The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Blu-ray)
Directed by Sergio Leone
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 179 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 1.0 English, 5.1 Spanish, French, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, others
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: May 12, 2009
Review Date: May 22, 2009
Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of the iconic westerns of the 20th Century. A compelling story of greed and ruthlessness, this movie will be forever associated with its director, its three stars, its composer, and its “spaghetti western” genre. It’s also one of the most entertaining westerns ever made. Great characters on a journey of discovery form the basis of one of modern cinema’s true marvels. (Incidentally, though the disc’s liner notes insist that this is the 161-minute version of the film, the running time is actually 179 minutes.)
Three nefarious westerners learn of the existence of a $200,000 cache of gold buried in a specific grave in a specific graveyard, but none of the three have all of the information needed to find the treasure. Blondie (Clint Eastwood) and Tuco (Eli Wallach) had been engaged in a bounty scam but after a couple of payouts and a near-mishap, they go their separate ways before each learns of the treasure. Gunman for hire Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) likewise learns about the gold’s existence during one of his hired kills and is eager to find the man who holds the final piece of the puzzle, but the confederate soldier dies before he can get to him. With none of the trio trusting the other and all after the same prize, the ultimate winner is up for grabs to the very end of the picture.
Sergio Leone’s picaresque western is all about juxtapositions. In addition to his signature style of alternating extreme long shots and panoramas with extreme close-ups of faces or just eyes, the film piles on these contrasting elements throughout the enterprise: a bubble bath as a prelude to murder, a brutal beat down staged to a lovely ballad that’s almost a lullaby, a character called “Angel Eyes” who’s more devil than cherub, and a character dubbed “the good” who’s as ruthless and capable of violence as anyone. With three leading characters, there are long stretches of the movie where we focus on only one or two of them, and moments where enemies turn into guarded partners as allegiances switch and sway with the wind. It’s very clever of Leone to do this, always tempting the audience with a disappearance but knowing that the character could turn up at any second. By setting his story during the Civil War, he also opens up a war scenario that’s secondary to the central story, of course, but is again always in the background or on the sidelines waiting to take over certain portions of the narrative. Just a pullback and sweeping pan of a vast battlefield two-thirds of the way through the movie takes one’s breath away, the sheer size of the area and the hundreds of participants (and potential victims) stop us in our tracks momentarily putting the focus on the search for gold on the back burner. But Leone masterfully handles many unforgettable scenes from the hanging scam Blondie and Tuco have going to treks through the hideously burning desert and later desperate attempts to escape a Union prisoner of war camp.
You’ll never find two actors with more opposing performing styles than Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach. Eastwood’s minimal acting style and Wallach’s broader, more theatrical interpretation give the film an almost Laurel and Hardy feel that adds considerably to the film’s entertaining ambiance. Lee Van Cleef’s quietly menacing gunman continues the persona he milked for many years through many marvelous performances. Together, these three remarkable actors’ portrayals make one of the most memorable westerns ever made even more unforgettable.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The image has unquestionably been processed to remove grain, and while the image is mostly clear and clean, the picture seems somewhat softer than it should be. The close-ups are certainly detailed, but long shots do not have the sharpness of the best high definition transfers. There are a few white specks here and there and a couple of stray hairs on the lens have not been digitally removed. Black levels vary from quite good to merely fair, but shadow detail is just fine. DNR processing hasn't given extreme waxiness to facial features, but those with large projection screen set-ups may not find the image to their liking. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 repurposed audio track features directionialzed dialogue and some ambient sounds piped to various surround channels. But Ennio Morricone’s iconic score can sometimes sound very shrill in the upper registers of the guitars, and since the dialogue was completely ADR produced, the purity of the lossless encoding often gives it a hollow tone. The original mono track in English and Italian is also available for selection.
There are two audio commentaries. From a previous DVD release, film critic Richard Schickel contributes a rather droning talk (he’s better in the documentaries, but his speaking style is not notably attention-getting). Better is the new commentary for the disc, Leone biographer Christopher Frayling who speaks interestingly and well about the film and the director though he’s often guilty of describing what we’re seeing on screen as we’re seeing it.
“Leone’s West” brings together Richard Schickel, English translator Mickey Knox, producer Alberto Grimaldi, and co-stars Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach in interviews about the making of the film that last for 20 minutes in 480p.
“The Leone Style” continues the on-set stories about the director and the cast by the same participants from the previous featurette in a 23 ¾-minute documentary in 480p.
“The Man Who Lost the Civil War” is a 14 ½ minute documentary by Peter Spiner on the infamously disastrous Peter Sibley Campaign during the Civil War. It’s in 480p.
“Reconstructing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is an 11 ¼-minute 480p documentary about the cuts that were made from the original release of the film for its U.S. theatrical engagements and the efforts to put the original film back together by the restoration team who did the work.
“Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone” is the two-part tribute to the internationally famous music from the film and its celebrated composer. Music expert John Burlingame hosts both parts of this tribute, the first part a visual/aural essay on the man’s career runs 7 ¾ minutes in 480p. The second part, an audio essay discussing specific themes used in the movie, runs 12 ½ minutes.
The deleted scene section includes the complete torture sequence and a reconstruction of the Socorro scene using film snippets and stills along with text summaries of the action in the sequence. Together these scenes run 10 ¼ minutes in 480p.
Both U.S. and French theatrical trailers are offered for viewing in 1080p. Each runs 3 ½ minutes.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of those films that one always looks forward to revisiting. Though picture and sound on this new Blu-ray release aren’t exemplary, it’s the film that counts, and this package is a reasonably good high definition alternative to the other available home video releases for this title.