A Few Words About A few words about...™ Major Dundee -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Apr 24, 2013.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    To me, and to many others, the new release of a Sam Peckinpah production is a cause of celebration.

    His 1964 Major Dundee, starring Charlton Heston and Richard Harris is not only not an exception, but carries with it another layer of Hollywood intrigue.  When the film was taken away from the filmmaker by the studio, the resultant re-cut was little like what Mr. P had in mind.

    It took four decades, with trims, deletions and out sitting in vaults at Columbia until Grover Crisp had the audacity to try to re-create the film as intended.  And his work paid off.  While not precisely what the film was to be -- parts of the film don't exist, the score had to be redone, etc. -- it gives us a good idea of what the film may have been.

    I'm thrilled that Twilight Time has made this one of their sub-licenses releases, as the work performed in preparing Major Dundee for Blu-ray is nothing short of miraculous.

    As is typical of a Columbia / Sony Blu-ray, the film looks like film.  Grain structure, color, shadow detail, black levels are all at the Columbia standard that we've come to expect.

    For those who have not yet studied the work of Mr. Peckinpah, you'll find that the two versions are different enough to enjoy both.  And if you're really not yet into Peckinpah, run, do not walk, to your local Blu-ray vendor, and get thyself a copy of WB's The Wild Bunch (1969).  Sit back and be prepared to be amazed.

    Image - 4.5

    Audio - 4

    Highly Recommended

    RAH

     
  2. Malcolm Bmoor

    Malcolm Bmoor Stunt Coordinator

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    Does your recommendation extend to buying the Blu-ray if one has the DVD? I was very impressed with it and wonder how much new work has gone into this latest issue.
     
  3. lukejosephchung

    lukejosephchung Screenwriter

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    Mr. Harris has far higher standards than "Is it better than DVD?"...his quality bar is: "Does it look like FILM?" Remember, you are corresponding with the man who helped save "Lawrence Of Arabia" from oblivion back in 1988!!!
     
  4. Reed Grele

    Reed Grele Screenwriter

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    Watched the extended version tonight.Wonderful transfer! Brought back a lot of memories.

    Don't know why TT wasn't able to use the Daniele Amfitheatrof score for this version as was done on the previous DVD release, but since I own both the new Blu-ray, and the DVD, I was able to marry the picture and sound to my satisfaction. Those without the previous DVD, at least have the option of the shorter, theatrical release. But I don't think that I'll ever watch that version again.

    I really tried to like the new score, but I saw Dundee in 1965 when I was a very impressionable 10 year old, and that's the score that's forever burned into my brain. Now, thanks to the current technologies, I am able to enjoy both the high quality picture, and the score that I prefer.
     
  5. aHorseofCourse

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    Really impressed by the transfer of this, too, and looking forward now to watching the theatrical "mutilated" version, which I've never seen.
    It's also worth pointing out that as imperfect a movie as this may be, it's still an extraordinary one, with strong acting, lovely cinematography and some truly great scenes.
     
  6. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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  7. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Screenwriter

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    :rolleyes:

    Malcolm's question is fair and one I'm guessing more than just he would like to know the answer to, whether supplied by RAH or anyone else and regardless of someone's stature or reputation. I certainly would appreciate knowing if it's worth the upgrade as I was very impressed by the DVD and don't have a lot of money to spend on "limited edition" priced Blu Rays.
     
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  8. lukejosephchung

    lukejosephchung Screenwriter

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    I have seen the "Major Dundee" DVD and own this new blu-ray, so I can say quite definitely that it IS a quantum leap in image quality...Mr. Harris' 4.5 video rating out of 5 does not need to be taken with any salt, grainy or otherwise... :thumbsup:
     
  9. PaulaJ

    PaulaJ Supporting Actor

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    Reed wrote:
    Here's your answer, from Twilight TIme's Facebook page:

    "Sony's brand new Blu-ray master of the extended version only has the newly commissioned score, which is why we wanted to include the original theatrical cut which does contain it."
     
  10. ROclockCK

    ROclockCK Screenwriter
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    Since there are two distinct transfers in this set, with noticeably improved Image and Audio for the Extended Cut, I wasn't sure what your single grade meant Mr. Harris. Did you merely average your grades for both editions to arrive at a single number, or do these grades apply only to the superior Extended Cut?

    Any way you cut it, this is one fine, labour-of-love Blu-ray set. Just genuinely curious how you arrived at those numbers.
     
  11. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Extended cut, which uses a number of dupes. The shorter version is superior and would rate a 5.

    My numbers are worst case.

    RAH
     
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  12. ROclockCK

    ROclockCK Screenwriter
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    Thanks for clarifyng that Mr. Harris...and in particular, giving me a renewed reason to watch the Original Theatrical Cut!

    Oddly enough, because I'd never seen Major Dundee, I wanted to watch the theatrical version first simply for better film history 'context', and initially did just that. However, I confess that I was so thrown by the Mitch Miller title song, and especially that goofy sound effect for Charriba, I quickly abandoned that version, defecting to the Extended cut mere minutes in.

    So I guess there's something to be said for our enjoyment of a movie raising our overall impression of its presentation. Clearly, my less than enthusiastic reaction to the soundtrack for the Original Theatrical Cut had coloured my judgment because that version also *seemed* like the weaker of the two in terms of video and audio specs.

    More psychology than physics at play there, I think... :mellow:
     
  13. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned

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    I'm pleased with this transfer. A difficult film, but Twilight Time has done justice to Sam Peckinpah. I knew they would. Worth every penny.

    I tried to watch the theatrical release version, but I can't handle the Mitch Miller chorus over a Peckinpah western nor the tinkling library sound cues that were used so extensively on Star Trek. How wrong-headed the chorus and sound cues are! The bureaucrat responsible for imposing these things over the film either had no grasp of the film. Or he wanted to undermine it. The original score is okay, but no more than okay. It sounds much better on CD when you don't have the film in mind as a reference than it does on the film.

    Peckinpah fans still need to see NOON WINE on DVD or blu-ray.
    Is there no one to lead the charge on that campaign?
     
  14. John Hermes

    John Hermes Screenwriter

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    I guess everyone has their opinion. A lot of people don't like the original title theme...I do. It's in a minor key and seems appropriate to me, even the vocal chorus second half. I could do without the sound effect for Charriba. The first time it's okay, but not every time he is mentioned after that.
     
  15. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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    I like Daniel Amfitheatrof's score and the Mitch Miller title song and don't recall any complaints about the music when the film was first released. I don't like Christoper Caliendo's score which adds nothing to the dramatic action and sounds too modern. I dislike this Dundee revisionism and think the film should have been left as it was and how audiences originally saw it. Which, fortunately, this release enables one to do.
     
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  16. Reggie W

    Reggie W Cinematographer

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    This is the thing I wonder about when I watch the film with the Amfitheatrof score. To me the song and the cloying march melody are completely incongruous with what is taking place on screen. So I wonder if this was done intentionally to either undermine the film or because they wanted to attempt through cutting the film and using the ridiculous song to transform it and the Dundee character into something more "heroic."

    It's obvious watching the film that Dundee is no hero and that Peckinpah had a darker more brutal and far more interesting story he was trying to tell. It seems that this was something the producers either did not understand or really did not like because it was less "commercial" than say...a Gidget movie perhaps...
     
  17. ROclockCK

    ROclockCK Screenwriter
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    Having never seen more than clips from Major Dundee, I was honestly attempting to give the Theatrial Cut a fair shake by watching it first. But my early impression was that the critics of its score and title song might be right. Had there not been an Extended Cut with alternate score to fall back on, I would have continued watching the Theatrical Cut, which I'll no doubt do anyway someday simply out of curiosity. So I'm not prepared to write-off all of Amfitheatrof's work here. All I know is which soundtrack approach I preferred after the credits and first few minutes of narrative. Since this is a rather long movie, it just came down to the old trust thing...
     
  18. sidburyjr

    sidburyjr Second Unit

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    Yeah, but this kind of question is impossible to answer accurately for any individual. It depends on the perceived difference in quality, the opinion of the film and the amount of money one is willing to spend on a collection. In my case, since I'm retired and living on a fixed income, I've become more careful about what I update, although I haven't bought a DVD in at least a year to save money when the Blu-ray was available. But for the most part, I'm upgrading very few items in my collection unless they are on sale. In this particular case, I don't own Major Dundee at all, so I will probably buy it. Amd at $8 for Wild Bunch on Amazon, I will probably upgrade it. But I will not upgrade Alfredo Garcia since it seems to be OOP and going for $45 or more.

    Lest you feel sorry for my impoverished state, we finished paying off our mortgage a few months ago and don't owe very much otherwise so we'll get by. If only my wife would see the wisdom of upgrading our ten year old TV.
     
  19. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    That's an answer, but it is not necessarily an acceptable answer to those of us who prefer the option of the DVD that let's us in effect see the movie in its final preview version (which this extended cut is) with the score that version had in 1965. I obtained the Blu-Ray (at no cost to myself) for one reason only---to rip the Amiftheatrof score to a CD and to then put it back on the shelf where it will remain unwatched.

    I disagree with Reggie that it's "obvious" that Dundee is no hero. You can easily make a strong case that going after a brutal monster like Chariba who can easily do what he did to the Rostes family again is justifiable. And since the film never specifies just what it was Dundee did that got him banished to running a prison camp, he could easily have found himself scapegoated for challenging the orders of an incompetent superior (this in fact is partly hinted at in the novelization from the original Fink script). Plus, *no one* ever suggests to Dundee after the rescue of the Rostes children that they should be declaring mission accomplished and go back and I also fail to see where Tyreen is somehow more exceptionally noble than Dundee. In fact, it's really one of the film's biggest absurdities that Tyreen, a non-southerner by birth, would be hating Dundee for "betraying his kin". This would have made sense if Tyreen were a native southerner, but because Richard Harris couldn't handle a southern accent, Peckinpah threw that out and made him an Irish immigrant to accomodate the casting, but he should have fixed the script accordingly (though the script was clearly the thing Peckinpah cared the least about given his failure to write something coherent for the final third, which is mostly his doing and which is the film's biggest problem).
     
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  20. Reggie W

    Reggie W Cinematographer

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    Well, Dundee knows right from the start what he is doing is a bad idea but does it anyway in what seems to be basically an act of hubris. He also knows it is not going to sit well with his superiors. He also goes about putting together what he needs by stealing and conniving through the use of horse thieves and questionable tactics by his officers. Mainly what he seems to be doing is setting himself up for a court martial and using this event to get at/settle some score with his former friend Tyreen.

    Tyreen does seem to be the moral center of the film and his character does seem to be used to highlight what a pompous ass Dundee is. To borrow a term, the character that seems to have "true grit" is Tyreen as he not only sticks to his word and the mission when he does not have to but also takes the most difficult matters into his own hands...like executing one of his own men. When Dundee falls apart and turns drunkard there is really little reason and not much to hold these men together...Tyreen does hold them together however and despite the fact that Dundee seems unfit to command it is Tyreen that gives him a second chance to do so. Basically Dundee is portrayed as a man with poor judgement and a weakness to follow his ego into places he does not belong and can't handle. He sets off on a suicide mission and seems to have no concern about who gets killed in the process or what it costs.

    At the same time Tyreen is portrayed as a true leader of men capable of saving even the jackass Dundee from himself...which really is quite a feat. I thought this aspect of the film was wonderfully portrayed and the idea that Peckinpah used Heston's "hero persona" against type was brilliant and ended in a fantastic portrayal from Heston.

    It is because I really like this aspect of the story being told that I never liked or understood the "fall in behind the Major" song or why it is there. Fall in behind him because he is pompous, arrogant, shows horrific judgment, is not really fit for command and will surely lead you to your death for no good reason except to satisfy his ego? Seems way off to me.

    They don't claim mission accomplished when they recover the children because there is a revenge factor at play for one and the mission was until the Apache is captured or destroyed. It never seems to be about the children for Dundee and the men seem to understand this completely.

    Dundee is not "heroic" and if the producers thought they could make him seem as if he were by adding that song and cutting the film they really did not understand the story being told. Dundee seems a wild-eyed mediocrity that wants to make a name for himself and at the same time make some outrageous point with his former friend Tyreen even if it kills everybody involved.
     
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