Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Cloris Leachman
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Trailers

Honored with four Academy Awards in 1969, George Roy Hill's "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" is still one of the most beloved buddy-movies of a great many film fans. Not only did it practically start the genre, but it still stands out as one of its most visionary and captivating stories. Based on the real life of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film manages to keep audiences enthralled for its entire running length and paints a harsh, yet romantic, picture of the Wild West on the brink of becoming less wild than it used to be. Uncompromising and to a degree even bleak for the main characters, the film itself is an inspiring tale of two friends who quite literally go to hell for each other.

Butch Cassidy (a cool Paul Newman) is the leader of the "Hole In The Wall Gang," a group of desperados who have specialized on robbing banks for a living. One of the gang's members and a very close personal friend of Butch is the Sundance Kid (superbly played by Robert Redford). While Butch is the brain of the operation, Sundance is the executive hand, a gunslinger without remorse or hesitation when it comes to saving his or his friend's life.

After beginning to also rob money transport trains, the gang plans a double-whammy. Rob a money train on one way, and then rob it again on the way back when everyone feels safe – as no one would expect lightning to strike twice. But the job goes awry. Butch and Sundance are suddenly running from a small hand-picked group of sheriffs and trackers. No matter where they turn, no matter how they try to cover their traces, their pursuers keep closing in on them, and weary the two outlaws slowly begin to lose their tempers and hope. When all seems lost, they decide to make on final leap to rid themselves of the posse that is intent to bring them down – and succeed – in one of the movie's most alluring scenes, that is not only beautifully staged and photographed, but also offers great insight into the characters themselves.

Butch and Sundance decide to stay low to evade the authorities and plan to escape to Bolivia before the sheriffs catch up with them. Although Bolivia turns out like nothing they had expected, the two, accompanied by Sundance's girlfriend Etta (Katherine Ross), soon fall back into the old groove. Barely able to manage the Spanish language, they once again begin to rob small local banks and use Etta as a charming distraction. But one day something happens that shatters their world. They realize that their demons of old have caught up with them. They are once again hunted and this time it is getting increasingly hard to disappear.

"Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" is beautifully photographed and acted. The chemistry you get to witness leaps off the screen and makes sure the viewer is firmly rooting for the two lovable main characters despite the fact that they are actually bad guys. The intricate portrayal of the characters and the well-written script helps us to see their human side, which makes them incredibly sympathetic and ultimately enhances the drama surrounding them. We know that they are headed for trouble as we watch their doings, and for the entire time the viewer is hopeful they will manage to escape the unavoidable. The career performances seen in the film – including Katherine Ross' restrained yet absolutely poignant play – make sure the film's humorous elements never turn it into a farce, and you will notice that this is one of those rare films that keep getting better every time you see it. Most notably, the film's ecliptic final moment when Butch and Sundance go out in a blaze of glory – a blaze that still burns today incidentally, in countless stories and legends. Clever dialogues, nicely paced drama and dimensional characters with depth make the movie an experience you won't forget once seen.

About two years ago 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment completely remastered "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" for a DVD release and here now, to complement that release is the Blu-Ray version of the film. While the film looked serviceable in standard definition on DVD, I am sad to report that the 1080p high definition version of it does not quite live up to today's standards. The transfer is uneven and most of the majority of the problems seem to stem from poor elements. The transfer has not been cleaned up properly and as such you will see a constant barrage of speckles, dirt and hair on your screen distracting terribly from the experience as a whole. The image itself is soft by design, but the faded colors and weak black levels that are on display here are not. A film that has so much visual mood, that relies so much on the scope of its vistas and photography deserves a proper transfer that makes the most of it. Sadly, here the opportunity was missed and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment seemed to have carelessly slapped the first available transfer onto the disc. Given the film's grain, the compression is also not entirely convincing as it creates undesirable artifacts despite the high bitrate.

It has become commonplace for studios to remaster audio tracks also these days, and on this release Fox has converted the original mono audio track into a 7.1 channel DTS Master Lossless Audio track. While it is certainly laudable for studios to do that, my feeling has always been that if they do it, they should do it right. In the case of "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" the resulting track sounds every bit as dated and narrowly defined as the original mono track. The only difference is that the harsh sounding sound effects and dialogues are now spread across all surround channels. The frequency response of the overall track is still very limited, making everything sound thin and tinny, and the track's frequency response, while improved does not cover up the fact that the sound elements where clipped and did not have a lot of dynamics to begin with.

Not all of the bonus materials that were part of the 2-disc DVD release have been ported over to this Blu-Ray release. Fortunately however, the studio decided to take the best of these supplements and bring them across so that those that are missing will hardly be missed.

First up is an audio commentary featuring director George Roy Hill, lyricist Hal David, associate producer Robert Crawford Jr., who also directed the documentary, and cinematographer Conrad Hall. It is a very insightful commentary track that seems to have been recorded individually and has later been edited together. With interesting bits of information and vivid recollections, the commentary track shows clearly how hard and challenging it must have been to get the film done and how very much of the final result has been depending on the vision of director George Roy Hill.

A second commentary track screenwriter William Goldman is also included, allowing him to elaborate in quite some detail about the genesis of the story. Sadly, Goldman is not a very engaging commentator making this track rather dry.

"All Of The Following Is True: The Making Of 'Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid'" is a 35-minute documentary featurette with interviews with the filmmakers and cast members as the reminisce about the making of the movie.

"The Wild Bunch: The Fact vs. Fiction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is another featurette that takes a more historical look at the characters and details their real life exploits. It may be worth noting that both featurettes are presented in high definition.

A deleted scene is also included – sadly only in standard definition – with a commentary by director George Roy Hill, as well as teasers and trailers. These trailer are in high definition but of rather poor quality.

Beloved and acclaimed, "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" is certainly a great high definition addition but it is disappointing how poorly the release turned out. After all these years and supposed restorations one would expect a transfer that is – at the very least – free of dirt and speckles. So, overall, it is a rather average release of a really cool movie.