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July 20, 2009
Appaloosa Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
12/3/200914/7/2009Village RoadshowEd Harris
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1Dolby TrueHD 5.1MEd Harris

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Viggo and Ed together in Appaloosa.

If you haven't heard of this movie that's not a surprise. Despite a stellar cast including Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons. Appaloosa is based on the 2005 novel by Robert B. Parker. Indeed it was while reading this book while on holiday that Ed Harris fell in love with the story and decided to turn it into a movie, which he would also direct. This is Ed Harris' second directorial effort after the fairly impressive 2000 movie Pollock. So what is Appaloosa about then?

1882, New Mexico Territory. Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are itinerant lawmen, hired by desperate towns as marshal and deputy. The city fathers of Appaloosa hire them after Randall Bragg, a newly-arrived rancher with money and a gang of thugs, disrupts commerce and kills three local lawmen. Cole and Hitch contrive to arrest Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and bring him to trial, but hanging him proves difficult. Meanwhile, a widow has arrived in town, Allison French (Renée Zellweger), pretty, refined, and good-natured. Virgil falls hard, and it seems mutual, but there may be more to Allie than meets the eye. Can friendship and skill with a gun overcome a pernicious villain and green-eyed jealousy?

With a cinematic gross in Australia of $2,800 it's fair to say that I went into this movie with little knowledge of what to expect. With a strong liking of the main actors and in particular Ed Harris this was a movie I was very keen to check out when I received the Blu-Ray disc. Indeed, what I discovered was an engrossing picture set in the wild West with a solid storyline and some entertaining scenes, particularly those between the lead actors.

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The movie has a strong romance theme.
What really holds this movie together and makes it quite enjoyable are the many scenes between Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen as Virgil and Everett. The movie shows their lengthy friendship not only through the banter, but the mannerisms. A small gesture, a movement, a look. It's all there. Despite the near 2-hour runtime this movie never feels slow despite the lack of dialogue at times, there is always plenty to look at and enjoy thanks to the detailed recreation of 1880's life.

If there is one negative it has to be Renée Zellweger. Now I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of hers, in fact I can't say I've really seen any movies where I really enjoy watching her on screen, so she was the main negative to this picture for me. I just can't get around her looks, and the age difference between her and Ed Harris' character in the movie. Perhaps someone like Kate Blanchett, Scarlett Johansson or Nicole Kidman may have suited the bill a little more in our books despite all being around the same age (except Scarlett of course). Still this is probably one of Renée Zellweger more likable roles alongside that in Jerry Maguire in our books.

There is nothing too spectacular about this movie, nor anything terribly wrong with it. It's enjoyable and makes it over the line due to some wonderful cinematography and a solid cast. Worth a look.

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Jeremy Irons is brilliant in Appaloosa.
The Blu-Ray version of Appaloosa has been encoded at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 using the Vc-1 codec. The image quality is quite impressive with some impressive levels of detail, and a a look which certainly suits the movie with some muted colours and strong browns to suit the landscape.

While cinematographer's previous four movies were filmed on digital cameras, Appaloosa saw him return to 'traditional' film for this movie. It's a somewhat strange move given the low budget nature of this release, but that is how Ed Harris wanted it filmed, and that's what he got. As you can imagine for a movie not six months out of the cinemas the transfer is very clean with virtually no dirt evident on the print. Grain levels are natural, although perhaps a little scrubbed making the transfer a little 'too' clean in places. Black levels are good and detail impressive with natural skin tones throughout. At times the image appears a little soft and out of focus, but these are pretty few and far between. We can certainly confirm this Blu-Ray is a much more impressive effort then the DVD release which looks quite dull and flat at times.

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Overlooking the town with the shotgun.
Appaloosa comes to Blu-Ray with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (16-bit) track and to be honest the effort is a little muted. It may well be the sound design in the movie - and admittedly the budget isn't the biggest Hollywood effort - but even from the opening gunshots it just sounds dull. I'm pretty sure that firing a revolver or rifle only a few feet away would scare the shit out of you. Instead you get a muffled thud (have a listen between 9:30 and 9:40 to see what we mean). Dialogue is pretty good, although there is the occasional muffled line - primarily due to the accents - while the music by Jeff Beal is rather understated, but effective. There is also some use of the surround sound channels, but they aren't aggressively used throughout the picture beyond some ambient effects.

The only other audio track on this disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 640kbps, which is about half the bitrate of the Dolby TrueHD track, although the differences are quite small, and those forced to use the regular Dolby Digital track won't be too disappointed. The subtitles are only available in English SDH, and they appear accurate to dialogue on-screen with good timing.

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Those guys aren't sleeping!
This movie was done on a fairly low budget ($US20 million) and the worldwide gross wasn't too high either ($US27 million) so it's understandable that there would be limited extras. Still, what's here is good despite not being in High Definition.

Audio Commentary by Ed Harris and Screenwriter/Producer Robert Knott: While I love Ed Harris as an actor I can't say this audio commentary is overly engaging, with Robert Knott remaining very quiet for quite a while. There is some interesting information here, but it's a but dry and hard listening to be honest.

Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life (7:34): A brief look at transforming the book to the silver screen including getting the main actors and crew together on this low budget movie.

Historic Accuracy of Appaloosa (10:22): A rather decent look and ensuring the picture matched up with the period in time in which it is set which includes the costumes, the buildings, and even the mannerisms and dialogue.

The Town of Appaloosa (5:08): A look at the town of Appaloosa created for this movie including the smaller touches, designing the town, and making sure the designs fit into the period.

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Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons star in Appaloosa.
Dean Semler's Return To The Western (5:18): Legendary Director of Photography Dean Semler was convinced to move back from digital photography to conventional film to make Appaloosa and this featurette focuses on his work on the film. Nice to see the non-actors being credited too.

Additional Footage (12:03/HD): Six deleted scenes are presented with optional audio commentaries with Ed Harris and Robert Knott. Presented in HD with 2 channel audio these are interesting scenes that would have added something to the picture, and are well worth a watch.

Appaloosa was an entertaining movie which never breaks too many moulds for the genre, nor offers any amazing twists and turns. Performances across the board are excellent and the audio visual transfer is also solid. Throw in a couple of extras and this is a disc worth checking out.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.