Unforgiven: Special Edition

Unforgiven: Special Edition (1992)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris
Extras: Commentary Track, Trailer, Film Highlights, Documentaries

After releasing Clint Eastwood’s outstanding and thoughtful Wild West drama "Unforgiven" as one of the first DVDs in the market in 1997, the studio has finally revisited this film and is now bringing it back as a 2-disc Special Edition that gives I the treatment it was so long overdue.

"Unforgiven" is a remarkable film in many aspects and it is reflected in the fact that it received four Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. Clint Eastwood produced, directed and starred in the film that takes a long, hard look at the Wild West myth. After countless years of representing the glorified West himself, an older Clint Eastwood returns to the Wild West in a part that is the exact opposite of what he used to play. Finally he is giving us a glimpse at what the West really looked like. A filthy and dirty world in which people get shot and feel the pain of their wounds while they slowly bleed to death. A world where even gunslingers grow old, weary and weak. Where people are near-sighted, stumble and fall. A world in which no one and nothing is perfect or romantic at all.

More importantly however, in "Unforgiven" Clint Eastwood reevaluates the value of life, after countless times of playing the trigger-happy one-man-army, and best of all. He plays and presents it with sincerity and believability.

Set in the late 1800s, the movie starts in the small town of Big Whiskey with a drunken cowboy cutting up a woman at the local whorehouse. When the town’s Sheriff Little Bill Bragget (Gene Hackman) decides that the owner of the whorehouse has to be compensated while the victim herself remains ignored, the women unite, scrape up some money, and put up a bounty on the head of the cowboy and his fellow. A young wanna-be gunslinger by the name of "Schofield Kid" decides it is his chance to make a name for himself. He tries to enlist the aid of a once-famous bounty hunter, William Munny (Clint Eastwood).

After years of tracking down people, killing them in cold blood for bounties, Munny is now a totally changed person. Pious, haunted by nightmares of the people he killed, widowed with two children to raise and a pig farm that barely produces enough money to survive, he is only a shadow of the hero he once was. Although his skills are rusty and he is plagued by the signs of his age, he eventually gives in to help the young hotshot and sets out with him and his former partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) to once again kill… if only to make the money he so desperately needs. Soon enough however, they collide with Sheriff Bragget, who not only serves the law, but also has a tendency to shape it his way.

Beautifully photographed, masterfully directed and edited, and featuring a stellar cast that gives its very best, "Unforgiven" is arguably the best Western that was ever made. Its strength comes from the fact that it tells a story that is uncompromising and sobering, while still using the beautiful, expansive scenery of the West with its golden sunsets. In this film every single moment has significance. Whether the scene picks up a simple conversation during the ride West, or shows us the inner conflict the people go through, at every moment there is a subtext that plays very strongly – a subtext that makes you think. When the film enters its third act and we know the inevitable is going to happen, Eastwood’s character becomes larger than life without for a moment losing his vulnerability, agony or believability. We see a real Wild West hero, a myth in the making.

"Unforgiven" also teaches us a lesson in humanity without ever becoming preachy in that way. Again, the subtext makes you constantly think as you watch the film, allowing the viewer to evaluate his own ideals on any given situation and in the end we can see very plainly, that violence is no solution to anything. It only furthers pain.

On a sidenote it may be interesting that Eastwood picked up the rights to this movie in the late 70s and let it sit without touching it because he felt he was too young to play the part of William Munny and needed some maturing. A wise decision if you ask me, because Munny is portrayed in absolutely convincing perfection, as are all other characters in the movie; they come across as believable as actors in cinema can get.

For this Special Edition, Warner Home Video has prepared a new transfer that is noticeably better than that of the previous release. The grain is entirely gone, rendering an image that is absolutely stable and without any blemishes. Not a speckle mars the picture throughout the film. Colors are fantastic with beautifully radiant colors and natural fleshtones. Blacks are immaculate, creating a deep image and shadows that are equally deep, yet never lose any of their intricate details. Only some signs of edge-enhancement are evident in select scenes, especially when shapes are silhouetted against the sky. The compression is flawless, leaving all the details of the image fully intact and making "Unforgiven" a beautiful presentation to behold.

The disc features the same <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix that was found on the previous release. Making very good use of the surround channels, the mix is mostly using surrounds for ambiance, but does so in an extremely effective way. When it is raining, it is literally raining all around you and when a gunshot echoes through a canyon, it does so with superb reflections from all directions.

The disc also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by filmmaker, critic and Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel. It is an informative commentary that contains a lot of information about the production of the movie, as well as plenty of insight in to Eastwood’s working and his approach to the material. While a commentary by Eastwood himself would certainly have been the most desirable addition, Schickel delivers a commentary that does indeed add to the release, though it does contain a good number of lengthy pauses.

The second disc of the set contains four documentaries. It starts with "All on accounta pullin’ a trigger" a 20-minute featurette hosted by Morgan Freeman, that revisits the stars of the movie, 10 years after its making, giving them the chance to reflect on the film. Especially Eastwood’s recollections are very exciting to watch. The featurette is padded quite a bit with footage from the film, but still contains a good amount of information.

"Making Unforgiven" is next on the disc. It is the original 1992 featurette that was used to promote the film during its theatrical run. The third one is "Eastwood… A Star", a featurette that takes a brief look at the making of the film, but also covers some of Clint Eastwood’s previous films.

The undisputable highlight of this disc is the one-hour documentary "Eastwood on Eastwood" from 1997, directed by Richard Schickel. It is the best documentary made about the filmmaker, covering his life and career in many pictures, interviews and footage from home movies, films, TV appearances and the likes. It chronicles his rise as an actor, and his progression to becoming a multi-talented – almost auteur – filmmaker.

As another gem bonus, the release contains the 1959 episode "Duel At Sundown" from the legendary James Garner TV series "Maverick." The episode is included in its entirety and presents us with a very young Clint Eastwood in his first TV role.

This is the release of "Unforgiven" everyone has been waiting for. The beautiful new transfer brings out the best of the movie while the extras allow us to learn more about the film and Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker and person. No matter whether you’re a fan of Western movies or not, "Unforgiven" is a movie you have to see, so make sure to grab this DVD. It is a winner through and through.