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Features: Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1. Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono). Available subtitles: English. Theatrical Trailer.
1974's Death Wish was made at the height of Hollywood's obsession with anti-hero films. Charles Bronson, in a role that would firmly cement his status as a major star, plays dyed-in-the-wool liberal Paul Kersey. A successful architect, Kersey is a happy family man with a beautiful wife and a newly wed daughter. His upper middle class New York lifestyle seems idyllic until one afternoon when three street punks (one of whom is played by Jeff Goldblum in his first big screen role) attack his wife and rape his daughter. By the time Kersey arrives at the hospital his wife has died from her wounds and his daughter has slipped into deep post-traumatic psychosis. Kersey tries to deal with his loss in a number of ways including redecorating his condo and going on a long work related trip. Nothing seems to help though until a client takes him to a shooting range and inadvertently awakens Kersey's vengeful rage. Upon returning to New York Kersey starts an extended killing spree aimed at the hoods and crooks he encounters on the streets.
I've seen Death Wish many times and I always come away with the feeling that the film is deeply flawed. Unlike its contemporaries (consider Taxi Driver for example) Death Wish lacks depth. The story is all surface and contains little hint of subtext. We're encouraged to identify with Kersey and to perceive his vigilantism as a boon to society. Even the police in Death Wish are complicit with that view and I, for one, find that somewhat disturbing. Even looking back at Death Wish with cynical 21st century eyes the film seems a bit too reactionary and politically volatile for comfort. Nevertheless, Death Wish was a huge box office success, spawning a whopping four sequels and becoming, for better or worse, an indelible part of the American cultural landscape.
The merits of the film aside, one thing everyone should be able to agree upon is the very high quality of this transfer. The prints of Death Wish that I've seen on TV were always consistently damaged, dirty and dark, clearly showing the signs of age and wear. This version of the film is in fantastic shape. The film elements used are almost entirely free from dirt, scratches and other surface flaws. The colors have faded over the years but saturation levels appear to have been boosted in the transfer to disc. The color enhancement works great with reds and yellows but the blues and browns still look a little under stated. Contrast and black levels are right on the money and there's a surprising amount of shadow detail. I wasn't able to detect any digital artifacting and only a slight amount of edge breakup due to over sharpening.
The sound elements for Death Wish are presented in their original monaural format. The dynamic range is consistently shallow and there's a good amount of hiss in the quieter moments. Be that as it may, Death Wish probably hasn't sounded better in over a decade and any shortfalls in the audio tracks are no doubt due to the age of the source material. The mix is consistent from scene to scene, the dialogue is always clear and Herbie Hancock's score is well represented.
This is one of Paramount's movie only releases. I'm not terribly surprised by that fact but it is a shame that the studio didn't at least shell out for some liner notes on the disc insert. The only extra here is a very battered and scratchy version of the original theatrical trailer.
If you're a Death Wish fan this disc is going to be a bit of a disappointment. The lack of extras will surely make you think twice about buying the disc. On the other hand the transfer is truly beautiful and really does the film justice. Unfortunately my personal dissatisfaction with Death Wish extends to this DVD release so I'll have to give it a rating of: Rent It.