Special Collector’s Edition
Film Year: 1987
Film Length: 1 hour 59 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC @ over 30MBPS
English EX Dolby Digital 5.1 640kps
English DTS 6.1 1.5 Mbps
French EX Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish EX Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: R
Release Date: July 3, 2007
Film Rating: ½ /
Starring: Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro and Sean Connery
Screenplay by: David Mamet
Directed by: Brian De Palma
The Untouchables hit the big screen in 1987, featuring the first major lead performance by Kevin Costner and a commercial comeback by Brian De Palma after the box office disappointments of Body Double and Wise Guys. I still remember seeing the trailer at the time, which promised one heck of a movie – an adaptation of the Robert Stack TV show by David Mamet and Brian De Palma with the onscreen mayhem led by Robert De Niro as Al Capone and Sean Connery as one of the good guys. Unfortunately, the film simply did not live up to the hype and the trailer. Instead of the 1930s replay of Scarface that audiences expected, the film was inexplicably stiff – featuring scenes of Mamet dialogue that varied in effectiveness, and a minimum of action set pieces. An LA Weekly review from the time correctly noted that this was not the bloody epic hoped for from the author of American Buffalo and the director of Scarface. Nevertheless, the film became a modest hit, rejuvenating De Palma’s directorial career and winning Sean Connery an Academy Award.
Seen today, 20 years later, The Untouchables holds up fairly well as a solid adaptation of the television series, mostly through the strength of the Mamet dialogue and the glorious De Palma camera flourishes. The climactic set piece lifted from Eisenstein’s Potemkin still feels like a pretty wild choice, but the film is undeniably entertaining. Robert De Niro still steals the movie with an effective cameo as Capone, and Sean Connery radiates star power as the veteran policeman who tutors Elliot Ness to greatness.
This is the third time The Untouchables has been released on DVD. A bare bones standard definition was released in 2001, followed by a “Special Collector’s Edition” in 2004 which included nearly an hour of new featurettes assembled by Laurent Bouzereau and a 5 minute promotional featurette from 1987, along with the original theatrical trailer. The new Blu-Ray release of the film essentially ports over the 2004 edition, including the menu screen, with a new 1080p transfer of the film and the trailer.
As an added bonus, the Blu-Ray DVD includes a 1.5 Mbps 6.1 DTS sound mix that adds a lot of punch to the package.
VIDEO QUALITY: 4 ½ /5 ½
The Untouchables is presented in a solid 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer that is a pleasure to watch. The opulence of Al Capone’s hotel suite really comes across here, as does the detail of the wardrobe designed primarily by Giorgio Armani. The detail is clear enough to reveal the edits made by De Palma in the opening scene with Capone (the shaving cream on his face and eyelashes noticeably shifts from one shot to another) and the texture of the wardrobe worn by the various characters. (The closing courtroom scenes are a lovely display of finely patterned suit jackets that would not come across very well on a standard definition transfer). The Canadian border shootout comes across particularly well in this transfer, with the detail of the Montana location really coming off the screen. There are some moments where the picture is a little less crisp, but this is clearly a matter of the source print, which has been restored about as well as anyone could ask.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4 ½ /5 ½
The Untouchables is presented in English, French and Spanish in a 640k 5.1 EX surround mix, but the real treat here is the 1.5 Mb 6.1 DTS mix included on the disc. The DTS mix carries a lot more detail and punch, with the additional memory allotted to the sound. Multiple scenes are helped by the added clarity, including the Canadian border shootout (where effects and music lift the scene considerably). The biggest impact of this mix comes in the Potemkin train station shootout – the only words I can think to describe the mix here would be a bit non-technical: “Wheee!!!” or “Yee-ha!!!” would be a good place to start as the gunshots play out throughout the surround field and the music fills the theatre...
SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of The Untouchables presents all of the special features from the 2004 “Special Collector’s Edition” release in standard definition, with the theatrical trailer getting an HD transfer.
The Script, The Cast (18:32) (480p full frame) – Laurent Bouzereau’s four part documentary from the 2004 release is included here, starting with this initial segment. As with the other segments, this is presented in standard definition, full frame. The first piece of the documentary starts with Brian De Palma acknowledging in a 2004 interview that he made the film as the result of needing a box office hit after the lower box office done by his recent work at the time. At the time, he saw the film as a way to finance the smaller, more personal films he wanted to make. The casting of the film is discussed in depth, especially the machinations involved in landing Robert De Niro as Capone, even after Bob Hoskins had already been cast in the part. It is important to note that the only actor interview from 2004 is that of Charles Martin Smith. The interview segments with Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia and Sean Connery all clearly come from footage taken for the 1987 featurette “The Men”, also included on this disc.
Production Stories (17:19) (480p full frame) – This part of Bouzereau’s documentary features discussion of the various Chicago locations, along with some interesting comments by both De Palma and his cameraman, Stephen Burum. Burum discusses the filming of the church “blood oath” scene between Connery and Costner, describing the difficulty of lighting a location that large with a limited amount of equipment. De Palma acknowledges that he wanted to film the opening moment with De Niro in a single shot but could never get a take that would work all the way through. After almost 20 takes, he decided to film several cutaways of the reporters and Capone’s barber to allow him to cut between the takes he had already filmed.
Reinventing the Genre (14:24) (480p full frame) – The third part of the featurette series discusses the major set pieces of the film, from the Canadian border shootout through the deaths of two major characters and the climactic train station shootout. De Palma discusses the difficulty of shooting a major sequence with Sean Connery, particularly after debris from a squib hit flew into Connery’s eye and shut down filming. For the climax, De Palma discusses the Potemkin steps sequence as coming almost off the top of his head, when the scripted train shootout by David Mamet was deemed to be too expensive.
The Classic (5:41) (480p full frame) – This final featurette from Laurent Bouzereau briefly discusses the end of filming and the scoring of the picture. An alternate ending is mentioned by Stephen Burum, which would have shown Capone being shaved in prison in the same manner as he does at the beginning of the film. As a printable take of this was never achieved, the footage has not been included here – a shame, as this would have been an interesting piece of footage. A very brief discussion of Ennio Morricone’s score is also included, but the 5 minute limit on this piece prevents the discussion from getting into any kind of depth.
The Men (1987 Featurette) (5:26) (480p full frame) – The original promotional piece for the film is included here along with Laurent Bouzereau’s work. This piece doesn’t say much, but it does show where the vintage footage of Costner, Garcia and Connery seen in the modern documentary comes from. There really isn’t much here – it’s effectively a long commercial for the movie.
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50) (1080p MPEG-2) – A high definition transfer of the film’s original trailer has been included, of a lower video quality than the feature itself. The trailer still holds up today as an entertainment piece, showing the allure that brought many audiences in to see the film in 1987.
Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish for the film itself as well as for the special features. The usual Blu-Ray pop-up menu is accessible during the film.
IN THE END...
The Untouchables comes across better today in 2007 than it did when it premiered in 1987. 20 years of time to think about the film definitely helps one’s appreciation for the work done here by Brian De Palma and his cast from the David Mamet script. The 1080p AVC transfer is also a big help in reminding the viewer how good this film can look. But beyond that, it’s the full-throated 1.5 Mbps DTS mix that makes this a must-see for fans of this film, as well as those of De Palma and De Niro.
June 24, 2007.