H D - S E N S E I

A view on Hi-def DVDs by Gary W. Tooze



Broken Trail [Blu-ray]

(Walter Hill, 2006)



Review by Gary Tooze



Blu-ray: Touchstone / Disney


Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78

English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
DUBs: French: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Indonesian, Dutch, Arabic

Featurette: 'Broken Trail - The Making of a Legendary Western'

Disc: 50GB Blu-ray Disc

DVD Release Date: June 10th, 2008



Product Description: A top-rated miniseries! Set in 1897, Print Ritter and his estranged nephew Tom Harte become the reluctant guardians of five abused and abandoned Chinese girls. Ritter and Harte's attempts to care for the girls are complicated by their responsibility to deliver a herd of horses while avoiding a group of bitter rivals intent on kidnapping the girls for their own purposes.



The Film:

Robert Duvall stars as "Print" Ritter, an old cowhand who inherits his sister's ranch. She left it to him rather than to her own son, Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church). To make things right again, Print decides to buy a team of mustangs and transport them across country to sell to the British army; the money they'll earn will be split evenly. Hence, Broken Trail becomes a road movie, complete with all the road movie staples. They meet all kinds of odd characters, from nasty villains to friendly musicians, but the key to Broken Trail is that they also meet five Chinese girls on their way to be sold into sexual slavery (an unusual, nostalgia-busting commentary on the too-recent past). Our two cowboys save the girls' lives and take them along on their journey. The script comes from novice scribe Alan Geoffrion, a real-life cowboy and a neighbor of Duvall's. His untrained eye results in some delightful passages, but also a great many plot holes: characters disappear and reappear without any mention, plot devices are introduced and dropped, etc. But veteran action director Walter Hill (The Warriors, Undisputed, etc.) keeps these doggies rolling along. Church turns in a fine, deadpan Eastwood-like performance, but Duvall does miraculous things with layers of sadness, anger and giddy amusement. (He was equally good in Kevin Costner's Open Range.) Someone ought to pass a law requiring Duvall to make one Western a year from now on.

Excerpt from Combustible Celluloid located HERE



Image: In a word - Magnificent. This is one of the best Blu-ray (strike that - 'DVD' period) images I have ever seen. Detail is absolutely pristine and colors vibrant - if leaning a little to the yellow-gold-green end of the spectrum. Tack onto that the wonderful cinematography by Lloyd Ahern and the post-card-like grand vistas of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and you have an image that can leave one breathless. Contrast, balance are all as superlative as I can recall seeing in recent months. I expect the SD-DVD looks marvelous but can't possibly hold a candle to Broken Trail in the glory of 1080P - situated on a dual-layered Blu-ray disc. I may be repeating myself from the opening comments, but this DVD transfer is impeccable - absolutely marvelous.     











Audio & Music: I only noted minor separation moments in the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. It sounded competent but although the film has action sequences - they are at the passive end of the western genre. One specific moments of an accidental gunshot did have the room riveted - so it does have the ability to explode dynamically but those moments are somewhat limited (which is fine by me). The original music by David Mansfield and Van Dyke Parks gives a perfect subtle aura to the film - almost an homage to classic westerns of the past - very fitting indeed. There are optional subtitles and DUBs for those who require.




Extras: There is a 20+ minute featurette entitled "The Making of a Western Classic" in 480 resolution. It includes interviews with the committed cast - Duvall, Thomas Hayden Church etc., and 65-year old director Walter Hill. I enjoyed it and wished it was longer... and I don't find the title of the documentary pre-mature at all. Hill is such an interesting figure in modern cinema - I am going to examine his oeuvre in more depth. After the featurette there are some trailers and a Blu-ray advert. 




Bottom line: This film, fittingly, has won a slew of awards and this Blu-ray is gorgeous. Western fans shouldn't think twice, but beyond that this is simply a very strong film (over 3 hours worth) divided into two parts and is very enjoyable. Really, I am extremely happy with this DVD (appearance and content) and give it a strong recommendation. Excellent value here folks for less than $20.

Gary Tooze
May 30th, 2008






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