpness and shadow detail is just superb for a thirteen year-old film. The image is crystal clear and it is apparent from the very first scenes that either the original interpositive has been very well preserved or else a painstaking effort has been put into a remastering and transfer process, or both. Whatever the reason, this transfer is just a joy to watch, virtually devoid of any noticeable grain or noise issues and with both foreground and background resolution remaining sharp throughout. As just one of innumerable examples highlighting the fine level of detail on offer, check out the detail in the newsprint on the newspaper shown at 64:41. Shadow detail is also excellent in this transfer, when called upon that is, as the film is largely shot in well lit interiors and daytime exteriors.
Colouring is very faithful indeed, with all colours well balanced across the board, blacks very solid and skin tones realistic. One of the main drawcards of this film for me is the sumptuous cinematography employed and this transfer certainly highlights this aspect. The style of the film is very warm and generous, with a palette accentuating the browns, yellows and reds of the interior sets. See for example the richness of colouring in the polished floorboards - beautiful stuff. The warm cinematography also lends well to the exterior locations, particularly that of Miller's Crossing itself, which is captured very moodily. Just have a look at the skilful balance between the great use of light and the tight focus-pull on the shot of the hat on the Crossing floor as the hat blows away into the distance (this scene is also seen on the main menu) - just great and shown with breathtaking detail in this transfer.
There are no MPEG artefacts introduced into the transfer and no film-to-video artefacts noted. Even that little aliasing critter was kept well and truly in its box and refrained from popping up anywhere to spoil the day. Film artefacts? Yes, they are there, but only in nominal form as very small and film flecks. I emphasise the word small and the number of times these little flecks become really noticeable or detracting I would count on the fingers of two hands. Certainly there is nothing in the way of more obvious large scratches or marks. This is certainly a print you can lose yourself in.
I sampled the English subtitles for a little while (that is, English for the Hearing Impaired as the only English option) and found them to be clear and unobtrusive on the frame, yes, but also a little bit frustrating in the liberties it took. The subtitles seemed to truncate the nuances of the dialogue quite a bit and while they still get the gist across they also lose quite a bit of the humour of the language and mannerisms. After a short while these subtitles started to annoy me so I turned them off again.
The disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change placed unobtrusively at 71:21, right in between scenes over a fade-to-black - quick and well executed.
The default audio track is English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (at 384Kb/s), with other options being French, German, Italian and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded (each at 192Kb/s) tracks. I reviewed the English "4 channel" mix. This is not a common audio configuration, but think of it as a similar type of configuration to the more usual Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded mix, just with the added benefit that the surround channel and the centre channel are dedicated, rather than matrixed. Note however that, just like a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded track, this 4.0 configuration still has only one surround channel of information to spread across the two rear speakers.
Unfortunately, the surround speakers remain stubbornly quiet throughout the overwhelming majority of this film. Pressing my ear up against the rear speakers several times during the movie, just to make sure that they were indeed working, I found that all the rear speakers achieved for the most part in this mix was to deliver added audio hiss! There was the odd occasion where the rears might have assisted with echoes and ambience, like during the machine gun fights for example, or maybe I was just trying to convince myself of this. Anyway, apart from one or two possible isolated instances, you would have to say that the rear speakers do not add anything and so for all intents and purposes this is for me like a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, just with a bit more separation for the centre channel. That's the bad news.
The good news is the rest of the mix. For starters, dialogue quality is very good. There was only the odd line here and there that I found to be mumbled just a bit by the actors, notably John Turturro with his frantic delivery and Gabriel Byrne on occasion when he spreads on that Bogart accent just a little too thick, but this is not a fault of the audio transfer. If I was to be nit-picky, I would probably also mention that there is some persistent audio hiss in the centre channel too - but hey, this is a 1990 recording after all.
I did not note any issues at all with audio sync being out.
The music score is by Carter Burwell, who has provided the score for all of the Coen films and has a long list of other film score credits including Rob Roy (1995), Conspiracy Theory (1997) and Being John Malkovich (1999). The score in Miller's Crossing is an interesting mix of several different music styles, including bringing out, appropriately, elements of Irish music to good effect. It is a bit Bohemian, but is evocative and emotional music nonetheless. The score also features the song Goodnight Sweetheart and this is revisited at different times in the movie to good effect. The audio transfer on this disc handles the score well, with some nice stereo separation and a clean and decent dynamic range.
There is also healthy directional panning and precise directional placement across the front soundstage for sound effects and a great example of this is just how clear and precise the sound of ringing telephones sound at different times in the movie.
The subwoofer does not have the benefit of a dedicated audio channel and is used to only a moderate degree of success. It is not called upon as effectively as might be hoped for many scenes, but does chime in effectively to help out with some more obvious sound effects, as for example the scene involving the explosion and ensuing machine gun fight, starting at 80:10. A moderate use is the best way to describe the subwoofer contribution here.
|Surround Channel Use|
The extras on this disc are certainly not exhaustive, but do include one short featurette that more than makes up for it, providing an enhanced appreciation of the film and being, in my opinion, preferable to a dozen lesser-quality "fillers". That, plus the fact that the extras on offer are newly recorded ones and the video quality is much better than the norm for these things.
The aspect ratio for the extras detailed below is also 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, and 2 channel audio, unless otherwise noted. Note also that there is the ability to select subtitle streams for these extras covering all of the available language choices as per the main feature subtitles - a nice touch.
This featurette is all too short but makes up for it with quality. Sonnenfeld is fascinating to listen to and once you wind him up he just keeps talking. In this featurette he discusses the story of how he came to work in film in the first place and how he came to work with the Coens on their first film. He then goes on to explain the rationale behind a director/cinematographer's decision as to why they might shoot with wide-angle lenses or not, and he compares his own particular style with using wide angle lenses to the styles adopted by other cinematographers/directors, with Stanley Kubrick's contrasting style highlighted as a case in point. Fascinating. Other aspects covered in this interview include a quick storyboard comparison and info on the location scouting for Miller's Crossing. Quite a bit covered here in a very short interview and it's all fascinating stuff.... particularly if you are into the technical featurettes.
This interview was newly recorded for the DVD release and boasts great video quality, being clean and with nice colouring. The audio is a little hissy.
Includes 5 interview snippets with Gabriel Byrne, 3 snippets with Marcia Gay Harden and 2 with John Turturro, all newly recorded by the look of them. Gabriel Byrne's interview snippets provide the best insight, and John Turturro's are at the other end of the spectrum. Video is 1.33:1 and quality is excellent, again with audio being a little hissy though.
Miller's Crossing theatrical trailer (3:04) and Raising Arizona trailer (2:32), the former presented in 2.35:1 (not enhanced) and the latter in 1.33:1. Quality is OK. The Miller's Crossing theatrical trailer is in the incorrect aspect ratio of 2.35:1, when the actual theatrical release of the film was 1.85:1, so this false trailer aspect ratio must have been achieved by matting the image down further, to try to make the advertising of the film appear a bit "grander" (falsely so) than it is. An annoying practice that is thankfully not common. The trailer suffers from oversaturated colours but is otherwise OK on the video side. Audio is extremely hissy this time. Raising Arizona trailer is grainy.
All shots are worthwhile behind-the-scenes stuff, with only about 3 or 4 of the shots being duplicated/fillers.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Note that this disc is not due to be released in Region 2 until November this year, but when it is it will then be exactly the same as our release (noting our disc is in fact dual-zoned for this purpose).
The video transfer on this DVD is sublime and you will have no trouble losing yourself in the detail. The audio mix is apparently the original theatrical mix and is a surround non-event, but does redeem itself by setting up an impressive frontal soundstage. A set of limited but valuable extras add to this package.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using Component output|
|Display||Toshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Yamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.|
|Amplification||Elektra Home Theatre surround power amp|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears|