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HTF DVD REVIEW: Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe Edition



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#1 of 14 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 02 2008 - 01:50 PM

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Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe Edition


Directed By: Stuart Rosenberg

Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Robert Drivas, Strother Martin, Jo Van Fleet, Clifton James, Morgan Woodward


Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 1967

Rated: GP

Film Length: 126 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

Subtitles: English SDH, French

Release Date: September 9, 2008


The Film

Paul Newman plays the title character in Cool Hand Luke, a former highly decorated soldier who is sentenced to two years on a chain gang in the American South for tearing the tops off of parking meters. Upon arrival, Luke is inundated with rules and regulations both by the staff and by his fellow prisoners. Luke makes no effort to hide his disgust with these arbitrary standards, and quickly runs afoul of Dragline (Kennedy), the de facto leader of the inmates. While Luke's innate charisma and stubborn refusal to be broken in either body or mind eventually earns him the respect of Dragline and the other prisoners, these same qualities draw increasingly stricter attention from the prison "bosses". Things come to a head when a combination a death in Luke's family and increasingly harsh treatment from the bosses drive him to "go rabbit".

As antiheroes go, Newman's Luke is more of a classic existentialist protagonist than many of his successors such as Randall McMurphy from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". His stubbornness seems to extend to an acceptance of mortality, as illustrated in an early scene when he refuses to stay down during a boxing match, telling his opponent flat out that "You'll have to kill me". He even goes so far as to rail against an unanswering and unknowable God at one point during a thunderstorm. The line that gives the film its title and Luke his prison appellation lays out the existentialist theme bluntly: "Sometimes nothing is a pretty cool hand". Newman's natural charisma and good looks are used successfully here as they were in Hud, to create a character whose is fundamentally selfish at his core, but appealing enough on the surface that audiences will be willing to forgive him and believe that people would let him get away with his on-screen behavior.

On a technical level, the film features an intriguing score from Lalo Schifrin which mixes orchestral music with traditional American folk music instrumentation and themes. The cinematography of "Cool Hand Luke" is one of the definitive early examples of Conrad Hall's naturalistic color style despite a quote attributed to the lensman later that it was "Too good looking". Hall was nominated for an Oscar that year, not for "…Luke", but for his black and white work on In Cold Blood.

As technically accomplished as the film is, its real strength is in its casting. Rosenberg carefully assembled a large ensemble of highly skilled supporting actors who not only could create memorable characters with minimal dialog or screen time, but could work effectively as an ensemble, often filling Rosenberg's carefully composed Panavison frames with a group of believable and complimentary reaction shots that come across as completely natural even though their positions relative to each other would frequently seem anything but natural if the viewer ever thought about it.

The Video

The 16:9 enhanced transfer is letterboxed to the film's original 2.4:1 Panavision dimensions. It is an exceptionally clean, film-like transfer. I noticed thin ringing along high contrast edges in a few places, including the scene where Strother Martin deliver's the film's famous "…failure to communicate" line, but the transfer is normally free of such artifacts. As a whole, this is an exceptional video rendering of Conrad Hall's outstanding cinematography that significantly improves on the previous edition from the relatively early days of DVD.

The Audio

The English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is extremely quiet with very good fidelity, a wide frequency response, and a decent amount of dynamic range with little to no obvious hiss. I did not notice any distracting digital noise reduction artifacts, so it sounds like the DVD producers had a high quality early generation magnetic source from which to start their audio transfer. A dubbed French Dolby Digital 1.0 track is also included.

The Extras

Distinguishing this "special edition" from its bare bones predecessor are a couple of informative retrospective special features. First up is a Commentary by Historian/Newman Biographer Eric Lax. Lax offers a very well researched commentary with lots of interesting behind the scenes information and anecdotes on the cast and key creative crew. He does occasionally slip into narrative for some extended segments, such as nearly the entire egg eating contest, but he more than makes up for it with the balance of his comments. Some of the more intriguing bits are his relating of extended backstories on the characters of Luke and Strother Martin's "Captain" that were conceived by the film's writers.

Next up is A Natural Born World Shaker: The Making of Cool Hand Luke, a 29 minute featurette which is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. There is substantial overlap with Lax's commentary, but it is nice to hear some of the anecdotes related by Lax first hand from the folks who originated them, such as comments from Schifrin about his Aaron Copland meets acoustic folk music approach to the score. Although Newman is not among those interviewed, the assembled participants do offer a fairly comprehensive cross-section of views on the film's production. On-screen interview participants include Director Stuart Rosenberg, Eric Lax, Screenwriter Frank Pierson, actor Ralph Waite, Novelist Donn Pearce, actor George Kennedy, actor Clifton James, actor Lou Antonio, actor Anthony Zerbe, Assistant Director Hank Moonjean, actress Joy Harmon, and Composer Lalo Schifrin.

Finally, the film's two minute and 53 second Theatrical Trailer is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It employs no narration, but features lots of riffing on the "What we have here is failure to communicate" line.

Packaging

The disc comes packaged in a standard Amaray case with the signature image of a reclining Luke surrounded by some simple but graphically interesting text to distinguish from the previous DVD edition

Summary

This special edition of Cool Hand Luke improves noticeably on the video quality of the previous DVD release and earns its "special" designation via an informative commentary from author Eric Lax and an efficient and informative retrospective documentary with contributions from several of the film's key participants.

Regards,

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 14 OFFLINE   Ed Moroughan

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Posted September 02 2008 - 03:24 PM

Ken, you're on a roll with the reviews this last week. Good review after good review. Posted Image Yet another eagerly anticipated shipment from my favorite e-tailer. Is it Tuesday yet? LOL

#3 of 14 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 02 2008 - 03:36 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Moroughan
Ken, you're on a roll with the reviews this last week. Good review after good review. Posted Image Yet another eagerly anticipated shipment from my favorite e-tailer. Is it Tuesday yet? LOL
Thanks, Ed. I have a bunch more coming. Between the stuff being released over the next two weeks, and in addition to what I have already reviewed, Warner has shipped me nine really good titles...

... and Speed Racer, too. Posted Image

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
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#4 of 14 OFFLINE   BethHarrison

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Posted September 02 2008 - 04:42 PM

Nice review Ken.

As I have mentioned previously, I haven't seen this film. Can't wait to see it. Might have to crack it open before I give it to the old man on Sunday.

Considering the treatment Warners gave its other important films such as Bonnie and Clyde, I thought that 'Luke' seemed a little light on in the special features department.

#5 of 14 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 02 2008 - 10:54 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by BethHarrison
Nice review Ken.

As I have mentioned previously, I haven't seen this film. Can't wait to see it. Might have to crack it open before I give it to the old man on Sunday.

Considering the treatment Warners gave its other important films such as Bonnie and Clyde, I thought that 'Luke' seemed a little light on in the special features department.
Being a whole disc shorter, there's no question is has fewer features than "Bonnie and Clyde", but at least the features that are included are quality. Fans of the film should not feel slighted, especially considering the sub $20 MSRP. A special edition that is truly slighted in the extras department is the subject of my next review: The "Beetlejuice: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" DVD.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#6 of 14 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted September 03 2008 - 03:13 AM

$&%#)&*@ freaking finally Warner Bros!!

Thanks Ken

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#7 of 14 OFFLINE   MichaelEl

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Posted September 03 2008 - 09:09 AM

I'll bet this DVD doesn't look as good as it should, given that they crammed 2 hours and 38 minutes of anamorphic video (126 minute movie+29 minute featurette+3 minute trailer) on a single disc.

#8 of 14 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted September 03 2008 - 09:20 AM

Not necessarily. As long as this is compressed properly, there's no reason why 158 minutes of material should seem "crammed".
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#9 of 14 OFFLINE   MichaelEl

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Posted September 03 2008 - 11:19 AM

According to the DVDBeaver review, the bit rate is 5.97 mb/s for the old release vs. 5.35 mb/s for the deluxe edition. They claim "The new Deluxe dual-layered SD-DVD edition seems very weak with a lot of softness (possibly DNR) even beside the single-layered 1997 original."

Excessive DNR seems to be a nasty trend with recent SE releases - THE WILD BUNCH, THE MAGNFICENT SEVEN, DELIVERANCE, FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, etc. One might think the studios are deliberately trying to kill off DVD in favor of Blu-Ray, except that the same problem seems to be showing up on BDs as well.

#10 of 14 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 03 2008 - 02:49 PM

The older edition has higher contrast and more grain, but the DE is not exactly without grain. It does not look like excessive DNR to me. It looks like a lower contrast print element with less heavy grain. Fine grain is never really fully resolved with DVD video, though.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#11 of 14 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted September 04 2008 - 03:26 AM

I tend to roll my eyes when these reviewers talk about softness and grain. Film is organic and often not used under ideal circumstances. Grain is not a bad thing. It's a factor in film. I swear, when they aren't complaining about edge enhancement, they are complaining about softness.

Ken's comment about lower contrast is a major issue. I expect it is a good thing.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#12 of 14 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted September 04 2008 - 03:53 AM

A lower contrast element being used in a transfer is always a good thing, as it allows details obscured in release prints to shine through. If you're confused, it helps to think of contrast in terms of the contrast control on your display. If you crank it to the max, you will have black blacks and blown out whites, with little to no detail in between. If you lower that control, details previously obscured by those extreme settings become more apparent. If you take it down too far, everything is in varying shades of grey.

Hence, a low contrast element shows greater degrees of contrast and more detail.
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#13 of 14 OFFLINE   BillyFeldman

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Posted September 04 2008 - 03:54 AM

As far as I'm concerned, softness and grain are two completely separate issues in the DVD world. I have many DVDs that are soft but not excessively grainy - the medium and long shots border on being out of focus. It's something I never understand - I saw Cool Hand Luke in the theater when it came out - not soft, sharp, really sharp, like all film should be (I do know there are some low budget films where sharpness can be an issue, but not one from a major studio at that point in time). Furthermore, just looking at the screencaps at that site, the transfer doesn't look so good. I like the film so I'll probably pick this up but will not get rid of my previous DVD until I've viewed it and decided which is better.

#14 of 14 OFFLINE   MichaelEl

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Posted September 04 2008 - 07:19 AM

Whatever the reason, many newer DVDs of older color films seem to lack detail, relative to earlier releases. I suppose this 'softness' could be due to over- or under-exposed film elements, or an absence of contrast boosting, or poor downconversion from an HD source. It is quite noticeable on a number of titles, especially during close-ups. Where earlier DVDs would often reveal pockmarks and lines on actors' faces, many newer releases only show a solid swath of color. This 'softness' is clearly not representative of the way these films look in a theater, and indicates that either someone is making some bad choices or else something went wrong with the transfer.





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