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Once Upon a Time in the West Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24
  • Audio Codec: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital Mono, Restored Mono
  • Subtitles: English SDH Subtitled , English Subtitled , French Dubbed & Subtitled , Portuguese Subtitled, Spanish Dubbed & Subtitled
  • Region: A (B? C?)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
  • Blu-ray Release Date: May 31, 2011
  • List Price: $24.99

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BestBuy.com:
Once Upon a Time in the West - Widescreen Dubbed Subtitle

Purchase Once upon a Time in the West on Blu-ray at CD Universe

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3.5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG  thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)


The Film

[Rating:4.5/5]

The Western, one of the earliest Hollywood film genres, has never been off the silver screen for very long. In the 1960’s a new spin on these “horse operas” was generated by Sergio Leone, an Italian film director, who seriously raised the bar for the so-called “Spaghetti Western.”  Once Upon a Time in the West is the Gotterdammerung of this cinematic style and builds on its predecessors, A Fistful of Dollars,  For a few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The cinematography shot in Spain and Utah’s legendary Monument Valley, yields a very convincing portrait of the American Old West. The atmospheric score by Ennio Morricone lifts this film to legendary status. The fact that leading roles are taken by Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, and Claudia Cardinale, does not hurt the cause either.

Unlike the typical Hollywood westerns with white hats for the good guys and black hats for the baddies, such distinctions are deliberately blurred here. This Paramount Blu-ray re-release, traces the story of a young woman, Jill, (Cardinale) who has traveled to join McBain, her husband, a homesteader whose property contains the only water source for miles. After McBain and his family are brutally murdered by Frank (Fonda) and his gang, the widow joins forces with outlaw Cheyenne (Robards) and harmonica-playing gunman (Bronson).  They set out to get retribution from railroad owner Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) who has been after McBain’s land. The plot twists and turns over nearly 3 hours’ running time but never fails to sustain and pique the viewer’s interest.

Video Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

Considering the age of the original film masters, shot in 1968, the visual impact of this reissue is quite stunning. The close up shots, and there are plenty of them, show amazing detail without appearing etched.  Director Leone often uses the camera to paint scenes that are eloquent yet nearly wordless. Characters enter, exchange telling looks, then exit. Without a line of dialogue, you still get the entire story of their relationship. This is, in every sense of the word, a big movie, and no constraints are placed on its cinematic scope.  The use of Monument Valley, an iconic Western backdrop, is brilliant. There is some artificiality, to be sure, in sky backdrops with clouds that don’t seem to move and mountains that appear etched, but this can be overlooked when the videography is generally so good. Also be advised, that the Old West was dusty, and you get lots of dust with this film, adding to its authenticity, but creating some haze in the outdoor scenes.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does the best that it can with a 40-plus year old recording. The louder passages sound slightly compressed and the lower frequencies lack heft and power. A bit unfortunate as this is one of composer Morricone’s most inventive and compelling scores. The wordless voice that weaves in and out gives an otherworldly cast to some of the most moving scenes in the film. This is one film score that will stay with you long after the end titles are over.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:3.5/5]

The additional hour provided by these supplements provides  interesting historical background for the film. It is unfortunate that interviews with Leone himself could not have been included since this edition restores a number of cuts that undermined Once Upon a Time’s original American release. Nonetheless, there’s a goodly amount of material here.

The supplements provided with this release are:

  • Commentaries by directors John Carpenter, John Milius, and Alex Cox, film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall, cast and crew members.
  • Several featurettes:
    • An Opera of Violence
    • The Wages of Sin
    • Something to do with Death
    • Railroad: Revolutionizing the West
    • Locations then and now
  • Production Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Theatrical Version of Once Upon a Time in the West.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

The Western all’Italiana films were a motley collection. Many featured has-been American actors and unintentionally hilarious dubbed-in English for their foreign supporting cast members. The Sergio Leone films stood well above the rest and Once Upon a Time in the West is his crowning achievement in this genre. The complex story covers a time when the West was still “wild,” the transcontinental railroad under construction, and justice meted out by a six-shooter rather than by a presiding magistrate. Its archetypal characters are played by excellent actors against a larger than life backdrop. The Morricone score is magnificent and supports the action perfectly.  The video restoration crew should take great pride in the gorgeous quality of this print. It is eye-popping in its scope and detail as if freshly minted. In short, this Blu-ray disc marks the triumphant return of a must-see again movie.

Additional Screen Captures

[amazon-product]B004T0XYM8[/amazon-product]

BestBuy.com:
Once Upon a Time in the West - Widescreen Dubbed Subtitle

Purchase Once upon a Time in the West on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3.5/5]

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