Unforgiven appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. One of the earliest Blu-ray releases, this one wasn’t perfect, but it worked better than I expected given its age.
The main issue stemmed from dark shots, especially in regard to interiors. These occasionally tended to show murky qualities, as the low-light elements could come across as muddy. Blacks also could appear somewhat inky. These areas improved as the film proceeded, at least, but they still offered the image’s weakest link.
Sharpness was quite good most of the time. Again, low-light interiors caused some trouble and made the picture a bit soft, but otherwise definition looked solid. Even with some light edge haloes, the movie seemed generally accurate and distinctive. I noticed no shimmering or jaggies, and source flaws were essentially absent; I noticed a couple of small specks but nothing more.
Colors appeared generally subdued to fit the natural western setting. The hues looked rich and warm throughout the film, and they displayed no signs of bleeding or noise; the tones were vibrant and clear. The issues with low-light shots and a few other issues made this a “B-“ presentation.
The disc provided a stark but engaging Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The front soundstage created a nicely broad field of audio, as effects and music blended well across those three channels. Elements meshed nicely and offered good stereo imaging.
As for the surrounds, they mostly stayed in the realm of general ambience, but they kicked to life nicely during the appropriate scenes. Thunderstorms gave us natural and involving material, and other sequences also added some involvement. In particular, street scenes created a solid sense of atmosphere. The soundfield remained fairly subdued, but it fit the material.
Audio quality seemed consistently positive. Dialogue appeared distinct and natural, with no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded deep and realistic; gunfire crackled nicely and the other ambient sounds seem strong as well. The film used music sparingly but the score appeared clean and smooth at all times, and the whole track boasted gentle but rich bass response. Unforgiven didn’t provide a demo-worthy soundtrack, but it seemed more than satisfactory for this kind of film.
How did this Blu-Ray compare with the Special Edition DVD from 2002? Given the absence of a lossless option here, the audio remained virtually identical. Picture quality showed some improvements, though, as the Blu-ray looked tighter and better defined.
The Blu-ray duplicates most of the extras from the 2002 Special Edition DVD. Most significant is an audio commentary from Time magazine movie critic Richard Schickel, who offers a running, screen-specific track. At times Schickel provides some information about the creation of the film and its path to the screen; for example, he relates how Eastwood sat on the project for years before he felt ready to make it.
However, most of the commentary focuses on character and story interpretation. Schickel nicely covers these issues and tries to dig inside the message on display and other rich elements. He clearly feels warmly toward the film, and his enthusiasm for it comes through well. My only real complaint about the track revolves around the moderately frequent gaps; though these don’t become overwhelming, too much of the movie passes without material from Schickel. Despite that fault, the commentary generally provides an informative and enlightening piece.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get All On Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger, a brand-new program about Unforgiven that runs 22 minutes and 35 seconds. Hosted by Morgan Freeman, it includes the usual mix of movie snippets and new interviews. In the latter category, we hear from actor/director Clint Eastwood, actors Freeman and Gene Hackman, editor Joel Cox, and writer David Webb Peoples. We hear a little about the origins of the project as well as how Eastwood became involved in it, but most of the program discusses the film’s anti-violence elements. Those parts of the show seem reasonably engaging, though we don’t get enough information to achieve any real depth. That occurs because we see far too many movie snippets; these fill about half of the piece. “Trigger” seems moderately interesting but it doesn’t provide much insight.
From 1992, Eastwood and Co.: Making Unforgiven lasts 23 minutes and 52 seconds. Hosted by Hal Holbrook, this show offers another combination of film clips, shots from the set, and interviews. The latter category includes remarks from Eastwood, actors Hackman, Freeman, Richard Harris, production designer Henry Bumstead, cinematographer Jack Green, script supervisor Lloyd Nelson, gaffer Tom Stern, executive producer David Valdes, technical consultant Buddy Van Horn, property master Edward Aiona, costume supervisor Glenn Wright, and animal wrangler John Scott. Though “Eastwood” also includes too many film clips and too much plot discussion, it seems more compelling than “Trigger” largely because of the interesting snippets from the set. We see some great behind the scenes footage, and the show also provides a quick look at Eastwood’s acting history. Though “Eastwood” remains somewhat superficial, it gives us enough useful material to merit a look.
Next we find Eastwood… A Star, a 16-minute and seven-second featurette that also dates from the theatrical release of Unforgiven. Similar in construction to the prior show, this one features comments solely from Eastwood as it covers his career. It repeats some of the shots from the last piece, but it concentrates more heavily on older flicks. The results seem a little puffy, but overall, it provides decent little overview.
For more information in that vein, we heard to Eastwood on Eastwood, a one-hour, eight-minute and 34-second documentary. Narrated by John Cusack, the program covers Clint’s career through 1997’s Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil. The show mostly consists film clips and interviews with Eastwood, but we see some behind the scenes footage from flicks like Bird, Unforgiven, and Garden. The movie scenes definitely dominate the piece, which seems like a burden and a blessing. On one hand, the prevalence of the snippets allows us to get a good feel for Eastwood’s career. The program doesn’t include material from all of Clint’s flicks, but we get a pretty solid sampling.
However, this doesn’t leave tons of time from comments from Eastwood. He adds some nice remarks at times, but these don’t appear with the frequency I’d prefer. That means that we receive a somewhat superficial discussion of his work; it features moderate insight but it doesn’t often dig beneath the surface. Still, Eastwood seems entertaining and generally informative.
Finally, we get a nice look at Clint’s very early career via Maverick: Duel at Sundown. This 49-minute, seven-second piece includes an entire episode of the series from 1959. Not surprisingly, the story features Eastwood in a prominent guest role as Red Hardigan. This provided a very cool extra, as it was a lot of fun to see the young Eastwood at work, and the show seemed pretty entertaining to boot.
As a film, Unforgiven has some merits and offers a generally strong piece of work. The movie gives us a somewhat forced but moderately thoughtful treatise on violence; it doesn’t totally achieve its goals, but it works fairly well overall. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture and sound as well as a pretty solid collection of extras. The disc could look a bit better than it does, but it still offers a fairly positive reproduction of the film.
To rate this film visit the Special Collector's Edition review of UNFORGIVEN