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After corporate mining boss Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart) begins a campaign of terror to drive independent pan miners out of the area, a nameless stranger called Preacher (Clint Eastwood) rides into the underdogs' camp. He becomes their avenger. The tycoon then hires a badge-wearing killer and his duster-shrouded deputies, men loyal to whomever pays the most. LaHood pays gold. But in a climactic shootout to remember, Preacher pays in lead.
For more about Pale Rider and the Pale Rider Blu-ray release, see Pale Rider Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on September 23, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Chris Penn, Richard Dysart, Richard Kiel
Director: Clint Eastwood
» See full cast & crew
Pale Rider Blu-ray Review
Warner releases on BD Clint Eastwood's best-known directorial effort of the 1980s, but the A/V quality yields mixed results.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, September 23, 2008
Before Clint Eastwood played Dirty Harry Callahan, he helped define the western genre. His influence in the genre continued right up through Pale Rider, the last traditional western of his career. Eastwood's specialty was the strong silent type. In Pale Rider, he attempts to take the role to mythological heights as the Preacher, who rides into town summoned by the prayers of a young lady, Megan Wheeler (Sydney Penny). Megan, her mother Sarah (Carrie Snodgress), landowner Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty) and a small community of miners are being terrorized by men working for greedy prospector Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart).
The preacher stands up to LaHood's scofflaws, protecting Hull and Megan and rallying the miners to stick together. LaHood then hires gunslinger Stockburn (John Russell) and his six tough deputies to kill the preacher and run the miners off Hull's land. But Stockburn and the preacher have a history that hints at the folklore of Jose Wales and the film High Plains Drifter. The plot moves toward a final showdown between Stockburn and the preacher, who has put away his collar and armed himself with a pistol. But will the preacher be any match for Stockburn and his posse of professional gunslingers? The action ratchets up at a steady pace, leading to a riveting showdown. But less-than-stellar quality and some directorial missteps by the now-Oscar winning director make this BD for serious Eastwood and western fans only.
I was impressed by Pale Rider when I saw it in the 1980s. At that time, Eastwood had perfected his acting skills, but his directing chops were still a bit thin. He would go on to win Oscars for directing Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven, placing him in the pantheon of the finest directors ever. Compared to later films, Eastwood's choices for Pale Rider were sometimes poor, particularly in terms of actors, camera angles and action sequences. For example, the initial sequence in the film, showing LaHood's men raiding the miners' community, does not frame the action properly. We see poorly captured motion--horses filmed too close, riders striking at unidentifiable victims, a dog rushing clumsily through the chaos. It appears like an amateur exercise--completely uncharacteristic of Eastwood's later directorial style. The lighting is often too dark or too bright and rarely achieves the perfection Eastwood later attained. Faces are sometimes hidden in shadow and characters are positioned oddly in relation to each other and to the light.
Note the first real fight scene, in which the preacher and LaHood's men go at each other with two-by-fours. Instead of a cohesive, believable action sequence, Eastwood opts for breaking up the fight by showing each two-by-four flying end over end into the air as the preacher disarms the bad guys, one after another. Granted, the heroes in westerns traditionally take on a larger than life, tall tale stature that the flying sticks were supposed to show. But it was a clumsy cinematographic device that hurt the scene. Eastwood also failed to get a convincing performance out of Sydney Penny and never properly defined Carrie Snodgress' character, although she turns in an admirable performance, along with Moriarty, Christopher Penn as LaHood's son, Dysart, Russel and Eastwood himself.
For all its faults Pale Rider remains a high water mark of the 1980s. Eastwood's attempt almost works to adapt Jose Wales folklore into a more abstract western with a superhuman or metaphysical hero that pays homage to classics like Shane and High Noon. The scars appearing on the preacher's back clearly show fatal rear-entry gunshot wounds. The way the preacher appears suggests he rides into the lives of the miners and faces off against Stockburn in some divine purpose. But in hindsight, Eastwood's directorial chops were not quite up to the challenge. While essential viewing for western fanatics and serious worshipers of Clint Eastwood, Warner's Pale Rider Blu-ray disc does not even touch the grandeur of the actor/director's later work. Nor do the audio and video achieve the quality we are coming to expect from 1080p and high definition audio. Sure it looks and sounds better than NTSC versions, but compared to the growing list of reference quality BDs, Pale Rider pales.
Pale Rider Blu-ray, Video Quality
While the VC-1 picture's definition is good, contrast level appears to be artificially pumped up. Maybe this is in keeping with the original film source, but it does not make for the most natural skin tones, foliage and other imagery. Objects also appear a bit "etched", as if sharpness was applied to the picture. This effect is not obtrusive, the landscape shots and interiors are vibrant and far from what anyone would call "too digital". As Blu-ray fare goes, it's a bit above average, and fully enjoyable. Colors are rich (maybe too rich) and black level is inky, with natural gradients that show no signs of artifacts or pixelation. Depth suffers a bit from the slight oversaturation. While the countryside in the film is beautiful, it lacks the extraordinary resolution and realism associated with reference quality BDs that make some 1080p appear as though you can step inside the picture.
The BD provides a good window into problems with the source material. Watch the initial scene when LaHood's men raid the miner's camp on horseback. The contrast appears to strobe lightly in a way that is unique to aging filmstock. Occasionally, other warts appear, including splotchy color and film noise like dust and lines. Only discerning eyes will pick up on these problems. Overall, the picture is clean. My main complaints, again, are the contrast, slight oversaturation of color and hint of extra sharpening. But some viewers may actually enjoy these attributes.
Pale Rider Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track proves less-than-stellar. Dialog is crisp but lacks a fully analog presence. Gunshots had an etched, hollow quality and the high-pressure water cannons used by LaHood for erosion mining had a slightly digital sheen, as did explosions. Listen to the scene when the preacher uses explosives to destroy LaHood's mining operations. The blasts lack a convincing attack, and do not trail off in an accurate decay either, lacking any echo as the sounds peel off the mountains and across the plains. The explosions deliver little significant LFE rumble, either. The rumble of galloping horses, in the opening scene for example, has comparable problems. The film's score sounds shelved and muffled. Surround channels are only used for ambient sounds.
To be fair, the mediocre audio is the fault not of the Blu-ray production, but of the original film. Warner probably did an admirable job of dusting off the source material and producing the 5.1 track as cleanly as possible. But, as the expression goes, a polished turd is still a turd. If you only want to collect BDs with an immersive, engaging surround track, I'd have to recommend against getting Pale Rider. However, given the age and production characteristics of the original film, I can grant an average score for audio quality.
Pale Rider Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, there are no extras--just a standard definition trailer of Pale Rider and Unforgiven. It would have been nice to at least have audio commentary or an interview to get Eastwood's comments on the identity of the preacher or his approach to the role. But uncharacteristically of Warner, no supplementary content is provided. Lowest marks for bonus material.
Pale Rider Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Maybe it was lack of a decent budget, adequate production time or just an unfinished conception of exactly what each character should deliver in the film--but whatever the reason, Pale Rider doesn't rise to the level of most Eastwood films. His preacher character is intriguing, but leaves audiences hungry for more information about the folklore surrounding the role. As a simple tale in the tradition of classic westerns, Pale Rider definitely carries its weight right down to the showdown. But after enjoying Clint Eastwood's more inspired performances and directorial efforts, this comes off like an unfinished piece or a simple character sketch. The pacing and acting is awkward, especially at the beginning. But it eventually picks up steam. With the average audio and video quality, the Pale Rider Blu-ray is recommended only for serious western and Clint Eastwood fans who don't mind a less-than-stellar outing from a time before he had perfected his craft as a director.
Pale Rider: Other Editions
Pale Rider Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Announces Pale Rider Blu-ray - April 30, 2008
In yet another classic western announcement, Warner today detailed their release plans for the Clint Eastwood film 'Pale Rider' on Blu-ray. The film is included in Warner's 85th anniversary Western event that will deliver several classics of the genre to Blu-ray ...
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