THE DIRCTOR'S CUT
Panavision - 2.35:1
Screenplay by: Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Starring: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Briend, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert Dekker, Bo Hopkins, Dub Taylor, Paul Harper, Jorge Russek, Alfonso Arau, Chano Urueta, Elsa Cardenas, Bill Hart, Rayford Bannes, Steve Ferry, Sonia Amelio, Aurora Clavel, Enrique Lucero, Elizabeth Dupeyron, Yolanda Ponce, Jose Chavez, Rene Dupeyron, Pedro Galvan, Graciela Doring, Major Perez, Fernando Wagner, Jorge Rado, Ivan Scott, Sra. Madero, Margarito Luna, Chalo Gonzalez, Lilia Castillo, Elizabeth Unda, Julio Corona
The Wild Bunch is hailed as being one of director Sam Peckinpah's best films, but it is more than that...is it an example of American cinema at its best, and rightfully so. For years, film fans everywhere have been begging for a letterboxed version of this American classic to be released to the home video market, but due to numerous problems (mostly print-related) delayed the release. Finally, the decision was made to undertake a full restoration of the film for a theatrical reissue in 1995, and the film was fully restored to Peckinpah's full director's cut version in addition to upgrading the upgrading the picture, color and sound to an absolutely pristine condition. This restored The Wild Bunch was originally announced for a "Special Edition" widescreen laserdisc release back in late 1995, but numerous delays with the production of various supplementary materials unfortunately forced Warner Home Video to postpone its release. This deluxe CAV laserdisc edition of The Wild Bunch, which contains the restored film, a documentary, and many more supplementary features, has now been rescheduled for an August 26, 1997 release.
In the meantime, however, Warner Home Video's DVD division just released The Wild Bunch, and it is absolutely outstanding in every single respect. The DVD features the complete, restored director's cut version of the film, and also includes the Academy Award-nominated 1996 documentary The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage, a theatrical trailer and production notes.
Before we get on with the DVD review, I really should talk a little bit about the film itself, just in case you've had the misfortune of never having seen the film. The storyline revolves around a group of outlaws, led by tough-as-nails Pike Bishop (William Holden), who have been running rampant along the U.S.-Mexican border during 1913. Although this "bunch" of aging desperadoes make their fortunes through robbery and killing, they have a strict code of honor they are bound by. But the world is changing rapidly around them - progress is changing the land, and desperation is destroying the ethics of those around them. "The Wild Bunch" realize that their place in time is nearly at an end, and they decide to call it quits and retire after one final haul. However, things are not going to be easy, since they've got a gang of bounty hunters hot on their trail and have made a potentially life-threatening deal with the leader of a Mexican revolutionary army. Alongside William Holden, the film stars Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones, all of whom give their absolute best performances for what turns out to be their "role of a lifetime." Their characters are fully developed, and are fleshed out even further through the use of flashbacks that are presented throughout the film (several of which are reinstated in this restored version). Even though they are outlaws, you wind up understanding and even caring about these men. The Wild Bunch also changed the face of cinema thanks to Peckinpah's hypnotic style as well as the excessive (at the time) bloodletting - the outcome of this is supposed to be horrific, but Peckinpah handles the violence with slow, graceful movements as if he's directing a ballet to make sure the viewer understands this (he was once quoted as stating, "Killing a man isn't clean and quick and simple...it's bloody and it's awful."). The acting, the editing, the cinematography, the script and Jerry Fielding's wonderful score are all first rate, and combine perfectly to create one of the best films of all times.
Warner Home Video's DVD release of The Wild Bunch: The Original Director's Cut is presented in a widescreen-only version that is split over two sides of the disc due to the film's 144m13s length (which doesn't include the supplementary features mentioned later in this review). The Wild Bunch was filmed in anamorphic Panavision with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the DVD itself appears letterboxed with a full 2.35:1 aspect ratio (the disc is NOT 16:9 encoded). The letterboxing is a necessity as Peckinpah makes full use of the entire widescreen image, and any cropping just destroys this film entirely; if you don't believe me, just take a look at horribly cropped theatrical trailer on the disc. (On a side note, on our rear projection screen, we can see a very minute black band on the right edge of the picture, thereby assuring that we're seeing the entire frame). The picture transfer is probably one of the best I've seen for any disc, and since it is taken from the 1995 restoration print, it's the best version of The Wild Bunch to ever appear on home video. This pristine DVD transfer makes The Wild Bunch look better than it did during its original theatrical release (or so I've been told by several friends...I was only 5 years old when the film was released, so I can't state that from personal experience, but it definitely looks better than any of the original release prints I've seen in revival houses over the past twenty years). Overall, the imagery is incredibly sharp and the colors exceptionally vivid. Blacks are very deep and fleshtones appear extremely natural. Due to the nature of the original photography and negative, some scenes do vary slightly in quality from time to time, with some minor grain appearing for a few seconds. In one section on Side A towards the end of chapter 27 ("Mapache Under Attack"), the print isn't in the best shape, and does have several vertical lines running down it from 1:34:47 to 1:34:56 (this was one of the restored segments).
Along with the restored and upgraded picture, the entire stereo soundtrack was completely remixed and reintegrated into the film. For the DVD, the English soundtrack has been remixed to 6-channel, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround stereo sound, and it's a beauty to experience. The entire soundtrack is lush sounding, the dialogue is especially sharp and crisp, and Jerry Fielding's score roars from your speakers. The disc only contains the original English-language soundtrack - there are no dubbed versions.
The DVD has been encoded with the English, French and Spanish subtitles, in addition to a standard English closed-captioning track. While the subtitles do a decent job of translating the film's dialogue, some paraphrasing does take place. Additionally, none of the Spanish dialogue is either shown or translated. The English closed-caption track actually does a much more thorough job at this, since all the dialogue is presented intact without the paraphrasing, and the Spanish-language sections are actually presented in written Spanish. The three subtitle tracks can be changed through your remote or the menu options, and as you might have expected, the closed-captioning requires the use of an external decoder.
Due to the programming material, The Wild Bunch's interactive menu functions are somewhat different depending upon which side of the disc you happen to be watching. On Side A, the "Jump to a Scene," is presented different than it is on all the other DVDs we've seen. In this instance, you are first shown a "scene index" in which the 28 chapters for Side A are broken into five separate parts, each denoted by a single picture (parts 1-4 feature six chapters each, part 5 features only four chapters). Clicking onto any of the "parts" brings up another full-screen listing of the individual chapters in that section, which you can select by picture or description. You can also skip going back to the main index, and skip forwards and backwards through the various sub-indexes. The "Cast" selection presents you with biographies and film highlights for William Holden (4 frames), Ernest Borgnine (3 frames), Robert Ryan (3 frames), Edmond O'Brien (3 frames), Warren Oates (3 frames), Jaime Sanchez (2 frames), Ben Johnson (3 frames), Emilio Fernandez (2 frames), Strother Martin (3 frames), L.Q. Jones (3 frames), and director Sam Peckinpah (4 frames). Three separate "Production Notes" segments are presented - "Violence and Death," which talks about the depiction of screen violence (2 frames); "The Restoration," which fully describes the specific additional scenes that have been reinstated into this director's cut (5 frames); and "About the Production," which mostly deals with the camera work (3 frames). Each "Production Notes" section leads into the other without having to skip back to the main "Production Notes" menu. Under the "Film Flash" section, Warner recommends that you watch The Magnificent Seven, Pale Rider, The Searchers or Unforgiven if you've enjoyed The Wild Bunch: The Director's Cut. "Subtitles" allows you to select your subtitling options.
The interactive menu for Side B contains the same materials as Side A, but with a few notable exceptions. Since there are only 18 chapter markers for the film on Side B, the "Jump to Scene" section has a "Scene Index" with only three selections, and each of those selections contains 6 chapters each (in addition to a "start movie" and "end credits" option). The main difference is the "Documentary" selection, which features a specially-made documentary, The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage. Written, directed and edited by Paul Seydor, this 1996 documentary was nominated for an Academy Award. It features long-unseen black & white footage of the actual on-set shooting (mainly the final sequence and the bridge destruction segment), black & white production photos, and color, letterboxed clips from the restored version of the film. Within this excellent 33m20s documentary, you get to see Peckinpah setting up sequences, direct the principles, and then view the final result. There are also many reminiscences and archival interviews by the various actors and crew talking about the film's production and Peckinpah. Since the original, one-of-a-kind, black & white behind-the-scenes footage was taken from what seems to be a 30-year-old Super 8 source, the material is not pristine, but it is much better than I expected - the image is somewhat on the soft side, and even though segments are often grainy or have some specks of stuff on them, there are remarkable good condition. As for the other materials making up the documentary, the black & white production photos and film clips look terrific. The audio is presented in English only as a 2-channel Dolby Digital stereo mix, with only the music and the final film clips appearing in any sort of stereo. The narration present on the soundtrack is in fine shape, but the archival interviews do vary in quality a bit depending upon the original source. The documentary is encoded with 10 chapters of its own, and is subtitled in English, French and Spanish (there is no closed-captioning). With "Theatrical Trailer" you can view - you guessed it - a 2m53s original theatrical trailer. This full-screen trailer is horribly cropped, and allows you to see just how nasty The Wild Bunch looks when it's panned & scanned. While the yellow titles that appear on the trailer print look just fine, the actual footage from the movie shown behind them are awful - they are faded, soft, very dirty in sections, and it occasionally goes blurry. The trailer really makes you appreciate the work Warner Bros. put into the restored version!
The Wild Bunch: The Director's Cut is encoded for Region 1 players only (U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada), and is packaged in Warner's standard plastic and cardboard "keep case." The inside flap contains a listing of all 46 chapters for the film, plus the 10 chapters for The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage. Also included is a two-sided insert featuring "DVD Care Tips" and a worldwide regional coding map.
Warner Home Video's DVD of The Wild Bunch: The Director's Cut is definitely deserving of a space in your home collection, not only for the quality of the film itself, but for the beautiful restoration and it's magnificent DVD presentation.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 06/02/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97