- Jun 13, 2002
Cool Hand Luke (Blu-Ray)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio: Dolby Digital English 1.0, French 1.0, Spanish 1.0, German 1.0, Italian 1.0, Japanese 1.0, Portuguese 1.0.
Subtitles: 12 different subtitle options.
Time: 126 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/DL Blu-Ray disc.
Case Style: Snap case
Theatrical Release Date: 1967
Blu Ray Release Date: September 9, 2008
What is it about prison movies, or rather, movies set in prisons that automatically turn into stories about redemption? My other life puts me in that setting on a weekly basis, and what we truly see is The Life coming into prison (or jail), where what the prisoners did on the outside still manifests itself in an institutional setting. 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, a vehicle for the then up and coming Paul Newman, plays into this aspect of the prison genre (a more violent step brother to the traditional crime picture) but takes it one step further.
Luke (Newman) has been sentenced to a term of prison for being disorderly in public and cutting the tops of parking meters. He arrives at the state prison work camp with his fellow prisoners and he is introduced to the various crew bosses and the head captain, played by Strother Martin. As Lucas is introduced the other prisoners, as well as read the rules, he begins challenging anyone and everyone to show his superiority and his knack for “never letting them get you down”. He establishes the nick name “Cool Hand” Luke from the tank boss, Dragline (George Kennedy, in an Oscar winning role), after he bluffs his way through a poker hand. As each day passes, Luke finds new ways to challenge the authority around him, up to the point of escaping several times and each time coming back beaten down (spiritually, mentally, and physically) leaving us to wonder if he is intent on dying.
The Man against The Establishment motif that is present in most of the big films of the late ‘60’s plays out here as well. Luke doesn’t really care much for the rules and he tends to flaunt just how easy it is to break them. After a decorated stint in World War II, he has returned to the states and quickly degenerated. He is a modern day Sisyphus smiling his way through life, aware of the madness of it all. His mother’s passing puts him over the edge making him up his mischief to the point of escaping the chain gang only to be captured, apparently quite easily, and brought back. With each stunt he becomes more and more of a marked man. Throughout the picture I was amazed to find Christian symbolism present, both subtly and blatantly. I didn’t really pick up on it at first, but by the time Luke has eaten 50 eggs (another example of his rule breaking), he is lying on a table, arms outstretched, feet together with a slight bent, and head turned aside, he appears to be Christ-like. While he had been gaining a following with his stunts, this one puts him over the edge giving him true followers, true disciples.
And the symbolism continues. He continues to pull off new feats with each day, gaining more and more support among the people, leading them out of their “ask the boss” mentality to them questioning their own role in the prison camp and in life. He encounters his mother, alone and near death, as she basically flirts with him; no father is present or discussed, but she knows he is to become more. Luke is brought back again from an escape, and he is forced to dig a ditch for no particular reason as his penance. He has been beaten and battered for what he believes in, and yet, he has another cross to bear in digging a ditch that not-so-coincidentally looks like a grave. As the hole is dug, the boss tells him to fill it in, and then dig it again. Finally, Luke breaks, crying out in the night, telling his jailers he submits, and in effect saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) His return to camp turns the believers into disbelievers: how could he break like that? Luke returns to the chain gang, reborn, as the boss’s lackey, but truly lying in wait to prove to the people, once again, to have faith. As the final scenes play out, and Luke talks to his spiritual father, the acts are complete, the prophecies fulfilled and the followers now tasked with telling the tale.
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.
The Blu-Ray disc is in the VC-1 codec presented at 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film elements of the picture have recently been restored and a new digital transfer has been struck to produce an excellent looking video image. There is not a trace of dirt or debris to be found. Color fidelity is excellent showing distinct differences between each of the actors skin tones, and Cinematographer Conrad Hall lets the colors bleed together at times. Sets, both interior and exterior stand out, with the interior sets of the barracks looking muted and drab. The film appears to have been shot slightly soft as there is a slight hazy sheen to the outdoor scenes; either that or it’s just the ever present dust of the environment. Detail and sharpness are good, but as I said, the picture itself appears to have been shot soft and therefore the image is not as crisp as others I have seen. Black levels are solid, showing some detail and depth. I did not notice any edge enhancement or video noise.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the Sony Playstation 3 to the Denon 3808CI.
I watched the feature with the Dolby Digital 1.0 track engaged. The box of the disc notes the audio was struck from restored elements, but this is often tough to gauge in a 1.0 track. Regardless, we are presented a very clean audio track, and that’s about it. The volume on the 1.0 track is also very low and I had to raise the sound by about 25% over what I normally listen to. Voices come across as slightly harsh in comparison to the rest of the track. Lalo Schifrin’s great score is well represented and it thrives in the 1.0 environment. Obviously there was no surround information, and there was very little LFE activity.
Commentary by Historian/ Newman Biographer Eric Lax: Lax spends much of the time re-iterating what we already see on-screen, to the point of simply repeating dialogue just said by the actors. He offers a few insights, such as why Gottfried wears the mirrored sunglasses, and a discussion on the Christ avatar and themes running throughout the picture. When I watched it again this time, I thought I had misread the Christian symbolism, but Lax backs me up with a fine discussion about it in the commentary.
A Natural Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke (28:36): a pretty basic piece where the writers, director and some of the actors comment on the movie and its impact. It says it was produced in 2008 so I wonder why Warner didn’t have it in HD.
Is this a great product of the changing times, both in the movies and in society, or a veiled parable about a Christ avatar versus the ideal existential man? I subscribe to the latter making this movie a revelation when taken on that level and showing just how powerful subtext can be. I had heard of Cool Hand Luke for many years before seeing it, but I never got the religious themes until this viewing. Be it age or experience or enlightenment, it provided me with a whole different experience this time. The BD provides us with a great new transfer spotlighting the amazing work of Conrad Hall and the visual subtleties of director Stuart Rosenberg, and its Dolby Digital 1.0 track puts me in the mode of what it must have been like to see this picture theatrically in 1967.