Midnight Cowboy 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. Though not a disaster, the transfer showed the movie’s age.
A lot of variation came when I looked at sharpness. Parts of the movie seemed reasonably distinctive and detailed, but quite a few shots were less concise. I noticed a fair number of soft elements throughout the film. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I saw some light edge enhancement. Print flaws were very minor. The flick was rather grainy at times, and I saw a few specks, but the transfer usually lacked defects.
Colors also seemed erratic. At times the movie boasted decent vivacity, but the tones also became rather flat and faded on more than a few occasions. The hues were decent but rarely better than that. Though some muddy elements appeared, black levels generally seemed deep and dark. Shadow detail also varied but mostly looked appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy. Overall, this was a decent but lackluster transfer.
I found greater consistency from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy. This provided a remix of the original mono audio that also appeared on the DVD. The front soundstage presented a wide image. Music benefited most from the stereo separation, as different instruments popped up in the various front channels distinctly and clearly.
Effects appeared logically placed in the appropriate realms, though the localization seemed a bit too extreme at times. Sometimes the image blended together neatly and smoothly, but at times the soundstage was awkward and too “speaker specific”. The surrounds didn't shoulder much of the audio burden and offered little more than gentle reinforcement of the front speakers, but that was fine for this material.
Audio quality appeared dated but solid. Dialogue sounded somewhat thin and reedy but was always clear and easily intelligible; no concerns with edginess occurred. Effects were accurate and realistic, and the music usually appeared rich and deep, with some solid low end thrown into the mix. Cowboy boasted a surprising amount of bass for such an old film, and most of it came through the music. While at times the tone of the audio reminded me that Cowboy is more than 35 years old, the movie sounded better than I expected.
How did the picture and sound of this 2006 edition of Midnight Cowboy compare to those of the original 1997 DVD? Both boasted similar audio, but the new anamorphic transfer was a definite improvement on the original non-enhanced image. That one suffered from prominent edge enhancement and a whole lot of source flaws. The 2006 transfer may not be terrific, but at least it demonstrated improvements over the old one.
Clear improvements come from the 2006 release’s extras. While not chock full of supplements, this set definitely betters the nearly feature-free original. On DVD One, we get an audio commentary from producer Jerome Hellman. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Hellman discusses the style and actions of director John Schlesinger, cast and performances, locations and sets, structure and editing, production design and the specifics of some sequences.
At his best, Hellman gives us pretty solid notes about the production. He covers some of the ins and outs with reasonable depth and honesty. Unfortunately, he goes silent too much of the time. The track often falters and goes dead. When Hellman speaks, he usually offers decent details. This simply happens too infrequently for the commentary to become anything more than average.
Moving to DVD Two, we start with a new 30-minute documentary called After Midnight: Reflecting on the Classic 35 Years Later. It includes movie clips, archival materials, and new interviews with Hellman, director John Schlesinger’s lifetime partner Michael Childers, cinematographer Adam Holender, composer/music supervisor John Barry, and actors Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Salt, Bob Balaban, and Sylvia Miles.
“Midnight” looks at the movie’s story and development, how the principals came onto the project, casting, characters and performances, the film’s photography, and the shooting of specific sequences such as flashbacks and the party. Quite a lot of depth emerges here. The participants present honest memories of the material and explore things well. The show doesn’t answer all the questions, but it covers matters very nicely.
Next we get another documentary. Controversy and Acclaim fills 10 minutes and nine seconds with remarks from Hellman, Holender, Childers, Balaban, Hoffman, Salt, Miles, and Voight. The piece looks at ratings problems and the flick’s reception. Given Cowboy’s status as the only “X”-rated film to win Best Picture, we don’t get much about various controversies. Instead, the participants mainly reflect on its greatness. They present some decent insights, but the show falls short of its goals.
A featurette entitled Celebrating Schlesinger goes for nine minutes, 35 seconds. It features Childers, Hoffman, Hellman, Voight, Salt, Holender, Balaban, Barry, producer Robert Evans, actors William Devane, Kiefer Sutherland, and film critic Leonard Maltin. They discuss the director’s talents and work. Inevitably, this becomes a lovefest. As with the other shows, it occasionally offers interesting information, but usually it comes across as a lot of praise without much depth.
74 images appear in a Photo Gallery. This mixes black and white with color pictures. We get both publicity shots and snaps from the set. These are mildly interesting at best.
A collection of trailers pops up in the Previews area. We find ads for Easy Rider, Layer Cake, Raging Bull, Snatch, Taxi Driver, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Great Escape. Although one appeared on the otherwise bare-bones original DVD, no trailer for Cowboy shows up here.
An odd component completes the set. Inside the package, we find seven Postcards. Each features an image from the movie and a quote as well. I don’t know if anyone will ever mail one of these, but they’re a moderately fun extra.
For me, Midnight Cowboy is one of the “middle of the road” Oscar Best Picture winner. It’s a quality piece and the movie has its moments, but overall, I just could never get involved in the story or the characters. The DVD provides average picture with relatively strong sound and a mix of fairly interesting supplements. This is the best edition of Midnight Cowboy on the market. It’s the one to get, and that goes for fans who own the old DVD; this one merits an upgrade.