The Wild Bunch: Special Edition (1969)
Main Menu Audio
Biographies-Crew-The Legacy Of A Hollywood Renegade -Sam Peckinpah's Wst
Featurette-The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage
Additional Footage-A Simple Adventure Story:
|Year Of Production||1969|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4,5||Directed By||Sam Peckinpah|
Warner Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.40:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
1914-ish. A bunch of outlaws enter a small town in order to rob the bank. What they don't know is that railroad-employed bounty hunters, headed by an ex-member of the gang, are waiting with an ambush. And what the local temperance campaigners don't realise is that they are about to walk into a shootout.
The surviving gang members escape and, pursued by the bounty hunters, head to Mexico to escape the law and to sell their services to a Mexican general. They plan to steal rifles and ammunition from a US Army train, but little do they realise the trouble that helping out the local freedom fighters will get them in to.
That's a fairly sketchy outline of this rich and complex story. While many tout Citizen Kane or Gone With the Wind or Casablanca as the best American film ever made, I feel that The Wild Bunch is superior to each on several levels. It is far more realistic and less sentimental in its depiction of people than Curtiz's film, and there is an emotional depth missing from the Welles and Selznick movies mentioned above. I'm tempted to call it the best American film of the sound era, but any such statement is meaningless given that I haven't seen every American sound film, and perhaps I was more naďve when I saw many of the better ones.
Not that the film is flawless. There are many loose ends and themes that are introduced and not fully explored. This though adds to the rich, lifelike texture of the film, which means that multiple viewings are required to appreciate it - it's one of those films that improves with each viewing. The memorable dialogue is often unrealistic, more in keeping with a play than a film. There are also misogynistic elements which some viewers may find disturbing, the women being either whores or Madonnas or both
The film explores a standard theme of the work of Sam Peckinpah, invoking a sense of loss over the end of an era. In this case the end of the West, where rugged individualism is being replaced by law and order, and technology such as the car and destructive weaponry such as machine guns and artillery are making even the fighting of wars impersonal. The romance of the West, done to death in hundreds of movies and TV series by the early 1960s, is exposed as just a figment of the imagination of people who never lived there and probably never even visited.
Another of Peckinpah's pet themes is the bond between people, in this case between a bunch of what are fairly objectionable people. The Bunch are depicted as having a sense of honour and respect for each other, even a form of love like the affection between two old friends. So even while Thornton is at the head of the bounty hunters pursuing Pike and his band, he has mixed feelings and would rather have been with them. This apparent camaraderie doesn't stop Pike from killing one of his wounded comrades, nor did it stop him leaving Thornton to be captured in the flashback sequence nor Syke's grandson at the bank. And the bond between the Bunch is obviously not watertight, as Pike is sometimes barely able to stop them from killing one another.
While all of the baggage that this film comes with is about the slow-motion high-level violence for which it is famous, it is essentially a character piece. There is hardly a false note in the characterisations by a superb cast. At the head is William Holden as Pike. Though only 51, his craggy face shows the wear and tear of years of hard drinking, much as Peckinpah's did. He gives possibly his best career performance, mixing anguish and regret with hardness. Thornton was one of the better roles of Robert Ryan's later career, and his acting is as strong as that of Holden's and a perfect counterpoint to it.
Peckinpah managed to keep Ernest Borgnine's hamminess in check, and he gives a far better account of himself than he did in most of his later career. The Bunch is rounded out by Peckinpah regulars Ben Johnson and Warren Oates, as well as Jaime Sánchez whose character is pivotal in the events of the second half of the film. A nearly unrecognisable Edmond O'Brien is the nearly over-the-top Sykes, in a performance which owes much to western sidekicks of the 1930s and 1940s, such as George "Gabby" Hayes, Andy Clyde and Al "Fuzzy" St John. There is a western sidekick of that era in the cast: Dub Taylor, the main speaker at the temperance meeting.
Albert Dekker has a brief part as the railroad agent in his last role before his unseemly death. On the Mexican side, Peckinpah populated his cast with several notables. The Mexican general Mapache is portrayed by Emilio Fernandez, a long-time fixture on both sides of the camera. He seems to have been a violent man off-camera as well as on, having shot a critic in the nether regions for criticising one of his movies, as well as spending time in prison for killing a farm labourer supposedly in self defence (this occurred when he was in his seventies). He is perfect as the larger than life and dissolute Mapache, and gives the best impression of someone in a state of inebriation that I can recall seeing, though I wouldn't be surprised if Peckinpah had gotten him really drunk for that scene. He is supported by Alfonso Arau as his third-in-command, the more familiar semi-comic Latin character. Arau has since directed such films as Like Water for Chocolate and A Walk in the Clouds. The elderly village head Don Jose is played by Chano Urueta, a veteran actor and director whose first film in the latter capacity, made in 1928, also marked Fernandez's debut as an actor.
Another couple of Peckinpah regulars play the bounty hunters Coffer and T.C., who are probably even worse villains than the bunch: Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones. These two characters have much in common with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet, as well as the two lowlife scavengers in The Hidden Fortress. In one of the extras it is revealed by Martin that the actors decided to play the two characters as being gay, something which I cannot say I have ever noticed before.
Those who confuse the history of the American cinema with the history of the cinema itself cite this film as the one that started the trend towards the bloody and realistic violence that features in and frequently mars the movies of the current era. This attitude reflects the probable influence of this film, but there had been gory and bloody American films before, though these were mainly low budget efforts. But such explicitness was not new outside of America, especially in Japan. I tend to think the floodgates were (literally) opened in the final moments of Kurosawa's Sanjuro in 1962, but even that was preceded by Nakagawa's surprisingly gory Jigoku two years earlier. By 1966 Gosha's two Samurai Wolf movies featured slow motion deaths and copious geysers of blood, albeit in black and white. And some European horror films of the Sixties were nearly as bloodthirsty as the Japanese. What sets Peckinpah apart is what might on initial viewing appear to be a wallowing in death and blood, with longer slow motion sequences and bright spurting blood. But I interpret this as an attempt to make the deaths less matter-of-fact and more meaningful to the audience. In earlier Westerns someone would be shot and then crumple and die, as if they suffered nothing more painful than a bee sting. Here you feel that people are really dying, painfully and slowly, with eternity captured in the moment of death. Peckinpah would nail this with even greater effect in the death scene of Slim Pickens' character in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, but it was already present in Joel McCrea's demise against the magnificent scenery in Ride the High Country seven years earlier.
Reams have been written on this film, and there is far more information available in the extras included in this two-disc set than I can include here. Of course the film is the thing, and this set would be a mandatory purchase if it only included the movie and nothing else. They don't make them like this anymore.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The original aspect ratio was 2.35:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.
This is the best the film has looked on video and is a vast improvement on the original Region 4 release. The image is sharp and clear, though it does have something of a digital edge to it that does not look realistic, with edge enhancement visible in some shots. There is plenty of detail as well, and shadow detail is good.
There has been some controversy amongst devotees of this film as to the colour of this latest transfer. It is a little on the brown side but this seems okay to me, as much of the film has actors with brown skin dressed in brown against a brown landscape. Flesh tones reflect the effect of prolonged exposure to the sun. The frequent explosions of spurting blood are quite red without being overly vivid.
The digital restoration of the film has cleaned up virtually all film artefacts. I did not notice any flecks for example. There are some very faint scratches and one or two instances of flickering. Some grain has been retained.
Film to video artefacts are likewise few and far between. Some straight lines in the opening sequences exhibit mild aliasing. There is also some very slight telecine wobble.
The optional subtitles are in clear white font and are close to the dialogue. From the sample I viewed the subtitles are well done.
The disc is RSDL-formatted. The layer break appears at 85:23 at a cut during a scene, and so is mildly disruptive.
The sole English language audio track, apart from the commentary, is a remixed for surround Dolby Digital 5.1 from the six-track 70mm version.
Most soundtracks which have been remastered into surround make some sort of compromise or another, and this one is no different. The main gripe I have is with the use of the sound to mimic the position on the screen of the source of the sound. This is mainly noticeable during the opening bank robbery sequence, especially in the various angles used for the temperance meeting. Voices move about the screen willy-nilly and it is distracting as a result.
Otherwise the audio track is well done. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Effects come through clearly from all directions, though most come from the front channels. Gunshots, however, come from all directions. The LFE channel is well utilised to emphasise not just the occasional explosion but also the thudding of horses hooves and the deeper sounds in Jerry Fielding's score.
I doubt whether Fielding wrote a better score. By the accounts on the extra material he had to fight Peckinpah hard to get the score he wanted. While it does include Mexican folk songs, some of which are well-known outside Mexico, a lot of the music is unusually modern for a period picture. This adds to the sense that the Bunch are becoming obsolete in a modern world. The music sounds very good in this transfer, with plenty of bite and detail.
|Surround Channel Use|
In Region 4 we get the same extras that were on the Region 1 disc. However unlike that release we also get optional subtitles. This would have been enough to tip the balance in favour of the Region 4 if it wasn't for a serious audio glitch on the most substantial extra. The extras are included on Disc Two, apart from the commentary and trailers.
The static menu has some of the score as background.
This audio commentary features four people who have written about or made films about the director: Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. There are plenty of insights and things I had never thought of before or heard of before, and this is worth listening to as the commentators are very enthusiastic. Perhaps too enthusiastic, as often this sounds like a fanboy fest and they just stop short of crediting the movie with curing cancer and ending Communism.
A trailer with garish yellow lettering presented in 1.78:1.
Trailers for Ride the High Country, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Getaway and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
This is a feature-length documentary about the director which concentrates on his life and career in relation to those movies which are about the West, whether historical or contemporary, so it comes to a halt after Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. There are numerous interviews with people who worked with Peckinpah on these films, including L.Q. Jones, Stella Stevens, R.G. Armstrong and (from archival material) James Coburn and Ben Johnson, plus several crew members, his son, daughter and sister, and critics like Paul Schrader, David Thomson and Roger Ebert. Also included somewhat mysteriously are Billy Bob Thornton, Benicio del Toro and Michael Madsen. Kris Kristofferson narrates.
It's a bit of a mixed bag. What comes across clearly are the biographical elements in Peckinpah's films and it is worth watching for this alone. While his drinking, drug-taking and destructive nature are addressed throughout, it somehow feels like a whitewash. The dirty linen was covered better in the 1992 documentary Man of Iron, which is worth seeing if you can find it. The documentary is also hampered by a lack of footage from some films (presumably due to rights issues) which means that we only get some salmon-pink promotional material and excerpts from the trailer for Major Dundee and stills only from The Deadly Companions and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
The documentary was made for the Western Channel so it is in 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. Film excerpts are generally letterboxed. There is unfortunately a serious audio glitch with this extra which starts around the 28 minute mark. The audio sync goes seriously out of whack during the interview pieces. The strange thing is that all of the film excerpts are okay, but as soon as a talking head comes on screen the audio starts to go out of sync, and sometimes ends up out by a second or more. Then there's another film excerpt which is okay, and the next interview starts to go out of sync. It makes me wonder whether something went wrong when the video footage was converted from NTSC to PAL, as the problem is not present in the Region 1. The subtitles appear to be in sync with the audio.
This is the same extra that was included on the original Region 4 release. This 1996 documentary features behind the scenes footage and photographs of the production, with voice-overs of Peckinpah's writings and memos voiced by Ed Harris, plus the recollections of cast and crew, some from archival interviews. This is a very interesting insight into the filming of the movie, presented in 1.33:1.
An excerpt from a documentary by Nick Redman which features the guys in the audio commentary plus the director's Mexican daughter Lupita visiting the locations at which the film was made. Most are still in much the same state they were in 1968, though they often looked much different in the final product due to some remarkable art direction. It is in widescreen but not 16x9 enhanced.
This is a series of alternate shots for scenes that made it into the film, and is not particularly useful or interesting. It is presented letterboxed in 1.33:1 with excerpts from the score.
This is a vast improvement over the previous Region 4 release, which was a flipper disc in a snapper case, and had serious film to video artefacts.
The US Region 1 Special Edition is identical to the Region 4 in most respects. The Region 1 has an additional trailer for The James Dean Collection on Disc One, as well as animation on the main menu and jacket pictures. The extras disc does not have subtitles like the Region 4, but it also does not have the audio sync glitch. The main feature has the same video and audio quality as the Region 4 though with the slightly lower resolution of NTSC. You'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference though.
There is a UK Region 2 Special Edition release, but as yet I have found no reviews of it.
If the Region 4 is a direct port of the Region 2 (it is coded for both), then it may well have the same audio sync issue as the Region 4. On that basis the Region 1 is probably the better option at this time.
A magnificent end of an era western, with superb performances by all of the actors and two of the best action set pieces in the whole genre. A must-own.
The video quality is excellent.
The audio quality is excellent.
Some compelling extras, but the most substantial extra is compromised by an audio sync problem.
|DVD||Sony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output|
|Display||Sony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony TA-DA9000ES for surrounds, Elektra Reference power amp for mains|
|Speakers||Main: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV|