Unforgiven (Blu-ray) (1992)

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Released 6-Dec-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Audio Commentary-Richard Schickel (Biographer)
Featurette-Eastwood On Eastwood
Featurette-All On Accounta Pullin' A Trigger
Featurette-Eastwood & Co.: Making Unforgiven
Featurette-Eastwood... A Star
Featurette-Maverick TV Episode: Duel At Sundown
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 130:40
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Clint Eastwood
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Clint Eastwood
Gene Hackman
Morgan Freeman
Richard Harris
Case Amaray Variant
RPI ? Music Lennie Niehaus


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

"Oh, it's the climate that does it, that and the infernal distances." --Richard Harris as English Bob.
"D*** right about the distances..." -- Me.

Unforgiven as a swan-song for the Western, a genre that had been a staple of Hollywood for most of the century, is without peer. Sure, it provoked a brief revival when the bean-counters saw the buzz (not to mention the box office returns) and decided that more Westerns was what the public wanted. What the public really wanted was good films, and Unforgiven delivers that in spades.

Unforgiven picks apart the mighty legends of the Western and lays them bare. Gone is the upstanding sheriff who merely wants to defend his townsfolk from the big bad outlaws. Gone is the gentle, easy-going hero who is loved and admired by the little people. Gone is the gentle damsel in distress. In their place are characters who seem like real people from the nineteenth century.

William Munny (Clint Eastwood) was one of the meanest and most ruthless outlaws the Wild West had ever seen, but his marriage to a good woman saw him retire and begin raising pigs on a very small ranch. Said woman died of smallpox, but not before bearing two children. After a prologue explains this much to the audience, we witness an assault upon a prostitute working in the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming. The unfortunate prostitute had the misfortune to fail in restraining her urge to laugh at a customer's parts, and said customer took great offence, which he proceeded to take out on the prostitute using a sharp instrument. The prostitutes in the establishment begin screaming for this assailant to be hanged, while the inn's owner, Skinny Dubois (Anthony James) complains to the town's sheriff that the disfigurement of his prostitute represents a financial loss to him. Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman in a performance that won him an Oscar) promptly orders the cowboys to hand over several of their wild animals to the prostitutes. This fails to satisfy said prostitutes, and they begin to discuss among themselves their options toward satisfaction. Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher), the de facto leader of the group, pools up the money she and her fellow prostitutes have been squirreling away, posting it as a reward on the heads of these men.

This prompts a young, boisterous man who is known throughout the film as The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to stop by Munny's farm. The Kid feels he needs Munny's help to make good on his end of the bargain and collect the promised reward. Munny's first response is to tell the Kid that he is done killing men for money, but the spread of disease through his pigs and the overall squalor that he and his two children are living in prompt him to change his mind. Stopping along the way to recruit additional help from Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), Munny sets off on the Kid's trail. But the amount of money the prostitutes have sent word that they will pay reaches many an ear. We never see more than one competitor for the reward, but the competitor in question is a stellar performance by Richard Harris as English Bob. Bringing along a biographer by the name of W. W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek), English Bob makes his way to Big Whiskey, making damned sure to insult everyone he can along the way. The subplot with English Bob as he confronts Little Bill is one of the most unsubtle subtexts that I can think of being worked into a Western. For the majority of his time with Bob, Beauchamp has had his ears filled with the poetic myths that dime novels of the period were loaded to the gills with. Seeing Bill Daggett set Beauchamp straight on some of the tall tales Bob has told is one of the best moments in the genre.

Suffice to say that Munny, Logan, and the Kid all confront their destinies in Big Whiskey, and the results are far from pretty. For years, films have romanticised colonial America as a place where tough men were free to be tough men, but Unforgiven is one of the few that portrays this time and place truthfully as an uncivilised wasteland where knowing how to use a gun was often the only meaningful difference between life and death. The Academy certainly thought the film was a good one, favouring it with four Oscars, including a Best Director for Clint Eastwood. If you do not understand what people see in the Western as a genre, then Unforgiven is a great place to look.

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Transfer Quality

Video

I have seen no less than three different DVDs of Unforgiven, and from two Regions at that. The original Region 4 release of Unforgiven was terrible, with overcompression, noise, and poor shadow detail really diminishing the impact of the film. The rerelease in Region 4 was a good deal sharper and cleaner, but paid the price for that in spades with aliasing, an artefact that has been the bane of home video until now.

The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, within what the packaging states to be a 1920 by 1080 progressive window. Almost every improvement I care to mention over the 10th Anniversary Edition DVD can be associated with this fact.

This transfer is so sharp that subtle changes in the expressions of actors, a device that Eastwood frequently uses in order to change the tones of scenes, are clearly visible. I do not merely mean the "I cannot do it" look on Morgan Freeman's face at 90:55, either. I mean subtle little changes in long shots such as Gene Hackman's reactions to various comments about his skills as a carpenter, to cite the most obvious examples. The shadow detail is also improved over the DVD by the extra resolution, although it is still limited, and there is no low-level noise. Grain is a minor issue, but this artefact is well within acceptable limits given the age of the film.

The colours in the transfer reflect the style of the film, with a very dreary, muted, brown-dominated palette. No bleeding or misregistration was noted. Flesh tones are consistent and accurate.

No compression artefacts were noted in the transfer. Backgrounds are frequently diffuse and hazy, but this is more the result of being shot with a Panavision lens in what looks like rather low lighting. Vertical wobble was noted on occasion, such as at 7:01 in an external shot of the town. Aliasing artefacts are almost, but not quite, absent from this transfer. One shot of Morgan Freeman in a ridged shirt at 27:23 shows the shirt crawling, in a fashion that raises serious questions about how progressive the transfer really is. This is not the first transfer from Warners' dual-format days that shows this artefact in spite of the packaging proclaiming the transfer to be 1080P. Film artefacts are noticeable from time to time, such as in a shot of Jaimz Woolvett at 9:02, and they are as frequent as they are noticeable. However, they are also generally small enough to be considered acceptable.

Subtitles are offered in English and English for the Hearing Impaired. The latter omit a few words on numerous occasions but give the general gist of the lines very well.

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

Audio

Unforgiven follows the dual-format strategy that Warners adopted in the beginning of the big HD format war, and the audio transfer we are offered suffers a good deal for this. It is not that the audio transfer is necessarily bad. It is merely underwhelming in comparison to what we know the format to be capable of.

The first, and default, soundtrack is the original English dialogue in 5.1-channel lossy Dolby Digital. Dubs are offered in French and Spanish, both Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. An English audio commentary is also offered in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. I listened to both English soundtracks.

The dialogue is generally quite clear and easy to understand. The major elements of the soundtrack, the dialogue, sound effects, and music, have little if any space to separate them as is typical of lossy Dolby soundtracks. This affects the intelligibility of the occasional three-word utterance or quickly-spoken line, and does not improve the audibility of environmental sound effects, either.

The score music is credited to one Lennie Niehaus. It is a bit of a peculiar beast. Compared to other Westerns that Clint Eastwood has appeared in, there is very little music, and it is very subdued for the most part. Come to think of it, the opening and closing credits feature the only music I can really remember from this film. The cue at 99:42, when Morgan Freeman is being rode into town by the mob sets a dark, haunting tone to the scene that enhances the visuals quite nicely, but this was the exception rather than the rule.

The surround channels are (barely) used to separate the sounds of such things as wind, insects, and rain from the front channels. Split-surround and directional effects are non-existent, and possibly not part of the original sound design since this is an early-1990s piece. This is a purely dialogue-driven film, so the lack of any meaningful surround activity can be forgiven for the most part. Still, it does make one wonder what could be achieved with a lossless soundtrack based on another attempt at a remix.

The subwoofer was used sparingly to support the sounds of gunfire, horse hooves hitting the ground, trains, and other such effects. It did not call undue attention to itself, but it did not exactly enhance the moments when it was used. It produced more of a light cough in time with the gunshots than an actual rumble or boom.

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

Extras

All of the extras found on the 10th Anniversary Edition DVD are carried over to this disc.

Menu

The Top Menu is only fractional, offering little other than access to the extras. All soundtrack and chapter options must be accessed from the Pop-Up Menu. The good news is that the Pop-Up Menu has a very fast response time.

Audio Commentary - Richard Schickel (Film Critic/Biographer)

This audio commentary (recorded at very low volume) is recycled from the 10th Anniversary Edition DVD. Worth a listen, but a poor substitute for a commentary from people who actually worked on the film.

The remainder of the extras are standard definition, and have been reviewed elsewhere already.

R4 vs R1

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

The Region A and Region B versions of this disc are ostensibly the same, with the same language options. Reviews speak of edge enhancement on the Region A disc, but ultimately the two discs appear to be similarly flawed.

Summary

"Hell, I even thought I was dead, till I found out it was just that I was in Nebraska."

One of the best films about how we cannot change who we are, Unforgiven is the kind of film that makes one glad the camera was invented. While it is not my favourite Western, it is one I would show friends and family for the myriad of things in the story that can be easily applied to the here and now. There are no good guys at all in it, only different degrees of passive or aggressive bad guys, and a great narrative thrust about how all the denial in the world cannot change a person. Everyone should see it at least once.

The video transfer is excellent, but I find myself asking serious questions about whether it is truly progressive.

The audio transfer is serviceable, but ultimately disappointing.

The extras are numerous, but entirely in standard-definition.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDSharp AQUOS BD-HP20X, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic Viera TH-42PZ700A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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