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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The New Centurions: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
The New Centurions: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // R // March 20, 2018 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at ]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted March 29, 2018 | E-mail the Author

Based on the best-selling 1971 novel by former policeman Joseph Wambaugh, Richard Fleischer's The New Centurions (1972) attempted to bridge the gap between by-the-book police dramas like Dragnet or Adam-12 and the more visceral Dirty Harry. Truth be told (and despite the fact that it was "recommended for adult entertainment"), The New Centurions has more in common with the two Jack Webb shows: not only were many events reportedly taken from the author's own experiences during his 14 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, but they emphasize the sometimes rocky relationship between officers and the citizens they serve. Our story features half a dozen key players, but the main through-line follows three rookies during their first years on the force: aspiring lawyer Roy Fehler (Stacy Keach), three-time dad Gus Plebesly (Scott Wilson), and former gang member Sergio Duran (Erik Estrada).

Each man is paired with a more experienced partner, with Roy's story getting the most screen time by far. He rides with veteran Sergeant Andy Kilvinski (George C. Scott) and learns his unorthodox "laws" that, while usually effective, stray very far from the handbook. There's a steep learning curve here, and it's safe to say that Roy has been thrown into the deep end -- but for the time being, he's only doing it to earn money for law school while enjoying the company of his wife and daughter. [Spoilers ahead] Unfortunately, trouble's just around the corner: Roy's family life begins to deteriorate, he's shot in the line of duty, and his partner retires after 25 years on the force. Meanwhile, Gus and Sergio have their own issues to deal with: the former accidentally shoots an innocent bystander after a nighttime robbery, while Sergio...well, he's the only one who seems to come away generally unscathed. [End spoilers]

It almost goes without saying that The New Centurions' most memorable moments are the shocking ones. Barely 15 minutes of screen time go by without some sort of life-changing or major event, which consistently keeps new viewers on their toes. As a result, this is not an easy film to get comfortable with: relationships on and off the job are ever-changing, and some stretches work better than others. This gives The New Centurions an inconsistent tone at times, which varies from overly dramatic to somber, unsettling to reassuring. That's part of the territory for any realistic police drama -- but if there's one obvious fault, it's that The New Centurions attempts to cram too much material into its relatively swift 103-minute running time. A common criticism of any film based on a novel is that too much key detail is left out, and the uneven amount of focus given to our three central rookies (let alone their partners, some of which are barely featured for more than a few minutes total) robs The New Centurions of even more emotional depth and weight.

Luckily, those memorable moments carry enough impact to make The New Centurions an effective police drama overall, and one that's certainly aided by outstanding performances and a real-world atmosphere; most if not all of this footage was shot on city streets, police buildings, and dark alleys, not sound stages or studio backlots. George C. Scott and Stacy Keach, who get the most screen time, carry most of the film and carry it well -- especially the former, who was still riding high off back-to-back Best Actor wins/nominations for Patton and The Hospital. And though I'm still less than enamored with Quincy Jones' score (which fits like a glove during some scenes, but feels awfully distracting in others), it still lends a certain "early 1970s" appeal to the action and excitement. Either way, The New Centurions is something of a hidden gem and Twilight Time's new Blu-ray offers a few perks that fans will appreciate.

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer represents a solid upgrade from Sony's 2008 DVD in every department. It's not clear if this was sourced from a new master, but the improvements are obvious: image detail and textures are definitely much clearer in daytime sequences, while many of the low-lit and nighttime scenes fare better this time around with more clearly defined levels of shadow detail and contrast. The color palette shows improvement as well, even though it's anything but a flashy picture. Dirt and debris are basically absent, and no digital manipulation (excessive noise reduction, compression artifacts) was detected either. Overall, those with a soft spot for 1970s cinema will be glad to know that The New Centurions clearly looks like a product of its time, and for all the right reasons. This is solid treatment of a deserving film, and die-hard fans will be extremely pleased.

NOTE: Screen captures on this page were originally published on DVD Beaver's review for a different edition of this film on Blu-ray.

The New Centurions' audio is presented in its original DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 format (split mono) and sounds crisper and more refined than the DVD. Not surprisingly, Quincy Jones' score also benefits greatly from the lossless boost, allowing for several moments of modest depth and a solid dynamic range overall. Low frequency effects are virtually absent and gunshots don't have a lot of punch, but there's no obvious clipping or distortion in the high end. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature only.

The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with relatively quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a clear, unbranded keepcase with poster-themed artwork and a nice Booklet featuring production stills, promotional artwork, and another insightful new essay penned by Julie Kirgo. As always, it's a simple but effective presentation.


The main attraction here is a pair of Audio Commentaries which are, to the best of my knowledge, exclusive to this release: the first features actor Scott Wilson and film historian Nick Redman, while the second pairs up film historians Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo. Both are great tracks and well worth sitting through for die-hard fans and newcomers alike; topics of discussion include physical training for the film, getting introduced to the three rookies, differences from the book, character arcs, the casting process, career paths and the studio system, Richard Fleischer's early films, being raised by a cop, the life and times of Joseph Wambaugh, supporting characters and cameo appearances, shooting in real locations, Quincy Jones' score, the screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, and much more. Together, they provide a very nice balance of personal insight, candid reflection, and "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" career overviews.

Also included (and ported over from Sony's 2008 DVD) is the film's interesting Theatrical Trailer complete with voice-over at the ending. Please note that two separate Region B Blu-rays -- one released by Powerhouse Films in late 2016, the other by Carlotta Films a few months later -- offer much different bonus features including various interviews, mid-length documentaries, and even a condensed Super 8 version of the film. Twilight's commentaries have value, so die-hard fans may want to own more than one edition.

Richard Fleischer's The New Centurions, based on the popular novel by Joseph Wambaugh, treads well-worn territory but offers terrific performances and a handful of extremely memorable moments. It attempts to cover a lot of ground -- perhaps too much at times -- and this keeps the film from reaching even greater heights, yet it's still a ride worth taking and is just as relevant now as it likely was in 1972. Twilight Time's Blu-ray is a marked upgrade from Sony's barebones 2008 DVD, serving up an improved A/V presentation and two separate audio commentaries that add value to the experience. Unless you already own one of the Region B Blu-rays and are happy with it, there's no reason that die-hard fans or newcomers shouldn't add this to their collection. Firmly Recommended.

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