Sam Raimi's career has been largely characterized as that of a horror director ('Evil Dead 2,' Army of Darkness') who was somehow handed the keys to a huge studio franchise in the form of the 'Spider-man' films. But his oeuvre (yeah, I used that word) shows the work of a director restless and eager to put his stylistic mark on a number of genres - from the family crime drama of 'Simple Plan' to the Tennessee Williams-y Southern Gothic of 'The Gift' to the superhero farce of 'Darkman' to the heartwarming slice of baseball Americana 'For the Love of the Game.'
But Raimi's weirdest, wildest foray into genre-hopping has got to be the criminally underrated gonzo western 'The Quick and the Dead.'
The film's story is simple, it's a western stripped of any pretense or artifice. The story concerns The Lady (Sharon Stone), as she travels to a town called Redemption (subtle, I know) to take part in a gun-fighting contest and settle an old score. You see, the tyrannical sheriff of Redemption, Herod (Gene Hackman), was responsible for the death of The Lady's father when she was a young girl.
The other contestants in the competition are predictably colorful and cartoonish, and the outstanding cast brings them to vivid life - Cort (Russell Crowe), the peaceful prisoner; The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio), a charismatic young gunslinger and Herod's son; Sgt. Clay Cantrell (Keith David), a former soldier hired by the scared townsfolk to kill Herod; Ace (Lance Henriksen), a flamboyant trick shot; and Dred (Kevin Conway), a lecherous pedophile.
Even more fun than the actors and the set-up (the film is structured around the various gunfights, which escalate in murderous intensity) is the way Raimi shoots the showdowns. You can definitely tell he has seen every Western ever made while simultaneously creating his own visual language. His use of zooms, whip pans, close-ups, and sound would make Sergio Leone stand up and applaud. The amount of sheer velocity with which he shoots this is amazing.
Sharon Stone, as The Lady, isn't what you would classify as "particularly good." She's more or less wooden, working with a paper-thin revenge plot that isn't exactly brought to robust life by the power of her performance. Even more distressing is the fact that she's surrounded by wonderful character actors and superstars-to-be (Russell Crowe, in the most "Bruce Campbellian" role, particularly shines), who all seem to know that they're in some kind of zany, comic book version of the old west, while she seems to think it's a "serious drama," making her final performance come across like upscale dinner theater.
Still, 'The Quick and the Dead' is one of my favorite Sam Raimi movies, and those doubtful of the director's verisimilitude just need to check this out. The whip-crackle-pop of the movie's pacing, combined with Raimi's keen photographic and editorial eye, and a host of awesome secondary actors, make for a ton of lowbrow fun. If you're a fan of westerns, or Raimi, or have an odd appreciation for the singular, leaden acting style of Sharon Stone, then this is for you. It's a double-barrel treat.
The transfer on this disc isn't going to take home any awards for AV excellence, but it's still quite good. The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1 aspect ratio) starts out shaky, with an almost obscene amount of grain coating the image. This lessens, however, as the movie goes on, and by the time the main thrust of the plot kicks in, you should be genuinely impressed with the image quality.
All the hallmarks of a solid transfer are here. There's strong detail, skin tones look realistic, black levels could be better but aren't bad (there's a certain amount of muddiness to shadows), and the image posesses a sense of overall depth that approaches 3-D. (Seriously - those gunfights have never looked better.) There aren't technical issues to speak of, really, save for some mild edge enhancement.
While it doesn't approach the greatness of some of the other westerns out on high-definition (I'm thinking of the fun '3:10 to Yuma'), most of those are more recent releases. As far as an catalog upgrade from previous releases, this is a marked improvement.
Like the video on this disc, the audio is acceptable but not outstanding. The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is mostly strong. The surround field is used to a dynamic degree, without ever sounding too loud or overbearing. The gunfights come to life like never before, with every zinging bullet sounding like it's in the room with you.
Dialogue too, which is almost a secondary concern for the movie itself, is always crisp and clear and well prioritize (the expressiveness of the more robust elements never overwhelms the dialogue).
Alan Silvestri's sharp, sophisticated score, which I must mention(!), shares the same knowingness and fun as the rest of the movie. It sounds amazing here, cementing its place as one of the most underrated orchestral scores of the 1990's.
There's not much else to report on the audio side of things. Again, it's above average and probably sounds better than it did in the theater, but it's not the cream of the crop by any stretch of the imagination. Still: if you're a fan of the movie and have owned previous home video editions, you'll notice the improvement.
Also included is an French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track and English, English SDH, and French subtitles.
There aren't any extras, really, except for a "Blu-ray Exclusive Special Feature" that's advertised on the box, so that's what I'll talk about below.
'The Quick and the Dead' is a great, weird little western, directed by the chameleon known as Sam Raimi. This Blu-ray is a decided improvement over previous home video iterations. but it won't blow anybody's socks off their feet. With improved audio and video, and a lone, truly lame HD extra, this probably won't sway anyone who isn't a fan. However, if you love this movie lots, then you should buy it without hesitation. Let's split the difference and say that it's recommended.