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Yellow Layer Failure, Vinegar Syndrome and Miscellaneous Musings by Robert A. Harris

Robert A. Harris - Main Page

Once Upon a Time in America

Sergio Leone's 1984 Once Upon a Time in America RAH is one of those films which has been re-cut, re-assembled and "re-imagined" so many times for so many uses that most people have never seen the real film.

Cut for time and violence, there have been different versions for different purposes in different territories; an insult to a film which many, including this writer, consider (whatever its flaws) to be one of the masterpieces of 20th century filmmaking.

Having now had the opportunity to view the 229 minute (uncut) version of this film on Warner's new DVD, I have come away enlightened, enthralled and entertained by a film which is much more than the sum of its parts.

Mr. Leone's film ran out of competition at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, at which time it ran slightly cut at 227 minutes. By the time that the film was released in the States, it had been shorn of some 77 minutes, making it partially unintelligible and seemingly longer in its short version than in any longer cut.

It was not well reviewed at the time.

Moving back and forth through decades, and following its characters and their interrelationships as they grow from kids rolling an occasional drunk to major crime and beyond, Once Upon a Time in America RAH is one of those films which constantly holds the cinephile in awe of its director's filmmaking powers.

Mr. Leone did not make enough films. There was a dry period from 1971's Duck You Sucker (aka Fistful of Dynamite) until 1984. Once Upon a Time in the West, which we should be seeing from Paramount, was created in 1969.

I will get into neither the specifics of the story nor cinematic highlights. Suffice to say that this is a film which must be required viewing for anyone who loves the cinema, and make no mistake, this film, created by a gentleman who may best be known for his "spaghetti" westerns, is about as serious as filmmaking gets.

Warner's 2-disc Once Upon a Time in America: SEBuy this DVD now at DVD Planet!

A few notes on the transfer:

The Good...

Both pictorially and sonically, a perfect transfer in the proper aspect ratio with beautifully scaled colors and black level. This is a high bit rate transfer, equivalent to Sony's SuperBit.

The Not So Bad...

One anomaly may disturb some, while I didn't have a real problem with it, considering the alternative...

There was apparently a plan in place to divide the film with the first disc ending with the Intermission and the second picking up thereafter.

Part One is approximately 160 minutes. Had Warner encoded the discs so that 160 minutes was on disc one as planned, it would have necessitated a lowering of the bit rate. Even though printed materials lead one to believe that this is the case, it is incorrect.

Disc One ends at the two hour point, in the middle of a sequence. There is no "painless" break point in this area of the film. Disc Two begins with the end of that sequence, continues an additional forty minutes to the Intermission, and then goes on to Part Two of the film.

Although not what one might wish for in a perfect world, taking into consideration the look and textures which have been accomplished with the transfer and compression, I would have made the same decision rather than to lower quality. I firmly believe that the correct decision has been made.

The Ugly...

Not a thing.

With the single warning that this is an extremely violent film and may not be to the taste of some, I suggest it as a blind purchase. Once Upon a Time in America RAH is a film with a mystical pull and artistry all its own. While Paramount's Indiana Jones Trilogy, due out in late fall will most likely be the most popular in 2003, Once Upon a Time in America will be one of the most important modern films to be released this year.

Robert Harris

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* Designates a film worthy of purchase on DVD. RAH Designates a film worth of "blind" purchase on DVD.

Don't forget - you can CLICK HERE to discuss this article with Robert and other home theater enthusiasts online right now at The Home Theater Forum. And speaking of that, thanks to the HTF's Ron Epstein for the picture of Robert seen in the column graphic above.


Robert A. Harris - Main Page


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