Sunday, 11 July 2010

A comprehensive list of disappointments with the US Blu-Ray release of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

1. No US theatrical edition. This Blu-ray release instead presents AMC's reconstruction of the 1966 Rome premiere cut; a hodgepodge speculative version that includes scenes that Leone subsequently edited out before a wider Italian release. Since this cut runs 14 or minutes longer than the print prepared for North America theatrical exhibition in 1967, the new footage was dubbed by an ageing Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood, with Simon Prescott standing in for the deceased Lee Van Cleef. It's a shame this curio edit has become the preferred home video mint, the newer line readings can be reedy and distracting, and the reinserted footage tends to skew digressive. It's an interesting watch, but certainly not a definitive version.

2. The sound effects have been changed. The English DTS-HD track includes all sorts of sound cue revisionism. Gun shots have been altered from crackling echo-buzzes to dull library thuds. The entire sound suite of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has been altered to accommodate senseless detailing and directional demonstration work. I'm sure the intentions of Intersound, the company responsible for 5.1 remix, were pure, but the result is a sensory mismatch that brutalises the immaculately composed original.

3. Misleading special features. This Blu-Ray release also includes an English Mono track. Hopes were high in Disaster Towers that this channel would be the unaltered 1967 dub soundtrack; sadly this Mono track is simply the 5.1 mix as heard through one speaker. All the infuriating audio embellishments remain.

4. Lastly and most nitpicky, the Italian Mono mix is poorly served by some lazy subtitling. In presenting an Italian language track for this title, there finally seemed to be a shred of acknowledgement that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is, at least partially, an Italian film. Better still, the Italian Mono track is struck from the same print that contained all the raw reconstruction elements, meaning all of the 60s foley work has been left unmolested. On this channel guns still sound like some enormous bizarre insect speeding around a canyon. You could also argue that as this version seeks to replicate the Rome premiere cut, this is the most authentic soundtrack option. Unfortunately no-one thought to create a separate set of subtitles to accompany the Italian language channel. You'll have to make do with a transcript of the English dub. Worse still, the only English subtitles available on this Blu-Ray are calibrated for the deaf and hard of hearing, so expect stage direction frame clutter.

It's not all bad though. This release contains an exhaustive commentary track by Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling. Frayling's hyper-detailed walkthroughs are always worth the price of admission.

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