Once Upon a Time in America: Two-Disc Special Edition (1984)

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Released 13-Aug-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Mob Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary
Featurette-Once Upon A Time: Sergio Leone
Gallery-Photographic Memories
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 219:48
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:52)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Sergio Leone
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Robert De Niro
James Woods
William Forsythe
James Hayden
Larry Rapp
Elizabeth McGovern
Tuesday Weld
Danny Aiello
Jennifer Connelly
Case Gatefold
RPI $39.95 Music Ennio Morricone


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Italian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, opium and tobacco
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Once Upon A Time In America was Sergio Leone's last directorial effort and is considered by many to be his masterwork. The Italian director is perhaps better known for a movie genre that, while very popular in the 1960s, is no longer in favour, that is, the spaghetti Western. He directed some of best, and best known, examples including The Good The Bad & The Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars.

    Once Upon A Time In America is a very different work, based on the book The Hoods by Harry Grey, and despite the title, it is no way a fairy tale but rather a film about New York's Jewish gangsters. It is an epic tale that is told in flashback from the viewpoint of  David 'Noodles' Aaronson  (Robert De Niro) in 1968. The story takes place in three time periods, during the early 1920s where we meet the main characters: Noodles (Scott Tiler), Patrick 'Patsy' Goldberg (Brian Bloom), and Philip 'Cockeye' Stein (Adrian Curran). Even as children they are already minor criminals, rolling drunks and doing odd jobs for older mobsters. Circumstances bring them in to rivalry with Maximilian 'Max' Bercovicz (Rusty Jacobs), but in short order they pool their efforts and expand their criminal activities under the leadership of Max and Noodles. When the youngest gang member is shot and killed by rival gang leader Bugsy (James Russo), Noodles retaliates by stabbing Bugsy to death, but in an uncontrollable rage also proceeds to knife a policeman who tries to apprehend him. He spends 9 years in prison. The story continues just before the end of prohibition in 1932 when Noodles is released. While he has been doing time, the three remaining gang members, Max (now played by James Woods), Patsy (James Hayden) and Cockeye (William Forsythe) have grown up but haven't left behind their criminal ways. Rather, they have been expanding their activities into alcohol running, prostitution, and paid acts of violence. Eventually their violent lifestyles catch up with them, with all the gang members being killed during a robbery, except for Noodles, who flees into hiding. In the third time period, 35 years after the deaths of his friends, Noodles returns to New York, after receiving an anonymous letter from someone who clearly knows who he is and where he has been despite his best efforts to hide his location and true identity.

    This epic effort provides an emotional rollercoaster ride with scenes ranging from hilarious humour in the baby switching scene, through sadness when youngest gang member is tragically shot and killed by a rival gang, to the violence in the opening scenes. While none of the cast can be criticised for their performances, in my view the most accolades must be heaped on to the shoulders of De Niro and Woods who both provide stand out efforts.

    Once Upon A Time In America has been released in our region, thankfully, in a two disc special edition featuring the longer 220 minute Director's Cut of the movie rather than the much shorter 139 minute and badly-hacked-up theatrical version. The movie is spread over both discs with the bulk of the extras on the second disc. If you enjoyed The Godfather then you are sure to be entertained by Once Upon A Time In America. This movie is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys gangster movies or epic stories of any type.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is an excellent transfer that has made use of good quality source elements.

    This film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. The original aspect ratio was 1.85:1.

    The picture is exhibits good shadow detail and is generally very sharp although the occasional scene reveals some softness in the image. No low level noise was apparent.

    While the movie exhibits the full gamut of colours the palette is frequently concentrated around drab shades of dark green, brown and beige. All colours appear realistic and accurately rendered including the skin tones.

    Film artefacts are limited to a smattering of mostly small black or white marks and the occasional larger mark. A small hair makes its appearance at the bottom of the screen at 43:45 and again at 82:18 where it hangs around for a few seconds. Minor film grain can also be seen. Very minor aliasing is also present.

    I checked about 10 minutes of the English For The Hearing Impaired subtitles and found them to be almost word-perfect with no significant departures from the dialogue. They are well timed and easily read.

    Both discs in this set are RSDL discs. On disc 1 the layer change occurs during chapter 20, at 64:52. It is quite a fast layer change and results in minimal disruption to the movie. On the second disc the layer change occurs between chapters 44 and 45, at 39:51 which is a perfect place for it, as it corresponds to the intermission. Unfortunately, the break between the two discs doesn't correspond with the intermission with the first disc coming to a jarring end after chapter 34.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are 3 audio tracks on this disc: English and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 dialogue tracks, plus a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded commentary track. I listened to the English dialogue and commentary tracks in their entirety.

    The dialogue was always completely intelligible and there were no obvious difficulties with the audio sync.

    The musical score is stunning effort and a credit to Ennio Morricone. Without doubt this is one of the most beautiful film scores that you are ever likely to hear. The use of the Pan flute was a stroke of genius that adds a poignant mood to the movie that could not have been better achieved by any other instrument. The score's sombre and dreamy tone suitability augments the plot. The music carries the story, along with the visuals, in a number of scenes which contain little or no dialogue. Aside from the original music there are also a couple of  pieces of music that you may recognise including Lennon and McCartney's Yesterday, and La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) which is very appropriately used during the baby switching scene.

    The surrounds don't do much more than support the musical score with the front channels doing most of the work in this movie.

    Similarly the subwoofer subtly supports the musical score but doesn't contribute much else.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are a number of extras but the two that are most significant are the audio commentary and a feature that deals with the movie and its director Sergio Leone. With the exception of the audio commentary, which of course spans both discs, the extras are located on disc 2.

Menu

    The menu which is displayed in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement features animation, including an animated introduction sequence, as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded audio.

Audio Commentary

    An audio commentary is provided by film critic Richard Schickel, who among other topics, discusses the plot, provides analysis of the various characters in the story and offers some insight into the history of the time periods depicted in the film. Considering the length of the film he does a commendable job to keep the commentary going with relatively few pauses, at least initially, but these become somewhat more frequent by the time you reach the second disc.

Featurette-Once Upon A Time: Sergio Leone (19:34)

    Unlike most of the featurettes you see on DVDs, this one spend its running time speaking to people involved in making the movie, in more depth than usual. Quite unlike the more common approach, which is have a few brief words from the actors or crew punctuating clips from whatever film is being promoted. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded and the picture is displayed in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement.

Gallery-Photographic Memories

    A sequence of 96 stills from the movie, on the set and behind the scenes. It's a pity that there is no audio accompaniment. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement.

Theatrical Trailer (2:33)

    Displayed in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement, the picture is quite grainy. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 and Region 1 releases of this title are both 2 disc versions containing the same content. The only difference between them is that the R4 has English and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks with English and Italian subtitles whereas the R1 has English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks with English, French and Spanish subtitles. (Ed: having the Italian dialogue seems appropriate on a Leone film...)

    Leaving out consideration of PAL verses NTSC there's no compelling reason to prefer one disc over the other.

Summary

    Once Upon A Time In America is an epic tale of a bunch of Jewish gangsters in New York and follows their careers from young street hustlers to their ultimate demise. If you enjoy films like The Godfather then this movie is definitely for you. It is presented on DVD in its full length version, thankfully, which enables us to enjoy the film as Sergio Leone intended. Both Robert De Niro and James Woods provide masterful performances and are ably supported by the rest of the cast.

    Both the video and audio quality are excellent.

    The extras are quite satisfactory.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Peter Cole (Surely you've got something better to do than read my bio)
Monday, September 08, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-995
SpeakersFront L&R - B&W DM603, Centre - B&W LCR6, Rear L&R - B&W DM602, Sub - Yamaha YST-SW300

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Terry K

Comments (Add)
Robert Harris on OUATIA -
blind purchase - Nick H (do you have a spare 60 seconds-read my bio)
Once Upon an Intermission - Brent R (bio-zet is especially formulated for front loading machines)
Colourisation and Original Theatrical Screenings - Chris W (read my bio)
Colourisation is about the film stock used - pellicule
Once Upon A Time in America - intermission -
Disc One: 5.85 GB Disc Two: 6.38 GB - UberAspie