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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Barbarosa (Blu-ray)
Barbarosa (Blu-ray)
Scorpion Releasing // PG // August 30, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $18.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted May 12, 2017 | E-mail the Author

Though he'd already appeared in three previous films (most notably Michael Mann's Thief, released one year earlier), country music legend Willie Nelson's first appearance in a full-fledged Western came with Barbarosa (1982). Directed by Australian filmmaker Fred Schepisi---his first American production, years before Six Degrees of Separation and Fierce Creatures---this tale of near-mythical gunslinger "Barbarosa" (Nelson) and his younger, inexperienced sidekick Karl (Gary Busey) certainly feels like a good fit for both leads, especially in hindsight. Featuring great cinematography by Ian Baker and a memorable score from Bruce Smeaton (Picnic at Hanging Rock), it's a well-paced and watchable film that doesn't waste much time during its brief 90-minute lifespan.

Though obviously separated by skill and demeanor, Barbarosa and Karl meet under similar circumstances: both have recently killed someone, and are more or less on the run for it: Barbarosa's victim was an assassin sent by his father-in-law Don Braulio (Gilbert Roland), while Karl accidentally killed his own brother-in-law August. But only the latter seems worried about the fallout, as Barbarosa's tough exterior and reputation give him an advantage in almost any situation. Naturally, the older man seems reluctant to take Karl under his wing, but temporarily puts his guard down under the circumstances: they're both involved in family feuds, and without help Karl obviously won't make it very far. Yet their wildly different moral compasses don't make them a good match at first: Karl simply doesn't agree with Barbarosa's killing and thieving ways, but eventually they'll have to meet in the middle.

Not surprisingly, Willie Nelson's natural charisma and awesome braids make him a good fit for Barbarosa (both the character and film as a whole)---and despite his less than stellar Spanish pronunciation, he seems right at home in the wide open Mexican landscape. Equally impressive is Gary Busey as Karl, who seems like an even more perfect fit for the good-natured Karl, whose naive personality is gradually whittled away to reveal a surprisingly convincing bad-ass by the home stretch. They make a great pairing and have no trouble carrying most of the weight; supporting roles are filled out nicely by the likes of Gilbert Roland (in his final movie appearance), Isela Vega (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), Danny De La Paz (Miracle Mile), and TV veteran Alma Martinez (her film debut). Collectively, the performances run a close second to Ian Baker's top-notch cinematography, shot mostly with long lenses and framed beautifully to give Barbarosa a no-nonsense and authentic appearance, better than most of its kind.

Though Barbarosa hits a few speed bumps along the way---not the least of which is the film's somewhat confusing final scenes, exacerbated by edits made after test screenings that unfortunately haven't been restored for this release---it's a largely enjoyable Western that has been long forgotten in the last 35 years. Scorpion Releasing's new Blu-ray gives Barbarosa a great chance at second life, thanks to a solid A/V presentation (which easily beats Lionsgate's old pan-and-scan DVD) and a handful of surprisingly good interviews with the director and supporting cast. Die-hard fans will enjoy this one, but it's for beginners too.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this crisp 1080p transfer of Barbarosa looks good on Blu-ray; it obviously marks a huge improvement over the previous pan-and-scan DVD released by Lionsgate back in 2003 (which still commands a high price from third-party sellers, for whatever reason). Many of the outdoor scenes were shot with extremely long lenses by cinematographer Ian Baker, which allows for fine image detail on foreground characters and a softer appearance for everything else. The flat and no-nonsense compositions are framed well, adding to the film's down-to-earth appeal, with strong color reproduction and great textures during close-ups. That said, a handful of shots did have something of a processed and slightly waxy appearance; whether or not that's the result of digital noise reduction is anyone's guess, but these moments are few and far between (as are a few dimly lit nighttime sequences). Overall, it's obviously a fine-looking disc that will satisfy die-hard fans and newcomers alike.

DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

Barbarosa comes through cleanly in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, which preserves its mono mix while faithfully reproducing the dialogue and Bruce Smeaton's original score. There's some modest depth at times---especially during the occasional music cues---but this is undoubtedly a thin presentation from start to finish, with some obvious source-related problems that give certain scenes, sound effects, and dialogue exchanges a somewhat tinny and hollow sound. But these issues are few and far between overall, so genre fans and newcomers alike won't find much to complain about with this lossless audio treatment. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles are included, which makes a few of the non-native English speakers a bit tough to understand the first time through.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The basic but stylish interface includes options for chapter selection and bonus features, and almost everything's on one screen for easy access. This one disc release is housed in a standard keepcase; no inserts of any kind are included.

. .

Bonus Features

Three brand new Interviews serve as the primary extras on this release. The first, with director Fred Schiepsi (34:25), goes into great detail about his first American film: working with a larger budget, dealing with test audiences, shooting on location, passing on "some composer named Jerry Goldsmith", characters and casting, and other topics. Actor Danny de la Paz (33:53) speaks about the cinematography and lighting, working with new and familiar cast and crew members, watching late-night movies as a kid, stories from the set, and much more---it's a very upbeat and chatty session. Finally, actress Alma Martinez (23:31) talks about her first on-screen role in Barbarosa, public support from critic Pauline Kael, the film's dramatic ending, approaching her character, deleted scenes, and dealing with sexual harassment on the set. These were all much better than expected and well worth a watch.

Also here is the film's original Theatrical Trailer (1:49) presented in 1080p. Finally, we get an optional Isolated Music and Effects Track that highlights Bruce Smeaton's original score; like the main feature, it's presented as a lossless two-channel mono mix.

Final Thoughts

Though it rarely adds up to more than the sum of its parts, Barbarosa remains a thoroughly enjoyable Western with an unlikely lead cast that, much like the supporting players, turns in fine performances. Featuring attractive cinematography, an enjoyable score, and a handful of memorable characters, Barbarosa is a textbook example of a cult film destined to be re-discovered on Blu-ray. Scorpion Releasing's new disc elevates the film to greater heights with a solid A/V presentation and almost 90 minutes' worth of surprisingly in-depth interviews with three members of the cast and crew. It's at least worth a rental for newcomers, but there's enough here for established fans to make this worth a purchase (especially those stuck with pan-and-scan DVDs). Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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