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Cool Hand Luke(1967)
His crime: nonconformity. His sentence: the chain gang. Paul Newman plays one of his best-loved roles as Cool Hand Luke, the loner who won't—or can't—comform to the arbitrary rules of his captivity.
For more about Cool Hand Luke and the Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray release, see Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on August 30, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Robert Drivas, Strother Martin
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
» See full cast & crew
Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray Review
One of the 1960's most enduring films is released on Blu-ray with an overall above average picture, but Warner continues to take questionable shortcuts.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, August 30, 2008
Like the booklet release of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the latest addition to Warner's Blu-ray catalog is a film about a man's rejection of rules and regulations. Billed by Warner as Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe Edition, the Blu-ray version is anything but deluxe. With minimal features and no collectible items included, it doesn't even feature a high resolution audio track or a booklet to document the importance of the film. Maybe that's because it didn't win an Oscar for best film, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. But in many ways, Cool Hand Luke is the better picture. It has withstood the test of time and showcases one of Paul Newman's strongest performances, along with a solid supporting cast. George Kennedy's portrayal of Dragline earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But the main strength of the film lies in creating a rural labor camp atmosphere where Luke squares off against prison bosses who fill his ears with rules about what he can't do. Soon, he simply stops listening, leading to the famous line delivered by Strother Martin and again by Newman near the end of the film, "What we have here is failure to communicate."
The film begins as Luke is arrested for destroying public property after the police find him defacing parking meters. He is sentenced to a labor prison where the inmates work in sweltering heat to clear vegetation and help pave roads. The prison warden, known as Captain (Stother Martin), reads from Luke's records that the new prisoner is a war hero with no prior arrests, making him an outsider among outsiders. But even if he had more in common with the other prisoners, Luke's style is to maintain his individuality rather than to try to fit in. Showing no signs of fear or of quitting whether he goes up against other inmates, the bosses or even inner conflicts, Luke is most inspirational when he is at odds with the working order. He consistently chooses the hard road, taking knockout blows again and again in a fistfight with the much bigger Dragline instead of accepting defeat by simply staying down. Or pushing himself and the other prisoners to work an entire road in just a fraction of the time it normally takes. Or betting the prisoners that he can eat 50 eggs in one hour. Lukeï¿½s free spirit leads him to continually push the envelope, eventually manifesting in dangerous escape attempts.
When Luke's mother Arletta (Jo Van Fleet) dies, he appears deeply shaken. Captain preemptively puts Luke in solitary confinement until after Arletta has been buried, saying "when a man's mother dies...his mind ain't right. He's got rabbit in his blood and he runs." This sets up Luke's conflict with the prison authorities, represented by Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodard) and symbolized by Godfreyï¿½s mirrored sunglasses, rifles and bloodhounds. The bosses grind down Luke, eventually breaking his rebellious spirit and stripping him of his individuality. The other men see Luke in his demoralized, acquiescent state, and lose faith in him. But Luke's fierce drive for freedom and individuality has not been snuffed out completely. He has one more push, setting up a forceful finale. The entire narrative is carried as much by Newman's charisma and approach to the character as by the plot and script. The film attempts to work on a spiritual level, too, overtly showing Luke's attempts to reach God and also casting Luke as a Jesus figure. This theme also plays into the "failure to communicate" element of Cool Hand Luke, in which the story works as an allegory for modern man becoming increasingly Godless and spiritually unmoored. But I feel that the film is at its best without pretense, as a simple plot about a man who loses his way and finds himself going up against authority--a common theme in the 1960s.
Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray, Video Quality
The clarity and vibrancy of the Blu-ray is a revelation. Obviously, Warner pumped up the contrast and probably did some DNR, but I'm not complaining. Why not? Because I've never seen this film appear so good, with rich colors and good definition. As with other Warner releases of movies from this era, the improvement in picture quality is dramatic. Until the advent of DVD, Newman's facial expressions, body language cues and method acting were conveyed to viewers in NTSC broadcasts and video tape showing a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The resolution was terrible, the picture blurry, the sound muddy and distorted, the videostage severely cropped. Then came the digital. Watching the DVD version was like lifting a veil. The DVD greatly improved the imagery and audio, restoring the picture to its original ratio. But we were still left with NTSC. The resolution was nowhere near film quality. The Blu-ray disc from Warner changes all that. For the first time, the settings and characters of Cool Hand Luke have life-like definition and detail. Warner's use of the VC-1 codec may not stack up to Sony's use of MPEG-4 (not a fair comparison giving the new movies Sony releases on BD), but one thing is for sure: the 1080p resolution of Cool Hand Luke absolutely trounces what was available before.
Watch the way Newman's face lights up in the scene when he inspires the other men to work faster on the road, allowing the crew to finish their day early. His expression is alive with details that were simply missing in NTSC versions of Cool Hand Luke. Put simply, it is a more human picture that communicates emotion. Even the actors' clothes and skin tone show good definition and clarity. Grain noise is prevalent, but it did not quite seduce me into believing I was watching real film. The details shine through in stunning manner compared to the DVD. It won't win awards for picture quality, but Cool Hand Luke is impressively detailed for a 40 year old film, with dramatic contrast that may be a bit excessive. I witnessed a few digital artifacts and in fact the light noise and grain throughout seems to carry a digital sheen. But overall, Warner did an impressive job. Black level is good, as the dark scenes show, and so is depth, as illustrated in many of the road labor scenes.
Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio performance of Cool Hand Luke is slightly above average, considering the original source material--and that's being generous. For a "deluxe" Blu-ray version, the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. I have nothing against monaural content, but when it's mastered to the front two channels instead of the center channel, that's a giveaway that the same mix is used as the DVD version, even though Warner bills it as a new digital transfer from restored audio elements. Few 5.1 HT systems existed during DVD rollout, so monaural content was mixed to the front two channels, like mono CDs. But what's the excuse now that 5.1 is more common? Despite the claim of audio restoration, the actual content gives me the impression that Warner put little additional effort into the audio mix of the BD. Why the lack of a high resolution track? I would have liked at least a Dolby TrueHD track, but instead it's Dolby Digital. I fully believe that careful production for 24-bit/192 kHz would improve the audio performance, whether for production of a mono, two-channel or multichannel mix.
The monaural appears two-dimensional and harsh on Warner's Dolby Digital track. Not surprisingly, it lacks significant depth or soundstaging. Lalo Schifren's music score, which was later used by local eyewitness news shows around the U.S., sounds constricted and muddled. When the music isn't playing, the audio is passable. Voices and gunshots, footsteps and the sounds of cars all sound clear and convincing. But there is no imaging in the soundstage. In a nutshell, the audio doesn't hold back Cool Hand Luke, but you won't want to use it to demo your system.
Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Monaural audio isn't the only vestige of the DVD version of Cool Hand Luke. Aside from a new documentary, the bonus content also comes directly from Warner's DVD. All supplementary content is 480i or 480p standard definition. The documentary, A Natural-Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke, is a montage of interviews. Fairly unfocused, the anecdotes from the crew and cast--nearly everyone appears except Paul Newman--often contradict each other. For example, the question is raised of how many eggs Newman actually ate in the various takes comprising the eating contest scene. Everyone remembers it differently and no conclusive answer is given among claims that Newman ate zero eggs or as many as eight or more. If Warner is going to the trouble of producing a new documentary the least they could do is get conclusive answers. All those interviewed do agree that Paul Newman was enjoyable to work with and despite his superstar status, he was just "one of the guys" on the set. Rounding out the supplementary content is commentary by historian Eric Lax, who wrote Newman's biography and a theatrical trailer in standard definition.
Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Cool Hand Luke may not be a "must have" for every video library, but maybe it should be. Like many movies of the late 1960s, it's a downer that focuses on themes of rebellion, individuality and going up against "the man", but the difference here lies in Paul Newman's beguiling performance, which carries the narrative and keeps the plot fresh. Though certain scenes seem contrived and Newman is not the world's greatest actor, I can't help but enjoy his performance in Cool Hand Luke each time I see it. The film has certainly aged better than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, also available on Blu-ray, although with a worse transfer. So I'll give props to Warner for at least giving us a better quality picture than Paramount's treatment of Newman's follow-up film. The audio isn't as impressive, but it was never going to wow audiences anyway.
Cool Hand Luke: Other Editions
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• Today on Blu-ray - September 9th - September 9, 2008
As a filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino has a following similar to that of a presidential nominee. Half of those who see his films praise his ability to seamlessly integrate over-the-top action sequences with stylized dialog in order to tell a compelling story. The other ...
• Warner Announces Cool Hand Luke for Blu-ray - May 13, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring the Paul Newman classic film 'Cool Hand Luke' to Blu-ray on September 9th, day-and-date with the DVD re-release. The film, which was nominated for four academy awards, has been recently remastered. No technical ...
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