"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" Blu-ray Review
May 22, 2009 by Zach Demeter
Anyone has perused the top 200 list on IMDb has noticed the title “Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo.” sitting comfortably at #4 for some time now. Unless you speak the language, however, the title will remain a mystery to you until you click on it and discover that it is none other than The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the most famous of the spaghetti westerns and perhaps Clint Eastwood’s most famous role (outside of Dirty Harry, at least) ever to grace the silver screen. With several equally as acclaimed sequels releasing after this one, it certainly isn’t the only classic western out there—but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard the title or the films awe inspiring music by Ennio Morricone.
Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is even gutsier on Blu-ray! With a saddlebag full of special features, including commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and more, it’s the most exciting version of this groundbreaking western available! The inimitable “Man With No Name” (Clint Eastwood) teams with two gunslingers (Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach) to pursue a fortune in stolen gold. But teamwork doesn’t’ come naturally to the outlaws, and they soon discover that their greatest challenge is to stay alive in a country ravaged by war. Forging a vibrant and yet detached style of action never before seen and not matched since, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly shatters the western mold in true Eastwood style!
Yes, yes…I’m one of those who haven’t seen this 1966 classic, but really…can you blame me? I wasn’t born until over twenty years after this movie first came out in theaters, so it wasn’t exactly something that was “big” when I was growing up and…to be completely honest, I’ve only just recently gotten into the western genre. Needless to say I was eager to check out this film if only for the accolades and praise it’s gotten over the years…and I’m quite happy to say that I was not disappointed in the least. While I’ve certainly had more fun watching other westerns, there’s an undeniable charm and uniqueness about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that is still felt today.
I think what made this film such a treat to watch even after watching a myriad of other “modern” westerns was the fact that this film had some genuine humor contained within it to back up its three hour run time of action and adventure. While a lot of the film is a lot of talking and walking, there’s something almost peaceful about waiting for the film to progress to the end. Whether it’s the constant in-and-out of the characters that disappear and reappear from the screen, the action on screen is always fresh and fast, even as we sit through long camera pans and repetitious shots that would make John Woo comment on their long windedness.
But it’s hard to even fault a classic like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for slightly irksome flaws like the above. I take issue with drama that’s made up because the camera or characters move slowly around one another, but somehow it didn’t bother me nearly as much here; it created just the right tension and I think I’m just used to it creating the wrong kind of tension in various mediums over the years that since I’d never seen it done right, I’d always just found it to be a stupid ploy to extend the scene. In fact, writing that off as a “flaw,” there’s really only one other one I can think of: the poor dubbing. Half of the time when the words being uttered didn’t match the mouth movements, I couldn’t tell if they were speaking a different language or if it was just dubbed over without much finesse. Of course I later found out that these sequences were ones added in from the Italian version, which makes sense as to why it was off by more than a little bit. So it’s hard to fault the re-dubbed footage for looking bad…the lines were re-recorded decades after the fact!
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is really just the definition of classic and to call it anything other than that would be a travesty. It’s easy to see why the film has garnered such praise over the years: on top of being filled with great action and dialogue, there are moments between Blondie and Tuco that have you smirking or laughing and the violence level, while not “extreme” R, is violent enough that it still feels like it wasn’t hindered in the least.
Overall The Good, the Bad and the Ugly comes Highly Recommended. Big surprise, right?
Oh but what doesn’t come highly recommended is this Blu-ray release, which is a curious mess, especially since this is Fox we’re talking about (who is arguably one of the better studios when it comes to the Blu-ray format). The film arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case, complete with Eco-Friendly holes, and an insert advertising MGM’s HD cable channel. Disc art is a simple grey and white matter, but it does the trick. The simple white box art also looks fantastic for this film, as it boasts an iconic shot of Clint Eastwood as Blondie (who curiously just boasts dark hair on the cover, but whatever).
Where this release falters is within the AVC (@18mbps) encoded 2.35:1 transfer. Although in full 1080p, the film overutilizies DNR and as a result washes away copious amounts of image detail. At first I thought it was just the opening sequence, as there would be shots that switched between the armed men in the beginning, where one would look incredibly waxy and the other you could count the stubble on his face…but as the film progressed, it’s obvious that they wiped away the grain along with the detail for this film. It’s a genuinely muddy looking mess most of the time and while it’s certainly better than the previous DVD release, it just doesn’t look good at all. I’m surprised by this since it seems as if Fox had stopped using DNR on their releases after the early efforts…but, alas. That isn’t the case here.
The included DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a bit lacking, with the aged dialogue and sound effects often sounding like a stretched mono track, never leaving the front channels. Occasionally the gun and cannon fire of the Civil War battles in the film would force a subwoofer pound or a bit of surround action, but rarely were any of the sound effects felt in this film. While disappointing, it’s not all that surprising—the film is over forty years old (coming up on forty-five) and the fact it even sounds this good is remarkable. But if you were looking to watch this film in brilliant HD glory, you’ll find the transfers of both the video and audio more than a little disappointing.
Extras are repeated from the 2004 two-disc DVD release that drew so much praise, although there is something new here, as well as a few things missing. First up, returning we have:
Audio Commentary by Film Historian Richard Schickel
Leone's West Making-of Documentary (19:55, SD)
The Leone Style Documentary on Sergio Leone (23:48, SD)
The Man Who Lost the Civil War Civil War Documentary (14:24, SD)
Reconstructing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Featurette on the Audio Re-recording (11:09, SD)
Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Featurette on the Composer, pt. 1 (7:48, SD)
Deleted Scenes (10:19, SD)
Trailers (English in 1080p, French in SD)
The only thing missing here is the poster gallery (unless it was tucked away somewhere and I simply didn’t see it), but in its place we get two new extras:
Audio Commentary by Noted Cultural Historian Christopher Frayling
Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Featurette on the Composer, pt. 2 (12:25, 1080i)
The new audio commentary is a great companion to the original, with plenty of interesting discussion both on the historical elements of the film as well as the history of the film itself. The bonus discussion on Morricone is an audio-only affair, with music scholar Jon Burlingame talking over a still image about Morricone’s achievements and history with director Sergio Leone.
Overall this is a fantastic set for the extras, so it’s a shame the video and audio weren’t more of a pleasing affair. Recommended for those who don’t own the previous version, but if you own the two-disc DVD already, you have to ask yourself if a muddied transfer and a few new extras are worth the upgrade. Although if you’re a true fan of the film, you’ll want this regardless.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is now available on Blu-ray.