The Big Country Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, May 27, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    The Big Country (Blu-ray)
    Directed by William Wyler

    Studio: MGM/UA
    Year: 1958

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 165 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English, 1.0 Spanish, French
    Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French

    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 16.98


    Release Date: May 24, 2011

    Review Date: May 27, 2011



    The Film

    4.5/5


    Westerns don’t come much bigger or more magnificent than William Wyler’s The Big Country. Featuring an all-star cast and locations that take one’s breath away at a consistent pace, The Big Country has everything one could want from a classic oater: great, interesting characters, enough rivalries to populate three lesser movies, shootouts, ambushes, fistfights, and enough comic moments and romance to satisfy just about every member of the family. It’s long, and it sometimes drags just a bit in its sprawling narrative that’s large enough that even this big movie can’t always contain it, but in the final analysis, there aren’t too many westerns any bigger or any better than this one.


    After leaving his shipping empire back east, James McKay (Gregory Peck) comes west to marry his fiancé Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker) whose father Henry (Charles Bickford) is the wealthiest land baron in the country. But once there, McKay doesn’t seem to measure up to the code of the west as seen by the residents: he doesn’t feel compelled to demonstrate his manhood by riding wild broncos or engaging in fistfights, and the spoiled, selfish Patricia feels humiliated by his living by his own code of conduct instead of behaving the way her martinet father had brought her up believing in. McKay finds the area embroiled in a civil war over watering rights at the Big Muddy, a vast ranch owned by town schoolteacher Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons) and lusted after by both the Terrills and the more rough-hewn Hannassey clan headed by the blustering Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives) and his bullying son Buck (Chuck Connors). Trying to calm the tempers of both families seems an impossible job, especially from a dude from back east whom no one seems to respect.


    Director William Wyler takes every opportunity he can to foster the notion of the “big” in The Big Country by showing us vast grassy vistas and towering rocky canyons and often arranging shots that put his actors in situations where they’re positively dwarfed by the size and scope of their surroundings (there is also a running gag where almost every character tells McKay how big the country is). In one of his most effective sequences, he stages and shoots a fight between Peck’s McKay and tough ranch foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) in immense long shots with only a smattering of closer cuts and almost in silence except for the sounds of thudding fists or grunts and groans from the combatants. Compared to the way most fights in movies are filmed with nonstop music and enormous sound effects, this majestic sequence is one of several gems in the gigantic panorama of this movie. Wyler also shoots a jaunty montage of McKay in private riding, falling, and eventually taming the wild stallion Old Thunder (foolishly interrupted for some reason by some other business which breaks the spell of showing us this fiercely determined man finally gaining the upper hand after continuous, painful failure). And the climactic raid on Blanco Canyon is also shot and scored to emphasize the tension of the moment and leading to its inevitable conclusion once again emphasizing size by his choice of long, overhead shots which accentuate these land giants as their actual selves minimized by the towering rocks surrounding them.


    Gregory Peck once again plays a man true to his own soul and one who marches to the beat of his own drummer. As usual, his quiet forcefulness is appealing and a decided contrast to the typical range cowboy which Charlton Heston plays in one of his strongest-ever performances: cocky and unsympathetic in his devotion to the code of the west. Carroll Baker and Jean Simmons are also the antithesis of one another: Baker spoiled and callowly emotional and Simmons mature and earnest judging people on merit and not appearance. Burl Ives, who won an Oscar as the Hannassey patriarch (and was likely aided to victory by giving a similarly dynamic performance as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that same year), makes a memorable range rascal matched every step of the way by the dictatorial Charles Bickford as the stubborn and unreasonable Henry Terrill. Chuck Connors does well as the blustery Buck, hiding his cowardice behind a fast gun and his father’s men. Alfonso Bedoya handles some funny lines and reactions as ranch hand Ramón Guiteras.



    Video Quality

    4/5


    The Technirama aspect ratio of 2.35:1 has been delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s true, the credit sequence is dusty and filled with small scratches, but once clear of it, the image is quite beautiful with excellent sharpness and tons of detail, especially seen in the rocky Blanco Canyon as well as in facial features and clothing. Color saturation levels are quite rich and expressive, and flesh tones are accurately conveyed. Black levels aren’t always optimum, and in darker scenes, there is clear evidence of banding in the image, but it isn’t noticeable elsewhere during the film’s extended running time. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    4/5


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix has decent fidelity for a track of this age, and thankfully there are no age-related audio artifacts like hiss, crackle, flutter, or hum to spoil the ambiance of the soundtrack. Music (the magnificent Jerome Moross score which has become legendary in the years since the film’s release), sound effects, and dialogue are all comfortably mixed in the track with the dialogue never drowned out by the other elements of the soundtrack.



    Special Features

    2/5


    “Fun in The Big Country is a behind-the-scenes trifle shot to publicize the movie. Jean Simmons narrates some staged behind-the-scenes activities featuring the stars of the picture occupied in other pursuits between shots. This 480i vignette runs 5 ¼ minutes.


    A TV spot ad runs 1 minute in 480i.


    The theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs for 3 minutes.



    In Conclusion

    4/5 (not an average)


    The Big Country is a great film, and the Blu-ray release does it proud in terms of picture and sound. The bonus features are fairly forgettable. The movie cries out for a learned audio commentary filled with decent analyses and stories of behind-the-scenes activities to give the film the respect it deserves. Still, it’s definitely a recommended disc.



    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    This is a WalMart exclusive?
     
  3. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Yes, it is.









    Crawdaddy
     
  4. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    I remember reading that the film was meant to be a political allegory, with the Charles Bickford character representing Eisenhower, and the Burl Ives character representing Kruschev.
     
  5. benbess

    benbess Cinematographer

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    Really? Wow. That would put another spin on things, wouldn't it. I actually like how Westerns can work on many different levels...
     
  6. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    I remember reading that last night in IMDB in the trivia section. I doubt my walmart will have this they never have any of these things or the other blu ray cheap ones there.
     
  7. lukejosephchung

    lukejosephchung Screenwriter

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  8. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    Would love to but when ever I try to order from their site I gat something called verified by visa that prompts me to put my info in again and despite my correct info it always says that it doesn't match, so I don't order from their site. Btw Luke, what about that erroneous info about Netflix and Criterion you posted in two different forums, how'd you come up with that?
     
  9. Guest

    I got my copy of The Big Country today from Walmart online. Unfortunately, it was a defective disc with bad pixelation starting at about the fifty minute mark. I took it back to a Walmart store in the area and exchanged it. The second one played fine. The transfer is excellent, very sharp, nice contrast. I also picked up Quigley Down Under while at the store and it looks very nice as well.
     
  10. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    I hope to have the Quigley review up tomorrow evening.
     
  11. ShowsOn

    ShowsOn Second Unit

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    And Gregory Peck as Lenin and Charlton Heston as Karl Marx and Jean Simmons as Trotsky?
     
  12. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    Actually, Peck and Simmons play more like third-world representatives trying to mediate the Cold War disputes.
     
  13. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    The availability of this one and Quigley is baffling. An exclusive that isn't available. I know some people are finding this in store but I've been to several and after they look at me like I asked for a bag of money they look it up and say, " it's only online at the web site." Since there is an odd incompatibility between my visa card and walmart.com I'll be waiting until a store near me gets it. But to my original point, how does a studio let this happen? Wouldn't they insist that a title that is exclusive to the store also be sold at the store?
     
  14. ShowsOn

    ShowsOn Second Unit

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    any idea when The Big Country will be available in other stores?
     
  15. greg.shoemaker

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    Just for the record, the 1996 laserdisc release of the film contained the following features:

    • Jerome Moross’ music score isolated (“on analog track two”)
    • Filmed interviews with Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston, originally shot for Catherine Wyler’s documentary, “Directed by William Wyler”
    • Audio commentary on Moross’ music by William H. Rosar, including comments from the composer
    • Remembrances by Charlton Heston, recorded in June 1995
    • Comments by Burl Ives, recorded in 1985
    • An original behind-the-scenes featurette, FUN IN THE BIG COUNTRY (available on the Blu-ray release)
    • An extensive still archive of production and behind-the-scenes photos, the original pressbook and the complete shooting screenplay

    The Blu-ray also has a theatrical trailer of the film, while the laserdisc release does not.


    I have a question about the theatrical release which I have so far been unable to locate an answer searching the Web. Was the film ever released with overture, intermission/entr'acte and/or walk-out music? I do not believe it was, but would like to have my suspicions confirmed. Thanks.


    Greg Shoemaker
     
  16. ScottHM

    ScottHM Second Unit

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    I just got this Blu-ray yesterday, and agree that it's an order of magnitude better than the DVD. However, it also seems to magnify faults compared to the DVD.


    What is the cause of the pulsations that are obvious several times throughout the picture, and particularly bad at around the 1:07:00 mark?


    ---------------
     
  17. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    For the most part, I was pleasantly surprise to how good this BRD looked as my expectations from MGM weren't great.








    Crawdaddy
     
  18. GMpasqua

    GMpasqua Screenwriter

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    Quote: Originally Posted by Robert Crawford For the most part, I was pleasantly surprise to how good this BRD looked as my expectations from MGM weren't great.








    Crawdaddy


    just wondering why you expectations from MGM were great
     
  19. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    They weren't great!
     
  20. ahollis

    ahollis Lead Actor

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    November 1st is the release date for the title for all other stores and websites that were not named Wal-Mart. The list price is $19.99.
     

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