Shane appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Oh, that aspect ratio! It caused a controversy when WB first announced the Blu-ray.
Initially the studio planned to release Shane in the 1.66:1 format, which was apparently used during its theatrical exhibition. That should make it the original aspect ratio, right?
Yes and no. Apparently Shane was filmed 1.37:1 and cropped to 1.66:1 so it could be sold as a widescreen movie back when those formats were new. This created an uproar among fans, as they felt the flick should be seen as originally framed, not as altered for commercial reasons.
Given the hubbub, WB went back to the drawing board. They postponed the original Shane release, dropped the 1.66:1 version and gave us 1.37:1 instead. This seemed to satisfy most of the fans, but it would’ve been better if the Blu-ray included both the 1.37:1 and 1.66:1 ratios. Criterion’s On the Waterfront delivered three different ratios and let the viewer choose the “correct” one; it would’ve been nice to have a similar option here.
Nonetheless, I won’t grouse too much because the end result looked so good. Sharpness could occasionally be a little soft, usually in wide shots; close-ups of Jean Arthur also could be a bit iffy. I suspect the mild lack of definition in wider elements stemmed from the film stcck, while the issues with the Arthur shots almost certainly came from soft focus used to obscure the then-50-something Arthur’s age.
Despite these minor soft spots, overall clarity remained positive, and I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering. Edge haloes failed to appear, and with a light layer of grain, I didn’t suspect any digital noise reduction. Print flaws caused no concerns, as the movie looked clean and free from specks, marks or other blemishes.
In terms of colors, Shane isn't The Wizard of Oz. It's not the kind of movie that should boast vivid, bright hues, and most of the film stayed with a pretty drab palette that made sense within the dusty landscape. Within those parameters, the colors looked fine. They showed the appropriate sense of the arid nature of the setting and represented the source well.
Black levels appeared good, with acceptably deep tones, and shadow detail seemed fine. Some semi-opaque day-for-night shots popped up, but those were an inevitable outgrowth of the original photography. Otherwise, low-light shots were clear and well-developed. I felt pretty pleased with this appealing presentation.
Don’t expect much from the DTS-HD MA Stereo soundtrack of
Shane. For all intents and purposes, this was a mono mix; sound emitted from the side and rear speakers, but it added little. Music appeared “broad mono” and lacked any form of stereo presence; the score came from the other channels but failed to deliver unique instrumentation on the sides. Effects remained centered and did little to nothing with the other channels.
At least the quality of the audio appeared good. Dialogue was clear and relatively natural, with no signs of edginess or other issues. Effects seemed acceptably realistic and they featured a mild level of bass as well. The score also sounded fairly crisp and distinct. Nothing here excelled, but the audio was fine for its age.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2000? Audio was a bit clearer and peppier, but visuals showed the more obvious improvements. The Blu-ray looked tighter, cleaner and more film-like. This was a substantial jump up from the DVD.
The Blu-ray replicates the DVD’s smattering of extras. We get a running, screen-specific audio commentary from production assistant/director’s son George Stevens Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat. They discuss story/characters, cast, crew and performances, sets and locations, and other filmmaking elements.
Although it contains a fair number of gaps - particularly during the second act of the film – I find this piece to provide a moderately compelling description of the creation of Shane. Stevens relates some interesting historical documents of his father's, and both participants provide some good anecdotes about the shoot. The gaps can make some stretches of the track frustrating, but it's worth your while to stick with it, as many of the best details don't appear until toward the end. It's not a great commentary, but it merits a listen.
In addition to the commentary, we get a theatrical trailer. This comes from a reissue of the film, as indicated by “A Paramount Re-Release” at the end.
Shane offers a very satisfying Western. It's not my favorite example of the genre - I really loved Stagecoach - but it works well overall and provides a compelling experience. The Blu-ray delivers very good visuals, more than adequate audio and a fairly informative commentary. This becomes a satisfying release for a classic film.