Unforgiven appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This disc represents the second DVD version of Unforgiven; the original came out as one of the very first DVDs ever way back in March 1997. I felt that disc’s transfer seemed decent, but it suffered from too many artifacts, largely due to the lack of maturity that came with the format’s infancy. Happily, the new edition of Unforgiven provided a much more satisfying image.
Sharpness appeared virtually immaculate. The picture remained crisp and well defined at all times, as I noticed no problems related to softness even during the film’s many wide shots. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no concerns, and I saw no signs of edge enhancement, which came as a happy surprise; too many Warner Bros. DVDs suffer from that problem, so I felt pleased that Unforgiven lacked that artificial concern.
In addition, the new transfer seemed free from defects. The old one looked reasonably clean, but the re-release omitted even the minor flaws I saw in the original. It also eliminated the annoying digital artifacts that caused the highest level of problems on the old disc; this new one seemed nice and tight.
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. Black levels appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately opaque but not excessively dense. Both of those elements seemed acceptable on the original DVD, but the new one clearly improved upon them. For example, when I checked out the campfire scene in chapter nine, the re-release provided a noticeably clearer image despite the intensely low-light circumstances. Overall, the new transfer of Unforgiven looked very solid.
The original DVD provided a stark but engaging Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and the audio on the new disc seemed virtually identical. 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.
This new special edition of Unforgiven replaces a barebones effort and adds lots of new supplements. Most of these appear on Disc Two, but the first DVD includes some components. 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 commentary and the film’s theatrical trailer - presented anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 audio - DVD One tosses in some text features. Eastwood Out West offers a decent look at the actor’s career in Westerns. Cast and Crew simply lists the names of a few participants; it includes no biographies or additional information. Awards mentions the various prizes earned by Unforgiven.
When we move to DVD Two, we find a slew of additional extras. We start with 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 50 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 five-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 68-minute and 30-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 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 DVD provides very strong picture and sound as well as a pretty solid collection of extras. Eastwood fans will definitely want to pick up this package, even if they already own the original DVD; this new one totally outdoes the old set.