HD DVD Title: The Sting
Screen format: 1080p 1.85:1
First theatrical release: 1973
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple, including September 2005 ‘Legacy Series’ edition
Director: George Roy Hill
Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning
Sound Formats: English, Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; English, Spanish, French DD 2.0
Length: 2 Hours 10 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
A team of low level grifters led by Johnny Hooker (Redford) think they have hit the score of the century when they take a mark for $10,000. Unfortunately the money belonged to mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw), and he is not about to be played for a fool. Lonnegan’s men put the hit on Hooker’s partner, though Hooker escapes. Hooker, vowing revenge, looks up big time con artist Henry Gondorff (Newman) and together they plan to pull one over on Lonnegan, a big job, a real Sting. First they must get inside Lonnegan’s head, and once they have his trust, they assemble a team of dozens of cons to run a ‘Wire’ shop, a fake betting house where the race results are already set in stone. If Lonnegan and his apes catch on it will be the end for Hooker and Gondorff, but the FBI and also Chicago Bunko squad are on the case as well, so it’s a race to see who plays who first and best!
The Sting was nominated for 10 Academy awards and took home 7, including best picture. It elevated a whole new sub-genre of films, the con artist film, one that has been emulated but never duplicated since. It also re-teamed Redford and Newman with George Roy Hill, their director from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It opened to smash crowds and critical acclaim, landing on AFI’s 100 greatest comedies (and many thought it should have been on their 100 greatest films!). The Sting combines a complex story with great humor, two of Americas greatest leading men, and reintroduced the world to the music of Scott Joplin’s ragtime piano. If you haven’t seen it yet, well this HD is your cue to get on the boat and go see this classic!
Sound Quality: 4/5
Despite being upgraded to Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, there are only a few scenes that call out to having any sort of sound presence outside of the front stage and the bass end is never notable. What IS important is that Scott Joplin’s music, as interpreted by Marvin Hamlisch, sounds absolutely amazing. Viewers are drawn in to the story by the music, which as noted in the extra features, never occurs at the same time as anyone is talking, all music occurs in establishing shots and chase sequences when dialogue is out. From the opening bars of ‘The Entertainer’, it is clear that the music in The Sting is a character of the film itself, viewers find that they get caught up in its whimsy and tap along to its strong march beat. Outside of the musical score dialogue is crisp and clear and as good as or better than the DVD version I have heard in the past.
Visual Quality: 3.5/5
The Sting is a hard film to judge for transfer quality due to the choices that the director and cinematographer made during the original filming to give it a very ‘period look’ matching the 1930’s setting. There is some vignetting, a minimum of shadow detail, a distinctly earthy color palette and most notably, a kind of flickering where colors and shadows are not consistent from frame to frame. Additionally, the noise is absolutely jarring on many scenes, even worse than I remember ever seeing on DVD. Sharpness is also inconsistent, being completely dead-on for many scenes, then abruptly soft (witness Hooker’s close-up just before the shootout at the end to see the worst of it). Again however, these ‘defects’ could just as easily have been present in the original film and are presented exactly how audiences would have experienced the film in 1973. It’ tough to say, but there are standout scenes which are just so technically superior that make it a real head-scratcher. An early scene where Lonnegan is playing golf has such intense saturation and detail to make that shot look like it was from entirely different movie. Some of the close-ups, especially of Redford, partner Luther (Robertearl Jones) and love interest Loretta (Dmitra Arliss), contain fantastic sharpness and detail.
Overall, if it wasn’t for the highly annoying noise levels I would be willing to shrug this off as being all related to the original film stock, but for now I have to at least partly fault the transfer unless I’m corrected by someone with a more personal insight into this film. This HD transfer is presented in the OAR of 1.85:1 which is better than several of the prior DVD releases, and it looks, on the whole, much better than my version does at least in detail level. Whether that will be enough to convince lovers of this film to double dip for it its hard to say, but for viewers who do not own this on any disk yet, this is clearly the version to get. Note also that there is some distracting damage to the print, as well as pops and scratches evident. Not constant, but notable every few seconds.
Extra Features: 2.5/5
Three very good featurettes (which can be set to run one after the other for a total running time of about 45 minutes to an hour) and the theatrical trailer are all the extras to be found here, but the behind the scenes info is invaluable to those who (like me) love this film. Even those who aren’t that big into making of segments should check out ‘The perfect script’ as it gives great insight into what it takes to make a film like this and, as they say ‘they don’t make em like that any more’.
These extras were enough to punch previous DVD releases into 2 disk territory, but here on HD they feel a bit shoveled on as weak check points to entice potential buyers that at least SOMETHING is on here as far as extras go. At least Universal rightly gave this disk an animated menu featuring Joplin’s Entertainer. Not doing so would have been a huge disservice to this great film.
Overall: 3.5/5 (not an average)
For fans of The Sting, it sadly doesn’t get any better than this, at least as far as extras are concerned. However this disk does present the film the best it has looked and sounded at home, and it seems to be fairly accurate to how it was originally presented, at least if the noise and flickering can be accounted for. I believe this will be confirmed as this disk gets wider release later this week, and may revise this review slightly as I hear from the experts.