4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
"UNFORGIVEN: 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 1992; R for language, violence and a scene of sexuality; Streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: A commentary with Richard Schickel, the Time magazine film critic, and Clint Eastwood's biographer, who died this year at 84.
WE FINALLY have another winner.
Fourteen months after the launch of the 4K Ultra HD format, Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" marks the second Academy Award Best Picture winner (1992) to be released on the format. "Argo" (2012) was first, released last December.
It's also the second 4K on the American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary – 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. "Unforgiven" is No. 68 and Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" No. 92. All three were released by Warner Bros.
Considered one of the best modern Westerns ever, "Unforgiven" is a welcome site on 4K – finally remastered in 4K from the original camera negative for a perfect one-to-one transfer. The film grain is controlled and evident throughout; plus, the colors are natural and the HDR contrast much bolder from shadows to highlights, especially during the numerous dark scenes. The added resolution gives the open landscape that big sky look.
With an old, tired 2K master, earlier Blu-rays versions were plagued with Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) and edge enhancement. Both the film grain and picture were soft, and the soundtrack was compressed, using a Dolby Digital track normally found on DVDs.
Here, Warner upgrades to the uncompressed six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack with more dynamic gun blasts and the added softness of Eastwood's melodic theme song. The enclosed Blu-ray also features the upgraded 4K mastering output at 2K, while its color palette has been dialed with a warmer tone.
It's obvious from the opening frames (2.35:1 aspect ratio) that "Unforgiven" received the white-glove treatment. It's the silhouette of hog farmer William Munny (Eastwood) digging his wife's grave. There's a barren tree on the opposite side and a shimmering, crystal-clear sky of reds and oranges over the west Nebraska farm.
Munny is getting desperate: With two children to support, he's mired in poverty and his pigs are getting sick. You'll notice the added sharpness in the wrinkles on his face – even with the wide shots framed at a distance. Jack N. Green was nominated for an Oscar for his marvelous cinematography. Most of the production was filmed in the pristine mountains southwest of Calgary, Canada.
Eastwood, who also won the Oscar for Best Director, chose the remote spot and asked his cast to arrive to work by horseback or wagon to create the ambience of the 1880s.
The story unfolds in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, a frontier town at the foot of the snow-covered Rockies. Life has gotten nasty – a cowboy butchers a prostitute with a knife after an innocent giggle. It leads to a classic tale of revenge as Munny, the good/bad widower and ex-gunfighter, accepts one last bounty job that will pay $1000. The youthful and nearsighted "Scholfield Kid" (Jaimz Woolvett) tells of the bounty. Munny then recruits his old partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), who is now a farmer.
Gene Hackman won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as "Little Bill" Daggett, the sadistic sheriff of Big Whiskey. When Munny, Logan and the Scholfied Kid arrive, they learn that Daggett doesn't allow firearms in his town. He's already brutally beaten the first bounty hunter, the flamboyant English Bob (Richard Harris).
Eastwood bought the script from writer David Webb Peoples in 1983, after Francis Ford Coppola's option had expired, and sat on it for nearly a decade. Even though Westerns had fallen out of favor in Hollywood, he made "Pale Rider" (1985).
The 4K and Blu-ray include a commentary with film critic Richard Schickel. The other extras, among them four featurettes in standard-def, are on the Blu-ray.
"Eastwood on Eastwood" (1997) is a 70-minute documentary that aired on TNT. Directed by Schickel and narrated by actor John Cusack, it highlight's Eastwood life from childhood in San Francisco to his days as a U.S. Army swimming instructor. He took an interest in acting and, in the 1950s, was hired by Universal Studios as a contract actor. By the 1970s, Dirty Harry had made him a superstar.
The 22-minute "All on Accounta Pullin' a Trigger" recounts the backstory to Peoples' script. Hosted by Freeman, it features interviews with Eastwood, Hackman and Peoples, who says he realized what was possible after seeing Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver." "Unforgiven" is not so much anti-violence, but recognizes that "violence is frightening," Peoples says.
"Eastwood & Co.: Making of Unforgiven" takes you to the 52-day shoot. The town was built from scratch in 32 days.
In "Eastwood the Star," he hints that "Unforgiven" would be his last film as actor and director. (He's pulled double duty seven more times.)
There's also an episode of the TV Western "Maverick" from 1959, with Eastwood opposite James Garner, who starred as Bret Maverick.
Eastwood, now 86, dedicated "Unforgiven" to his favorite directors, Sergio and Don – Sergio Leone, who made Eastwood a leading man in the "Man with No Name" spaghetti Westerns, and Don Siegel, who made San Francisco Inspector Harry Callahan a household name.
"I watched Don, and I tried to grab what I could," he says.
— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer