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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Appaloosa



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#1 of 4 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted January 17 2009 - 10:54 AM

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MAIN FEATURESPECIAL FEATURESVideo1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1Partially 1080p high definition; partially 480i or 480p standard definitionAudioDolby TrueHD: English 5.1; Dolby Digital: English 5.1StereoSubtitlesEnglish and SpanishEnglish (on select bonus material)

The Feature: 4/5
It's 1882 in the New Mexico Territory and the town of Appaloosa has just lost its marshall and all his deputies, killed by local rancher and thug, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). In response the town elders hire Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen), two gun hands with a reputation for getting the job done. But when pretty widow Allison French (Renee Zellweger) shows up, the job begins to take a more circuitous route to completion. With Cole immediately smitten, Allison becomes leverage against their attempts to bring Bragg to justice. Though Cole refuses to let his feelings get in the way, he's more vulnerable than he thinks, and the toughest choices may ultimately fall on Hitch.

Anyone looking for a western shoot 'em up will likely be disappointed by "Appaloosa." Though its plot elements are quintessentially western, the film is all about character - specifically the friendship between Cole and Hitch. Though the pair have their share of gun battles, the fights are presented realistically - disappointing in their brevity and lack of grace. But the motivations beneath the surface intrigue, revealing layers of characters or expressing sentiments that would be artless if spoken. The showdown in the finale is the most illustrative, a touching, wordless statement that expresses the depth of commitment between Hitch and Cole. Unfortunately the entire aesthetic is betrayed with a voice over, spelling it all out as if it weren't clear enough already. Though it certainly doesn't ruin the film, it's a poor way to end an otherwise thoughtful and unconventional genre piece.


Video Quality: 4/5
Accurately framed at 2.40:1, the video is encoded in VC-1 and devoid of blemishes. Black levels are deep and inky, though shadow detail and delineation seem a bit limited in a few scenes. Fine object detail and sharpness are good and though there are no obvious signs of noise reduction, mild edge halos are visible throughout the film. Contrast appears accurate overall, though it seems things were shot a touch "hot" for the outdoor scenes, probably to emphasize the desert conditions. Colors also appear intentionally desaturated (again, just a touch), giving the production's already earthy color palette an even more vintage feel. On the whole it's a pleasing transfer that seems to honor the intentions of the filmmakers.


Audio Quality: 4/5
The Dolby TrueHD audio track is front-focused in this dialogue-driven film, offering nominal activity in the surrounds for some atmospheric effects and light music cues and decent bass activity in the smattering of gunfights and a train scene. As such, the dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible and the bass suitably deep and clean.

The 640 kbps 5.1 Dolby Digital track sounds a little edgy in comparison, but I expect most would only tell with aggressive A-B switching between tracks.


Special Features: 2/5
The extras don't hold a lot of replay value and certain areas could have stood more attention (e.g. props and costumes). The commentary is not worth the time.

Commentary by Ed Harris and Screenwriter-Producer Robert Knott: Harris's mumbly and terse delivery makes the commentary very difficult to sit through. Knott doesn't show up until well into the film and isn't much better. If they provide any interesting information it's lost in the sheer boredom.

"Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life" (7m34s): A brief look at the development and casting.

"Historical Accuracy of Appaloosa" (10m22s): A very quick overview of the costumes, stunts, props and other period items.

"The Town of Appaloosa" (5m08s): A tour of the primary sets.

"Dean Semler's Return to the Western" (5m18s): Cinematographer Dean Semler discusses his approach and philosophy for the film's lighting.

Deleted Scenes (12m03s): Six scenes with optional commentary by Harris and Knott. The most extensive scene depicts the back story behind Bragg's initial confrontation with the law.

Digital Copy: Download a digital copy for playback on computer or portable video device. Compatible with both Mac and Windows.


Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 2/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

A thoughtful and unconventional western gets very good audio and video treatment but a weak set of extras.
One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com

#2 of 4 Southpaw

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Posted January 17 2009 - 11:19 AM

Cameron - glad to see you reviewed this movie so highly. I really enjoyed this picture. Ed Harris did a wonderful job on his work of love. Your review is spot on except for audio assessment, IMO. I thought the TrueHD track was underwhelming except for the train scene and dialogue was recorded very low. I had turn up my AVR several notches just to hear everything being said.

#3 of 4 Frank Ha

Frank Ha

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Posted January 17 2009 - 11:23 AM

Thanks for the review Cameron. I saw this film on a recent trip to the States. Delta showed it on the plane. I thought it was a pretty good movie, but it I kept thinking this would be much better on a large screen. I'll have to check it out again.
"And in the end, the only thing you really own is... your story.  Just trying to live a good one" - The Drover 

#4 of 4 Ronald Epstein

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Posted January 18 2009 - 05:52 AM

Just finished watching this minutes ago.

Outstanding film. Much better than I had anticipated based on one
or two less stellar remarks on this forum.

I have to agree with you wholeheartedly, Cameron, that the final
narrative should not have occurred. It was obvious what had happened
and the reasons for it. Silence would have done more than words
ever could have.

Thoroughly enjoyed this film and its beautiful presentation on Blu-ray.

I recommend this film highly.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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