Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Edition

Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Edition (1971)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Liam Neeson, Hal Holbrook, Andy Robinson, Sondra Locke, Tyne Daly, Jim Carrey
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Documentaries

Warner Home Video couldn't give fans a better present than a full blown "Dirty Harry" box set in high definition, containing each of the five movies in new 1080p transfers, but also including a number of gizmos. It is as if Christmas arrived early this year… very early.

"Dirty Harry" was the first movie that introduced the world to Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in 1971. Directed by Don Siegel, the film was immediately gaining notoriety for a number of reasons. Loosely tying into the real-life Zodiac murders that haunted the Bay area during that time, Callahan is trying to track down a serial killer who tries to blackmail the city of San Francisco. But it was also the film's violent, dark nature that ruffled some feathers as well as the portrayal of a cop who offers up shades of gray. Up to that point, police officers in Hollywood movies had mostly been portrayed as incorruptible men who upheld justice with a shining knight's armor. Callahan was different. Drawing from his background in Westerns where he epitomized the lone rider persona, Clint Eastwood brought Lieutenant Callahan to life as a character who questioned authority. Always saying what was on his mind he wasn't above saying "Well, then the law stinks!" if the situation warranted it. He sees the world through the eyes of a real man and not the romanticized goggles of traditional Hollywood filmmakers. Combined with the willingness to use his .44 Magnum without hesitation, it made Callahan one of the most dangerous police officers that had ever graced the screen at the time. When he got down to business, things got done.

The Eastwood and Siegel team was a perfect match-up for the movie and apart from the powerful characters – protagonists as well as the antagonists – the film has a brutal visual style. Using handheld camera for some of the action sequences, creating images that are virtually black except a few pinpoint spots of light, Siegel was the perfect man to bring to life this seedy world of crime in which Callahan moves day in and day out.

Warner has prepared a wonderful 1080p high definition transfer for this movie that keeps everything in tact. I was delighted to see that the film's light sheen of grain was fully intact, giving the image the grittiness that drove home the movie's theme. Shot in the early 70s, the movie has a somewhat muted, pastel color palette that has also been restored in every little detail – as well as the outlandish last flower-power remnants that permeate the city. But it is ultimately the transfer's contrast that will leave you speechless. As I mentioned above, the film is exceedingly dark by design at times but the transfer nonetheless renders the image immaculately. Shadows are solid but never lose detail even in the darkest of moments. In the daylight scenes the solid black levels firmly root the image and give it incredible depth. Overall the transfer also has a somewhat unexpected sharpness. Despite its grittiness and slightly hazy, out-of-focus style at times, this high definition transfers renders details that you may not have seen before. This is not a transfer that has been artificially sharpened but finally brings out the natural sharpness inherent in the image at all times. Clearly one couldn't have asked for a better transfer of this landmark movie.

The next in line is "Magnum Force," the 1973 sequel to "Dirty Harry," in which a vigilante, posing as a cop, is taking out criminals who have somehow escaped justice. While Callahan can sympathize with the vigilante on one level, he knows that it is more important to uphold the law – even if it stinks sometimes – and quickly begins to narrow down his search to a group of police rookies. As expected he leaves a trail of bodies that is almost as long as the one left by the killer(s).

Under the direction of Ted Post, this film explores Callahan as a character a little deeper by forcing him to make ethical choices. Facing even stronger resistance within his own ranks and pressure from the department, it is not easy for Dirty Harry to find his way and keep his cool.

The transfer is equally impressive as that of "Dirty Harry" with wonderful detail and nicely rendered textures, but you will find a number of shots here that look awkwardly out of focus around the edges of the frame. It is most likely a result of the lenses used to film the movie but it simply becomes incredibly obvious in high definition, it seems. There's also a few shots where the print seems to have damaged as discoloration is visible at the bottom of the screen, but I consider these to be minor quibbles. The film's wonderful edginess and grain are fully intact making for a truly vintage presentation.

"The Enforcer" is the next movie in the set and it is probably the series' weakest entry. Produced in 1975 the filmmakers tried to create a noteworthy sequel that has substance and continues to challenge Callahan's ambivalence. A group of Vietnam veterans turn into terrorists, steal a van full of explosives, weaponry and rockets before they go on to blackmail the city of San Francisco in a throwback to the Scorpio scenario in the first "Dirty Harry" movie.

After having lost two partners in the previous movies already, Callahan is paired up with a new sidekick once again, only this time she is a woman. While at first he thinks she is more of a hindrance Inspector Moore (Tyne Daly) soon proves that she can be of substantial help to the rough Harry and can even bring a smile on his face.

While the film is a solid entry it does feel a bit slow at times. Some of the elements worked into the story seem a little tacked on and more than before I found certain lapses in logic in the plot that kind of destroyed the illusion. Nonetheless, the finale on Alcatrazz is very nice and engaging with explosions thrown in for good measure.

The transfer found here is flawless. No defects or overt blemishes mar the presentation and once again we have the grain necessary to maintain the series' grittiness throughout.

"Sudden Impact" is the only Dirty Harry movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Shot in 1983 Eastwood appears noticeably older as he tracks down a serial killer on what seems to be a personal vendetta. Being called a "dinosaur" by his department, Callahan is forcibly removed from the San Francisco police force and sent to the small fictional beach town of San Paulo to investigate the murders. Here he meets local painter Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke) but quickly realizes that there something strange about this blonde. Could she be the killer he's after?

Another taught thriller putting Callahan between the lines of fire of the good and bad guys, this film in particular blurs these lines and frequently poses the question, who are the bad guys, really?

The high definition transfer is without blemishes and carries the movie wonderfully with its edgy and dark look. Like the first "Dirty Harry" movie, this one in particular has a very dark, shadowy noir look that is a sight to behold.

"The Dead Pool" is the last of the Dirty Harry movies. Directed by Buddy Van Horn – a friend of Eastwood's – and his stunt body double to this day, the film has been received with mixed reviews. Personally, I like it quite a bit, because it has a good mix of action, drama and humor. In fact, seeing Jim Carrey in an early film before his "In Living Color" rise to stardom alone is worth watching this movie.

In this film Callahan stumbles upon a secret game in which people name celebrities and place bets on which one of them will die first. Callahan races to prevent these murders before the serial killer can send shockwaves of terror through San Francisco, especially since his own name appears also on the list.

Sporting the best of all the movie's transfers "The Dead Pool" is a feast to view. Having a much more modern look than the 70s prequels, this film has a more vibrant color palette that is nicely reproduced in this high definition presentation. Solid blacks ensure visual depth and solid shadows that never break up.

This film also sports a more muscular sound track than the previous films with a noticeably wider frequency response and dynamic range.

Apart from these beloved films the Blu-Ray set also contains a wealth of extras, both on the discs, as well as in the packaging itself. In the packaging you will find a hardcover booklet with information on all the main characters from all five films – Callahan, his partners, the bad guys, body counts and more. You will also find a small box in the set, containing an original Harry Callahan wallet with Inspector's badge. It also contains a personal message form Clint Eastwood that I found very interesting because it does have a very warm and personal touch. A map of San Francisco is also included, featuring the various points that Scorpio is sending Callahan to on his goose chase through the city. It also contains a number of postcards and reprints of inter-office memos and letters from Eastwood to Warner executives. Priceless stuff, really!

But let's also look on the five discs in the set to see what bonus materials are included there. It will quickly become evident to every fan that once again, they couldn't ask for more. There are a number of featurettes on each of the movies, covering the production as well as the historic impact of the films. Further you will find an all new retrospective documentary on the release, called "The Long Shadow Of Dirty Harry" which is simply a must-see for anyone having enjoyed enormous Eastwood's body of work. Also included are new commentary tracks by Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel on each of the movies – treasure troves for any Dirty Harry fan, no doubt, as they are filled to the brim with insight and anecdotes. The Clint Eastwood profile documentary "Clint Eastwood: Out Of The Shadows" is also included as a bonus, covering a lot of ground as expected.

This is a brutal package – no I'm not talking about the films, I am referring to the Blu-Ray Disc set Warner Home Video has prepared for fans here. It is an amazing and mesmerizing release that covers so much ground and is so complete that fans could not ask for more. Clearly Clint Eastwood is very proud of the films and so are the folks at Warner. For fans this is all the more reason to rejoice because this Blu-Ray set clearly made my day.