HTF HD-DVD Review: The Untouchables

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by PatWahlquist, Jun 28, 2007.

  1. PatWahlquist

    PatWahlquist Supporting Actor

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    [​IMG]
    The Untouchables (HD-DVD)

    Studio: Paramount Home Video
    Rated: R
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Video Codec: VC-1
    Audio: English, French, Spanish 5.1 EX Dolby Digital Plus; English 6.1 DTS
    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH+
    Time: 119 minutes
    Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD
    Case Style: Keep case
    Theatrical Release Date: 1987
    HD-DVD Release Date: July 3, 2007


    I remember being really excited when I saw the first trailer for Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. There was something in that trailer that really appealed to me and I couldn’t wait to see it. When I did see it, it sparked an interest in me that remains to this day: a sometimes ravenous hunger for material, fiction and otherwise, on the mob. While the execution of that hunger seems to be lacking these days with all my other commitments, I still try to steal away some time here and there to check out a good mob story.

    The Untouchables is just such a story. Written by award winning play write David Mamet, directed by De Palma, and starring such big names as Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone, Robert De Niro as Al Capone and a then basically unknown Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness, the picture should have everything going for it. Elliot Ness has been assigned to Chicago by the Treasury Department to enforce the Volstead Act, the act which makes booze illegal. Al Capone is a notorious gangster who is profiting from the bootlegging of alcohol all over this great land. Ness recruits Malone, a rookie cop named George Stone (Andy Garcia), and an accountant, Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) to find a way to shut down Capone once and for all. As they embark on this crusade to enforce “the law of the land”, Ness and his men may find they aren’t that “untouchable”.

    Mamet’s script is very liberal with the historical accuracies, sacrificing them for drama, but it still makes for great entertainment. Once I started researching the time period, I found myself really being angry at liking the movie so much since, historically, it really didn’t go that way. It has taken me a long time to finally accept The Untouchables for what it is and know that it is just a version of the true story. The best thing it did for me was begin an interest of the period and the players and the stories. It led me to writer Max Allan Collins and his incredible Nate Heller historical novels, which have Heller just outside the frame of the picture, working in the background. I also got to read the true account of the real life Untouchables in Oscar Fraley’s book of the same name (Fraley also wrote several episodes of the TV version). So pop in the disc, pour a drink (its legal now) and enjoy a good story acted out by some of our greatest actors and presented by a distinctive director.


    Video:
    Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units.

    The Untouchables is encoded in the VC-1 codec at 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I first viewed the HD-DVD and I was a bit more critical of its picture, that was until I popped in the original SD-DVD release from 2004. The HD-DVD shows a great improvement specifically in detail and sharpness, making the SD-DVD look pretty bad by comparison. The HD-DVD sharpens up the smaller background details and its enhanced encoding allows all the video noise and junk in the SD picture to go away. As a couple examples, check out the calendar page Ness’s wife tears off towards the beginning of the picture, or the lettering on the Lexington Hotel after the papers are dropped. Spatiality is also improved giving you more of a sense of depth in the picture. Colors on the HD-DVD are improved slightly, giving a little more life to the somewhat drab SD picture; flesh tones look more natural, and the outdoor scenes at the Canadian border are more picturesque. The SD-DVD suffered from some color bleeds, specifically the reds, and that is now gone in the HD-DVD.

    I do have a couple complaints about the video presentation. My main complaint with HD-DVD’s picture is the blacks: while they are very deep, they lack much detail. DP Stephen H. Burum tells us in one of the docs that he too was unhappy with the blacks in the picture and blamed the film stock of the time, so I guess we are getting the best we’ll ever get with this picture. Like the rest of the picture, black levels and shadow delineation are improved in the HD-DVD. There was also visible edge enhancement throughout the picture, which I find very annoying in this HD age we’re in now.

    While the HD-DVD is a great improvement over its SD-DVD brethren, for an HD-DVD, it does not rank up there with some of the finer discs I’ve seen recently from Paramount, specifically, the wonderful pictures of Trading Places and Coming to America. When I saw those two pictures, I was very hopeful for The Untouchables, and while this disc isn’t too bad in its own right, it doesn’t have the “wow” factor that the other two had. As I said, this is probably the best we’ll ever see The Untouchables and we should enjoy it for what it is.


    Audio:
    The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack was attained by a 5.1 analog connection.

    The audio part of the review gets a bit difficult. I initially watched the feature with the DD+ 5.1 EX track engaged only to be under whelmed. The SD-DVD always seemed thin to me, and while it had good clarity in the highs and mids, the lows were always lacking. It was my hope the DD+ encoding and added bits would give us a more lush sounding audio experience, but it’s just not there. This leads me to believe this is how it was originally recorded. In comparing the DD+ EX track on the HD-DVD to the EX track on the SD-DVD, the DD+ track has a richer front soundstage and it seems more expansive. The snap drums and the muted horn in the opening credits don’t sound as tinny on the DD+ track. Bass is still lacking even in the explosion at the beginning of the picture and in the gun battles. At best, the DD+ encode is a mild improvement.

    Fortunately, the HD-DVD gives us an English DTS 6.1 track at 1.5mbps, which provides a much richer audio experience than either of the DD tracks. Spaciousness that is lacking in the DD tracks is now evident, and the surrounds are utilized to greater effect and blend well with the fronts. Most importantly, the DTS track draws out some bass to give those aforementioned explosions and gun battles more “oomph”. While I watched the opening credits with the DTS track, the strings and horns showed better spatiality in the front soundstage; with the DD tracks, they were localized more in the individual channels, in the DTS track, they hung…somewhere in the front. This allowed me to be more immersed in the soundtrack instead of thinking about where the sound was placed. This disc, across both formats, really makes ADR stick out, and there are some truly badly dubbed lines.


    Bonus Material:
    With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2 encoding unless otherwise noted.

    All of the bonus material is brought over from the SD-DVD release.

    The Script, the Cast (18:26): De Palma and Producer Art Linson explain how the film came about. There are numerous vintage interviews with the cast that shed a little light on their approaches to the roles. De Palma saw this picture as a way to regain some lost credibility in Hollywood, and Mamet’s script excited him. There is some interesting stuff from De Palma here, including his research into Costner.

    Production Stories (17:13): De Palma, Linson, Visual Consultant Patrizia Von Brandenstein, DP Stephen H. Burum discuss the look of the picture. Burum is featured extensively and it is very interesting to hear him explain how he worked with De Palma to get some difficult shots filmed.

    Reinventing the Genre (14:19): The above participants discuss some of the individual scenes in the movie, including the Montana shoot, the various death scenes and the train station scene. There was also another ending that was considered for a while, and it was interesting to hear why they didn’t go with it. I do wish there would have been another doc on how the train scene was shot, or something like an “anatomy of the scene” type feature. While it is a homage to another picture, that scene is still amazing in its own right.

    The Classic (5:34): a quick piece on the impact of the film, where they finally talk about how important Ennio Morricone’s music was to the overall feel of the finished picture.

    Original Featurette: The Men (5:25): a vintage promo piece to hype the film.

    Theatrical trailer: In HD, but from an old print.


    Conclusions:
    Historical inaccuracies aside, The Untouchables is still an entertaining picture with good, somewhat over the top performances from De Niro and Connery. De Palma is in fine form here, and it surprises me that Mamet’s tight script isn’t filled with swearing. The HD-DVD visually is a big improvement over the SD-DVD, but not the best transfer when compared with other recent HD-DVD’s. Paramount does not give us much new bonus materials in this release except a swell DTS track.
     
  2. ppltd

    ppltd Producer

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    Thank you for the review, Pat. I am looking forward to viewing this title when it arrives next week. A favorite Connery film of mine that I never get tired of viewing it. Having now read three reviews on this HD DVD release I am pleased that the general feeling is that the PQ is very good on this release. Thanks Paramount for the nice mastering and the inclusion of a DTS HD track.
     
  3. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    What Thomas said. [​IMG]
     
  4. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    I just got a chance to check out a few scenes last night, and from those I would say you were spot-on Pat. This is a big improvment over the sd- which had some atrocious compression artifacts...stuff you would expect to find on a cheapo public domain disc. This image is crisp and glossy....but the crushed blacks struck me immediately, and those along with the pumped up colors tell me this is another case where the studio is forcing a contemporary look onto a vintage product. Ever since filmmakers got the opportunity to easily manipulate image qualities digitally thru the use of DIs, most major films seem to have lost a naturalness to their look. Or maybe it is the prevelance of video games and the asthetic influence they contribute. And now this is all seeping into catalog and vintage material as well.
    Its very depressing to me.
    You can look at the trailer (which is also in HD) to get a better sense of the way the film should and did look back in '87.

    I wish these studios would knock this shit off.

    in a related note, I just ran across this post by Amir over in another forum
    which also speaks to "improving" catalog product

    I lay part of the blame for this on those %#@*%!'s who start and contribute to "tier" threads. It's the studios pandering to them and their philistine taste that gives us results like this.
     
  5. Dave Mack

    Dave Mack Producer

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    agreed. Very unsettling. In a few years when this new pumped and supersaturated and artificially sharpened "look" is dated and out, these new transfers will seem even more odd.
    I heard the latest BOND catalog DVDs suffered from this as well....
    I can't believe we are still suffering with EE with these new transfers...
     
  6. Geoff_D

    Geoff_D Supporting Actor

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    While I agree with your sentiments Paul - and also get a little scared by your zeal - I can't help but enjoy tarted up catalogue stuff like The Untouchables and The Warriors in HD.

    I've got my original Warriors DVD to enjoy that flick in its washed-out, grainy, dirt-riddled theatrical form, and the HD-DVD for the contrasty, smooth, clean Director's Cut.
     
  7. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    Dude, believe me- you do not want to bump into me in a dark alley... and then casually bring up Return Of The Jedi.

    BTW, I love the phrase "tarted up". very apropos.
     
  8. Paul Arnette

    Paul Arnette Cinematographer

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    I can feeeel your ANGAH! [​IMG]
     
  9. Douglas Monce

    Douglas Monce Producer

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    I actually have to say that I think the Bond films now look really fantastic and very much like they should. Particularly the Connery films. They used to look very duped. Like they were several generations away from the O neg. Now they look like brand new and very film like. Rent some of the early films and check them out.

    Doug
     
  10. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    Goldfinger (the only Connery I've seen so far from the new sets) looks 100% better than the previous disc- but then, the previous disc was a snow job as the clips from the film contained in the doc that was on that disc looked 100% better already. For some bizarre reason the actual feature looked like a grainy dupe but obviously there were better elements already out there at the time.

    The Bond films that really suffer with these remasters are the Moore films- or at least a couple of them. Spy Who Loved Me is atrocious. going back and forth between the new and previous versions, it looks like the used the exact same master and just really jacked the contrast and color. They both have the same extreme haloing, which the new contrast levels accentuate even more.
    It gets a little more watchable in the second half, but the first half is an eyesore...literally its almost painful to watch as there is so much harsh edginess to it. There is no way I see that Master yielding a decent HD disc. They need to go right back to forumla with the film and do it all over again (which they of course won't).
    Watching License To Kill I had the same reaction that I did to This HD DVD- like seeing an old girlfriend that isn't allowing herself to age gracefully- as that brilliant wordsmith said, it just looked "too tarted up".

    But a lot of people like that look these days, so thats what were going to get more of down the pike.
     
  11. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    I watched this last night and thought it looked really good. By far, the best this film has ever looked. It looked natural to me & I'm assuming the Blu-ray version is the same. Didn't look processed....I got really absorbed in this viewing. Love the score too.

    Good job Paramount! Again. [​IMG]
     
  12. Douglas Monce

    Douglas Monce Producer

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    There are defiantly some issues with the later films, but the Connery films, the ones I'm mostly interested in, have never looked better in my opinion.

    Doug
     
  13. Jeff Whitford

    Jeff Whitford Screenwriter

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    Isnt this thread about The Untouchables? I cant wait to get mine.
     
  14. Jim_K

    Jim_K Executive Producer

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    Watched my BD copy last night. Loved that tarted up image, looked fantastic. As for the Audio I settled on the DTS track which was a huge improvement over the thin sounding SD.
     
  15. Dave Mack

    Dave Mack Producer

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    I wonder how this looks compared to the HD clip in the editor documentary on the "Bullitt" Hd disc. They showed the staircase scene and it looked great.
    And this phenomenon appeared on the most recent Ghostbusters DVD which looks like they simply took the old master and jacked the color and contrast. Doesn't look like GB anymore.
     
  16. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    I forgot all about that clip being on there- thanks for the reminder.

    Checked out both scenes last night and...they looked consistent, so I guess I must be wrong on this point after all. At the very least I'll have to stop stop ranting about this.
     
  17. Douglas Monce

    Douglas Monce Producer

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    I finally got the chance to pick this film up on HD DVD and I have to say I think it really looks quite good. The colors to me don't look pumped up at all. The grain looks natural for a scope film of the mid 80s. It looks very much the way I remember seeing it in the theater. I don't mind the slightly crushed blacks. It reminds me a bit of classic film noir from the late 40s.

    All in all I'm very happy with this release.

    Doug
     

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