Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid : Special Edition (1969)
1st January 2000
It's the turn of the twentieth century and the twilight years of the wild west. Butch and Sundance are the leaders of the infamous Hole-in-the-Wall Gang who terrorise the Union Pacific railroad, even blowing up an entire baggage car in the process of cracking a particularly difficult safe. But the wild west is becoming less wild, so when Butch and Sundance rob a train once too often, Union Pacific railroad owner Mr. E.H. Harriman hires Joe Lefors and the ultimate posse to hunt them all down. And it's a good posse, in fact it's a super posse, and the majority of the Wild Gang members are quickly hunted down and killed. With only Butch and Sundance left, they are relentlessly pursued across the land with hardly a moments rest. Realising that their outlaw days are numbered, they decide to head for Bolivia - taking Sundance's girl, Etta Place, with them.
But Bolivia is not quite up to what they were expecting and it's not long before they start robbing banks and payrolls again. However, there's the language barrier to get over first and it's back to school with Etta to pick up on some Spanish - after all in a country which doesn't understand "stick 'em up" bank robbery is going to be extremely difficult. But when they learn that Joe Lefors and his super posse may have arrived in town they finally decide to go straight. Their first job is with a mining company and protecting the payroll - which gets stolen by one group of bandits or another on a near weekly basis. So when the bandits strike, killing the owner in the process, Butch and Sundance hunt down and kill the gang to retrieve the money. Trouble is, their past is about to catch up with them. Is this really what going straight is all about?
The quality of the 1969 transfer is simply stunning. Having not seen the film before (I know, I know, I hold my held down in shame) I was initially a little perturbed about the colourlessness of the transfer - a typical old Western style picture. "Surely they can't be planning on doing this throughout the film?" I thought to myself. Fortunately, during one of Conrad Hall's excellent panoramic sweeps it all returned to full colour and it looked superb. The restored and re-mastered colours are rich and vibrant with a wonderful level of detail that finally gives some justice to the excellent cinematography from director Robert Crawford. Grain is kept to a minimum whilst there's no sign of any problems with dust scratches or other forms of print damage. This alone makes it worthy of the Special Edition tag.
Whilst the re-mastered picture is a great success, the 192Kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is a bit of a failure. Not only has it failed to be remastered into a more dynamic 5.1 soundtrack, but the volume levels are quite poor throughout and you have to keep cranking up the volume in order to pick out the dialogue which is intermingled with the musical score, gun shots and explosions. It's only when you finish watching the film and flip back to the television or insert the second disc that you realise just how loud you've turned up the volume. Ok, so the crackly and aged soundtrack may have been cleaned up somewhat, but its hardly what we've come to expect from remastered films these days and I'm sure it what have really benefited from some digital wizardry.
The menu system across both discs is a static and silent affair, although the menus are easy to navigate through and are in keeping with the genre. Even though a special edition DVD of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid already exists, this new Cinema Reserve release is loaded with even more extras than the previous edition. This includes a new commentary track, new featurette, deleted scene and the brand new ninety minute documentary History Through the Lens : Outlaws Out of Me. It's also great to see that each of the featurettes and audio commentaries is subtitled for the hard of hearing - something that is so hit and miss these days.
The main, and only, extras on the film disc are the two detailed full length audio commentaries. The main of these two tracks is the extremely busy Commentary track by George Roy Hill, lyricist Hal David, documentary director Robert Crawford and cinematographer Conrad Hall who clearly loved his work and talks with great glee about the locations, filmmaking and the lighting. Already present on the original release, it's still an excellent and detailed yack track. Next up is the new Commentary track from screenwriter William Goldman. As with the first commentary track, it's extremely interesting. Talking throughout, with very few silent moments, his track is jammed full of interesting facts and information about the director, the locations and the actors. Goldman even starts off by mentioning a missing scene he's never seen that's actually included as a deleted scene. It's just a pity that both Paul Newman and Robert Redford couldn't find the time to provide a commentary. After all, it was a film that did so much for their careers.
The second disc starts off with the thirty-five minute featurette All Of What Follows Is True: The Making Of Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid. With plenty of clips from the film and various interviews with the rather aged cast members, the screen writer and others involved with the film, the featurette examines the origins of the script, the locations and, rather interestingly, the preferred cast members. Next up is the twenty-five minute The Wild Bunch : The True Tale of Butch and Sundance featurette which looks at the real life story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. With plenty of clips from the film, interviews with the cast and various historical types, it's an extremely interesting featurette that tries to debunk some of the myths behind the legend, albeit with still a few stones left unturned as to whether the two actually made it back to states. Interesting stuff indeed.
The whopping ninety minute featurette History through the lens: 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: outlaws out of time'. Although yet another interesting documentary, with plenty of information from numerous historians, it kind of negates the previous featurette with yet more detail, and film clips, about the famous bandits. Never the less, it's an extremely detailed history lesson and, given its length, it is also a great relief to find it chaptered so you can return back at will. Next up is the forty minute 1994 documentary The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Narrated by director George Roy Hill, and made at the time of the original release, it contains plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of a number of key scenes from the film. And as with the previous featurettes, it's a must view for all film fans.
Next up are seven cast and crew interviews of varying lengths in their own Vintage Documentaries and Interviews section. Filmed way back in 1994, in the interviews with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross and Burt Bacharach, everyone talks about how they enjoyed filming and how it would be near impossible to produce a film like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid now (although there are rumours of a remake!). Unfortunately, there's no "play all" option here so you'll need to select each individual featurette from the menu. Following on is a single Deleted Scene. Running for four minutes, the scene was rediscovered by associate producer Robert Crawford and has not been seen since the making of the film. The picture quality is rather poor, and since the original audio tracks weren't found it has also been subtitled. The scene is also accompanied by an optional audio commentary by George Roy Hill.
George and Robert were always challenging each other at one thing or another so the the four minute George Roy Hill and The Challenge by Robert Redford featurette looks at a fencing duel between the two competitive men. Described by Robert Redford, he talks us through the rather amusing challenge and the shenanigans surrounding it. The two minute Alternate Credit Roll does exactly as it says on the tin whilst things are rounded off nicely with of the original Three Theatrical Trailers - complete with dust specks and print damage. All in all, it's a superb set of extras which truly deserves that Special Edition tag.
Adjusted for inflation, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is amongst the top 100 grossing films of all time. And it's not hard to see why. As one of the first ever buddy films which has been copied so often throughout Hollywood, a young Paul Newman and Robert Redford are perfect for their roles. Winning four Academy Awards and nine BAFTAs in the process, it launched the career of Robert Redford and it is so easy to see just how that buddy formula still works so well today. Both comic, with some classic one liners and that inexplicable, but never the less wonderful, Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head musical interlude, it also manages to be serious at the same time. It's the perfect crossover between comedy and that heavy going and dusty Western. It even manages to be reasonably family friendly too without too much gore to scare the youngsters.
This edition, presented in Cinema Reserve's trademark collectable steel DVD case, truly deserves that special edition tag. With a remastered picture that is as clean and sharp as the day the film was released, and not forgetting some extras spread over the two discs, I wouldn't even begrudge paying the fully RRP for a release such as this - even with the below par soundtrack. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a classic and it deserves a place in your collection. Highly recommended, and still a worthy upgrade if you already own the previous region two release.
- Commentary by George Roy Hill, Lyricist Hal David, Documentary Director Robert Crawford and Cinematographer Conrad Hall
- Commentary by Screenwriter William Goldman
- History through the lens: 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: outlaws out of time'
- 1994 documentary - the making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid
- Deleted scene with Optional Commentary from George Roy Hill
- George Roy Hill and The Challenge by Robert Redford
- Seven cast and crew interviews
- Alternate credit roll
- Three trailers
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