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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Once Upon A Time in America



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#1 of 36 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted January 08 2011 - 10:53 AM

Once Upon A Time in America
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray "ECO-BOX"
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Running Time: 3:49:00
MSRP: $24.98
 

  THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 Standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, German 5.1, Italian 5.1, Castellano 5.1, Czech 5.1, Magyar 5.1, Polish 5.1 Stereo
Subtitles English SDH, German, Italian, Castellano, Czech, Magyar, Polish, and 17 other languages Same


The Feature: 4.5/5

David "Noodles" Aaronson (Robert DeNiro), a Prohibition-era thug and mobster, returns to his old New York City neighborhood after 35 years in hiding. A mysterious letter has alerted him to the fact the people who forced him to flee the city in 1933 still know he's alive and probably have old scores to settle. Revisiting his past haunts brings to mind his childhood and his friendship with "Patsy" Goldberg (James Hayen), "Cockeye" Stein (William Forsythe), and Max Berkovicz (James Woods), with whom he ran a speakeasy and committed various crimes, including extortion and murder. Also never far from his thoughts is Deborah Gelly (Elizabeth McGovern), the girl he loved since he was a kid, though by his own hand he destroyed anything he could have had with her. Though there's little hope for redemption - or even retribution - in Aaronson's return to the city, finding out who's behind the mysterious communication may finally reveal who betrayed him all those years ago, and why.

Told in a non-linear fashion, Director Sergio Leone's final directorial work would undoubtedly be more recognized by the general public if the studio hadn't re-edited the film for U.S. theatrical distribution. The disassembling of the director's artful vision into a chronological narrative was ultimately poorly received by both critics and audiences. And it wasn't until the film - in its unaltered form - reached international shores that the film got the recognition it deserved. But of course the damage had been done.

Fortunately, the home media market offers the film another chance to be seen in its original form. Running at nearly four hours in length, it's certainly a sizable commitment for any viewer, but ultimately a rewarding one. Appropriately described as an "intimate epic," the film covers a broad range of time and within that time several major exploits, but throughout them is clearly focused on the relationships between its main character and those he loves best. The film is even unabashedly sentimental in moments, going so far as to insert Lennon and McCartney's "Yesterday" into the soundtrack (though it never becomes maudlin, perhaps because of the rather unsentimental nature of the characters' behavior and activities). The ambiguous quality to some of the narrative points, particularly in the final act, also makes the film stand out as more than your usual gangster film, one that ultimately leads the viewer back to the main character's deepest inner workings. Through Leone's masterful hand and vision "Once Upon A Time in America" is a gangster film with a deeply compelling heart and soul.


Video Quality: 3.5/5

Presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer approximates the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. The image is subject to some haziness in wide shots and mild haloing along high contrast edges. Contrast can be inconsistent, struggling more in the darker scenes, which also fail to have the deepest of blacks. Outside of those more challenging scenes, black level and color depth are quite solid and contrast shows the full range of values with no signs of compression. Fine object detail is decent, but the most consistently problematic aspect of the image is overall sharpness, as with the aforementioned wider compositions. Softness in close ups seems to be more a result of source-originated focusing errors; otherwise skin and clothing show a respectable amount of detail. Finally, grain structure is visible - as is a light amount of noise in shadow areas - with no indications of overused noise reduction tools. 


Audio Quality: 3/5
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is consistently clear and intelligible. Surround activity is minimal, with only some very light support for the film score and some mild localized effects. LFE is non-existent, but the track has sufficient depth and fullness, along with some very good detail in the upper frequencies.


Special Features: 2/5
The set of extras is notably spartan, though the included material does offer some solid, fundamental information about the production.


Audio Commentary with Richard Schickel: Schickel is a knowledgeable commentator but is prone to scene description and doesn't always offer the keenest insights, particularly for the more ambiguous aspects of the story. His laid back style also may not appeal to many listeners, especially over the film's significant run time.


Once Upon A Time: Sergio Leone (19:34, SD): An excerpt from a longer TV biography produced in 2000 by Britain's Film Four Productions, the piece covers the film's development, production and reception and includes interviews with the screenwriters, surviving relatives, and James Woods. Well made and interesting, it would have been nice to have the entirety of the documentary included with the release.


Trailer (1:33, SD)


Recap
The Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 2/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

Warner Home Video turns in a respectable audio and video presentation for Leone's sentimental and compelling gangster epic. The special features are minimal, but offer some solid background information on the production. Given the technical quality of the release, owners of the DVD shouldn't rush to make an upgrade, but given the right price point it's certainly worth considering. Unfortunately, the more substantial packaging of the two-disc DVD edition doesn't make the decision to replace it any easier. For first time purchasers of the title, the Blu-ray is of course the obvious choice.



#2 of 36 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 08 2011 - 11:58 AM

I had the misfortune of seeing the edited theatrical release in a theater. What a mess! Whoever was responsible for it deserved to be drawn and quartered.

Rich Gallagher


#3 of 36 OFFLINE   ScottJH

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Posted January 08 2011 - 12:25 PM

Another WB title using AVC. Have they stop using VC-1 altogether?

#4 of 36 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted January 08 2011 - 01:51 PM

The Mission used VC-1.

#5 of 36 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted January 08 2011 - 02:20 PM

The dvd beaver review has some screen shots, it looks like the blu ray colors have been muted a tad compared to the 2 dvd set.
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#6 of 36 OFFLINE   ScottJH

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Posted January 08 2011 - 04:29 PM



Originally Posted by Cameron Yee 

The Mission used VC-1.



That disc was authored at least 4 months ago. Inception was VC-1, but OUATIA, The Town & The Guardians of Ga'hoole were all released after Inception and use AVC.



#7 of 36 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted January 09 2011 - 12:11 AM

Sounds like a bummer.  And I was looking forward to upgrading too -- and almost placed a pre-order the other day. Thanks for the review anyhow, Cameron. _Man_

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#8 of 36 OFFLINE   Bob Cashill

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Posted January 09 2011 - 12:57 AM

Not having to change discs mid-movie is perhaps worth the upgrade.

#9 of 36 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted January 10 2011 - 05:12 AM

Too bad this isn't a killer release.  I'll probably upgrade at some point just 'cause it's one of my all-time favorites, but I'm in no hurry. For those wondering, the extras are exactly the same as on the existing 2-disc DVD set (the DVD also lists "Photographic Memories" and "Leone Film Highlights," but if they were anything substantial I'd remember what they are :) ).
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#10 of 36 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted January 10 2011 - 09:37 AM



Special Features: 2/5
The set of extras is notably spartan, though the included material does offer some solid, fundamental information about the production.


Once Upon A Time: Sergio Leone (19:34, SD): An excerpt from a longer TV biography produced in 2000 by Britain's Film Four Productions, the piece covers the film's development, production and reception and includes interviews with the screenwriters, surviving relatives, and James Woods. Well made and interesting, it would have been nice to have the entirety of the documentary included with the release.


Would anybody be able to tell me if the full biography is available on dvd / blu ray ?


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#11 of 36 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted January 10 2011 - 10:20 AM

It seems to be a tough find on optical media, but it is on YouTube in seven parts.

#12 of 36 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 10 2011 - 06:08 PM

I received my BRD today.  I'll have to wait until later in the week to view it since it's almost four hours long. Crawdaddy

#13 of 36 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted January 10 2011 - 09:55 PM



Originally Posted by Cameron Yee 

It seems to be a tough find on optical media, but it is on YouTube in seven parts.






Thanks


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#14 of 36 OFFLINE   Henry Gale

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Posted January 17 2011 - 02:56 PM



Originally Posted by Aaron Silverman 


For those wondering, the extras are exactly the same as on the existing 2-disc DVD set ...



Thanks Aaron.


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#15 of 36 OFFLINE   JonZ

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Posted January 17 2011 - 07:46 PM

From the screenshots, some of the DVD caps show more detail than the BR. Was a old master used for this release? If so, Im disappointed. A must have title Im putting on the backburner for now.

#16 of 36 OFFLINE   Rob Willey

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Posted January 20 2011 - 02:20 PM

This is one of my favorite films and I'm quite happy with the upgrade to Blu.  I thought the video was a step up from the DVD and the whole movie on one disc is also an improvement. Rob
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#17 of 36 OFFLINE   Rachael B

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Posted January 21 2011 - 02:23 PM



Originally Posted by Rob Willey 

This is one of my favorite films and I'm quite happy with the upgrade to Blu.  I thought the video was a step up from the DVD and the whole movie on one disc is also an improvement.


Rob



Some folks on the AVS Forum complained that the film was on a single disc. They contended that it was too long for such. I'm happy with my copy. It's a huge improvement over the DVD. The audio improvement was so damn obvious.


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#18 of 36 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted January 22 2011 - 12:44 AM



Originally Posted by Rachael B 





Some folks on the AVS Forum complained that the film was on a single disc. They contended that it was too long for such. I'm happy with my copy. It's a huge improvement over the DVD. The audio improvement was so damn obvious.



+1 for the most part, I thought it looked good on my 92in FP set up. Alas, at this size, the DVD no longer holds together for me.


There is some buzz out there about how the image drops in quality after the 2 HR mark, and I do see more of a "dupey" quality to the image and resultant softness thereafter - but, it appears that the scenes with this quality are the "extended" sequences. I wonder how this was pieced together, elements, etc.

What an awesome, harsh bitter pill, romantic, and dreamy movie this is. All wrapped in one package.

My minor beefs with the film are the hilariously professional camera moves during the TV news sequences. Very odd...


And while I used to fall in with the opium dream theory crowd, I now feel that revisiting Noodles in the den at the end simply means this is where it all changed - his last bit of happiness. The final moment where he last had his memories intact. He really never moved on from there.  I don't think he's literally still there, dreaming up the 1960s sequence, but figuratively he's stuck there, forever.

Otherwise, Noodles can forget the money in the briefcase and go after Paul McCartney for royalties.



#19 of 36 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted January 24 2011 - 08:08 AM

Felix, that's exactly how I interpret the film as well. Nice to hear that the Blu is a noticeable improvement on the DVD!
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#20 of 36 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted January 24 2011 - 10:56 AM

Hi Aaron, the Blu-ray has issues, but yes, I retired the DVD.  Maybe in 3 years for the 30th anniversary it will be revisited in a truly outstanding package and transfer (perhaps also including the orig U.S. cut for reference purposes, etc.).  I'm good 'til then.





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