Once Upon a Time in the West (C'era una volta il West) (Blu-ray) (1968)
Featurette-An Opera Of Violence
Featurette-The Wages Of Sin
Featurette-Something To Do With Death
Featurette-Railroad: Revolutionising The West
Featurette-Locations Then & Now
|Year Of Production||1968|
|Running Time||166:01 (Case: 165)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Language Select Then Menu|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Sergio Leone|
Paramount Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
A Western is not a Western is not a Western. To give some context to what I mean here, I grew up in a house where Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, to name a couple, were thought suitable listening for preschool children. So when I say that films like most of John Wayne’s resume are the Warrants, Poisons et al, and C'era Una Volta Il West, to quote the proper title, is Paranoid in visual form, I want you to understand my full meaning.
As described on the back cover, C'era Una Volta Il West is much like its predecessor Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo. It is a clash between several men in the Wild West. Where this film differs is in how the three combatants relate to one another, what they are fighting over, and how the film presents it. Another simile I used to describe the film to a close relative is that it makes Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo look like a party at Charlie Sheen’s residence. (Sorry, I could not resist…)
After a lengthy introduction, we meet another nameless hero. The back cover simply refers to him as “The Man”, but everyone in the film addresses him as Harmonica (Charles Bronson). Much like Eastwood, Bronson plays the hero with a disaffected tone that increases the level of curiosity he generates, only using as many words as is necessary. Parallel to this, a family of Irish immigrants by the name of McBain are gunned down by a gang of unsavoury characters led by a man named Frank (Henry Fonda). Frank uses various foul means to plant evidence that the family were gunned down by Cheyenne (Jason Robards), a bandit of ill repute in these parts. Complications arise, however, when the woman that the head of this family had already wed in secret arrives at the scene. Jill (Claudia Cardinale) barely has time to get settled on the property before Frank is sent back by his boss, Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti), to persuade Jill to sell the McBain land by any means. And as these five figures of varying strengths confront one another in various ways, we learn things such as why Harmonica so badly wants to have a word with Frank.
C'era Una Volta Il West is, as the cover art rightly claims, both an influence upon subsequent directors and Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. So the only question is how it scrubs up on Blu-ray…
Like almost all of Sergio Leone’s films, C'era Una Volta Il West was shot using a process called Techniscope. The disadvantage from a technical point of view is that each frame has only half of the resolution one can expect from a 35mm film cel. The advantage is that a number of types of shot that would not be possible with an anamorphic lens are used to great effect here.
The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 within a 1920 by 1080 window, and it is progressive. This is especially important in such shots as any that occur around the Flagstone set, where the DVD proceeded to convince me of the need for a new video format by shimmering predictably whenever anything was in motion.
I have a modelling knife in my possession that can cut pieces from plastic mouldings with computer-like precision. It is less sharp than this transfer. This is especially the case when Leone exercises his favoured technique of zooming right into the eye lines of his actors. Wrinkles, blemishes, and scars leap out of the picture with such clarity it is uncanny. The one clue we do get to the age and technical heritage of the film is the shadow detail. It is good enough for the dark scenes to look good, but not great. No low-level noise is evident. The colours in the film are quite interesting. Many people in the film seem to have a very red, or at least tanned, hue in their skin. Red also dominates the sets, costumes, and locations. The transfer is very faithful to this scheme, with no bleeds or misregistrations on offer.
The transfer is compressed in AVCHD. No compression artefacts were evident. As this transfer is progressive, aliasing was not in evidence, either. Occasional jerks or shudders in the camera's movements were noted, but these appear to have been introduced during principal photography. The one case of wobble that appears to have been telecine in nature occurs at the end of Frank and Harmonica's post-auction chat, and is pretty objectionable. If I recall correctly, this wobble was also present on the DVD, and can be forgiven in light of being the only instance. Film artefacts are on display, but far less frequently than one would expect for a film of this age.
Subtitles are offered in English, and English for the Hearing Impaired. These are pretty accurate to the spoken word, with the latter providing ample audio cues.
One of the many virtues of the format that is not talked up nearly enough is the audio. C'era Una Volta Il West shows every bit of its age in this respect, but also provides another ample demonstration of why it is worth spending the extra bits for quality. A total of six soundtracks are on this disc. The first is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, bitrate unknown. Also available are the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, dubs in French, German and Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio commentary.
The dialogue varies a little in terms of clarity and separation. At its best, it is remarkably easy to understand. Words do blend into the rest of the soundtrack, but these occur infrequently and mostly mildly. Audio sync is frequently out, especially from the actors who play minor roles, but this is to be expected in a Leone film.
The score is credited to Ennio Morricone. Like Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo before it, C'era Una Volta Il West benefits from a great overall score with a couple of amazing standout themes. My particular favourite is first heard as Henry Fonda and his gang emerge on the McBain farm. At the moment we truly learn who Harmonica is and why he has being doing what he has been doing, it brings the house down in a way that few other cues in the history of film scoring have. A special mention should go to what I will call Jill's theme, which mostly consists of strings and a mournful soprano. It adds a sense of profundity to the character that the portions of the (apparently gigantic) script that made it to the final cut do not.
The surround channels are used for the score music and the occasional gunshot, ricochet, or environmental effect. During the quiet dialogue sequences, the sound field seems to collapse into the fronts. When the score music really gets going, the surround channels augment them sublimely, but this is probably not the kind of disc you would use to show your system off to friends. The subwoofer is a little more active, supporting the sounds of the train, gunfire, and more percussive musical elements.
The menu is static, silent, and very straightforward. Given the awesome work that was done on the Region 4 DVD's menus, and the Blu-ray of Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo, this was a bit disappointing. On the plus side, at least they provided a decent number of Chapter Stops (the average time per Chapter is slightly more than five minutes, which is a lot better than I will say for some recent Sony or Buena Vista discs).
The remaining extras are the same as on the previous released DVD version of the film. Details can be found of the review of the DVD on this site here
Near as I can tell, the main difference between the two discs appears to be language options. The Region A disc omits the German soundtrack and almost all of the subtitle tracks. The one subtitle track it does have that this Region B edition does not is in Portuguese. Unless you have a really compelling reason to want Portuguese subtitles, I think we can call this one even.
C'era Una Volta Il West is equalled by few (Unforgiven is the only one that springs to mind at present), and bettered by none. With a surprise revelation at the end that makes The Usual Suspects look like a Peter Jackson film, this is a film that will be remembered long after all of its inferior facsimiles are forgotten. Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in particular deserved accolades just on the basis of their performances here.
Despite some limitations posed by age, the video transfer is awesome. The limitations posed by age are more pronounced with the audio, but the score music will make you cease to care. The extras are generally recycled from the DVD, and barely worthy of sneezing at.
|DVD||Panasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic TH-P50U20A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer|