WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
"Think you're quick enough?" That's the tagline for Sam Raimi's entertaining 1995 western The Quick and the Dead, which is like a corny Old West comic book come to life. Raimi has crammed his quick-draw adventure with all the quirky camera tricks and silly effects of his Evil Dead films—wild zooms, hilarious process shots, and point-of-view bullet shots—and the result is a lightweight concoction that's a feast for the eyes if not for the mind.
Ellen (Sharon Stone)—a mysterious stranger with a dark, vengeful purpose—arrives alone in the town of Redemption. She's all intense glances and monotone smart-ass remarks, and Stone plays her with a seriousness unmatched in the rest of the proceedings, save perhaps for an early performance by Russell Crowe as the troubled preacher Cort. Ellen and Cort, as well as the rest of the town, are intimidated beneath the shadow of the larger-than-life John Herod (Gene Hackman, having a fabulous time), a sadistic overlord to the poor populace of Redemption. There's also The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio)—Herod's hotshot son—full of bravado and vigor, trying to earn the respect of his father. They're all joined by a host of western caricatures, hucksters, and baddies as they face off for the mother of all quick-draw contests, an annual event in Redemption sponsored by Herod himself. The last man alive in the brutal contest gets a trunk full of cash.
The Quick and the Dead is by no means a subtle film. The plot is merely an excuse to stage gunfight after gunfight along the dusty main street of Redemption, and to trot out every western cliché in the book. As long as you don't mind the film's shallow aims, you'll find yourself caught up in all the genre worship and the sheer fun of every scene. Raimi is an insane stylist, and he throws every trick he knows into this film, and every shot clangs and clatters with explosions or shouts or guffaws or gunshots. Raimi has calmed down these loud tendencies somewhat, in subsequent films such as A Simple Plan and even Spider-Man, but in my book, he's best when he's going for broke, as he definitely did in this crazy little flick.
There are a few moments in the film when bullets rip through bodies, and the sun shines through as if the doomed gunfighter's flesh were no thicker than cardboard—and that says a lot about the flimsiness of the characterizations and the plot machinations. But no matter. This is a terrific-looking film (thanks in large part to the efforts of cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who gives the film a glossy, sepia beauty) full of sound and fury—and lots of laughs.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia/Tri-Star gives The Quick and the Dead a Superbit presentation, which means that the disc's real estate is largely devoted to maximizing the quality of the video and audio presentations. In the case of the 1.85:1 anamorphic-widescreen transfer, the results are a mixed bag. Although I'm ecstatic to finally have the film in a great enhanced-for-widescreen presentation, I'm a tad disappointed in the results (given the Superbit moniker).
First, the good news: Overall, this is a very pleasing image. If there's one thing I expect from the Superbit releases, it's exquisitely rendered detail. The detail in The Quick and the Dead reaches deeply into backgrounds and is eye-popping in close-ups. Colors are accurate within Spinotti's palette, appearing dusty and sepia-toned, but also warm and deep. Skin tones are generally a good place to judge the quality of a transfer's color timing, and here the faces seem just the right shade of dusty, trail-worn pink. I noticed very little digital artifacting in the form of blocking and pixelation, and virtually no haloing. The transfer has a warm depth that makes the film a joy to watch.
Unfortunately, Superbit releases—by their very nature—tend to bring out flaws that you might otherwise not notice. The print used for the transfer isn't in the best shape, showing a fair amount of dirt and unnecessary grain. In general, the age of the print comes through loud and clear in the Superbit presentation, and I was left wishing that Columbia/Tri-Star would invest in a restoration before committing older films to the Superbit process.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The Quick and the Dead has an incredibly active soundtrack. The entire soundfield is alive with crowd noise, whizzing bullets, gunshots, and whoops and hollers. Even the buzz of a fly is essential to the audio experience of this film. The disc offers a choice between two 5.1 surround tracks. In general, both presentations are quite effective, offering good punch in explosions and a rich depth to the score. However, some of the sound effects (such as the gunshots) and shouted dialog have a strained quality, as if from loss of fidelity or overprocessing.
I performed several comparisons between the Dolby Digital 5.1 track and DTS 5.1 track. In the arena of bass, the DTS track wins, offering a less diffuse throb and a tighter, more compact punch. By comparison, in moments of deep bass, the Dolby track sounds like a smear of low-end sound. However, when it comes to dialog—and even the variance of high-end sound levels—I believe the better presentation is the Dolby track. I noticed just the slightest bit more distortion at very high levels on the DTS track, as well as moments when the dialog seemed too soft when compared with the punchy effects.
You really can't go wrong with either track, though, as both offer a wonderfully engaging and enveloping mix.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Columbia/Tri-Star introduced its Superbit line to home theater enthusiasts as discs that would maximize the experience of the film at the expense of supplementary material. But the Superbit line has been inconsistent with its promises. Sometimes we'll see extras on a Superbit disc (Panic Room) and, indeed, the studio has released several Superbit Deluxe discs (The Patriot) that offer a full second disc of extras.
But The Quick and the Dead goes back to the basics and doesn't even offer a trailer.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The Quick and the Dead is a fun western flick that maximizes thrills and comic violence while underplaying notions of plot and sense. But hey, that's what I love about Sam Raimi's films. If only Bruce Campbell had been one of the gunfighters, we'd have had a classic. This Superbit presentation is a huge leap up from the original release, and is worthy of a purchase for the simple reason of "anamorphic widescreen." But the image isn't as wonderful as I wanted it to be.