1930. Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a City at War. Rival gangs compete for control of the city's billion dollar empire of illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and tommy gun. It is the time of the Ganglords. It is the time of Al Capone.
So reads the opening screen of Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, a story of the battle between law enforcement led by Treasury Agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his nemesis, mobster boss Al Capone (Robert DeNiro). Ness arrives in Chicago full of optimism and bravado, but that is quickly dashed by a botched liquor raid that exposes the corruption that had risen to the top of both Chicago's law enforcement and political establishment. Inspired by a frank talk from lone beat cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), Ness recruits a team of agents impervious to bribery and intimidation: Malone, Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), a bureau accountant, and literal hot shot rookie cop George Stone (Andy Garcia) . Their success puts them in direct conflict with Capone and his gang, who will stop at nothing to keep their piece of Chicago's lucrative illegal liquor market.
"He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He pulls a HD DVD you pull a Blu-ray..."
Based only in name and some characters of the 1959 television series, The Untouchables is a very good film that still holds up on its 20th anniversary. The screenplay by playwright David Mamet is literate yet can easily play to any audience. DePalma directs with style, though it's "artfulness" can be a distraction at times (the restaurant celebration sequence, the train station shootout). What is most notable for the film is the cast. Kevin Costner gives Ness a Boy Scout earnestness and naïveté, Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia shine in supporting roles which in the hands of other actors would be otherwise forgettable. Of course, Sean Connery steals the show in his Oscar winning portrayal of Malone. The only problematic casting is Capone. DeNiro gives a terrific performance but you're always aware that it's Robert DeNiro. Perhaps the original choice by the studio, Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Unleashed) would have let Capone become an actual person, rather than a persona. Still, it doesn't cripple a fast paced period crime thriller that is well worth its two hours.
Paramount gives The Untouchables a nice 1080p 2.35 to 1 transfer using the MPEG4 AVC codec. Using a BD50 format disc, the transfer has plenty of room to stretch its legs. The bitrate starts in the low 30Mbps range and stays there for the majority of the feature. Print damage is minimal, with little to no grain. Colors are rich without oversaturation, flesh tones are accurate, though sometimes it seems they lean a bit to the red side. Shadow details are clear without dissolving into noise: the opening raid scene at night is nearly as crisp and clear as anything in the daytime. In the scene where Ness firsts encounters Malone on the bridge you can clearly see the black belt strap layered atop the navy blue of Malone's uniform against a dark background. The jump to Blu-ray from SD DVD brings out additional details that I've never seen or noticed before: the freckles on the young girl in the opening sequence, smoke wafting from cigars in ashtrays, footprints in the luxurious carpets of the Lexington Hotel. In today's age of CGI and color grading, the natural look of the film is refreshing because you don't have to guess what the intended look was on video.
The transfer appears to have received processing that may be mistaken by some for edge enhancement. Personally I couldn't find any edge halos and other artifacts typically associated with that. A typical symptom of the processing is most noticeable in the opening scene where the text appears to shift a bit. It seems to depend on the type of display, those with LCD type displays will probably see nothing distracting where the additional sharpness may be a bit much on CRTs. Other than that, this is still a solid transfer to high definition disc of a 20 year old film.
The Untouchables receives a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (@640kbps) and DTS-ES 6.1 (@1536kbps) remix from the original elements (it had a 70MM 4.1 mix theatrically). The soundfield is above average for a 1987 film, with a very wide dynamic range plus crisp, clear dialogue and sound effects. While the dialogue sounds natural for the majority of the film, some sound effects sound a bit…exaggerated. Footsteps, clothing ruffles, are a bit too clear and don't always integrate with the environment properly. A few canned sounds (like a car screeching to a halt, shotgun blasts) stand out like a sore thumb considering how good other effects (tommy guns in particular) sound. There also isn't much LFE to speak of, even during gun blasts or explosions. The best part of this mix, though, is Ennio Morricone's terrific score. It quite simply has never sounded better.
The included French or Spanish tracks also both benefit from the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX remix (each @640kbps). Interestingly the main menu is encoded as 2 channel PCM. It's too bad Paramount waited so long to embrace lossless multichannel audio, this film would more than likely have benefited from it.
The supplements from the recent DVD reissue are here in this "Special Collector's Edition". With the exception of the trailer, all are standard definition MPEG2 (@480p). The extras are somewhat slim, the majority of the extras appears to be one documentary split into several segments (for royalties reasons, any segment cannot be over 20 min). It was produced by Laurent Bouzereau.
The Script, The Cast (0:18:32) – Director Brian DePalma and Producer Art Linson discuss the beginnings of the story and how they created the film. With the exception of old on-set interviews, there is no participation from the actors.
Production Stories (0:17:19) – Mixture of old and new interviews on the actual shoot with DePalma and Director of Photography Stephen H. Burum (A.S.C.). Again, most of the principal actors don't participate in new interviews with the exception of Charles Martin Smith.
Reinventing The Genre (0:14:24) – DePalma, Linson, Burum, and Smith discuss casting and turning what could have been a tired cliché into something fresh and exciting.
The Classic (0:05:41) – The crew discuss the film's success and impact on their careers.
Original Featurette: "The Men" (0:05:26) – Vintage 1987 promo with cast interviews.
Theatrical Trailer (0:02:50) – Nice to have here in HD but not in the best condition. Contrast the quality here and the feature presentation for an idea how terrific the transfer of the movie itself is.
Summing up, Paramount has served a very good Blu-ray Disc of The Untouchables. Picture and sound are terrific for this classic film and a fine addition to anyone's library. Anyone looking to upgrade their DVD version will be happy with this edition.
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