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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Fox // PG // May 13, 2008
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 16, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:


I first saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the theaters
during its 1974 re-release.  It made quite an impression on the 10-year-old
me at the time, since it was funny, colorful, exciting, and action-packed,
but most of all because it had a totally unexpected ending.  I left
the theater stunned, feeling like I'd been kicked in the gut.  It
was on the way home that it dawned on me that movies could affect a person. 
Viewing a film isn't always just a passive way to pass the time.

Now, nearly 35 years later, the movie is still impressive and fun. 
The classic buddy film, it has aged very well in no small part to William
Goldman's smart script and George Roy Hill's creative and spot-on direction. 
20th Century Fox has released the film on Blu-ray, and while it is better
than its SD DVD counterpart, both the transfer and audio are fairly mediocre.




Based (loosely) on the lives and exploits of two real-life outlaws,
Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) is the leader of the Hole in the Wall Gang. 
Along with his partner the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) and the rest of
his gang Butch plans a daring robbery:  to hold up the Union Pacific
Flyer on both its trip out west AND on the return trip.  They figure,
correctly, that the corporate honchos will assume the return trip would
be safer, the train already having been robbed and "predisastered" to steal
a phrase from The World According to Garp.

The scheme goes according to plan (mostly), and on the second hold-up
the train is full of cash.  Two hold-ups in such a short time are
more than the owner of the line is willing to stand for.  He hires
a group of trackers and lawmen, the best there is, to hunt down the pair
no matter what the expense.




This is one of those cases where everything comes together perfectly
and a really great movie is created.  The driving force of the film
is the witty banter between Butch and Sundance, and their close relationship. 
One of the few comic-westerns that actually works, the comedy never gets
so silly as to make the film unrealistic, but the film still has some laugh-out-loud
moments.

The chemistry between Newman and Redford is great too.  The banter
rolls off their tongues effortlessly and they treat each other like life-long
buddies.




Finally the direction is unique and superb.  Hill takes some chances
with this film, from the sepia-toned opening scenes to the music video-like
interlude in the middle and the inspired ending shot, and they all miraculously
work.  The film flows well and doesn't get bogged down or awkward. 
Watching the movie it's easy to connect with the two charming though flawed
people, and that's what makes this such a well regarded film.


The Blu-ray Disc:




Video:

I was hoping to report that this classic western film looked just as
good as some of the other oaters that have been released on Blu-ray, such
as The Searchers or Rio Bravo.  Unfortunately, that isn't the case. 
This 2.35:1 MPEG-2 encoded image does look better than the SD version of
this film, but it isn't up to the standard set by other HD discs. 
The main problem is the print that was used for the transfer wasn't in
pristine shape.  There's more that a few spots and specks through
the films running time, and grain is a present to a larger degree than
I would have expected.  The colors look nice, though some of them
have been boosted a bit too much, the train engineer's uniform looked a
little too blue but that's a minor consideration.  The blacks weren't
that great, with some areas not being as inky and dark as they could.

On the positive note, a side-by-side comparison with an earlier release
shows that this HD version has significantly better detail.  The grooves
in Sundance's corduroy jacket in the beginning sepia-toned section stood
out better, and it's clear that the man who plants the dynamite to blow
up the Union Pacific train is wearing a pin-striped coat.  The lines
are tighter and better defined than the SD counterpart.

 

Digitally there is some posterization in some scenes and mosquito noise
is not uncommon.  Alaising isn't a problem though, and neither is
blocking.  When all is said and done, this disc doesn't look horrible,
but I was hoping that a film of this significance would have been treated
a little better and been released with a top-notch transfer.  As it
is, the disc looks about average.

Audio:

Unfortunately the audio wasn't too impressive either.  Fox includes
the original mono soundtrack, which I'm glad they did, along with a new
DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit).  The
DTS track didn't have the enveloping sound that I was hoping.  There
was a few times when the rears kicked in, when a train was going by for
example, but overall this was a very front-heavy mix that wasn't nearly
as impressive as was hoping.  The bass track was fairly anemic too;
the explosions where the train cars were blown up, for example, really
lacked punch and failed to shake the windows like many impressive tracks
do.  Again, this isn't horrible, but it's not remarkable either.

Extras:

Once again, a Blu-ray disc doesn't port over all of the extras from
its SD counterpart.  *sigh*  What are you gonna do?  Luckily,
most of the best bonus material has been ported over.  First off there's
two commentary tracks, the first by Director George Roy Hill, Lyricist
Hal David, Documentary Director Robert Crawford Jr. and Cinematographer
Conrad Hall, the second by writer William Goldman.  Both of these
are pieced together affairs with lengthy gaps of silence, but they both
had some interesting moments.  I greatly preferred Goldman's track
and though it is dry in parts and Goldman comes across as crotchety, he
does have a lot of interesting things to say about Hollywood, film writing,
and the process of getting a film on screen.

The first featurette (of two, both in HD) is All of What Follows
is True: The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
.  This
35 minute behind the scenes piece was made in 2005 and features the stars
and crew of the film who discuss how the movie was made and its place in
cinema history.

I was more interested in the second featurette, the 25-minute long The
Wild Bunch: The Fact vs. Fiction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

In this show various historians and scholars discuss the real Butch and
Sundance and compare their history to Hollywood's version.

The extras section is rounded out with a deleted scene with optional
commentary by the director and some trailers.

Final Thoughts:

With a tight and well written script, impeccable direction and wonderful
performances by the leads, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a classic
western and an enjoyable buddy flick.  While this Blu-ray disc looks
better than the early SD releases, the transfer doesn't hit a home run. 
Still worth watching and owning however, this disc gets a light recommendation.

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.

 

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