Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
4 Stars
High-Def Extras
1.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Street Date:
May 12th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
November 19th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
1966
Studio:
MGM Home Entertainment
Length:
161 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Few movies in the pantheon of cool loom as large as Sergio Leone's towering 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.'

As a movie, it's deceptively simple. It's all about $200,000 in Confederate gold, which is being scrambled after by our titular characters in the dusty, frayed edges of the Civil War. There's Clint Eastwood's iconic The Man With No Name (his name is actually Blondie, but that's far less bad-ass), who is The Good, a sharp-minded gunslinger who absolutely oozes cool. Eastwood is running a con with the grubby, wily Tucco (Eli Wallach), a morally ambiguous rascal who serves as The Ugly. And then there's The Bad, Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), who is about as stony a killer as you can imagine (think the prototype for the Javier Bardem character in 'No Country for Old Men').

The morally questionable positions of the characters, and the violence that goes along with them, are mirrored by the tumultuous wartime atmosphere. When the two spheres intersect (and they do), it's in spectacular fashion. But as far as plot goes, that's pretty much it - three men, all after the money. Mix in some shootouts, some thrown punches, and double-crosses, and some of the most gorgeous Western photography you could ever imagine, and a cult classic was born.

From the first frame, with its unforgettable title sequence, 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' is an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience. Director Sergio Leone imbues even the most mundane sequence with a sense of epic grandeur all but missing from the films of today. The oscillation between wide shots and intimate close ups makes for a unique visual rhythm, orchestrated under Leone's direction by gifted cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli. And while the film's epic running time (161 minutes) makes for the occasionally clunky moment, there's not a second of the film when you won't be riveted by what you're seeing on screen.

Moments of relatively shocking violence erupt after long stretches of calmness, with Leone turning the Mexican stand-off into a much-imitated art form all its own (look no further than John Woo's most influential films). Combined with Ennio Morricone's haunting score, and you've got a filmic experience that still reverberates today. Think about Quentin Tarantino, who once called 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' "the best-directed film of all time," who used many of the Leone trademarks, complete with bits of the 'Ugly' score, for his own magnum opus, this summer's 'Inglourious Basterds.' It says a lot for a movie to be loved when its originally released, it says something else altogether when people are still aping it all these years later.

If you're a fan of the movie, or just someone who has heard it talked about so much that it's time you see it for yourself, 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' is not to be missed, especially in its new high definition debut. All hail one of the coolest movies ever made.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer (2.35:1 aspect ratio) on this 50GB disc is just breathtaking. As you'll learn a little later on (via the special features on this very disc), a whole lot of work went into cleaning up 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly's' presentation, and all of that hard work is easy to appreciate on this transfer.

While there is some occasional softness, in the most extreme of Leone's stylistic tics (sometimes both the super-close-ups and the super-wide shots lack clarity) and there's some weird stain on the image for a few minutes later on in the movie, this is a remarkably strong picture.

There is grain present throughout, so if you're a stickler for that, you'll probably be unhappy. But the amount of grain and its consistency for me, at least, felt just right, appropriately representing a theatrical experience. Detail is good, textures are strong, black levels are great, and skin tones fare better than expected for a movie both this old and this stylistically extreme.

There are no buggy technical issues with the transfer, either, with no signs of DNR, artifacts, etc. There's an occasional hair on the print, but again, it just feels more "theatrical" that way, and the hairs never stick around long enough to annoy.

Overall, things look wonderful - vibrant and bright when they need to be (like in the climactic stand off), and atmospheric and moody when it's called for, too. This really is one of the most gorgeous looking movies ever made, so to have it presented like this is a real treat, and one that should not be missed.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

So here's the deal: the disc comes with a somewhat impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, as well as a Dolby Digital Mono track. Deciding which one to listen to could be something of a matter of taste, I suppose.

You see, as part of the film's restoration, the soundtrack was re-mastered, with all of the bits (sound effects, music, dialogue) taken apart and put back together for maximum surround sound effect. And considering all of this work that went into it, and how disastrous the results could have been (again, I'll cite that DVD of 'Jaws' where they replaced all the sound effects), the 5.1 mix does sound fairly great.

The mix is front heavy, which is to be expected given the source material, but still sounds quite clear. Dialogue, of which some was rerecorded during the restoration, sounds a little iffier. But that's quite alright given the film. How many people are really hanging on every word Clint Eastwood is saying, anyway?

All that said, you can switch over to the mono track and have a more authentic experience, with less weirdness, but you'll be letting down your surround sound system, which will undoubtedly talk behind your back about how you're not treating it properly.

Really, the decision is up to you and both audio options have their ups and downs. Ups, mostly, though.

In addition, a German DTS 5.1 track is included as well as subtitles in English SDH, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Korean, and Thai.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

This special edition Blu-ray includes all the special features from the deluxe edition that was put out a few years ago, on one handy disc. There's one new feature (a bonus commentary track), with one feature that did not make the jump to Blu-ray (the poster gallery, for some reason).

  • Commentary by Richard Schickel 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' comes equipped with two informative commentary tracks - one old, one new. The old one is this one, by film historian and critic Richard Schickel, who is also interviewed extensively elsewhere on the Blu-ray. Schickel's commentary is a winning mix of the anecdotal and the truly informative, and if you're looking for a commentary track, this is a much more accessible option. The only thing that brings this track down is his somewhat droll delivery, which could be mistaken for laconic and occasionally slips into territory that could be considered "boring." Still, if you're interested in the film, you could do worse than listen to this.
  • Leone's West (SD, 19:51) This is a nice retrospective overview of Leone's celebrated "Man with No Name" trilogy of films with Clint Eastwood, which also included 'Fistful of Dollars' and 'For a Few Dollars More.' There's a lot of talking heads here, including Eastwood himself, co-star Eli Wallach, Schinkel, producer Alberto Grimaldi, and American translator Mickey Knox. They share stories about what working with Leone was like, and the impact the films had when they were originally released (and in subsequent years). This is a lively, fun, and insightful little documentary, and is highly recommended.
  • Leone Style (SD, 23:48) Even better and funnier than the Leone's West doc, though, is Leone Style, which looks at Leone's singular filmmaking style. Eastwood puts it best when he says, "Sergio loved long pictures." (This is very true.) Even funnier are Eli Wallach's stories about the production of 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' and Leone's devil-may-care attitude about his actors and the stunts they're asked to perform (lets just say that safety regulations aren't the same overseas). If you didn't appreciate Leone's contribution to cinema, then after this little documentary, you may be a convert. Highly recommended.
  • The Man Who Lost the Civil War (SD, 14:24) This documentary looks at the historic basis for the skirmishes and situations dramatized in 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.' Maybe it was just me, but this wasn't the best that it could have been. While the conflicts up by New Mexico are surely interesting, and rarely talked about, this documentary couldn't muster anything even resembling interest from this viewer. If you're big into Civil War history, and want to know the factual basis of this film, then definitely watch this. If not, you can skip it altogether.
  • Reconstructing 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' (SD, 11:09) This feature explains how the film was lovingly restored in 2002, in the best possible way, to the version that Leone originally intended. You see, it was severely edited for American release, and a lot of the elements of the film were lost or too severely damaged (or so they thought). Well, that wasn't the case, and aside from a couple of sequences, which are actually on this disc in the deleted scenes section (more on that in a minute), the film was pieced back together to the way that it was originally intended. This took a lot of doing, including re-mastering the soundtrack and having actors come back and record new dialogue. After you see how much work went into bringing the movie back to glorious life, you'll appreciate it even more.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 10:19) This consists of two scenes - an unrelentingly torture scene for Tucco and the infamous Socorro sequence, as well as an explanation as to why they weren't restored when they were putting the new version back together again. (They were too far gone to repair, basically.) These are interesting scenes and recommended for Leone die hards.
  • Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' This section of the disc is broken into two parts. The first is an interview with Variety music critic Jon Burlingame about Ennio Morricone's unforgettable score for 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' (SD, 7:48) He discusses Leone's direction and influence on the score (it turns out the director, unsurprisingly, is a big fan of opera) and the imaginative ways that Morricone brought the score to life (there's actually a coyote in the memorable main theme for the movie). This doc is highly recommended. What's not-so-highly recommended is the second part of this section, an audio-only discussion with Burlingame which seems beyond redundant and is easily skippable.
  • Trailers (HD, 3:21) Included here are the international and United States trailers for the movie - in high definition. They look marvelous.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There is one extra, and it is a commentary track.

  • Commentary by Christopher Frayling Frayling, the author of 'Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone,' has Leone love coming out of his pores and its hard not to get excited by his spirited commentary track. While the more casual 'Ugly' fan may want to just stick with Schickel's track, and there is a bit of overlap for the two commentaries, if you're a die hard, you'll definitely want to listen to this too, and it's a nice addition to the extras package, for sure.

Final Thoughts

With a whole host of special features, wonderful video, very good audio, one of the coolest movies of all time has come to Blu-ray with dazzling vibrancy. If you've seen 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' a thousand times, well, you've never seen (or heard) it like this. If you have never seen it, and want to know what all the fuss is about, then please pick it up. Diehards and novices alike will not be disappointed by this Blu-ray release (it even has a Blu-ray-exclusive audio commentary!), and although some audio wonkiness and redundancy in the extras keeps it from 'Must Own' status, it is still Highly Recommended.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • English: Dobly Digital Mono
  • German: DTS 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • German
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Mandarin
  • Korean
  • Thai

Supplements

  • Commentary by Richard Schinkel
  • Trailers
  • Leone's West
  • Leone Style
  • The Man Who Lost the Civil War
  • Reconstructing 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Il Maestro: Ennio Morricone and 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'

Exclusive HD Content

  • Commentary by Chistopher Frayling

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