BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
The first time I saw BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID ($30), it was playing on the big screen. Unfortunately, I was way too young to appreciate the film I was seeing. In the years since that childhood screening, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the movie on television. To be honest, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID looked pretty awful on television, so the film never held my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. Fortunately, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has seen fit to issue a beautiful wide screen edition of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID on DVD, which did more than hold my attention- it allowed me to fully appreciate the movie for the first time. When I was a kid, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was just a western, but now I can see that this movie wasn’t just a typical western. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID is a highly romanticized look at the western era as it was drawing to a close. Times were changing; the iron horse was replacing the hay eating variety and the cowboy was beginning his inevitable fade into the sunset. Even the typical western outlaw was having difficulty applying his stock and trade, since there was no longer much of an untamed west for him to disappear into.
What makes BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID a truly magical movie is the chemistry generated by its two stars. The teaming of Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as The Sundance Kid are certainly made for one of the silver screen’s greatest duos. While criminals, the Butch and Sundance of this film are the kind of charming and amusing rogues that one can’t help but like. Historically accurate… doubtful, but the chemistry certainly goes a long way to sell this highly entertaining movie. The plot of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID concerns the exploits of the two outlaws of the film’s title, as well as other members of the "Hole In The Wall Gang." Robbing banks becomes increasingly difficult, so Butch devises an ingenious new plan that involves robbing the same train twice, one time in each direction, because he thinks no one will be expecting it. The plan seemingly comes off without a hitch. However, the railroad somehow did expect to be robbed the second time. So, only moments after the train robbery, Butch and Sundance find themselves pursued by a band of unshakable lawmen.
With nowhere to go on the west, Butch and Sundace decide to try their luck in robbing banks in Bolivia. Unfortunately, the language barrier leads to a few problems of its own. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID also stars Katharine Ross as Sundance’s woman Etta Place. Ross perfectly complements the Newman/Redford chemistry, which is highlighted by her beauty and her ability to play it straight to their warmly comic performances. Director George Roy Hill allows his actors to make the most out of their roles, yet he keeps the film sharply focused, maintaining its strengths as a good natured western, instead allowing it to turn into a comedy in a western setting. The cast of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID also includes Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, George Furth, Cloris Leachman, Ted Cassidy, Kenneth Mars and Donnelly Rhodes.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has done a very impressive job with their DVD edition of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. The THX certified wide screen transfer not only restores the film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio; the presentation has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Conrad Hall’s beautiful cinematography has never looked better than it does on this DVD (I can only imagine what the hi-def version is going to look like). The image is usually crisp and finely detailed, but there are moments in the film that the filmmakers evoke a romanticized/nostalgic mood with slightly softer focus. That mood is also clearly evident in the film’s usage of sepia tone during the opening moments.
After the sepia tone sequence, I was surprised to see how vibrant the hues are during the rest of the movie. Prior to this presentation, every home showing of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID that I had seen had a far more muted palette. There are vivid blue skies on this DVD, along with strong golds and greens on the landscape, plus natural looking flesh tones. This transfer offers a truly excellent representation of the way the film stock recorded the colors more than thirty years ago. In addition, the DVD reproduces all of these hues without any chromatic distortion. The film element utilized for the transfer is very clean and relatively free from age related blemishes. Film grain becomes noticeable in places, but it is never a distraction. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID features carefully shaded cinematography, so the accurate black level on this DVD pays off big time. Of course, shadow detail doesn’t come close to a new film, but BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID never looks flat during any of its darker sequences. This smartly authored DVD takes advantage of dual layers to prevent noticeable traces of digital compression artifacts.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is the only slightly weak link in this otherwise marvelous presentation. When this movie was released in 1969, the sound was ideally suited to the equipment that reproduced it in the theaters. Today, with everyone owning better speakers than what were available in 1969, the limited frequency range of the film’s soundtrack is less than inspiring. Perhaps, it wouldn’t have been necessary to go the entire 5.1 channel route, but the original music recordings could have been utilized to enhance the sound of Burt Bacharach’s score. However, for its age, the existing soundtrack is pretty clean sounding and provides fully intelligible dialogue. The sound will take a fair amount of amplification, without any signs of distortion or hiss. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
The interactive menus are nicely designed and take advantage of the animation and sound capabilities of the format. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of supplements. Topping the list of extras is an audio commentary featuring director George Roy Hill, lyricist Hal David, dialogue coach Robert Crawford and cinematographer Conrad Hall. The commentary gives a good deal of background material on the project, however it seems to have been edited together from various sources.
A 1969 "making of" documentary directed by Robert Crawford is also included on the DVD; it run approximately 45-minutes and offers behind-the-scenes action and footage from the film. On the disc, one can also find interviews with cast and crewmembers that were produced for the 25th Anniversary Laserdisc release of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. The interviews are individually accessible, and include participants Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, William Goldman and Burt Bacharach. There are also extensive "production notes" on the DVD, which feature other materials that go beyond standard. Rounding out the supplements are three theatrical trailers.
If you are a fan of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, this DVD is a dream come true. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has delivered a truly first rate disc that features an excellent presentation of the film, along with solid supplements. Recommended.
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