Once Upon a Time in the West (US Import)

Sergio Leone's operatic western rides onto Blu-ray with spectacular results

Once Upon a Time in the West isn’t just one of the greatest westerns – it’s one of the greatest films ever made. Working with the backing of a major American studio and scripted by two young Italian film critics who would eventually become respected filmmakers in their own right (Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci), Leone’s film felt like the summation of the many themes he had begun exploring in his Dollars Trilogy. What initially appears to be a simple tale of revenge soon transforms into an operatic contemplation of the myth and legend of the Wild West with a cast to die for, spectacular images you could frame and hang in a gallery and Ennio Morricone’s greatest score. Cinema doesn’t get much better than this.

Picture: This hi-def upgrade of Leone’s masterpiece isn’t perfect, but it’s still far better than any previous home release. The good news is that – unlike last year’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Blu-ray – the film hasn’t been subjected to an overdose of noise reduction. Indeed, there’s plenty of grain and detail present, as well as deep blacks and rich colours. Unfortunately, the film grain isn’t resolved quite as well as you might hope (giving the image a slightly blotchy look at time) and noise is evident in a handful of shots.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: Considering how large a part sound plays in the film, Paramount should be applauded for the effort its put into the audio on this Blu-ray release. It’s a little annoying that the original mix is only presented as lossy Dolby Digital dual-mono, but on the other hand it’s great to see a studio actually remember to include the original mix in any form at all. The disc also delivers a surprisingly potent and convincing DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix that tastefully broadens the scope of the audio to match the film’s epic vistas.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: There are no new supplementary features on this Blu-ray release, but Paramount has at least gone to the effort of porting across the goodies from the 2003 Special Collector’s Edition DVD. These include an audio commentary (featuring input from filmmakers John Carpenter, John Milius and Alex Cox, film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr Sheldon Hall, co-writer Bernardo Bertolucci and actress Claudia Cardinale), three featurettes about the making of the film, a short piece about the railroad’s impact on the ‘wild’ West, Then & Now location comparisons, a stills gallery and the trailer (the only HD extra).

However, thanks to seamless branching the Blu-ray serves up two versions of the film – the 165min ‘Theatrical’ version and a slightly extended 166min ‘Restored’ version, production of which was overseen by The Film Foundation and The Rome Film Festival.
Extras rating: 4/5

We say: A spectacular bargain-priced HD outing for one of the greatest films ever made 

Paramount Home Entertainment, All-region BD (US Import), £14 approx (www.movietyme.com), On sale now