The Wild Bunch appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the image held up well.
Sharpness was strong. The vast majority of the film looked tight and concise, with very little softness on display. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement occurred. Print flaws caused no problems. I saw maybe one or two specks, but otherwise this was a clean, smooth transfer.
Colors usually looked quite good, as they often appeared bold and accurate. The movie didn’t offer a broad palette, as it preferred sandy, neutral tones much of the time, but the hues were positive within those parameters.
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, though some shots threatened to become too dense. Overall, this was a fine c transfer that did the film justice.
Unfortunately, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Wild Bunch seemed 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 the lines 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/effects because it sounded very good. The score 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 disc, so I found it to be pleasing.
Although Bunch was mixed for 5.1, most of the action still resided close to the center. However, the score 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, this 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 audio of Bunch sounded this flawed, but this remixed version certainly seemed disappointing. I would guess that the problems stemmed from the source, though. In any case, only the high quality of the music got this mix to “C-“ level.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 Special Edition DVD? Audio was identical, as both versions went with lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.
I suspect both discs also used the same transfers, but the greater capabilities of Blu-ray made it more satisfying. As usual, the Blu-ray was better defined and more film-like than the DVD.
The Blu-ray replicates the DVD’s extras, and we find an audio commentary with Peckinpah biographers/documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle. All four sit together for a running, screen-specific look at story/characters, themes and meaning, cast and performances, sets and locations, and connected areas.
Though it does offer information about the film’s creation, the commentary mostly feels like a mix of appreciation and interpretation. Some of that material goes a long way, so this tendency makes the track a little slow. Still, enough useful material emerges to allow for the commentary to become reasonably informative, if not as nuts and bolts-focused as I’d like.
Called The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage, a documentary runs 33 minutes, 23 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.
Next we get another documentary entitled Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade. Originally created for the Starz channel and narrated by actor Kris Kristofferson, the one-hour, 22-minute, 40-second show includes comments from Kristofferson, Simmons, Weddle, Seydor, Silke, LQ Jones, Peckinpah’s sister Fern Lea Peter, son Mathew Peckinpah, daughter Lupita Peckinpah, editor Garth Craven, critic/author David Thomson, critics Elvis Mitchell and Roger Ebert, writer/director Paul Schrader, producer Dan Melnick, writer Stanley Booth, assistant Katy Haber, props manager Bobby Visciglia, assistant/friend Chalo Gonzales, and actors Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Madsen, Ben Johnson, James Coburn, Stella Stevens, Benicio Del Toro, RG Armstrong, and Donnie Fritts.
The program looks at basic biographical notes about Peckinpah and how his life influenced his filmmaking, his entry into movies and his early work. We get notes about his various westerns through the years, with a strong emphasis on influences, themes and interpretation. The program concludes with info about Peckinpah’s addictions, family relationships and demise.
This means you won’t find a concise look at Peckinpah’s career here. Again, it concentrates on the westerns and cares more about personal interpretation of the films over production details. I don’t think this causes problems, though, as I feel “Renegade” is rich and insightful. We get a deep look at the methods and madness of Peckinpah in this honest and distinctive program.
Next we discover an Excerpt from “A Simple Adventure: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and The Wild Bunch”. The 23-minute, 48-second show features remarks from Simmons, Seydor, Weddle, Redman, Dawson, Lupita Peckinpah, and writer/Peckinpah family friend Jesse Graham, The program shows them on a trip to the movie’s Mexican locations. This seems vaguely useful as a curiosity, but I can’t say I think it’s very informative or entertaining. At least some decent footage from the original shoot appears.
The set includes a collection of Outtakes. We get an eight-minute, 47-second set of shots. The disc refers to these as “a montage of outtakes from the River, Desert, Train Robbery and Bridge sequences”. They come without production sound, as we instead hear score. Frankly, they aren’t very interesting.
We finish with some trailers. We get promos for Wild Bunch, Ride the High Country, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Getaway and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
More than 45 years after its release, The Wild Bunch remains an impressive piece of work. It stands as an influential film that strongly epitomizes the Western genre. The Blu-ray presents it with pretty good picture and supplements but disappointingly distorted sound. Despite the disc’s flaws, the movie is too strong to ignore.
To rate this film visit the DVD Review of WILD BUNCH