Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray ReviewJune 09, 2008
Modern day action heroes owe part of their success to the man with the Magnum, Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of the policeman willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done has been echoed in countless films since including Die Hard, Robocop, Lethal Weapon and many others. Since several of Harry’s disciples have already enjoyed an appearance on Blu-ray Disc, it was high time Warner Home Video gave all five Dirty Harry films a proper high definition treatment.
Dirty Harry broke onto the scene in 1971 in spectacular fashion by hunting a serial killer, Scorpio, even after the "law" decided there was no way to press charges against him. Clint brought his calm bravado fine tuned by starring in many spaghetti westerns to inspector Callahan which meshed perfectly with the film’s then-controversial handling of a police investigation. Harry exemplified a new generation of hero not bound by conventions or morals, echoing the turbulent early 1970s political climate in which the film was released. To this day its serial sniper plot remains relative, and Clint’s smooth delivery of timeless lines like "Do you feel lucky, punk?" grow stronger with age.
Dirty Harry’s unexpected success spawned a near immediate followup, Magnum Force, and a rushed third entry, The Enforcer. Magnum Force is a far better film than its sequel, exploring vigilantes within Harry’s own police force who think of themselves as similar to Harry. The Enforcer pits Harry against extremist political activists and rocket launchers and gives him his first female partner that goes against his beliefs. By this time Clint was merely going through the paces rather than bringing something new to the character.
A break from the series did Clint good and he was able to return in the early 80s under his terms, as director and star. Clint brought a much deeper and darker treatment to Dirty Harry in Sudden Impact that explored Harry’s relationships with other characters and pitted him against his alter-ego played by Clint’s real-life flame, Sandra Locke. The controversial ending signaling a change in Harry’s conscious would have been the perfect cap to Dirty Harry’s cinematic career.
Instead, Warner dished out the fifth and final Dirty Harry film in the last 1980s. The Dead Pool was the only Dirty Harry I saw theatrically and I left with mixed feelings. Plot-wise it felt like forced "life imitating art" as Harry battles a deranged filmmaker. Action-wise a memorable remote-controlled car used as a weapon provides a chase sequence through the hills of San Francisco that never grows old.
The Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray Disc comes packaged in a hard outer embossed case with the films broken up between two interior cases: Dirty Harry and Magnum Force in one; The Enforcer, Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool in the other. It’s a little cumbersome to switch from one case to the next and would have made more sense to either package all in one case or split them into separate jewel cases. A third interior case includes a number of Dirty Harry goodies including a replica Harry wallet with inspection badge and I.D. card; a set of 5 lobby cards and one "Ultimate Collector’s Edition" card; a personal message from Eastwood, and a forty four-page hardcover collectible book that provides a cliff notes version of each film’s plots and stars, as well as additional photos. The overall presentation to top-notch and sets the perfect tone before digging into the discs. I can already picture a dad out there using the wallet, badge and I.D. card as part of a Dirty Harry outfit for his kid on Halloween.
Watching the entire re-mastered Dirty Harry series chronologically on Blu-ray Disc is akin to sitting through a lecture in the pros and cons of increasing the resolution to 1080p. In the original Dirty Harry, the bump in pixels accentuates film grain, most notably in exterior establishing shots. The result is a noticeably soft and hazy image in these shots that stick out like an ugly duckling. This trend carries forward into Magnum Force and The Enforcer, though to a lesser degree in each instance.
Dirty Harry also suffers from random dirt and specs on the print which Warner left to leave intact. The blemishes add a touch of old school charm but also feel out of place in a "re-mastered" set. Magnum Force is much cleaner, and The Enforcer at times looks like it was shot yesterday.
Infrequent softness and some specks are the only criticisms that apply to the first three films. Detail, sharpness and especially colors and contrast have received marked bumps up in quality from standard DVD benefiting from the VC-1 encoded 1080p transfers. The sequential improvement in reducing grain’s negative impact on establishing shots applies to the positives as well. Each film’s polish is a step up from the previous with The Enforcer taking the prize.
The Enforcer and Sudden Impact’s seven-year gap is made clearly obvious with negatively impacting grain and noise almost completely gone. Because of the grimmer and darker direction by Eastwood in Sudden Impact, The Enforcer comes out as the better looking film in high definition by virtue of its subject matter, locations and time of day.
The image and hues in The Enforcer and Sudden Impact still look "dated" by modern standards; however, the same cant’ be said for The Dead Pool. The set’s final disc’s presentation best matches film palettes of films from the past decade even though it’s framed in 1.85:1 while the previous four films are framed in 2.35:1 or 2.4:1. It still can’t measure up in sharpness and detail with Blu-ray’s reference quality discs, though.
Warner has wisely chosen to include 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio tracks on all five films to avoid the wrath of Dirty Harry fanatics the world over. I’m glad they did, too, as flipping back and forth between also included lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and the TrueHD tracks reveals a much more spacious and deep experience coming from lossless.
Surround and bass closely mirrors the same progression as the image with each film offering a slightly better mix than the previous, with a big jump between The Enforcer and Sudden Impact. By Sudden Impact Warner delivers far more information to the surrounds to create a more enveloping 360-degree environment. In the first three movies, surround use are more a luxury; served sparingly when most appropriate but otherwise left hung out to dry.
Dirty Harry’s high-def ride comes to a screeching halt when wandering into each film’s supplemental features. Every last one of them, including the trailers for all five films that appear on every disc except Sudden Impact, is presented in 480i or 480p, 1.33:1 or letterboxed standard definition. Evidence doesn’t lie: Warner put together these features for the DVD set first and Blu-ray second which is a shame for Blu-ray consumers.
The first Dirty Harry film naturally receives the most attention towards supplemental features by an easy three-to-one margin over all the sequels.
Commentary by Richard Schickel – The author and Eastwood associate reflects on the film and it’s place in history with relevant facts even self-proclaimed Dirty Harry experts might not know. This is the first of two commentaries Schickel offers to this collection.
Dirty Harry: The Original (29:45) – Interviews and footage commingle to reflect on why Dirty Harry was successful. The best is towards the end where the Scorpio killer actor explains why he hated the script at first and simply didn’t get the Dirty Harry appeal.
Dirty Harry’s Way (7:06) – A promo short to push Dirty Harry as a tough character offers little other than nostalgia.
The Long Shadow of Dirty Harry (25:31) – An insightful commentary on how Dirty Harry was influenced by current events and helped shape events to come.
Clint Eastwood: The Man From Malpaso (58:08) – A must-see nearly hour long documentary that traces the fabled footsteps of Clint Eastwood through Hollywood.
Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows (1:26:48) – A companion to the previous documentary that digs into Eastwood’s train of thought on how he got into the business and his influences.
Interview Gallery (27:25) – Short interviews with Patricia Clarkson, Joel Cox, Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Evan Kim, John Milius, Ted Post, Andy Robinson, Arnold Schwarzennegger and Robert Urich each focus on a different subject pertaining to Dirty Harry. Only worth visiting if viewed in-order in the “play all” mode.
Commentary by John Milius – The screenwriter explores Dirty Harry lore as well as the film, which he is not hesitant to point out strengths and weaknesses in this all-new commentary.
A Moral Right: The Politics of Dirty Harry (24:15) – The critical reaction to Dirty Harry’s morals, both positive and negative, is worthwhile for those with something to say about Harry’s actions.
The Hero Cop: Yesterday and Today (8:03) – Old news footage interspersed with Magnum Force footage compares Harry to heroes from yesteryear. He wasn’t the first hero to use excessive force, and certainly won’t be the last.
Commentary by Director James Fargo – His first big directing gig is for a Clint Eastwood film. No pressure, right? He’s passionate about his work and fun to listen to, especially when recalling how Eastwood casually told him he got the gig when he least expected to hear it.
The Business End: Violence in Cinema (30:09) – Clint and an array of filmmakers and actors trace the history of violence in cinema. It’s sprinkled with tons of archival clips that will make anyone want to make a late night rental run.
Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood: Something Special in Films (6:00) – A needless behind-the-scenes look at Clint filming The Enforcer that desperately misses Clint’s narration.
Commentary by Richard Schickel – Schickel chimes in with his second commentary though I’d much rather hear Clint talk about directing his only Dirty Harry film. At least Schickel is qualified to speak accurately to the film’s history, such as apparently Clint thought Dirty Harry was done after The Enforcer. A studio survey said Clint as Dirty Harry was the #1 character audiences wanted to see return, so they immediately went to work on a new installment and roped Clint into it.
The Evolution of Clint Eastwood (25:43) – This documentary is similar to the pair in Dirty Harry in that is traces Eastwood’s journey from star to director via his colleagues and disciples, yet different enough to warrant not skipping.
THE DEAD POOL
Commentary by Jack N Green and David Valdes – Venturing away from the commentary template of the first four films yields the cinematographer and producer discussing making the film in a fairly vanilla and straightforward way.
Craft of Dirty Harry (21:39) – The many behind-the-scenes teams that brought Dirty Harry to life are rightfully given a chance to retrospect on camera.
Low resolution extras and a few weak links in the series chain don’t steal any thunder from the Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition. All these films are still enjoyable to this day and are a welcome addition to the Blu-ray Disc high definition ranks with the best audio/video presentation any of them has been offered with before.
- Dan Bradley
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