How the West Was Won
The early 1950s saw the advent of a new cinema format, a gift for those for whom 70mm projection just wasn’t wide enough. The IMAX of its time, Cinerama was based on what seemed like a crackpot theory: what if you filmed something with stuck three cameras side by side, then laterally spliced the film together, to create one super-wide image? Remarkably, it worked, resulting in such landscape-scoped epic films like The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, World… and this epic western. John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, James Stewart and Debbie Reynolds were among the big screen stars roped in by the three larger-than-life directors (John Ford, George Marshall and Henry Hathaway) to tell the rabble-rousing tale of American pioneers in the old West. One might think that a film format designed to make standard cinema look like TV would translate poorly to the small screen, but one look at the Blu-ray proves otherwise. The film has undergone a full digital restoration, and the once-visible joins between the three film strips have been digitally erased, resulting not only in a flawless print, but the best possible demonstration of the film’s panoramic splendour. (A second version of the film, presented in a witty wrap-around format, arguably gives an even truer representation of the Cinerama experience, but you have to sit dangerously close to the screen.)
An equally wide variety of extras – commentaries, documentaries, interviews, and more – cover the making of the film and the story of Cinerama itself. For those not yet convinced that Blu-ray is the format of the future, this is how the argument will be won.
Before tilting at Watchmen, Zak Snyder turned Frank Miller’s graphic novel, about the Spartans who fought Xerxes’ Persians at the battle of Thermopylae, into such a rich visual feast, your eyes will be full for a week. Blu-ray delivers the deliberate grain and unique colour palette with relish, and the extras reveal some of the secrets behind the film.
Black Hawk Down
A gorgeous grain effect enhances the grittiness of Ridley Scott’s superbly cast and expertly staged story, which puts you in the middle of a disastrous US Army operation in Somalia in 1993. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer joins Scott for a commentary, and there’s another with US special forces veterans, plus making of material. Dynamite.
Band of Brothers
Steven Spielberg followed Saving Private Ryan with this Emmy and Golden Glove-winning television event, based on the true WWII exploits of the US Paratroopers’ legendary ‘Easy Company. The six discs, packaged in a cool tin box, offer ten hours of unforgettable drama in shimmering hi-def, and a kit bag full of in-depth extras. Unmissable.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Brad Pitt, as the turn of the century train robber, and Casey Affleck, the young James Gang member doomed to kill him, are equally impressive in Kiwi director Andrew Dominik’s elegaic, affecting exploration of celebrity and destiny. On Blu-ray, however, it’s Roger Deakins’ breathtaking photography you’ll return to again and again.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Aussie director Peter Weir embellished an already fascinating body of work with this adaptation of Patrick O’Brien’s seafaring Napoleonic novels, with Russell Crowe on fine form. In HD, the battle scenes are shipshape, and the attention to historical detail clearly borders on the obsessive. The extras show how the whole endeavour was launched.
Here’s another Blu-ray wonder from Down Under: John Hillcoat’s gut-wrenching tale, scripted by Nick Cave, of a British lawman (Ray Winstone) determined to capture a psychotic outlaw (Danny Huston). The brutality of the times is matched only by the harshness of the landscape, superbly captured by Benoit Delhomme’s iridescent cinematography.
Deadwood fans will appreciate this revisionist Western, in which a retired gunslinger, long since sworn off violence, is forced to leave his family and take up arms once again. Clint Eastwood won his first Best Director Oscar, but the performances, not to mention the cinematography, make this a must buy Blu-ray.
Full Metal Jacket
The director’s cut of this ambitious sequel to Pitch Black, which introduced Vin Diesel as amoral anti-hero Riddick, is one of those films that Blu-ray’s startling visual clarity helps to elevate beyond its reputation. The extras are equally impressive, and with a new Riddick video game in the shops, it’s essential re-viewing.