Blu-ray Review Little Big Man Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Nov 4, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Arthur Penn’s slightly scattershot combination celebrating the Indian nation and condemning the white man’s intolerance and insensitivity is equal parts entertainment and indictment in Little Big Man. Featuring Dustin Hoffman’s showy turn as one of America’s oldest living residents and a beautiful, evocative depiction of the America of yesteryear, Little Big Man may lag in spots and not always rise to the occasion of its biggest sequences, but it’s a noble and notable effort from a filmmaker who was always aiming to put something different up on the screen. There really isn’t another western quite like Little Big Man.




    Little Big Man (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Arthur Penn

    Studio: CBS/Paramount
    Year: 1970

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec 
    Running Time: 139 minutes
    Rating: PG-13
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 mono French
    Subtitles: SDH

    Region: no designation

    MSRP: $24.99


    Release Date: November 8, 2011

    Review Date: November 4, 2011



    The Film

    4.5/5


    121-year old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) reminiscences about twenty memorable years of his earlier life, years in which he was orphaned, adopted by the Cheyenne and renamed “Little Big Man,” and then undertakes a host of different occupations among the white man including huckster, gunfighter, and scout but who always manages to find his way back to his Indian tribe ruled over by the wise elder Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George). Along the way he marries several times and meets up with such famous personalities as Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Corey) and General George Armstrong Custer (Richard Mulligan).


    This epic picaresque was scripted by Calder Willingham from the book by Thomas Berger, and it manages to squeeze some of the most significant and poignant events in American history around this fictional character who may or may not be telling the exact truth about himself but seems to always be relating the actual events in human history rather well. As funny as some of it no doubt is (the slow seduction of Jack by preacher’s wife Mrs. Pendrake – Faye Dunaway, Jack’s methodology in becoming a gunslinger, sharing a lean-back with Bill Hickok despite his lack of height, Jack’s generously giving of himself to his wife’s sisters at her behest), the most memorable moments in the movie are the human ones involving the treachery against the Indians (the invasion of their promised land by the cavalry is one of the most heartrending moments in cinema as one can see the sense of horrified betrayal on many of their faces) and a series of encounters with his Indian rival Younger Bear (Cal Bellini) in which Jack continually saves his life, much to his frustration and revulsion. All of the quiet talks with his grandfather Old Lodge Skins are worthy of mention (always beautifully acted, some with poignancy and some with real humor), and one wonders why the film even bothers with the old age bookends for Jack (unless it was to show off the wonderful makeup work or to give Hoffman another display of versatility to earn another Oscar nomination to go with the two he already had at this point in his career) when the most logical end for the movie would have been the final encounter between grandfather and grandson which mixes warmth and humor in a truly touching yet funny way.


    Arthur Penn’s direction mixes the brash and the mundane beautifully, but the best moments in the movie involve his marvelous ability to focus on both the sprawling vistas of these Great Plains areas and the intimacy of people who are living and dying on them. Some of the shots make superb use of the Panavision camera in capturing the horrors of the burned Indian village or the exquisite beauty of a snowfall captured in such stark purity that it’s breathtaking. The Battle of the Little Big Horn is, of course, the film’s climactic set piece (in truth, it seems a tad patchy), but it’s actually moments before it begins when the camera looks down on the troops as they move ever forward toward their inevitable slaughter that makes such exemplary use of the widescreen frame.


    Dustin Hoffman didn’t get that third Oscar nomination for the film, and part of that might have been because of a strange accent he adopts for part of the movie and then drops on occasion. Still, it’s a monumental role which he plays with great élan and tenderness. Chief Dan George did get an Oscar nomination for his work (and won the New York Film Critics’ and National Society of Film Critics’ Best Supporting Actor prize as well) as the celebrated Old Lodge Skins aging believably over the course of years and delivering his sage theories about life and love with quiet simplicity. Richard Mulligan is a bit over the top as Custer, but Jeff Corey hits a bull’s eye with Wild Bill Hickok. Robert Little Star plays the tribe’s gay member Little Horse with dignity and great appeal, and Cal Bellini matches it as Jack’s tribal nemesis. As for the other cameos, Faye Dunaway gets two juicy sequences as the rapacious and later fallen Mrs. Pendrake placed at opposite ends of the movie which she handles with delicious ease. Martin Balsam is less lucky as the huckster Mr. Merriweather who’s always losing body parts.



    Video Quality

    4/5


    The film’s Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Color is wonderfully saturated throughout and flesh tones, while usually very realistic, sometimes get just a bit rosy. Sharpness is excellent for the most part with only a few stray scenes that seem soft and less well defined. Black levels aren’t the blackest they could be, but they’re fine enough. There are occasional dust specks to be seen, but they aren’t a major problem either. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    4/5


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix places most of its surround emphasis on the music score by John Hammond. There are also some ambient sounds which find their way into the rears, but for the most part, the mix veers toward the front soundstage. Dialogue is excellently recorded and has been placed in the center channel. To the sound engineer’s credit, there are no age-related artifacts like hiss or crackle to mar the listening experience.



    Special Features

    1/5


    The only bonus feature is a 4 ½-minute theatrical trailer. It’s presented in 1080p but features a cropped, soft image of the movie making the video quality of the feature film on the disc just that much more impressive.



    In Conclusion

    4.5/5 (not an average)


    A superb western epic which condemns injustice at the same time as making its audience laugh hysterically, Little Big Man makes a most welcome trip to Blu-ray. Though one laments that more bonus material was not made available for the movie, the striking picture and good sound make this classic a most welcome addition to the archives. Highly Recommended!



    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Matt,


    One of my all-time favorites. Just love this film.


    Thanks for the encouraging review. Looking forward

    to owning it in just a few days.
     
  3. David Norman

    David Norman Producer
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    I'm laughing just thinking about the review. Man i love this movie. Chief Dan George and Dustin's scenes together are brilliant. Dustin and Faye Dunaway just plain priceless. And oh for those sisters-in-law.
     
  4. marsnkc

    marsnkc Supporting Actor

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    If I'd read this review at the time of the movie's release I might have caught a showing. For the life of me, I can't remember what preconceived notion I had about it that made me give it a pass, and I'd probably still be waiting to see it had the DVD not hit a rock-bottom price 4 or 5 years ago. Even that remained unopened until about 2 years ago when I finally decided to give it a crack. Whew, what a revelation! Your review hits it right on the nose. It's the most extraordinary hybrid I've ever seen. Comedy (that Dunaway seduction scene!); Tragedy (the palpable horror of the invasion you cite) and epic beauty (why I can't wait to get my hands on the Blu!). (Sad to say, this isn't the first gem I missed out on for decades due to negative preconceptions. Ah well, better late than never). Thanks, Matt.
     
  5. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned

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    Little Big Man's western scenery must look spectacular on Blu-ray. I agree the film is thoroughly entertaining and when it's over you know you've been through something. People who haven't seen it have no idea how ambitious it is. It walks a tightrope of tragedy and comedy and succeeds on both levels. A beautiful film elegantly put together. Of course, the source novel was an emotional and subjective western that toyed with sophistry, and it is just plain bad history. Much of the film's historical assertions are demonstratively false. For a factual account that conveys the straight truth of events misrepresented in the film and book, start with Thomas Goodrich's documented history Scalp Dance: [​IMG] http://www.amazon.com/Scalp-Dance-Indian-Warfare-1865-1879/dp/0811729079/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_3 There are books about the real Little Big Man, too (he was an actual person). One should always be aware of the facts without letting them interfere with the enjoyment of a truly great American western. Most welcome on Blu-ray. If you enjoy the film, you'll probably like the book as well.
     
  6. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    So, I did something very traditional this Thanksgiving day...


    I took a nap.


    Yeah....but afterwards, I popped in my Blu-ray of Little Big Man.


    You see, on Thanksgiving, I always watch something very special

    from my library.

    Little Big Man is one of those films I take out every few years

    to give a watch. The last time I saw this film was upon its DVD
    release in 2003. So, a good 8 years later, this film seemed very

    fresh to me.


    I don't know what it is about Little Big Man that intrigues me
    so much. There's something just brilliant about the way this
    film tells its story. Of course, Dustin Hoffman is just amazing

    to watch throughout.


    I particularly enjoy Chief Dan George's performance here. He

    was the character that really made me love this film as a teen.

    Recently, I watched a documentary on Clint Eastwood about

    The Outlaw Josey Wales and how Chief Dan George had

    continual problems remembering his lines to the point a lot of

    it had to be ad-libbed. Sort of amazing to think about when
    considering his role in Little Big Man garnered him an Oscar

    nomination.


    It's such a wonderful experience to revisit this film every few

    years. For watching it makes my heart soar like a hawk. I
    look forward to watching this again in the not-too-distant future.


    Truly ranks as one the greatest films I have seen.


    I need to again thank Ron Smith at Paramount for putting
    this out at our request. The transfer is mostly excellent sans

    a few blemishes in the opening scene where we see Hoffman

    as an old man. Have never seen this film look so damn good.



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