As the winner of seven Academy Awards (Best Picture, Directing, Art Design, Costume Design, Original Screenplay, Editing and Music), it's obvious that George Roy Hill's The Sting (1973) did something right. A lot of things right, actually. This tale of grifters, guns and gambling plays all of its cards perfectly, taking its audience for as much as a ride as the poor saps victimized by clever con-men Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford). After a small-time con goes awry, these two talented grifters eventually set their sights on the deep pockets of Chicago mobster Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). From high-stakes poker to off-track betting, we're treated to layers of trickery and revenge as Gondorff and Hooker try to stay ahead of the game. All the while, local police lieutenant William Snyder (Charles Durning) attempts to catch them in the act, and it's not long before the FBI joins the hunt.
Newman and Redford return after their popular pairing on Hill's own Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)...and while both are quality films, I'd choose The Sting almost every time. On its own merits, this perfectly realized story is executed without fault, as The Sting breezes through its 129-minute running time with energy to spare. The chemistry of our two leads is obvious enough...but the addition of a lively Scott Joplin-inspired score, terrific production design and a plot full of twists and turns makes The Sting an absolute joy to watch (and re-watch). The film's infamous climax is perhaps its greatest strength, swimming against the current of "realistic" downbeat endings popular during the decade. Above all else, we don't get a story that's deeply sophisticated, thought-provoking or steeped in complex symbolism. We just get a good old-fashioned time at the movies...and sometimes, that's more than enough.
The Sting's history on home video is full of its own twists and turns, from the original open matte DVD release to the 2007 HD DVD. Universal debuts the film on Blu-Ray as part of its 100th Anniversary collection; as with selected titles, it's available in standard keepcase or deluxe Digibook packages. This review takes a look at the latter edition, although both are essentially ports of the 2005 Legacy Edition DVD with a new 1080p transfer (yes, different than the HD DVD). So, is this Blu-Ray a sure bet?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Universal gets a lot of backlash for the video presentation of their catalog titles (and most of it's warranted)...but overall, there's plenty to like about this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer of The Sting. The earthy color palette looks rich and well-defined, image detail is generally excellent and a fine layer of film grain is apparent most of the time. Other scenes are a bit softer in comparison and it's possible some DNR was used, but this isn't a major issue by any means. On the other hand, I will admit that this Blu-Ray is noticeably brighter and more saturated than the Legacy Edition DVD...so while The Sting looks quite good in high definition, it's tough to say if this presentation is completely faithful to the source material. Those who own Universal's HD DVD release may want to compare it against this Blu-Ray, as initial reviews of that title's video quality were generally favorable. Either way, I wasn't disappointed by a long shot, especially considering similar flaws inherent in all previous editions of The Sting on home video.
NOTE: The above screen captures are from the included DVD and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
On the other hand, the audio presentation most certainly doesn't replicate the source material, but fans shouldn't get too worked up. Presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, the film's dialogue and sound effects are mostly confined to the front channels, boasting occasional separation and a robust dynamic range. Rear channels are mostly used for Marvin Hamlisch's lively adaptation of Scott Joplin numbers, so this is far from a tasteless remix of the original mono (which, as far as I know, is available on the HD DVD). A DTS-HD 2.0 French dub is also available, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, this two-disc Combo Pack is housed in a beautiful, foil-enhanced Digibook full of cast bios, essays, production photos and much more. The digital copy redemption code is printed on an insert that's also tucked inside. Menu designs follow Universal's standard Blu-Ray format, while the DVD menus resemble those from the 2005 Legacy Edition. Overall, it's a handsome package...but if you've bought any other Universal 100th Anniversary Collector's Editions, you probably knew that already.
Unfortunately, the only extras of note are those ported from the Legacy Edition...and even back in 2005, people complained. These recycled bonus features include the hour-long "Art of The Sting"
retrospective featurette and a post-Oscars Trailer
for the film. Both are really starting to show their age; even with the 1080i upconvert, they're pretty rough around the edges. What, still no audio commentary?
We also get a few additional Promotional Featurettes celebrating Universal's 100th Anniversary, including a general look at film restoration, Universal's film output in the 1970s and the studio's massive backlot (5-9 minutes apiece). These featurettes are worth a look...but since they're included on all appropriate releases from the 100th Anniversary line and aren't necessarily film-specific, don't get too excited.
The included DVD features the same new transfer in 480p and, unlike the Legacy Edition, fits the vintage extras on the same disc. The Digital Copy is redeemable via a code printed inside the package.
The Sting is a deserving Best Picture winner from one of cinema's greatest decades. It's supremely entertaining and accessible, highlighted by wonderful performances, a lively score and solid production design that all create a convincing atmosphere. Universal's Blu-Ray edition of The Sting serves up a satisfying visual presentation and great audio (though it's missing the HD DVD's mono track), even if the extras leave a bit to be desired. This Collector's Series Digibook ups the ante with a nice packaging job; if that's worth an extra $10 or so, there's no reason why you shouldn't go all-in. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off and writing stuff in third person.