The Searchers appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I found it hard to believe they filmed The Searchers almost 60 years ago, as this transfer made it look brand new.
Sharpness seemed very strong. Barely a smidgen of softness ever cropped up as the film progressed. Instead, the movie looked concise and crisp at almost all times. The image showed no jagged edges or shimmering, and only a slight hint of edge enhancement occurred. Print flaws were absent in this clean presentation.
Despite the arid, dusty setting of The Searchers, colors looked excellent. A brownish tint dominated, but the film still found opportunities for brighter tones. When these appeared, they stood out in a terrific manner. The various hues were rich and full.
Black levels appeared dark and deep, and shadow detail usually was appropriately heavy. At times low-light shots could look overly thick, but those occasions occurred due to "day for night" photography. Hat technique almost inevitably results in dim shadows, so I couldn’t fault the transfer for the problems that came from the source.
Really, I couldn’t fault the transfer for much of anything. I found it to provide a consistently fantastic image that should absolutely stun fans. I don’t know if the flick ever looked this good on the big screen.
The film's Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack seemed more than acceptable for its age. Dialogue appeared a bit thin at times, but was fine given the restrictions of the era’s technology. Lines always sounded acceptably crisp and lacked any edginess or problems with intelligibility. Effects were reasonably accurate. No distortion popped up as the elements appeared pretty clean and firm.
Music might have been a little bass-heavy, but the score was fairly solid. Those aspects of the track seemed smooth and full when I factored in the age of the material. Some background noise could be heard during the film but not to a terrible degree. Overall, the sound seemed pretty solid for a film of this one’s vintage.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 DVD release? Audio was identical, but the visuals showed nice improvements. While the DVD offered solid picture for its format, it couldn’t compete with the clarity and definition of this appealing Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray replicates all the disc-based extras from the 2006 DVD. We start with an Introduction from Patrick Wayne. John Wayne’s son chats for one minute, 52 seconds as he tells us a little about his dad, John Ford, and the film. This ends up as a general piece without much value.
The set also presents an audio commentary from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. For the most part, Bogdanovich offers annotated narration. He tells us a little about John Wayne, director John Ford and other cast and crew. He also chats about the movie’s story and themes, cinematic techniques, and locations. The best parts come from his memories of interactions with Ford.
However, Bogdanovich often does little more than describe the action along with a few minor thoughts about what he sees. He provides the occasional insight but not much more than that. We get a fair amount of dead air, so this turns out to be a lackluster commentary at best and a dull one at worst.
With that we move to The Searchers: An Appreciation. This 31-minute, one-second documentary features the standard mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from filmmakers Curtis Hanson, Martin Scorsese and John Milius.
During “Appreciation”, the various filmmakers discuss their early encounters with Searchers and comment on various aspects of the flick that impressed them then and now. They also discuss technical elements of the film and give us a dissection of the different parts of the flick. This means that talk about technical issues as well as character, story, and tone. In addition, they dig into subtext, themes, interpretation and allusions as well as reflections on director Ford and racial issues.
“Appreciation” offers the kind of discussion I thought we’d get from the commentary. The filmmakers show their obvious affection for the film as they open it up to interpretation and dissection in a number of ways. Though their opinions still don’t make me think highly of the flick, I like hearing how they feel.
Next comes A Turning of the Earth: John Ford, John Wayne and The Searchers. A 33-minute, 10-second documentary, it presents notes from Milius, Patrick Wayne, director’s son Dan Ford, and actors Pippa Scott, Harry Carey Jr. (read by Peter Rainer) and Lana Wood. Note that they don’t appear on-camera. Some of the material comes from a narrator, and the other participants show up as voice-overs as well.
“Earth” looks at the story that inspired the film and its path to the screen. We follow the location scouts, shooting in Monument Valley and facts about that area. From there we learn about story influences, the atmosphere on the set, performances, and filming various scenes. The show progresses through Ford’s work and his relationship with Wayne, stuntmen and the use of Navajo.
“Earth” acts as a somewhat unconventional documentary, but it proves fairly satisfying. It doesn’t light upon all of the issues I’d like, but it gives us reasonably good insight into the areas it discusses. I admit I could live without some of the jerky shots and odd transitions; why’d the documentary’s producers try to make it look like the opening credits to Se7en? Though we see too many movie clips for my liking, there’s enough useful content and interesting shots from the set to make this one winning.
Some vintage elements come via four Behind the Cameras featurettes. These include “Meet Jeffrey Hunter” (four minutes, two seconds), “Monument Valley” (6:01), “Meet Natalie Wood” (5:50) and “Setting Up Production” (5:55). Originally aired as part of a mid-Fifties television show called Warner Brothers Presents, all of these present some details from the set of The Searchers. None of them are terribly fascinating, but they provide a fun look at TV promotional materials of the time. “Valley” and “Production” are probably the best since they give us some decent material from the set. The other two are little more than excuses to show lots of movie clips.
The package ends with trailers for Searchers and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
My opinion falls in the minority, but I just don’t feel impressed with The Searchers. When I first watched the film and offered that impression, I got e-mails that told me to view it again. I’ve now seen The Searchers four times and nothing’s changed my opinion. The Blu-ray offers excellent visuals along with good audio and an erratic but generally informative set of supplements. With a low list price of less than $15, this Blu-ray is a steal.
Note that The Searchers can be purchased on its own or as part of a five-film “John Wayne Westerns Collection”. This also includes Fort Apache, Rio Bravo, The Train Robbers and Cahill: United States Marshal. It retails for $54.95, so it’s a good deal if you want all five of the movies.
To rate this film visit the original review of THE SEARCHERS