Unforgiven (1992), Special Edition
2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Warner Home Video, $26.99

Clint Eastwood’s stark Western Unforgiven earned four Academy Awards – including those for Best Picture and Best Director – by defying many of the genre’s conventions. Once again assuming the role of director and star, Eastwood played with the iconic qualities that audiences had come to expect from the squinty-eyed gunslinger: namely, shoot first and ask questions later, or ask nothing at all.

In Unforgiven, Eastwood’s William Munny is the "hero" who can barely mount a horse, let alone race into a gunfight with two pistols ablaze. It’s a reimagining of the Western, guided in large part by screenwriter David Webb Peoples, who shopped the script around for more than 20 years. The film ambles along at the almost painful pace of cowboy with a dislocated lumbar, but the screws of tension are slowly tightened, drawing the viewer in and raising the stakes until the film’s inevitable maelstrom of violence. The strategy paid off in spades, yielding not only critical acclaim and box-office success, but also a classic film for the ages.

In honor of the film’s 10th anniversary, Warner Home Video has released a handsome, two-disc special edition loaded with treats for the DVD aficionado. Besides boasting a new high-definition transfer of the film and the usual staple of interactive menus, cast/crew bios and trailers, this edition includes four documentaries. The first is "All on Accounta Pullin’ a Trigger," which features recent interviews with the actors and crew and focuses mainly on the film’s decidedly anti-violence stance (which it establishes with some pretty stark and brutal depictions of violence). Also included are two behind-the-scenes featurettes made in 1992, and the TV special Eastwood on Eastwood, which aired in 1997. Eastwood on Eastwood examines the filmmaker’s career from his start in TV; it tracks his appearances in Sergio Leone’s "Spaghetti Westerns," his stardom as Dirty Harry, and his recent directorial efforts. For the true Western fanatics out there, this disc’s supplements also include Eastwood’s auspicious 1959 Maverick episode, "Duel at Sundown," in its entirety.

The DVD lacks a commentary by Eastwood but does feature one by Eastwood biographer and film critic Richard Schickel (who also directed Eastwood on Eastwood).

This new hi-def transfer is superb; there is very little noise, the image is razor-sharp and the colors are pure. Compared to previous laserdisc and DVD editions of the film, this one is by far the sharpest and most tonally uncontaminated. A few of the dim, lantern-lit interiors, such as the saloon scene at the end of the film, display some noise and color-biasing in the dark tones; much of that can be attributed to the delicately balanced use of underexposed lighting by director of photography Jack Green, ASC, as well as to the filmmakers’ use of the ENR process (which they employed well before the special lab process became trendy in Hollywood).

At a retail price of $26.99, one can hardly go wrong by purchasing this Special Edition DVD, which is a must for any fan of Westerns or Eastwood.

– Christopher Probst

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© 2002 American Society of Cinematographers.