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HTF REVIEW: Rio Bravo: Two-Disc Special Edition



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#1 of 24 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 21 2007 - 07:36 AM

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Rio Bravo: Two-Disc Special Edition

Directed By: Howard Hawks

Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Ward Bond, John Russell, Claude Akins, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez
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Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 1959

Rated: Unrated

Film Length: 141 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Subtitles: English, Portuguese, French, Korean (Portuguese & Korean only on supplements)

Release Date: May 22, 2007

When I'm getting serious about a girl, I show her "Rio Bravo" and she better f---ing like it
-- Quentin Tarantino

The Film

"Rio Bravo" tells the story of the sheriff of a small western town, John Chance (Wayne), and his old friend, Dude (Martin). Dude, who has fallen onto hard times and into the bottle since a romantic betrayal, assists Chance in arresting Joe Burdette (Akins), the brother of powerful rancher Nathan Burdette (Russell), for a murder. In trying to keep Joe in custody until he can be brought to justice, Chance and Dude find themselves fighting off both Nathan's men and Dude's personal demons aided only by crippled jailman Stumpy (Brennan), while trying to keep friendly civilians such as cattleman Pat Wheeler (Bond), Wheeler's hired gunman Colorado (Nelson), seductive gambler Feathers (Dickinson), and hotel manager Carlos (Gonzalez) out of the fray.

Let's get this out of the way right now. I adore this movie. That being said, looking at it objectively, its amazing that it works at all, let alone works so well. When Howard Hawks commenced production, he was coming off of a three year fallow period after the disastrous critical and popular reception of "Land of the Pharaohs". John Wayne had not made a western since 1956's "The Searchers", partly due to their growing perception as a lower-prestige "TV" genre. The film runs over two hours and twenty minutes despite having a very simple plot. The film was conceived as a not particularly prompt response to Hawks' distaste for the protagonist of "High Noon" from seven years earlier. There is a musical sequence that stops the film dead in its tracks and goes on for two full songs. The villain is not a particularly strong character. On top of that, aside from Wayne, the cast is toplined by Dean Martin (playing a drunk), Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson, none of whom seem like stars who would draw what remained of the core western audience away from their televisions.

And yet the result is one of the most compulsively watchable films I have ever seen. The cast, to paraphrase a famous line from the film, proves to be not so much all that Hawks has, but what he has. More than just about any director in Hollywood history, Howard Hawks understood how audiences related to individual movie stars and exploited this to its fullest. As such, John Wayne fans get just about everything they love out of the big lug with a performance modulated by a slightly paternalistic tone that resolved his western hero persona with his advancing middle age. This would serve as the template for many of the roles Wayne would play for the rest of his career. Similarly, if Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson are going to be in his movie, then Hawks is darn well going to find a way to have them sing, which he does at exactly the right point in the film when a bonding scene is called for from the men defending the jailhouse. Martin, in the midst of the strongest string of serious acting roles in his career, exceeded all reasonable expectations of audience members familiar with his "stage drunk" act by playing it completely straight, making Dude the heart and soul of the picture.

In the absence of firmly established movie-star personae, Hawks goes for archetypes that have worked for him in the past. As such, Dickinson's character purposely echoes Lauren Bacall's star-making performances from Hawks' "To Have and Have Not", and "The Big Sleep". Taking what she was given and running with it, Dickinson proves to be a perfect Howard Hawks heroine. She gives as good as she gets and holds the screen in Wayne's presence as well as anyone this side of Maureen O'Hara. Similarly, Ricky Nelson's Colorado echoes Montgomery Cliff's Matt Garth from "Red River" even down to his physical mannerisms. In the role of the confident kid gunfighter, Nelson has a likeability factor so off the charts that the viewer is willing to forgive even the most awkward of line readings.

Coupled with contributions from reliable frequent Wayne collaborators Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, and a witty script from frequent Hawks collaborators Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, the ensemble delivers Hawks' thesis on professionalism while simultaneously embodying it in their performances.

The movie is also a textbook example of Hawks' belief that great movies are a collection of good scenes with a handful of great ones. Right off the bat, he treats us to a great one as the film's central conflict is set-up via a bravura dialog-free action sequence ending with Wayne/Chance uttering "Joe, You're under arrest". From then on, the dialog scenes are as carefully constructed as the action scenes, and the whole thing is held together for the next two and a quarter hours by the inherent suspense of the lingering threat of Burdette's men outside the jailhouse and around every blind corner in town.

The Video

The video transfer, which fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame, is similar in character to the previous movie-only edition in many ways. There is a slight softness that will be noticeable on large displays. Grain, light film damage, and fading associated with optical work were comparable. There seems to be a tilt towards oranges and browns in the color timing compared to the original DVD. I personally prefer the coloring of the older DVD even though it sometimes had slightly rosy flesh tones. Your mileage may vary, and I do not have access to any appropriate reference to tell you which is more accurate to the filmmakers' intent circa 1959. Edge ringing is not an issue, and compression artifacts are minor unless you get uncomfortably close to your screen and start concentrating on the grain patterns.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is outstanding. Fidelity is very good, with very light background hiss throughout. There are few audible noise reduction artifacts. It sounds like a high quality mag-track, which is exactly as it should be. An alternate mono track with a French language dub is also available.

The Extras

With similar video and audio quality to the previous edition, this Two-Disc Special Edition distinguishes itself with a solid set of extras.

On the first disc we get a scene specific audio commentary from film critic Richard Schickel and director John Carpenter. Schickel and Carpenter were recorded separately and edited together. Carpenter has never made any bones about his admiration for Howard Hawks, and even made his own variation on the siege plot of "Rio Bravo" with "Assault on Precinct 13". His commentary shows a thorough knowledge of Hawks, the film, and the story of its production. That being said, Carpenter exhausts a lot of what he has to say in the early stages of the commentary, and his comments become increasingly sparse as the film progresses. Richard Schickel provides additional background information on the film, but also offers critical analysis of what he perceives are the films strengths and weaknesses. While he comments more frequently than Carpenter, his input also decreases in frequency as the film progresses, resulting in some extended comment-free passages.

Also on the first disc is a "John Wayne Trailer Gallery" including theatrical trailers for "Rio Bravo" as well as four pre-fame "B" westerns he made for Vitagraph: 1932's "The Big Stampede", 1932's "Haunted Gold", 1933's "Somewhere in Sonora", and 1933's "The Man from Monterey".

Moving over to the second disc, we have a 33 minute featurette called "Commemoration: Howard Hawks’ 'Rio Bravo'". This is a "making-of" featurette that includes talking head interview comments from filmmakers Peter Bogdonavich, John Carpenter, and Walter Hill; film scholars Jonathan Kuntz, Steven Mamber, and James D’Arc; and actress Angie Dickinson. There are also numerous audio excerpts of Hawks from archival interviews. It provides a fairly thorough overview for its running time, covering most of the same ground as the audio commentary, aside from the critical analysis, while offering more varied perspectives. The first hand accounts from Dickinson and Hawks would have fit nicely into some of the gaps in the commentary track, but I was glad to have them in any form.

Also included is an eight-and-a-half minute featurette called "Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked". This featurette tells the history of the 40 acre recreated old-west town outside of Tucson in which "Rio Bravo" was shot. On camera interview subjects include film scholar Jonathan Kuntz as well those involved with the site including tour guide Dan Schneider, entertainment manager Mark Kadow, and former owner Rob Shelton. Topics covered range chronologically from the initial construction of the town in the late 30s to support Columbia productions such as "Arizona" through the resurgence of interest of feature filmmakers in the site after "Rio Bravo" and the development of the site as a tourist destination.

Finally, we get the 55 minute documentary "The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks". Directed by Richard Schickel and narrated by director Sydney Pollack, it traces highlights of Hawks' career from his early talkies on forward, although it does seem to favor his comedies over his action films a bit. Film clips with and without narration are alternated with on-camera interview footage of Hawks. This is the same revised version of the 1973 original that appeared on the 2005 special edition DVD of "Bringing Up Baby".

In addition to the on-DVD extras, the package also comes with a collection of postcard-sized reproductions of various production stills from the movie.

Packaging

The discs come in a standard-sized Amaray case with a hinged tray in the middle allowing it to hold two discs. It is in turn surrounded by a cardboard slip-cover with identical artwork to the hard case, except that the hard case has a black matte around the front cover image with a 'John Wayne Collection" banner across the top. The only insert is the envelope with the collection of stills. Press materials form Warner indicate that this title will also be available in an "Ultimate Edition" with deluxe packaging and additional physical extras including reproductions of the movie's press book and a Dell comic book adaptation.

Summary

Warner Brothers has finally given "Rio Bravo" the Special Edition I always thought it deserved. I personally prefer the color timing from the previous release, but the audio/video presentation otherwise equals or betters its predecessor in every way. The real draw for this edition is the supplements including an informative commentary, a retrospective documentary, a featurette on the location used for filming, the same vintage documentary on Howard Hawks previously released with the "Bringing Up Baby" Special Edition DVD, and a set of production photograph cards.

Note: If you are interested in an assessment of the HD-DVD release of this title, check out Neil Middlemiss' forum review at this link.

If you are interested in an assessment of the Blu-Ray release of this title, check out Kevin Koster's forum review at this link


Regards,

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 24 Aaron Silverman

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Posted May 21 2007 - 10:08 AM

Great review! I'm looking forward to this, but a little disappointed at the retread doc. Couldn't they have found something else to include?
"How wonderful it will be to have a leader unburdened by the twin horrors of knowledge and experience." -- Mr. Wick

#3 of 24 oscar_merkx

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Posted May 21 2007 - 10:38 AM

always loved this one.

Good to see Carpenter recording an audio commentary for this
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#4 of 24 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 21 2007 - 12:49 PM

Here is an example of the difference in color timing. Old first followed by new SE. The new one seems to steer things towards orange/magenta in order to be less harsh and dusty looking. These screencaps are highly compressed jpegs, and are not representative of the overall image quality.

Regards,


Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#5 of 24 Eric Peterson

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Posted May 22 2007 - 01:01 AM

I'm torn between which edition I want to buy. I'm leaning toward the standard 2-disc set, but I want to confirm that there is no poster offer in the ultimate set similar to "The Searchers" & "King Kong". I don't see a poster offer listed on any of the spec. sheets, but I'm hoping that somebody can confirm this before I make my final decision.

#6 of 24 Jon Martin

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Posted May 22 2007 - 01:53 AM

Excellent review. I am going to have to pick this up.

Ken, did you happen to read Richard Schickel's comments yesterday in the L.A. Times (linked from my blog below if you didn't)? He stated that only those in the print media should be allowed to review art. That internet and blog critics are essentially worthless. One of the most arrogant, anti-internet diatribes I have read. I wonder if that will hurt some of the internet reviews of this, as everyone is talking about it.

#7 of 24 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 22 2007 - 02:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Martin
Ken, did you happen to read Richard Schickel's comments yesterday in the L.A. Times (linked from my blog below if you didn't)?...
Sticks and stones ....

Maybe some day I can review art for "The Weekly World News" so that my opinions will be granted legitimacy. Posted Image

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#8 of 24 Simon Howson

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Posted May 22 2007 - 02:55 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
Sticks and stones ....

Maybe some day I can review art for "The Weekly World News" so that my opinions will be granted legitimacy. Posted Image

Regards,

The easy response to the article is the fact a lot of academic film writing reads like churned mud. At least most bloggers actually seem to appreciate their object of study - the film itself - rather than needing to conflate the work with dubious social theories.

#9 of 24 Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 22 2007 - 03:12 AM

In many ways, I agree with Schickel's position on the purpose of serious criticism. I find reviews that engender serious discussion much more interesting than reviews that merely provide straightforward opinions. On the other hand, I also acknowledge that a lot of people who read reviews on a DVD/Home Theater web site are interested in a bottom line opinion to support a viewing or purchase decision. That's why, although I cannot quite bring myself to place star ratings on things, I stick a one paragraph summary of my conclusions at the end of each review. This way, if you are at all interested in my sprawling drivel, you have that, but if you are only interested in my useless opinions, they are easy to find. Posted Image

I think Schickel misses the point somewhat on the "Democratic" nature of the blogosphere. The "Democratic" aspect of it that appeals to me is not that all of the voices in the wilderness combine in an equally weighted fashion to establish a consensus opinion of a film or book. It is that readers have the choice among so many voices to find the ones that they deem most worthy. I can understand his concerns about lowering the level of discourse, but that has been ongoing for years in the print media, and cannot so easily be pinned on blogs.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#10 of 24 Johannes S

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Posted May 22 2007 - 08:40 AM

The new "Rio Bravo" is too dark in my opinion.

Here are some captures. If anybody is interested, I can make corresponding screenshots from the old version.

Looking forward to the highdef version...


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#11 of 24 Mark Cappelletty

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Posted May 22 2007 - 09:27 PM

Yeah, this feels too dark-- and too grainy. I haven't sold my old version yet (Amoeba didn't take it), so I may hold onto it and put it in a sleeve to keep in the new 2-disc case. Funny how the documentary on the film uses clips from the older, lighter version.

#12 of 24 David_B_K

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Posted May 23 2007 - 08:31 AM

Quote:
Posted by Simon Howson: The easy response to the article is the fact a lot of academic film writing reads like churned mud. At least most bloggers actually seem to appreciate their object of study - the film itself - rather than needing to conflate the work with dubious social theories.

The funny thing is that Schickel's DVD commentaries (IMHO) are not the usual overly analytical stuff you'd expect from him. I remember trying to listen to one for The Mark of Zorro (1940). He sounded as if he'd rather be somewhere else, and often times his remarks were along the lines of "when Tyrone Power cuts that candle in half, I always thought that was neat". Maybe Schickel only works well in print? I'd rather hear Rudy Behlmer tell me a bunch of stuff I didn't know about the making of the film than listen to Schickel's observations.

Which is why I am not certain I will pick up this new DVD. None of the commentaries appeal to me, and I already have the (excellent) Hawks doc, and I seldom like the "making of" documentaries in which modern directors fall over themselves praising the work in question, saying "it inspired me to become a director, etc". Add to that the somewhat suspect transfer, and this new disc has gone from an anticipated slam-dunk to a question mark.

#13 of 24 William Miller

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Posted May 23 2007 - 02:43 PM

I have always had the feeling that despite Richard Schickel's long time association with movies covering many years of film writing in books and magazines, that he really doesn't know much about movies. His Rio Bravo commentary is a perfect example of his lackadaisical knowledge. It is loaded with incorrect historical information and not very informative at all. Luckily, John Carpenter seems to be more expert in his facts and when he is talking, the commentary is just fine.

There is no question that the new transfer is very orangey. Carpenter points out that the bar scenes are backlit with an orange light for a special look. But unfortunately, the rest of the scenes also seem to have an orange, garish look to them. I can't believe that this is the way it looked in the theaters. I kind of like vivid, intense color but this one is a little over the top.

#14 of 24 Nick Laslett

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Posted May 24 2007 - 01:42 AM

I've been waiting on the special editon of Rio Bravo for ages.

I was planning to get the Blu-Ray version, but might just get it on DVD.

What is the image quality like in comparison to "The Searchers"? (not sure is this is a fair comparison.)

#15 of 24 Mike*HTF

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Posted May 24 2007 - 01:44 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by William Miller
I have always had the feeling that despite Richard Schickel's long time association with movies covering many years of film writing in books and magazines, that he really doesn't know much about movies. His Rio Bravo commentary is a perfect example of his lackadaisical knowledge. It is loaded with incorrect historical information and not very informative at all.
Exactly! I couldn't agree with you more. I find most of his commentaries are embarrassingly obvious as he often does little more than describe onscreen action.

#16 of 24 JohnPM

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Posted June 05 2007 - 12:16 PM

Message Deleted.

#17 of 24 Richard--W

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Posted June 05 2007 - 04:05 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by William Miller
There is no question that the new transfer is very orangey. Carpenter points out that the bar scenes are backlit with an orange light for a special look. But unfortunately, the rest of the scenes also seem to have an orange, garish look to them. I can't believe that this is the way it looked in the theaters. I kind of like vivid, intense color but this one is a little over the top.

It didn't look this way in the theaters, I assure you.
Go back to the first DVD release, it's 100% better.

There is no question that the color is wrong.

Someone has not only changed the color timing but changed the color.

The light and dark values are reversed.

Accents and fills and spots are brought to the forefront while key is lowered or altered to look like something else.

Orange is not the same as sepia and there's not supposed to be sepia in this film.

Whatever color gel Hawks threw on the backlights to warm up the backgrounds it was not supposed to be turned into a color pallet.

Whoever was turning the dials should be fired.

Warner Brothers should apologize for this monstrosity and send us all a new disc. What the hell do they think they're doing?

Rio Bravo's new color scheme is not as offensive and felonious as The Searchers CE, but it's monstrous just the same.

Why isn't everybody complaining?
This thread should be spilling blood.

#18 of 24 David_B_K

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Posted June 06 2007 - 01:57 PM

Quote:
Why isn't everybody complaining?
This thread should be spilling blood.

I think many of us took a pass on this SE. At least I did.

#19 of 24 Thomas J.

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Posted June 06 2007 - 02:43 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Martin
Excellent review. I am going to have to pick this up.

Ken, did you happen to read Richard Schickel's comments yesterday in the L.A. Times (linked from my blog below if you didn't)? He stated that only those in the print media should be allowed to review art. That internet and blog critics are essentially worthless. One of the most arrogant, anti-internet diatribes I have read. I wonder if that will hurt some of the internet reviews of this, as everyone is talking about it.


Hey Jon, I really like your blog. I'll try to keep up with it. Thanks for pointing it out.

#20 of 24 Robert Crawford

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Posted June 06 2007 - 11:47 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by William Miller
I have always had the feeling that despite Richard Schickel's long time association with movies covering many years of film writing in books and magazines, that he really doesn't know much about movies. His Rio Bravo commentary is a perfect example of his lackadaisical knowledge. It is loaded with incorrect historical information and not very informative at all. Luckily, John Carpenter seems to be more expert in his facts and when he is talking, the commentary is just fine.

You got that right, according to Schickel, Ward Bond was starring in a television series called "Wagonmaster" and that Glenn Ford was escorting a killer in "3:10 to Yuma".Posted Image





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