OPENRANGEStudio:TOUCHSTONEYear:2003Film Length:139 minutes Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 (OAR)Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 DTS English, 5.1 DD FrenchSubtitles:SpanishExtras:Commentary with Director Kevin Costner, Deleted Scenes, “America’s Open Range” featurette, “Beyond Open Range” making-of featurette, Music Video Montage, StoryboardsReleaseDate:Available (January 2004) The Movie... Ron Epstein wrote: Quote: I was tremendously surprised at how great a film Open Range was. In fact, it turned out to be amongst the top 3 films I saw last year. This has got to be one of Robert Duvall's finest screen performances. It's a shame he will probably not be recognized by the Academy for this role. Agreed. Watching the DVD of Open Range was my first encounter with this beautiful drama. Directed by Kevin Costner, Open Range mixes the sweeping vistas of Dances with Wolves with a story that is affecting on several layers; The story has the potency of a genuine suspense-drama, the charm of a romance, and the grit of a classic western. It’s not a perfect film, and I found a few moments a bit too contrived to let them slip by disregarded, but overall this movie has grace, grandeur, and guts that make it more than worth-while. Let’s just be frank and agree that Robert Duvall give us one hell of a performance (you’ll start talking that way after watching this film). His character delivery is real. It’s not acting, it’s “being” as if the camera is just filming his real-life experience right there on the screen. What an actor. What a perfect choice for the role he plays in this film. Costner discusses in the commentary/extras that Duvall didn’t just approximate the vision he had for this film…Duvall nailed it with 100% perfection. Costner is also at the top of his game in this film and comes across as the perfect compliment to Duvall's character. The chemistry between them is natural and really gives you the sense that there is a long “history” between these two cattle herders on the open range. So what’s the story about? Well, you gotta guy whose gotta past. He’s been running away from his past by living a life as a cattle herder on the open range. Consistent with what usually happens after about 10 years of successful avoidance, life finally catches up with him and gets complicated…and the old past surfaces. You’ve got some bad guys who really have it coming to them who provide some fertile opportunity for Tin Cup’s (Costner) need to wrestle out his demons from his gun-slingin’ days. Spoiler-prone beware, but this movie has the most kick-ass gun fight that I’ve ever seen. Usual for my rather engaged/involved style of movie-watching -- I was punching my sofa cushions and cheering right outloud. Faint of heart, beware: The gun fight is as visceral as any battle scene from Braveheart or Lord of the Rings though it’s delivered with a much calmer demeanor and less chaotic visual style. Open Range is a GOOD movie and I was quite surprised I hadn't heard more about it until I viewed it on my DVD screener. Picture... The image is pristine. Colors are rich and saturated and warmly convey the sometimes stylized pallet which often characterizes the “look” of Open Range. Careful attention has been paid in the filming of open range to capture the mood of each scene with color in a similar manner to the musical score. Bright day-light scenes, dark and moody storm clouds and warm and glowing tones during early morning or late evening all contribute to the impact of the film and how it conveys emotion. Some scenes may appear slightly over-exposed but this is part of the “look” of the film and is not a mark of poor DVD mastering. It is important that the DVD capture the richness of the color pallet and the subtlety within it in order to preserve these very important visual aspects of this film, and the DVD succeeds well. Overall the DVD delivers a very film-like image that looks natural and is pleasing to the eye. Some film-grain is present at times but this is expected and is an element of the film medium…not a mastering defect of the disc. Nary a film-print blemish (scratch, dust, etc.) to be found. Black level is strong and shadow detail is excellent. Detail seems good to above-average from a relatively father viewing distance though I sometimes found myself wanting just a bit more picture information when I moved closer to my TV to approximate a large-screen front-projection viewing angle. Not having seen this film projected theatrically, I can only make the assumption that the general softness to the image is, in part, due to the look of the film itself (though experience tells me that there may also be a slight HF roll-off to aid in compression). In most scenes, there is little in the way of MPEG or “digital” noise to distract, and most of the film appears to be free from distracting haloing from artificial electronic edge enhancement (you’ll definitely see some ringing on the opening and closing credits…but this is not uncommon for most DVD transfers and I can forgive it). On the downside, there are a few scenes…especially near the end of the film during the gun battle which revealed quite a bit of EE. I found curious given that so much of the film seems free from "ringing". When Costner is sitting near the water trough with the wooden board-and-baton siding of a building behind him, you can see some serious haloing around his shoulder and hat. Not the end of the world and thankfully not something that appears present throughout the entire feature. Ringing is also very evident on the opening and closing credit text, and while I personally find this distracting and wish the studios would be more careful to avoid artifacts like this, at least its presence is momentary and of little real-consequence (credits are not usually something I spend time critically evaluating for PQ...though in the case of Open Range some of the credits run into a bit of actual movie content so the artifact is worth noting). Projector Update 1-30-04: Had a chance to screen Open Range on my friend's DLP front-projection system last night. I'm sad to report that the EE is worse on a big-screen than I had anticipated. Whereas most of the outdoor "open rage" scenes look pretty "natural" on my direct view 16x9 set, there is some clear ringing visible at 1.5 screen widths on the FP system. It's not the worst that I've seen, but it's there and you can see it on the contours of the characters' silhouettes (hats, shoulders etc.) Casusal viewers might not be distracted but before I had even said *anything* about it my friend said "hey...this DVD has that thing you sometimes complain about...I can see an 'outline' around the characters." He went on to say "That makes the image look a bit artificial...more like a cartoon than a 'movie'". I couldn't have said it better. I've knocked down the overall video score from 4.5 to 4.0 as big-screen viewers might not be as enthralled with the PQ as those of us with smaller screens. hint: Disney really needs to figure out where this ringing is coming from in their DVD mastering process and eliminate it. So…Adding up a generally beautiful film-like picture which suffers from a mild bit of detail-softening and minor visible ringing… Picture: 4 / 5 Sound... One of the challenges for me is trying to keep my cool and come off “professionally” when I’m reviewing a DVD about which I feel really excited. And the audio of Open Range is cause for a serious challenge indeed. I haven’t felt this overwhelmed by the audio on a disc since the Lion King. The 5.1 mix (not sure if 6.1…my B&K isn’t equipped for 6.1 but any of you out there please correct me if you know more) is a masterpiece of sound recording and mixing. Where to begin?... The musical score is lush and enveloping, just as instinct says it ought to be. Dialog is clear yet smooth and, quite rare for most “Hollywood” movies these days, doesn’t sound like voices pumped through a microphone in a back-stage recording studio (though they very well may be). Rather, the dialog in Open Range sounds like it’s taking place in the context you see on the screen. There is subtle acoustic information that suggests a sense of “place” where the dialog is originating. Whether this was accomplished from very sensitive post-production studio dubbing and effects or whether some of the dialog is recorded “live” on set I do not know…but the finished effect is one that adds a sense of genuine character to the actors by helping make them seem that much more real (though if Duvall gets any realer, he’ll probably fall out of your screen and land on your living room floor). Dialog is also smooth and never harsh or artificial sounding and (again, unusual for most modern films) maintains a full-frequency response. Male voices are rich with tangible mid-bass body and female voices sound open and airy without being flattened or coming across as too bright (This is what happens you read a review from a guy who knows how good LPs sound when played on a high-end turntable—just deal with it). Surround use is dramatic and atmospheric, but not gimmicky or distracting. The full 5.1 field of sound is at all times used appropriately to communicate the on-screen action. Quiet moments taking place in the open range place subtle acoustics in the surrounds to seamlessly blend all 5 channels into a single acoustic environment. You’ll experience the sensation of feeling uncomfortable as the threat of getting wet seems legitimate through the 5.1 presentation of heavy rainfall which place you, the listener, squarely in the midst of an overpowering downpour. Equally compelling is some sub-worthy thunder that may send your dog running for cover. When audio makes such effective use of environmental sounds you know that you’re dealing with talent. But it doesn’t stop there. Open Range is the perfect example of a film which uses the full potential of today’s 5.1 recording fidelity to strengthen the story. The gun battle near the end of this film is powerful to a paralyzing degree. And this intensity is possible because of the masterful sound. From the first gun-shot, you are stunned. Never has any film (that I’ve ever seen) so boldy and coldly portrayed, as realistically as possible, the effect of a firing gun. The sensation is chilling. Gun shots pierce the room as if there were no “soundtrack” dynamic-constraints to get in their way. The reverberant decay from each blast turns your room into a killing field where you feel notably at risk. Brilliant. This bold use of sound to convey the sense of “place” and “experience” in each part of this film is one of the movie’s strongest elements. DD v.s. DTS… No, DTS does not pay me or offer me a kick back for giving their codec a favorable mention. I tell you what my ears hear. The DD on this disc is excellent. And if there were no DTS track with which to compare, we’d all be reading about how the DD on this disc was “reference” blah blah blah. It has been confirmed to me that both the DD and the DTS were sourced from the same master, and that the only real variable that should be at work to differentiate them is the dialog normalization which has been applied to the DD track (which helps to make the DTS perceptibly louder). You may draw your own conclusions from your own experience. Here’s mine: The DTS excels beyond the already excellent DD score. The DTS sounds bolder, more dynamic, and more unrestrained. Acoustic textures are rendered more finely and a more front/back 3-dimensional soundstage results (something that the DD doesn’t quite manage to achieve). Vocals on the DTS sound “rounder” with a less sharp “edge” to them, though there’s actually more nuance and natural detail on a revealing system. Reminds me of the difference between a high-def video transfer with no artifical ringing (DTS) v.s. an excellent standard-definition image that has been slightly sharpened electronically (DD). Both look “sharp” and “detailed” on casual glance but an extended audition makes the more natural presentation of the DTS preferred. That may all sound familiar. I've often decribed the improvments I hear with DTS on other titles in a similar way. Folks, on Open Range, the improvement with DTS is even more. The rainstorms that sound convincing on the DD track sound REAL on the DTS. The gunshots that sounded jarring on the DD track sound down-right frightful on the DTS. What sounds like a supburb recording on the DD track makes your equipment and speakers virtually disappear on the DTS. Depending on your system, these differences may be more subtle, and indeed many listeners may consider them subtle even when played through my own equipment. As an audiophile I respond to subtle differences in audio quality with a less-than-subtle reaction (that’s why we are able to spend so much $$ tweaking our audio systems ). Overall, my experience of the DTS on this disc is much like my experience of the enhanced home-theater mix on the Lion King DVD (why I mentioned it earlier)—the DTS mix simply sounds utterly unrestrained, fantastically dynamic, and yet conveys smoothness and delicacy when called to do so. BRAVO to the folks who recorded and mixed the audio for this film. BRAVO to the folks responsible for mastering the audio for DVD and BRAVO to Disney for choosing to provide us with the DTS option. Sound: 5/ 5 Special Features... Coming soon…hey…it takes a while to type all this stuff up and my review is already overdue! In Closing... If you like westerns like the Magnificent Seven or you like action-dramas like Braveheart or Lord of the Rings, I think you’ll find a compelling reason to give Open Range a try. Those of you who have already seen the film and are wondering if the DVD presentation does it justice, your concerns have been allayed. Disney/BV/Touchstone has delivered the goods and presented Open Range on DVD with the picture quality, sound quality, and extras that it deserves. Highly Recommended.