The Wild Bunch appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This is a "flipper”; as such, the first 95 minutes of the film appears on side "A," while the remainder of the movie plus the documentary can be found on "B." That’s because this disc’s release predated the use of dual-layered technology; the first dual-layered DVD wouldn’t hit the shelves until a month or so after this one’s release.
The transfer offered a mixed bag. As often happened with non-anamorphic images, sharpness seemed mediocre. The movie never became badly ill-defined, but it usually appeared a bit soft and tentative. The presence of some fairly prominent edge enhancement didn’t help. I also noticed quite a lot of jagged edges along with examples of shimmering. Print flaws also showed up frequently. Speckles cropped up with regularity and I also noticed scratches and marks from time to time. The print seemed moderately grainy, with some scenes more heavily affected than others.
The transfer of The Wild Bunch fared better in other areas. Colors usually looked quite good. They often appeared bold and accurate. Black levels also worked well, as they demonstrated depth and richness, and shadow detail looked fine; I never had trouble making out nuances in darker scenes. Unfortunately, these positives couldn’t compensate for all the problems, so this ended up as a below average transfer.
The new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for The Wild Bunch was also problematic. Quality was a big issue here. Distortion was a frequent concern, especially in regard to effects; gunfire and explosions usually sounded harsh and crackly. Dialogue also often appeared rough and edgy. Speech seemed pretty weak most of the film; the tone varied radically throughout the movie and ranged from distorted and trebly to dull and flat, but it mostly seemed flawed in some way and could be difficult to understand.
The track's one saving grace came from its score. Clearly the music stemmed from a source different from that of the dialogue and effects because it sounded very good. It seemed smooth and clear and even offered some nice bass response. The score occasionally appeared a little edgy, but it provided the only positive listening experience on this DVD, so I found it very pleasing.
Although Bunch was mixed for 5.1, most of the action still resides in the center channel. The score was spread nicely to the front side speakers as well, and effects and even voices occasionally appeared from channels other than the center. In regard to the speech, tjhis didn’t happen a lot, but when it did, it degraded the quality even further. Dialogue from the center was bad enough, but when it came from the sides it was practically unintelligible. Some decent "wind-blowing" effects emanated from the rears, but anything else from those channels - such as occasional gunfire - seemed badly distorted. I don't know if the original mix of Bunch sounded this bad, but the new version certainly seemed disappointing. Only the high quality of the music kept this one above “D” level.
A few supplements appear on this DVD. On Side One, we get brief Cast biographies for actors William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin and LQ Jones plus director Sam Peckinpah. This side also features some very good text Production Notes. These discuss the film itself and its restoration. This area features a detailed listing of all the footage that had disappeared over the years.
These text elements also appear on Side Two along with the film’s original trailer and a documentary. Called The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage, this show runs 33 minutes, 25 seconds as it intermixes clips from the film and a great deal of behind the scenes footage. All of those shots are accompanied by informative voice-overs from many original participants and others who read quotes from notables. For example, Ed Harris "performs" as Peckinpah. We get notes from these real people: writer Walon Green, actors Edmond O’Brien, LQ Jones, Ernest Borgnine, Peckinpah’s friend and colleague Jim Silke, Peckinpah’s daughter Sharon, and composer Jerry Fielding. As for the performances, in addition to Harris, we hear Newell Alexander as assistant director Cliff Coleman and actor William Holden, Mitch Carter as wardrobe supervisor Gordon Dawson and actor Strother Martin, and Peter Rainer as special effects supervisor Bud Hulford.
The show covers general script issues, themes and characters, shooting challenges and action sequences, stunts and effects, and Peckinpah’s attitude and work on the set. Don’t expect a concise chronological look at the film. Instead, it jumps from subject to subject, though it never becomes confused or disjointed. It takes an honest look at the project and adds a lot to the experience, especially since it packs in a great amount of information for a relatively brief program.
The Wild Bunch stands as an influential film that strongly epitomizes the Western genre. It remains impressive decades after its theatrical release. The DVD presents it with problematic picture and sound along with only a few extras. This is a good movie but a flawed DVD.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of THE WILD BUNCH