Judge Eric Profancik is quick on the draw—Microsoft Draw.
Think you're quick enough?
Dear fans of Sam Raimi, I would like to take just a brief moment to apologize for being a mainstream heathen. I have to admit that I have not seen any of Raimi's early horror films. I hope you can forgive my impudence as I tackle his transition film, The Quick and the Dead. Can I promise that if I might try to see Evil Dead that you'll forgive my indiscretion?
Facts of the Case
In the town of Redemption, there's an annual gun-fighting contest. Over the course of the contest, entrants will end up either maimed or killed; but the last survivor will take home $123,000. The ruthless John Herod (Gene Hackman, Runaway Jury) runs the contest and the town. Ellen "The Lady" (Sharon Stone, Sliver) comes sauntering into town and enters the contest with a secret agenda. Cort (Russell Crowe, Mystery, Alaska), a preacher and reformed murderer, is forcibly coerced by Herod to partake in the fight. "The Kid" (Leonard DiCaprio, The Aviator), John's son, joins the contest to win his father's love. And John Herod himself enters the gunfight, because he's the fastest and always wins. Whose agenda will win this deadly contest?
Sam Raimi, who would later go on to become a household name with his successful Spider-man franchise, back in 1995 was still more of a cult figure and director. At this point in his career he was well known and loved by his niche following for his work on The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Darkman, and Army of Darkness. But then Sam began his slow metamorphosis away from the cult horror to bigger, more mainstream films. His first step on that journey is the western/dark comedy The Quick and The Dead. Featuring a cast of big Hollywood stars, this movie left many confused. Expecting a typical western flick, moviegoers weren't ready for the tone and dark humor Raimi gave them. As a result, as with most of Raimi's early work, The Quick and The Dead appealed to a niche, cult audience.
I've seen this movie many a time over the past decade, and I'll admit I'm not the greatest fan of it. Far from a failure, I fell into that camp that didn't understand up front what I was about to see. So I was confused and ignored it for a long time. But over the years I've mellowed, and Raimi's Spidey success has allowed me to understand the man; and understanding that makes it all the easier to appreciate The Quick and the Dead. Comprehending a movie doesn't make it a great movie, and this one is not a great film. It's not horrible, but it misses on a few points as it tries to infuse Raimi's distinct vision onto the humble western.
On the winning side are the cast and the direction. I had clearly forgotten how many cool people are in this film, and most of them bring their A-game to the story. You have Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Tobin Bell, Lance Henrikson, Pat Hingle, Gary Sinese, and a few other classic character actors. It's just a pleasure to see one great actor after another on the screen, seeing them do their thing. You'll love Hackman doing his classic Hackman persona; DiCaprio is still a veritable "baby" in the movie, so he's all young, charming, and dashing; and Crowe shines in his first American release, years away from the rough persona he'll adopt. The weak link in the chain is Sharon, showing lots of leg and at least one booby. She's meant to be the rough and tumble, no-nonsense surprise female lead in The Quick and the Dead, but she falters in her performance. In some scenes, she is tough and intimidating, giving off a "screw you" vibe that is convincing and fun to watch. But she's also still a woman, so she's given too many opportunities to react and show that she's still soft and tender on the inside. That dichotomy could work, but she allows the soft moments to dull her character too far.
As mentioned in the charge, I haven't seen Raimi's early horror films, but it's easy to note how his style has evolved over the years. But going back before the glitz and glamour of his big mainstream success, there's a wilder energy apparent in The Quick and the Dead. It felt more visceral and animated, not afraid to be a bit more on edge. Raimi's style adds gusto and vigor to the movie, making it a more appealing experience. It will be interesting to see how Raimi incorporates his "classic" style with his mainstream style in the new Evil Dead films.
This Blu-ray from Sony left me befuddled. After a good deal of thought, I think I've figured out what is going on with this disc. I have only seen The Quick and the Dead on television in standard definition, and when I started it on Blu I was shocked. Video is a 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that explodes with grain from the very first second and never relents. The opening scene shows a blue sky that is positively swarming with grain, and it looks like a swarm of locusts is about to invade the set. I was so surprised I literally stopped the movie there, started over, saw it again, stopped again, and began to Google Raimi and his film stock to make sure it's grain and not an error by Sony. I'm fairly confident that it is grain. But it's not just the sky in that opening shot. The entirety of every frame is crawling with grain, admittedly not always as obvious as that sky, but it's always there. And as you can deduce by my focus on it, I found it terribly distracting and felt it marred the overall presentation of the movie. There is a point at which you acclimate to the noise, and once you reach that point I have to say I found the rest of the video quite pleasant. Colors are lush and lifelike, blacks are deep but not as crisp and well defined in the night scenes as I would have hoped, and details positively pop from the screen. Details are exceptionally plentiful, so at least we get that benefit from all that grainy noise.
The audio mix is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's rather unremarkable. Dialogue is clean and clear from the center, but the rest of the channels don't shine. The surrounds are definitely used for ambience—crowd noise, bullets ricocheting, etc.—but it felt a bit processed at times. When we get to the big climax, I was looking forward to a quality, explosive experience but instead heard a pop instead of a bang. When The Lady enacts her plan, the subwoofers give some rumble, but it's mute in comparison to the damage happening on screen. Overall, you'll hear what's going on but wish for more power.
This Blu comes with just one bonus item, movieIQ. It's a BD-Live-enabled feature that gives "real time in-movie information about the cast, crew, music, and production." To activate the feature you hit the select button. The subsequent pop-up covers about 1/3 of the screen, so it hogs the real estate, and it contains tabs for cast/crew, music, "in this scene," and a couple other odds and end. On the surface, it's a good idea, but the execution is weak. On the positive side, I like that it's up-to-date, being in real time. I also like that you have those tabs to let you look at what you want and that items in those tabs can be clicked for further information on that subject. For example, go under "cast" and you'll see Sam Raimi; click on him and you'll get his biography. On the negative side, being live didn't work for me. The data didn't seem so fresh and timely that this couldn't have been pre-loaded onto the disc as a simple fact track. And, worse, the data didn't update throughout the movie. I think it got stuck, but it may be my PS3's fault as it has a temperamental relationship with my router. Of course, as usual, if you go into the BD-Live you'll see absolutely nothing related to The Quick and the Dead.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You may have noticed a distinct omission of a discussion of the story. That's because there's little to say. It's a straightforward plot that doesn't do anything revolutionary, but it isn't necessary as to keep you entertained and interested. The plot is simple but it gives the cast and crew an effective springboard to get the job done. You come to The Quick and the Dead more for Raimi's style and the stellar casting than the fact that it's a western.
The Quick and the Dead is a decent enough film for me though it never grabbed me and made me love it. When I sit down and view it, I find it a simple and entertaining romp, I enjoy the actors, yet I don't have that urge to want to own it. It's a borderline film for me, and this release almost swayed me into a convert. If there wasn't so much noise in the video (despite the boost in details) and had there been more of an attempt with added bonus content, I'd be happy to recommend this one. For the average Joe, I think they'll be disappointed with the disc. For fans, I think they may be put off by the grain and noise and have mixed feelings like myself. For cinephile fans, you'll love the grain and the subsequent detail and be happy as a clam. Pick your geek level and choose accordingly.
The Quick and the Dead is hereby found guilty of polluting the air.
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