Three out-of-work silent film stars head to Mexico in hopes of securing a paying gig only to discover their misguided benefactors mistake them for real hired-guns and expect them to battle an infamous outlaw. This, in a nutshell, is the basic premise of a hilarious and subtly clever 80s comedy which is today seen as being ahead of its time. Exploring the thin line between fantasy and reality, John Landis's '¡Three Amigos!' essentially paved the way for future self-aware adventure movies like 'Galaxy Quest' and 'A Bug's Life.' It sets itself apart, however, not only by being somewhat of a first, but more importantly as a celebration of film and the art of making fantasy appear real.
Our introduction to our three would-be heroes, played to goofball perfection by Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short, is itself stylishly clever via a movie within a movie. A young, beautiful peasant woman, Carmen (Patrice Martinez), searches for noble men to rescue and protect her small village from the tyrant clutches of El Guapo (Alfonso Arau). Visiting a local town occupied by dubious characters, she watches in amazement a movie showing the exploits of three heroic types, not realizing it's only romanticized fiction. This brings to mind celebrated stories of audiences scrambling in their seats from fear of a train barreling towards them on screen, such was the confusion of early motion pictures.
And such is the inventive thinking informing the script written by Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, and Randy Newman, an aspect within the story which Landis seems to have lots of fun with. It's no accident the plot is set in 1916, an important time period in the history of film. Those early formative years saw the move from movies produced in the east coast to the major studio productions in Hollywood, California. While still in its infancy, this was also the time which saw the growth of film narrative and language as we know it today. But the one area key to the '¡Three Amigos!' is the rise of the movie star, with audiences often seeing actors and the characters they portrayed as one and the same.
This blurring of the line between fiction and fact is used to great comedic effect throughout the movie, from wittily amusing momments, like the song number in the desert, to the overtly ridiculous, as in the singing bush sequence. A personal favorite is when the trio stops inside a cantina and are mistaken again for deadly gunslingers. Once the three gringos arrive in the small village of Santo Poco, the plot's celebration of film takes a slightly different form by turning into a kind of ode to the western, using elements from 'Seven Samurai' and 'The Magnificent Seven.' There are even a few very subtle nods to 'A Fistful of Dollars' with El Guapo being a funny and more refined version of the evil Ramón. And to top it all off, we have one quick-draw shootout with the group's most dainty member.
John Landis's '¡Three Amigos!' is a great deal of hilarious fun with a fantastically amusing aspect that essentially sings to the praises of film and why we love them. Now celebrating its 25th birthday, the 1986 adventure comedy continues delivering the laughs while still offering new things for long-time fans to discover. The trio's salute with the cough at the end still gets me as kind of weird signature style akin to Zorro's sword scratch or Chaplin's Tramp. Either way, it remains just as hysterical as ever, demonstrating the silly wit involved in making this wonderfully memorable cult comedy western.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
HBO Home Video brings '¡Three Amigos!' to Blu-ray as a special 25th Anniversary release with a 16-page booklet featuring a cast reunion interview, courtesy of Empire magazine. The Region A locked, BD25 disc comes inside a normal blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a standard main menu selection with music and full-motion clips.
The '¡Three Amigos!' ride unto Blu-ray with a great-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that looks far better than its DVD incarnations.
Despite a few soft spots likely associated with age, the picture shows wonderful clarity and resolution of the finer details. The embroidery on our heroes' outfits is distinct with good texture in the fabric while imperfections in the Spanish architectures are plainly visible. The palette is bold and vibrant with excellent saturation levels in the primaries. Facial complexions appear natural and revealing with minor blemishes made quite perceptible in close-up shots. Blacks are accurate and healthy with only one or two scenes looking a bit murky, and shadow delineation remains strong in the few darker segments.
The only issues to be seen are some very light noise reduction and contrast seems a tad too hot with some negligible clipping in the highlights. But all in all, it's nothing that distracts greatly or deters from the video's enjoyment. Fans are likely to be happy for the most part.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack accompanying the video is above average, but still shows some rather annoying distractions.
Essentially, this is another example of a studio trying to modernize the film's original design to satisfy contemporary viewers. Honestly, a lossless stereo presentation would have sufficed and is generally preferred. While Elmer Bernstein's score sounds fairly great with minor bleeds in the back, discrete effects like gunshots appear forced and artificial, momentarily taking us out of the fun and excitement.
The lossless mix's strongest area is definitely in the front soundstage where dialogue is precise and intelligible throughout. Imaging and channel separation is attractive with good deal of fidelity and presence. The mid-range is also clean and nicely detailed though it's never pushed far into the higher frequencies. Bass is surprisingly active, giving gunshots and music a decent low depth.
Overall, it's a good high-rez track for an 80s comedy favorite, but it could also be better if it were presented in its original stereo design.
As far as I know, the available supplements are made available only to Blu-ray owners.
'¡Three Amigos!' is a memorable 1986 comedy starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short, celebrating the love of film and the art of melding reality with fantasy. Director John Landis created a lovable, upbeat adventure western with jokes that continue to generate laughs, reminding us why we love movies and featuring terrific performances by its cast. Celebrating its 25th Anniversary, HBO Home Video brings the film to Blu-ray with an improved picture quality but an audio presentation that doesn't quite work. Supplemental material is new to home video and well worth a watch for fans, making this an easy purchase for the price.