- May 8, 2000
The Untouchables - Special Collector's Edition
Length: 119 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English & French Dolby Surround
English & Spanish subtitles; Closed Captioned in English
Special Features: 4 new featurettes, 1 original featurette, theatrical trailer
Release Date: October 5, 2004
The Untouchables is David Mamet’s interpretation of the story of Eliot Ness, and how he and his band of “Untouchables” faced off against crime boss Al Capone in Chicago during the era of prohibition.
Mamet’s story is stylistically brought to the screen with solid direction by Brian DePalma and an engaging musical score by the incomparable Ennio Morricone.
Kevin Costner stars as Eliot Ness. Robert DeNiro is Al Capone, and Sean Connery is Malone, the tough as nails Irish cop who teaches Ness and the Untouchables how to beat the mob, the Chicago way - shoot fast and shoot first.
This is DePalma’s finest film, and it came at a point in his career when he really needed a hit. Everything came together in this film. Mamet delivered a solid story to start from, which was reverent to, if a departure from, the TV series that the film is based upon. Sean Connery delivered an Oscar winning performance, and DeNiro was flamboyant and interesting as Capone. Stephen Burum’s edgy photography keeps your eyes glued to the screen, and Ennio Morricone’s score adds a rich, unforgettable texture.
The picture is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is anamorphically enhanced.
The image has a good level of detail, with no overt signs of edge enhancement.
Contrast is good, with an adequately bright picture that never loses detail in the whites. Good, deep blacks are displayed, with only an occasional and slight lack of detail in the shadows. Grain is mild, throughout.
Colors are true and consistent, generally slightly warm in appearance, as originally intended. Saturation is slightly understated. The warm color palette and mild saturation enhance the period feel of the film.
The print is fairly clean, displaying occasional white and black dust specks. They don’t appear to the point of distraction. This is nothing that you wouldn’t expect to see in a 17 year old print.
The film starts off on a high note, audio-wise, with an excellent reproduction of Ennio Morricone’s theme music. Excellent frequency response and an open soundfield are a treat to the ears, and the staccato bass notes are forceful and tight. Surrounds are used for ambient reverb, here.
The occasional musical interludes impress as well, with their openness and bass response.
Beyond the music... outdoor scenes have a nice ambient effect to them, utilizing the rear channels adequately and without distraction. Bass response on the opening explosion isn’t bad, but could have had a bit more power.
Other areas where you would expect to hear a great deal from the LFE track are sometimes a bit lacking. Crashes and gunshots are on the weak side in terms of bass response, as well as having a slightly muddied quality to them.
Indoor dialog scenes are often lacking in any music, whatsoever - and frequently there is a lack of any surround detail at all.
Sometimes, directional effects are a touch too directional - especially in some of the office scenes where general ambience may have been easier on the ears than the panning sound effects that are offered. Overall, front soundfield directionality is pleasant to listen to, while rear effects are less aggressive.
Dialog offers plenty of volume and definition, but the lower frequencies are somewhat lacking. Dialog which should be spoken with authority seem to fall a bit flat. Voices also seem a bit low on sibilance.
Overall, the music soars, but the rest of the mix falls a bit flat.
The Special features are not anamorphically enhanced.
Laurent Bouzereau has assembled about an hour’s worth of nice featurettes. Descriptions follow.
The Script, The Cast (18:31)
Brian DePalma and Art Linson talk about the fact that they weren’t fans of Paramount’s TV series, The Untouchables, and that they didn’t have any allegiance toward the show. Their intent was to take the film in a different direction.
DePalma was reluctant to cast Kevin Costner, but was talked into it by Art Linson and several directors who had worked with Costner. One of the early possibilities to play Ness was Mel Gibson.
In a period interview, Costner gives his impressions of the other cast members. There are other period interviews with Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia and Sean Connery, where they discuss their characters as well as their take on the ensemble.
Interestingly, Bob Hoskins was originally approached for the role of Capone, because the studio didn’t want to pay for stars in an ensemble piece. DePalma pushed for his old friend Robert DeNiro, who commanded a large salary, and he put the whole film on the line to get what he wanted.
There are some interesting tidbits, here - though it would have been nice to have some some of the cast in contemporary interviews, reflecting on the film from today’s perspective.
Production Stories (17:18)
Director of Photography Stephen H. Burum, in a recent interview, indicates his wish to shoot the film in black and white. DePalma, knowing that wouldn’t fly with the studio, encouraged him to think of other ways to evoke a period feel. Burum discusses some of these.
There is much discussion on the difficulty of shooting a period film in Chicago, amidst towering skyscrapers. Set dressing and indoor location shooting is also discussed.
Burum talks of the difficulties getting texture in period-looking dark clothing to be visible on the filmstock of the eighties.
There is a recent interview, here, with cast member Charles Martin Smith.
Finally, Burum talks about the excellence in craft that is common in DePalma’s films, and the excellence in workmanship that DePalma is able to get out of those who work under him.
Reinventing the Genre (14:23)
DePalma wanted to reinvent the gangster film, entering it into the world of John Ford Territory. There is much discussion of the Canadian border raid as an element to remove a city oriented film from the confines of the city.
There is talk of the death scenes, and of the “holdout” scene - which is a compelling recreation of the stairs sequence from Eisenstein’s Potemkin.
Finally, there is talk of a scene which was never completely shot, which would have “bookended” the film with the Capone character. While shooting, DePalma realized the scene wasn’t going to work, and it was never completed.
The Classic (5:39)
This is primarily a discussion of Morricone’s score for this film. His score elevated the status of the entire film. Art Linson also describes the premiere, and how large this film was... making magazine covers around the country.
Original Featurette: “The Men” (5:26)
This short featurette was made in 1987 to promote the film. Some of the clips from this featurette were used in the Bouzereau featurettes.
Theatrical Trailer (2:49)
Anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1
The Untouchables is one of the better films of the 1980’s, with a great script, solid direction, memorable performances, and interesting music and photography.
Paramount has brought fine video quality to this DVD, though I found the 5.1 audio to be a bit flat and muddy in spots, especially in dialog and in key sound effects. The Morricone score, however, is finely rendered.
There is about an hour’s worth of special features, here. They are low-key in delivery - primarily talking heads intercut with clips from the film and some behind the scenes footage.