Upon a Time in the West
Collector's Edition - 1968 (2003) - Paramount
by Todd Doogan and Bill Hunt of The Digital
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
Disc One - The Film
165 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9
enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 79:20
at the start of chapter 14), dual-disc keep case packaging,
audio commentary (with film historians Sir Christopher Frayling
and Dr. Sheldon Hall, filmmakers John Carpenter, John Milius and
Alex Cox, actress Claudia Cardinale and additional members of
the cast and crew), animated film-themed menus with sound and
music, scene selection (33 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1
& "restored" 2.0 mono) and French (DD 2.0 mono),
subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
Disc Two - Supplemental Material
An Opera of Violence
documentary (29 mins, 16x9), The Wages of
Sin documentary (20 mins, 16x9), Something
to Do with Death documentary (18 mins, 16x9), Railroad:
Revolutionizing the West featurette (6 mins, 16x9),
location photo gallery (16x9), production photo gallery (16x9),
theatrical trailer (16x9), cast profiles (16x9),
Easter egg, animated film-themed menu
screens with sound and music, languages: English (DD 2.0),
subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
"People scare better when they're dying..."
There are films that define who we are. There are films that define
the careers of the people who made them. And there are films that
purely and unabashedly define the genres they rest in. Very few
films ever achieve all three of the above. But then again, very few
films are as glorious as Once Upon a Time
in the West.
We think it's pretty safe to say that both of us fell in love with
movies even deeper than we ever were before the minute we saw
Once Upon a Time in the West
laid out before us on the big, wide, silver screen. Sergio Leone was
always a fan favorite filmmaker, but with this work he became a film
legend. Leone is man whose whole career became that much cooler
simply because he lovingly brought this tale to life.
If you're not familiar with the epic known as Once
Upon a Time in the West, we only have one piece of advice
for you. Stop your daily routine where it is, go get this DVD and
watch it about a hundred times. Then, and only then, you can go back
to living your life. It sounds funny to say that, but we're not
kidding... this film is that good. Of course, if you're already a
fan, we're preaching to the choir. We don't need to say another word
- you probably already have your 30 bucks ready to spend.
Once Upon a Time in the West
isn't a wholly original film. The story has been told before (most
notably in the cult western Johnny Guitar).
But it's never been told this well, which is why
Once Upon a Time in the West
ends up being THE definitive Western. The story, as it is, goes like
this: a power hungry railroad baron named Morton wants the land of
Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) for his empire. Morton's hired a
henchman named Frank (Henry Fonda, as one of cinema's definitive
villains) for just this sort of occasion. In comes "Harmonica,"
a.k.a. The Man with No Name (played by Charles Bronson). Harmonica's
got a not so secret agenda for revenge against Frank, and therefore
a willingness to help Jill in her plight. He's soon joined by a
rough around the edges, but severely competent, gunslinger named
Cheyenne (Jason Robards), who's also been wronged by Frank.
Together, they work to protect Jill and foil the nefarious plans of
Frank and Morton.
Though the plot is hardly original, this film's quality is all
about the execution. Extreme close-ups, sweeping camera moves,
incredible use of the widescreen image, and the casting of unlikely
actors as some of the best characters in any Western ever - these
are just a few of the reasons this picture works on so many
different levels. Flat out, we love this film so much, that we just
want to share our enthusiasm for it with everyone we can. We have no
reservations at all in advising each of you reading this review to
add this disc to your collection. Hell... with Christmas coming up,
buy two copies - one for you and one for your best, movie-loving
friend. He or she will thank you for it.
Since Day One here at The Bits,
we've been on Paramount's back about releasing Once
Upon a Time in the West on DVD. "When is it coming? "Soon."
"Okay... when is soon?" "Believe us, we want it out
as much as you do." "No, you don't. If you did we'd
already have it." "Good point, then let's stick with soon."
That's how our conversations with Paramount often played out on the
phone, at public functions, and in the halls of studio over the
years. Owing to the lengthy restoration process, and the speed of
working with the Leone estate, soon didn't quite come soon enough.
Thankfully, though, the wait is now over... and we're pleased to say
that it was well worth the time it took. This is one hell of a disc.
The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen on this DVD, and how
Paramount got the film looking so good we'll never know. Given that
this film is more than thirty years old, it could easily suffer from
a host of print related problems, but such is not the case here.
Contrast is absolutely fantastic, while retaining excellent shadow
detail. In fact, detail has a whole is outstanding, which is very
important for this film. Leone's direction is such that you're often
seeing extreme close-ups of the actors - every wrinkle, blemish and
bit of stubble is accentuated, and you'll miss none of it in this
transfer. Color is good and accurate, with a definite warm push as
was intended for the film, given its desert settings. There's very
little digital artifacting visible, only light edge-enhancement and
only light to occasionally moderate print grain. This isn't quite
reference quality, given the age of the film. That said, Once
Upon a Time in the West has quite simply never looked
better than it does on this DVD.
While we're talking about the print, you should know that this DVD
does feature the 165-minute European version of the film. That means
the scene where we're first introduced to the character of Cheyenne
at a way-side livery and inn is included, as is a brief scene at the
end of the film involving the same character.
Moving on to the audio, you'll find no complaints from us with this
disc. The film's soundtrack is presented in two English versions -
newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as a a "restored"
Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (French 2.0 mono is also included). The 5.1
track features excellent presentation quality, with a big, wide
front soundstage, centered and clear dialogue and nicely atmospheric
use of the surrounds. You're not going to get extensive panning or
directional effects, but they're not really appropriate for this
film anyway. We're pleased to say that the 5.1 track still retains
the "sound" of the original mono audio, and the film's
fantastic score by composer Ennio Morricone is perfectly placed in
the mix. The "restored" mono audio, if you chose that
option, is also quite good. It's been cleaned up somewhat to remove
unwanted noise and other age-related artifacts. Whichever track you
go with, you'll be plenty satisfied with the audio experience on
Surprisingly, Paramount's really gone the extra mile with the
supplements on this special collector's edition. To start with,
literally every single thing you'll experience on these two discs is
in anamorphic widescreen. That means the trailer, the photo
galleries, all the documentaries... everything. Kicking off the
extras, Disc One features a very good audio commentary track with
film historians (Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall), a
trio of directors who admire Leone (including John Carpenter, John
Milius and Alex Cox), actress Claudia Cardinale and other select
members of the cast and crew. The track begins with Frayling, the
author of the biography Sergio Leone:
Something to Do with Death. It's got a scholarly feel,
but is very easy to listen to. He'll give you a ton of anecdotes
about the making of Once Upon a Time in
the West, and lots of interesting historical information,
including comments on the many intentional references to classic
Hollywood Westerns in this film. The other participants appear at
selected moments to make their own contributions. Each was recorded
separately and edited together for this commentary. The result could
be distancing or disjointed, but is instead a fascinating listening
experience, despite occasional pauses in the track. These people
know Leone and this film well, and their love of both is obvious.
That love continues to be apparent on Disc Two, where we're treated
to a trio of documentaries featuring many of the same participants.
An Opera of Violence, The
Wages of Sin and Something to
Do with Death are basically three parts of a whole, which
in total runs for a little over an hour. Combining interview clips
with historical photos and footage, we learn about Sergio Leone's
origins as a filmmaker, the conception of Once
Upon a Time in the West arising from his love (and
disdain) of Hollywood Westerns, the development of the production
(including the casting of American Western film regulars in roles
completely opposite to what they'd played previously), the actual
filming itself, the ultimate reaction to the film, and its eventual
place in cinema history. There are fascinating moments with Bernardo
Bertolucci talking about the unlikely way he became involved in the
writing of the film (along with fellow writer and filmmaker Dario
Argento), and Leone admirers Carpenter, Milius and Cox talking about
their reactions of the film. Cardinale reminisces about her
experiences on the film, as do actor Gabriele Ferzetti and
cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli. There's even an amusing moment
of archival footage featuring Henry Fonda talking about his having
been cast in the film as a bad guy, and trying to figure out how to
approach the role. It's all great stuff for fans of this film, and
well worth your time.
The Railroad: Revolutionizing the West
featurette is a strange piece of work, but it's no less interesting
for this fact. The short features relevant film clips and historical
photos in a window in the upper right portion of the frame, along
with the entire narrator-spoken text at the bottom. It cuts away to
interview clips occasionally, featuring the participants talking
about how the subject relates to the film. Also present on Disc Two
is the film's original theatrical trailer in excellent quality, as
well as video galleries of location photos (seen then and now) and
production photos set to music from the film. A section of cast
profiles of the major players in the film rounds out the extras.
Again, all of this is anamorphic in its presentation - a very
In crafting his homage to the great Hollywood Westerns, Sergio
Leone honored those films while also turning the conventions of the
genre on end. At a time when Westerns were considered passe, Leone
not only made them cool again, he managed to create what is arguably
the best Western ever. Thankfully, Paramount's given the epic
first-rate treatment on DVD. This is the studio's best special
edition treatment since The Godfather
Collection. It's definitely not the most extensive bonus
material, but the quality of what you do get is undeniable. This is
one of those DVDs we live for here at The
Bits. Simply put, Once Upon a
Time in the West is not to be missed.
On the main menu for Disc Two, highlight the "Documentaries"
selection, then navigate "left" with your remote. The
film's title will become highlighted in the line above. Press "enter"
to view another trailer for the film - a sort of modern-styled,
badass "rock" trailer (16x9, DD 2.0). It's definitely
worth checking out.