The French Connection appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the film’s age, the picture generally looked very positive.
Sharpness appeared consistently good. Some wide shots displayed a smidgen of softness, but those instances occurred infrequently. Instead, most of the movie looked nicely distinct and accurate. Jagged edges presented no concerns, but I detected a little shimmering at times as well as some light edge enhancement. As for print issues, the movie seemed moderately grainy at times, but otherwise it came across as surprisingly clean. I noticed virtually no concerns above and beyond the graininess.
Though much of Connection appeared fairly low-key, the colors appeared nicely distinctive. Red lighting during the nightclub sequence looked quite tight and accurate, and other hues were solidly vivid and vibrant. The colors looked surprisingly positive, as I didn’t expect them to display such boldness. Black levels also came across as deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately well defined and not too opaque. The low-light sequences appeared quite lively and smooth. Despite a few minor issues, The French Connection presented an image that has aged well.
In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The French Connection provided a positive experience. However, it felt more like a product of its era than did the picture. The soundfield presented a reasonably involving piece. Music showed good stereo imaging, and the forward spectrum offered a fairly solid sense of environment. However, the elements didn’t seem terribly well delineated and they remained somewhat vaguely placed at times. The mix handled general ambience well but suffered somewhat when it needed to accurately locate material. The elements blended together decently but not tremendously well.
As for surround usage, those speakers mostly focused on reinforcement of the music and effects. I didn’t notice much in the way of unique audio from the rear channels. At times the sound seemed somewhat artificial and processed, as the surrounds came across with too much reverb. Still, given the age of the material, the soundfield seemed pretty positive.
Audio quality showed signs of its era but still came across acceptably well. Speech tended to sound somewhat flat and bland at times, but the lines remained easily intelligible and didn’t display any issues related to edginess. Music displayed the best reproduction of the bunch, as the score and songs showed nice dynamics and depth; the song in the nightclub worked especially well. Effects appeared less consistent but they generally were acceptable. Gunshots displayed some distortion, and other elements could appear a bit rough at times. Still, they seemed fairly positive for their age, and The French Connection presented an above average auditory experience for a movie made more than 30 years ago.
This two-disc release of The French Connection contains a mix of extras. On DVD One, we start with two audio commentaries. The first comes from director William Friedkin, who offers a running, screen-specific track. Overall Friedkin offers a good chat, though he tends to do little more than just relate story points at times. Otherwise, he gets into the casting of film, problems related to the script, differences between the real-life characters and situations and the movie, and many other elements. Friedkin seems especially energized when he goes over the creation of the movie’s famous car chase sequence. Despite some lulls, Friedkin’s track seems generally compelling and useful.
In addition to Friedkin’s commentary, we get a second track from actors Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Unfortunately, neither was recorded together, and neither provides a running, screen-specific piece. Instead, they appear very briefly and give us notes from separate interviews. Happily, the DVD’s menu lets us easily access the appropriate parts of the disc, so we don’t have to sit through vast expanses of empty space.
For the short periods during which either man speaks, they offer some nice information. Hackman covers his casting, his approach to the role, reactions to the film, and some anecdotes from the shoot. Scheider also gives us a fun story about how he got the part as well as comments about working with the real-life cops and some tales from the set. Though they speak for only a little while, the material conveyed seems illuminating and entertaining.
In addition to the film’s original theatrical trailer - presented anamorphic 1.85:1 with monaural sound – DVD One includes the THX Optimode program. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimode is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimode should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimode. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimode could be a helpful addition.
Now we shift to DVD Two, where we start with Making the Connection: The Untold Stories. Hosted by former detective Sonny Grosso – the inspiration for the film’s “Cloudy” Russo - this 56-minute and 30-second program mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. Recent segments occur with director William Friedkin, NY Supreme Court Judge Torres, actors Tony Lo Bianco, Lora Mitchell, Gene Hackman, and Roy Scheider, producers Phil D’Antoni, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, author Robin Moore, cinematographer Owen Roizman, and editor Jerry Greenberg. We also find some older snippets with Eddie Egan, the inspiration for the film’s Popeye Doyle.
Though “Stories” tells the tale in a somewhat disjointed way, it nonetheless covers a lot of territory. We get information about Grosso and Egan and their careers and then learn the genesis of the book and film projects. From there we go over casting – including others considered for the Doyle role – and general production elements, with an emphasis on the famous car chase. The program feels a little choppy at times, but it still contains a lot of good material and helps detail the production.
Next we find a second documentary called Poughkeepsie Shuffle. From the BBC, this 53-minute and 22-second program also combines film snippets, archival materials, and interviews. Here we hear from Grosso, Friedkin, NYPD Narcotics Agent Randy Jurgensen, Scheider, Hackman, Lo Bianco, sound recordist Chris Newman, Roizman, assistant director Terry Donnelly, D’Antoni, Zanuck, Brown, and Greenberg.
Much of “Shuffle” covers the same territory as “Stories”, but it does so in a more compelling manner. It seems more coherent and tight, and it also deals some dirt that doesn’t appear in the earlier program. We learn more about conflicts on the set as well as issues related to Eddie Egan. The two shows don’t compliment each other as well as I’d like, for a fair amount of repetition occurs. Nonetheless, both offer enough individual strengths to merit a look. If pressed for time and you only want to watch one, I’d go with “Shuffle”, as it presents the better structured version, and it seems a bit more honest.
We also get a Deleted Scenes Documentary. Hosted by Friedkin, this piece lasts 17 minutes and 10 seconds and takes us through seven different cut sequences. We see the clips in their entirety, and Friedkin discusses them. None of the segments seem particularly interesting, as they don’t really flesh out much, but they remain a cool addition. Friedkin’s remarks make this area more compelling, as he adds notes about the creation of the scenes and why he left them out of the film. Note that the sequences can be viewed on their own in the separate Deleted Scenes domain elsewhere on the DVD. In that section, they last a total of nine minutes, 17 seconds.
A few other small extras round out the set. Inside the Still Gallery we find three different domains. “Behind-the-Scenes” includes 109 black and white photos from the set, while “Unit Photography” includes an additional 14 images. We also get the movie’s “Poster” presented by itself. Finally, DVD Two ends with two Trailers. We discover the original theatrical ad for French Connection as well as a promo for French Connection II.
In addition to these disc-based pieces, the set includes an eight-page booklet. Along with chapter listings, this text presents some fairly nice production notes written by Mark Kermode.
A splendidly gritty and compelling police drama, The French Connection holds up well more than 30 years after its creation. The movie works in many different ways and seems like a smart and involving piece of work that becomes even more interesting with repeated viewings. The DVD presents very good picture quality along with better than average sound and a positive package of extras. The French Connection merits my strong recommendation.