The Wild Bunch: Special Director's Cut

The Wild Bunch: Special Director's Cut (1969)
Warner Home Video
Cast: William Holden and Ernest Borgnine
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentaries, Outtakes, Deleted Scenes

Possibly the first modern action-movie, Sam Peckinpah's 1969 "The Wild Bunch" is an elegy to Mexico, a morals tale, and, just likely, a masterpiece, and… this brand-new 2-Disc DVD transfer from Warner Home Video does it right.

"The Wild Bunch" begins and ends with two of the bloodiest battles in screen history. After a failed payroll robbery, the outlaw Bunch, led by aging Pike Bishop (William Holden) and Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) head for Mexico, pursued by the gang of Pike's friend-turned-enemy Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). Caught between corrupt railroad officials and federale general Mapache, and without a frontier nearby for escape, the Bunch elects to fight for a final victory.

In the famous finale, the four outlaws march through town, seeking to confront Mapache and avenge their friend Angel. Elaborately edited montages use different camera speeds and various distances. Peckinpah and cinematographer Lucien Ballard show what it looks like when bullets hit flesh; here it's more ballet than battle.

Altough a big hit, Warner Brothers pulled Peckinpah's final 145-minute cut. They shaved off 10 minutes, while leaving the violence intact. This footage was then painstakingly restored in 1995.

A remarkable cast includes Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin, and Albert Dekker, in his final film.

The DVD that Warner Home Video delivers here includes a commentary track by Nick Redman and David Weddle that tunrs out to be a little too scholarly and dry.

You also get a Peckinpah Trailer Gallery, and a selection of never-before-seen outtakes. The release is also dishing out some deleted scenes, and three featurettes. "Sam Peckinpah's West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade", "The Wild Bunch, An Album in Montage", and "A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and the Wild Bunch" are their titles covering many aspects of the production of the film, its ambitions as well as a look at Peckinpah's body of work and signature style. Of these documentaries "Sam Peckinpah's West: Legacy" clearly stands out. It was originally produced for the Starz! pay TV channnel and includes interviews with assistants and actors, as well as critics like Roger Ebert. At an hour-and-a-half it is a stunning look at the man and his movies. Narrated by Kris Kristofferson, it features interviews with Stella Stevens, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Madsen, and Peckinpah's sister Fern, his daughter Lupita, and his son Matthew. Weddle and Garner Simmons examine each film and offer up some rare on-set footage. They do not dwell on Peckinpah's distaste for studio brass, or his growing dependence on alcohol. These issues are handled tastefully in the documentary without turning them into sensation. All-in-all, a genius movie director departed this world too soon.

The DVD boasts a new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, lifted from the original 70mm Panasonic master it appears, as the tone and contrast is outstanding and mark a big improvement over the previous DVD release.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is solid and never sounds unnaturally harsh. Gunfire seems to draw from the front left speakers, and dialogue is skewed to the right. Subtitles are provided in English, Spanish, and French.

Once again, Warner Home Video released a superior product with this 2-disc Special Edition. "The Wild Bunch" is Sam Peckinpah's triumph; a highly textured poetic classic; his ultimate tribute to male-bonding and redemption. It changed Peckinpah's life forever, and our lives too. Yes, it's bloody and harsh, but as Pike himself says, "I wouldn't want it any other way."