DVD Review HTF Review: The Sugarland Express (Recommended!)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Aug 16, 2004.

Tags:
  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2003
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    0
    [​IMG]



    The Sugarland Express











    Studio: Universal

    Year: 1974

    Rated: PG

    Running Time: 110 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)

    Captions: English

    Subtitles: French and Spanish

    Audio: English – Monaural (2.0)











    Release Date:
    August 17th, 2004




    Based (loosely?) on events that transpired in Texas during 1969, Steven Spielberg’s debut as a director of feature films chronicles a few days in the life of a female ex-con, Lou Jean Poplin (Goldie Hawn). During this time, Lou Jean springs her husband Clovis (William Atherton – yes, the very same guy that played the a-hole in both Ghostbusters and Die Hard) from prison, in what seems like the easiest prison break ever, so they can attempt to take back their young son Langston from a foster family that was granted full custody of him.

    Lou Jean’s plan, if she ever had one, is not very well thought out though, for shortly into their journey, she steals an older couple’s car, and then complicated the situation worse by commandeering a police car, along with its driver, State Trooper Maxwell Slide (Michael Sacks). Carjacking a regular Joe would have been bad enough, but after this foolish action, the Poplins receive massive amounts of unwanted attention from the media circus, what seems like the entire law enforcement community of Texas, and even excited citizens, some of them vigilantes who try to join in on the action!

    To be sure, some of these folks, even the Trooper Slide, who is being held captive by the Poplins, can relate to the couple’s desire to be with their child. Unfortunately, the criminal way in which the couple has gone about trying to reunite with their boy forces the lawmen to do their duty, and bring them to justice. As the situation unfolds, Captain Harlin Tanner (Ben Johnson), who is in charge of the pursuit, continually tries to negotiate with the Poplins, in hopes of bringing them in alive and unharmed. However, as his efforts to get them to surrender prove futile, the future begins to look grimmer for Lou Jean and Clovis with each passing moment. Will they make it to Sugarland for the reunion with baby Langston, or will the trip come to a premature and tragic end?

    It seems as though audiences really didn’t want to know the answers to those questions, for even though it was warmly received by critics, and lauded at the Cannes Film Festival, The Sugarland Express floundered somewhat at the box office. Perhaps audiences were not attracted to the film because it is somewhat dark, and does not have the happiest of endings, but whatever the reason, Steven Spielberg’s feature debut only managed to sell tickets to the tune of about $7.5 million.

    Okay, so the film was not a runaway hit, but sometimes a film’s box-office take is not what really matters. The important thing about The Sugarland Express is that not only was it a good movie that gets better with each successive viewing, but it provides evidence that even at the outset of his filmmaking career, Spielberg’s directorial skills were finely honed, especially in terms of his ability to develop characters and get the very best out of his actors. In particular, Goldie Hawn is arguably as good in The Sugarland Express as she has ever been in a feature film, and her co-stars William Atherton, Michael Sacks, and Ben Johnson are almost as great.

    Spielberg’s ability to craft memorable and interesting looking scenes in his films is also on display here (I just love the shot of the two motorcycle cops riding into the sunset!). Filmed completely on location in Texas, The Sugarland Express features wonderful cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond, which adds a great deal of richness to Spielberg’s film. And finally, this film marked the first in a long series of collaborations between Spielberg and musical genius John Williams.

    Most impressively, despite the fact that Steven Spielberg is not on camera, he steals the show! As the picture plays on, you can sense his influence on the characters, and especially on the cinematography, which seems to match the story perfectly. It really is a fine first effort, which stands now as a precursor to the indelible impact that Steven Spielberg has had on motion pictures. While I do not have the same fondness for Sugarland Express that I do for Duel, it will still have a well-deserved spot in my film collection!







    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    Finally making its way to DVD, The Sugarland Express is presented in an anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer that looks nearly as good as the young Goldie Hawn did! Although exhibiting a bit of the typical 70’s fade, colors are reproduced very accurately, without any evidence of chroma noise or dot crawl. The same holds true for skin tones, which are quite natural in appearance. Blacks are also deep and true, so detail in the film’s shadows is brought out nicely.

    Happily, the source print used is also quite clean, possessing no major print damage to detract from the film, although some light grain and a nominal number of specks are visible throughout (particularly early on). Likewise, although I would not say it is excellent, fine detail is above average, often extending into the background of a given scene. Just as importantly, the image is virtually free of digital signatures and edge enhancement, which makes the presentation very film-like.

    For a work of this age, this is a very respectable effort, and I cannot imagine that it will lead to much disappointment!




    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    For a monaural Dolby Digital (2.0) presentation of a 30-year-old film, the source material sounded quite good. Obviously, the soundstage was fairly restrictive, but this never became a problem or distraction. In fact, in addition to the faithful, clear reproduction of dialogue, John Williams’ wonderful score exhibited a fairly flat frequency response and better instrument separation than most monaural tracks offer.

    Sounds effects, like gunshots, shattering glass, and screeching tires are also reproduced commendably, never becoming harsh or fatiguing. Of course, they do not have the fullness and outright impact that effects in the surround mixes of today have, but for what they are, the presentation is fine.

    It is not reference quality, but overall I have to say that this monaural track is better than I expected it would be, and it does a fine job of recreating the sounds of the Poplin’s fateful journey to Sugarland!




    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


    Theatrical Trailer
    The shabby-looking, artifact filled theatrical trailer for The Sugarland Express is included.



    SCORE CARD

    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    THE LAST WORD
    Well acted, technically sound, and superbly directed, The Sugarland Express proved to be a very solid first feature for Steven Spielberg. More importantly, it offers evidence of the immense directorial and storytelling talent Mr. Spielberg possessed before he became world famous with Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, among others.

    In terms of extras, this disc is a disappointment, as all that we get is the theatrical trailer. However, the anamorphically enhanced image is a pleasure to behold, and the monaural (2.0) soundtrack presents the source material, especially John Williams’ score, in a pretty good fashion. For these reasons, even though it is not the offering I was hoping for, I recommend picking The Sugarland Express up anyway. Simply put it is a good enough film to warrant repeat viewings!


    Stay tuned…
     
  2. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
    Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2003
    Messages:
    5,399
    Likes Received:
    757
    Location:
    North of the 49th
    Real Name:
    Stephen J. Hill
    Are you planning to update the picture and sound comments? Just wondering.
     
  3. MatthewLouwrens

    MatthewLouwrens Producer

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2003
    Messages:
    3,034
    Likes Received:
    1
    Ah, that bit where the police car starts talking to William Atherton and calling him Michael really is great.

    I've never seen Sugarland Express, but I mean to, and your review of the film has strengthened my resolve. Now we just need a non-Knight Rider audio and video review.
     
  4. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2002
    Messages:
    3,530
    Likes Received:
    0
    The transfer is very good. The disc is a DVD-5 (single layer single side) for some reason, but the encoding is very good. The print used is very clean and sharp. The film is shot in muted colors for the most part, so the palette of the transfer is quite subdued. Overall, it is a great anamorphic widescreen presentation of a much maligned film that I had only previously seen in pan and scan.

    The audio is 2.0, but is it mono or stereo? I can't be sure - the score sound like a subtle stereo mix. It booms through wonderfully for such an old track with no hiss or distortion.

    If only we a 20-minute interview with Spielberg, that's all I ask. After the sublime Duel DVD, I expected Sugarland to get similar treatment, but alas, we only get the well-cut trailer.

    It's still a fine film - holds up beautifully. Buy today!
     
  5. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2003
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    0
    Stephen J_H,

    What's the matter you don't like Knight Rider? [​IMG]

    Sorry about that...obviously I was working off of one of my previous reviews to save me a few keystrokes, and even though I updated those sections, and tightened up the rest a bit, my save just wouldn't take. Unfortunately, I did not catch it until after I had already posted the file.

    I am really beginning to HATE my desktop PC! There are no viruses on it, but just after the warranty was up, it started doing all sorts of weird stuff. My wife's laptop, on the other hand, is great! It is getting her away from it so that I can use it that is the trick! [​IMG]

    Anyway, thanks for your patience, and happy movie watching!!!

    JP
     
  6. MatthewLouwrens

    MatthewLouwrens Producer

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2003
    Messages:
    3,034
    Likes Received:
    1
    Thanks, Jason, for correcting that. As mistakes go, it certainly was an entertaining one.

    Sounds like a good disc. Would you recommend it as a blind buy?
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
    Reviewer

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 1999
    Messages:
    9,646
    Likes Received:
    5,908
    Real Name:
    Robert Harris
    What is "'70s fade?"

    RAH
     
  8. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2002
    Messages:
    3,530
    Likes Received:
    0
    Viewing the DVD a second time, it is now evident to me that this film is one of the most beautifully shot scope films of the Seventies. The camera movement, shots of the sky, the sunrise shot when the garage door is opened, the helicopter and crane shots of endless police cars are all stunning. Vilmos Zsigmond, to me, is easily the greatest cinematographer of American Cinema in the Seventies. His sensitivity for natural light is astonishing. This film proves that even early on, Spielberg knew where exactly to put the camera, how to move it and and where cut. His style has changed over the last few years (it's not to my taste, sadly) but his films of the Seventies have a style all of their own. They are great American movies in a uniquely American style.

    Of all his overlooked films, Sugarland Express is clearly the best, but the fantastical nature of his later blockbusters - as great as they are - have overshadowed it's tender beauty over the years, but hopefully, this new DVD edition will turn on a new generation.
     
  9. Thommy...M

    Thommy...M Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2004
    Messages:
    53
    Likes Received:
    0
    To those unsure about a blind buy of THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS:

    - THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS is top three on a list of Spielberg's best films (only JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS are above THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS).

    - the performances by the four leads are fantastic. Ben Johnson's face alone expresses more feeling than 99% of the actors in Spielberg's other films.

    - the film is not your typical (read boring) sunny Spielberg story. It is a film that oozes an underlying sadness from frame one on.

    - John Williams score is classic early Williams. Before Williams got enslaved by the need to create the grand, loud, pompous score, Mr. Williams actually was capable of a beautiful subtlety.

    I've been lucky enough to have seen all of Spielberg's films in the order that they were released, and while SUGARLAND EXPRESS was playing on HBO ten times a week thirty years ago, my family and I used to watch it ten times a week. We just knew there was something a little different, a little special about this film. It mixed a light touch beautifully with what really is a heavy, serious story. That accomplishment rests solely in the hands of the film's director...someone named Spiel-something (we had no idea who this Spielberg was all those years ago).

    The movie is absolutely fantastic. Buy it.
     
  10. Bill GrandPre

    Bill GrandPre Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2001
    Messages:
    2,068
    Likes Received:
    1
    Before the release of this DVD, I had only seen a MAR/edited for content version on AMC. In any case, "Sugarland" is the last theatrical Spielberg film to be released on DVD and I was happy to finish the collection. I definitely think it's one of his better films.
     
  11. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2001
    Messages:
    4,148
    Likes Received:
    1
    I think the film is very good, but its not in my top three Spielberg films. I also don't find any Spielberg film typically boring. Not even Always.



    However, I find that I'm drawn more to his personal dramas more and more these days, as opposed to his large-screen genre fantasies. Catch Me If You Can has really grown on me, Empire of the Sun is perhaps my favorite live-action film of all time. The Color Purple is an emotional knock out for me. Love it. Amistad is a bit of a misfire, losing traction in the third act just when it should be at its most gripping, but I still admire it. Sugarland is a wonderful, bittersweet film. Some of the best moments in E.T. and Close Encounters, for me anyway, are the pained family scenes. Great stuff.



    I sort of chuckle to myself when I hear people talk about the "usual Spielberg happy ending", and I think about this and Amistad and Empire and A.I. -- not typical happy endings. Hope I'm not giving too much away.



    I think his two best films are a toss up between Schindler's List and Jaws, because both are triumphs of the director's art, both are incredibly well written and both are amazing from an editorial standpoint. Why do I resist ranking Sugarland as high? I don't fault Sugarland, I just enjoy and adimre some of his other movies more.
     
  12. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2003
    Messages:
    1,873
    Likes Received:
    207
    Echoing Robert Harris's question, what exectly is "70s fade"? Interestingly, the DVD File review of the Scorsese box-set also mentions "70s fade", and they also mention "early 80s fade" in their comments on the AFTER HOURS dvd.



    Vincent
     
  13. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2002
    Messages:
    3,530
    Likes Received:
    0
    Only certain stocks of 35mm Eastman negative from the 70s has been prone to fading (Taxi Driver, Star Wars) and in the 80s, fading is even less common, as improvements were quite substantial, not just from Eastman, but from Fuji as well.



    The color palette on Sugarland looks beautiful. If any real fading had occurred, you'd know about it. What kind of fading is being speculated about anyway? Salmon fading? Yellow layer failure? Or an overall de-saturization of colours?



    After Hours looks truly great on Warner's new DVD. It's not a very colourful film, anyway - all night shots are on-location night-for-night (even interiors) - very dark cinematography from the great Michael Ballhaus. The colour looks spot-on. It's a great transfer.



    Film stocks from the 70s and 80s were very different as the ultra-fast, ultra-fine grain negative stocks of today. Processing techniques have also improved - digital manipulation can also be applied (O Brother, Where Art Thou being a prime example). But most films today are shot in very cool colours, no attempt is made to recreate the 3-strip Technicolour palette, that's for sure!



    Many on-line reviews have hogwash like this in them. If the author is ignorant of certain aspects of the subject, then they should either do some research, or should heed Lugwig Wittgenstein's advice:



    "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."
     
  14. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
    Reviewer

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 1999
    Messages:
    9,646
    Likes Received:
    5,908
    Real Name:
    Robert Harris
    In regard to fading characteristics of Eastman color negative stocks produced during the past 25 years...



    While poor processing, or not totally eliminating chemicals from stocks can cause problems, the only that I'm aware were problematic were the CRI negatives.



    Originally created for use in the manufacture of dupe negatives for television commercials, and dupe printing negatives without the need of intermediate interpositives, which were not yet fine grained, CRI footage was used for effects shots and composities.



    For major films, effects shots were produced on large format -- either Vista or 65mm -- and then composited to CRI, with the CRI footage then cut into the 35mm Oneg, as well as dupes.



    This became problematic for films like Close Encounters and Star Wars, as the CRI footage faded within seven or so years. The production footage on normal Eastman negative was generally free of fading problems if stored within reasonable parameters.



    RAH
     
  15. Darcy Hunter

    Darcy Hunter Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    May 11, 1999
    Messages:
    192
    Likes Received:
    0
    I finally got chance to watch this last night. It was the first time I had seen it in all it's widescreen glory, and I have to say that I was very impressed. Watching it on my 52" 16x9 Pioneer set, I found the picture to be very pleasing, with nice detail and vibrant colours (I agree Gordon, Vilmos Zsigmond's photography is truly stunning. This and Close Encounters are some of the best photographed pictures of the 70's or any era).

    I haven't seen this in a long time, and I forgot what a truly wonderful film this is. Everything just clicks for me, from the great performances of the leads, especially Goldie Hawn and Ben Johnson, to the look of the film and the great pacing. However, what I really enjoy the most are the small details that mark most of Steven Spielberg’s 70's output. I find that, like Jaws, Close Encounters, and even ET (yes, an 80's film) he seems to get incredibly natural performances, not just from his leads, but from all of his supporting cast and extras. I don't know weather or not they are professional actors, or just people he liked the look of, but I always smile at the scenes with the elderly couple that get their car stolen, or the drunk in the back of Trooper Maxwell Slide's car, or the reserve troopers getting ready to hunt the couple down (the shot of him furiously rummaging through his garage, retrieving the lights that his young son has used to decorate his bike with, is a great example of a throw-away detail that doesn't need to be there, but adds so mush to the whole). For all the complaints of Spielberg’s "syrupy style" of story-telling, his 70's output contains some of the best ensemble acting I have ever seen. Highly recommended indeed.
     
  16. BrettB

    BrettB Producer

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2001
    Messages:
    3,019
    Likes Received:
    0
    Could someone check out the scene where Captain Tanner is using his vehicle to push Slide's car which has run out of gas. It's the side shot with the cars moving left to right. Look at the chrome trim, especially on Tanner's car. Is this an effect that some display devices/DVD players handle better than others? It looks really nasty on my equip.
     

Share This Page