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Blu-ray Reviews

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#1 of 9 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted July 07 2007 - 02:20 PM

Blu-ray Disc REVIEW


Posted Image
Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Year: 1972
Film Length: 2 hours 15 minutes
Genre: Western/Coming of Age

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: VC-1 @ over 20MBPS
Colour/B&W: Colour

  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0

    Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
    Film Rating: PG

  • Release Date: June 5, 2007

    Film Rating: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

    Starring: John Wayne, Roscoe Lee Browne, Bruce Dern, Colleen Dewhurst

    Screenplay by: Irving Ravetch & Harriet Frank, Jr. & William Dale Jennings
    Based upon the novel by William Dale Jennings
    Produced and Directed by: Mark Rydell

    The Cowboys is a standard Western cattle drive film which benefits from the presence of John Wayne in one of his final roles. Wayne plays an aging cattleman who is forced to employ young boys on his cattle drive when his experienced hands all abandon him for a gold rush. Between the experienced performances of Wayne and Roscoe Lee Browne as the drive’s cook, we are presented with a group of younger performers, several of whom would later go on to extensive careers, including Robert Carradine, A. Martinez and stuntman Norman Howell. In the role of the villainous cattle rustler, Bruce Dern provides a fair amount of menace. The film is not a particularly daring one, but it does a serviceable job of telling the much-loved tale of how a group of boys join a cattle drive and learn to be men. By the way, the film's running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes includes an Overture, Intermission and Exit Music, totalling 6:32 - so the true running time is much closer to 2 hours and 8 minutes.

    The Cowboys was released in May of this year as a “Deluxe Edition” standard DVD special edition containing a new print and a photo set in the package along with the DVD. (A prior release in 1998 simply had an older anamorphic print without any other features) Warner Brothers has now released the film on Blu-Ray, with all the special features on the disc but without the photos. The difference for the Blu-Ray release, obviously, is the new 1080p VC-1 transfer, which is a solid presentation of the film.

    Posted ImageVIDEO QUALITY: 4/5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

    The Cowboys is presented in an effective 1080p VC-1 transfer of the new print. A fair amount of clothing detail can be seen, and the frequent widescreen vista shots benefit from the added resolution.

    However, even with the new transfer, the print still has many areas of varying quality. Sharpness varies at times from shot to shot within the same scene, and when the print quality drops in those shots, the colors become muddier. There is some grain evident in the print, but it is not obtrusive.

    Posted ImageAUDIO QUALITY: 3/5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

    The Cowboys is presented in a 5.1 Surround mix in English, with mono mixes in French and Spanish. There is some directionality in the mix, and some use of the surround channels for atmospheric effect, but this is still primarily a front-based audio experience. John Williams’ score is effectively spread across the surround channels. (It is interesting to listen to this score, as it contains the seeds of his later work, including his “Smallville” theme for Superman.

    Posted ImageSPECIAL FEATURES: 3/5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

    The Blu-Ray presentation of The Cowboys includes all of the special features from the standard DVD edition, presented in standard definition. These include a commentary with the director, a pair of featurettes, and an unrestored trailer. The most interesting piece here is a newly recorded reunion featurette, but other than that, there’s not a lot of material here.

  • Audio Commentary with director/producer Mark Rydell – The feature commentary recorded by Rydell for the standard DVD release is included here. Rydell is clearly happy with his film, and shows a lot of affection for his cast, particularly John Wayne. However, this commentary is fairly sparse – there are many periods of silence, and many others where Rydell is simply watching the film without providing any useful observations. (At the end of the film, Rydell admits that this is the first time he’s seen it in 30 years.) Rydell mentions the violence in the film, describing it as being controversial, and defending those scenes against the accusation that the film is somehow advocating violence among children. (Rydell specifies that Charles Champlin asked him to edit the fate of a major character to try to head the controversy off, but Rydell felt he needed to complete the story without watering it down.) Most of the good stuff in this commentary can also be heard in the reunion featurette.

  • The Cowboys: Together Again (28:39) (480p anamorphic) – This featurette, presented in anamorphic standard definition, reunites Mark Rydell with a few of the cast members, including Bruce Dern, A. Martinez and Norman Howell, with separate video interviews of Robert Carradine and Roscoe Lee Browne edited into the discussion, along with the usual clips from the film. (The interview with Browne was done shortly before his death) The guys cover a lot of ground in the half hour period, from their interactions with John Wayne to the experience of young boys shooting a cowboy movie with stunts. All of the cast refer fondly to Wayne and the bits of knowledge and experience he was able to give each of them during the film. This one featurette is the jewel of this disc (aside from the 1080p transfer, of course). If you look at no other extra on this disc, make this one the priority.

  • The Breaking of Boys and the Making of Men (8:50) (480p full-frame) – This vintage featurette from 1972 shows footage of the boys in the film being trained in horsemanship and cattle roping, as well as further behind the scenes footage of Mark Rydell at work, along with the usual intercuts with clips from the movie and some stock footage. The featurette is in fairly poor condition, with plenty of grain and print damage, but it is nonetheless interesting to see.

  • Theatrical Trailer (3:07) (480p full-frame) – A standard definition full-frame transfer of the trailer is included here. As with the earlier featurette, it’s in pretty poor condition – lots of grain, damage and the colors are dim and muddy. If anything, the trailer speaks to the higher quality of the print used for the 1080p transfer. As such, this extra is primarily useful as a comparison point.

    Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, and for the special features. The usual Blu-Ray pop-up menu is accessible during the film, this time in the form of a kind of tintype with the cattle drive shown at the lower left.

    IN THE END...

    The Cowboys is fairly straightforward western, made memorable by the sight of an aging John Wayne educating a new group of boys on the ways of the West. The new 1080p transfer, while not of the greatest print seen on Blu-Ray, still is light years ahead of the prior transfers given to this film. And the reunion featurette is probably the most interesting and moving part of the whole package. For John Wayne and Western fans, this film is an easy choice to pick up. For more casual viewers, I encourage a rental.

    Kevin Koster
    July 7, 2007.

    #2 of 9 OFFLINE   TonyD


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    Posted July 07 2007 - 04:24 PM

    the image was good i guess but i expected better. there was a scene in the night when wayne crosses in front of or behind his horse, but i couldnt tell if it was behind or in front of his horse. it all blended together. john williams score was a treat to hear. i guess this was after his work for Lost in Space as he was Johnny Williams there. the reunion was great must watch stuff after seeing the film.

    #3 of 9 OFFLINE   RobertSiegel



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    Posted August 01 2007 - 01:40 AM

    Well here is another movie that gets a Dolby Digital Plus sound addition on HD_DVD yet the blu-ray has the fully compressed Dolby Digital 5.1. Warner is being very unfair to all of the blu-ray owners. Many of us upgraded from DVD because of the lossless audio tracks, and are being given the same tracks as the discs we already own. I certainly hope that this is not going to be the norm for Warner. The classics, as well as the newer films, as far as sound, are much better uncompressed, and they now have the tools (3 formats actually, DTS HD, Dolby True HD and PCM 5.1 to do this. Come on Warner Brothers.

    Classics on Blu-ray is what it is all about!

    #4 of 9 OFFLINE   BrettB



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    Posted August 01 2007 - 03:34 AM

    Most all Warner BD discs are rentals for me until they get their act together.

    Just watched the first few minutes last night and the varying video quality was apparent from the get-go.

    Didn't realize John Williams did the music. Now I'm looking forward to hearing the film as much as watching it. Posted Image

    #5 of 9 OFFLINE   Brian L

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    Posted August 01 2007 - 03:43 AM

    If it makes you feel better, the HD-DVD version appears to be very similar to what is described here for BR. Some shots are horrible looking, severe grain, fuzziness.... But fortunately those are few and far between. They stand out simply because they are few in number. Overall, its a very nice presentation, let down by what I would have to speculate is an inferior print. Brian

    #6 of 9 OFFLINE   Vincent_P



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    Posted August 01 2007 - 05:26 AM

    Warner uses the 640 KB/S data rate for DD+ titles on HD-DVD, and 640 KB/S DD on Blu-ray. At that date rate, the two formats offer exactly the same sound quality. The only reason it's encoded as DD+ on HD-DVD is because HD-DVD doesn't support standard DD at the 640 KB rate, while Blu-ray does. Vincent

    #7 of 9 OFFLINE   Vincent_P



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    Posted August 01 2007 - 05:28 AM

    Might the shots in question be opticals (dissolves, fades, shots with overlayed text, etc.?). This would explain the drop in quality and has nothing to do with the "transfer". Vincent

    #8 of 9 OFFLINE   Brian L

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    Posted August 01 2007 - 07:52 AM

    I know little about film, so any explanation for what I observed would be possible. That said, and without re-watching the film, I do not recall that the areas in question were fades, dissolves, or text overlays. It just seemed like a cut from one scene to the next, and bang, the quality just took a nose dive. Perhaps th OP can comment about where those areas in the BR presentation were observed. Brian

    #9 of 9 OFFLINE   MatthewA


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    Posted August 01 2007 - 07:53 AM

    I'd say it's the opticals that are the problem. They didn't have good dupe stock until the 1980s.

    Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then. And while you're at it, PLEASE stop dropping DVD/laserdisc extras from Blu-ray releases of other films.

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