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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New director's cut of Ride with the Devil, featuring thirteen minutes of added footage
  • Two audio commentaries, one featuring Lee and producer-screenwriter James Schamus and one featuring Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin, and production designer Mark Friedberg
  • New video interview with star Jeffrey Wright

Ride with the Devil

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Ang Lee
Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Simon Baker, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jim Caviezel, Jewel , Thomas Guiry, Tom Wilkinson
1999 | 160 Minutes | Licensor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #514
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: April 27, 2010
Review Date: April 4, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

With this new director's cut, Ang Lee reconstructs his original vision for his Civil War epic, Ride with the Devil, an intimate, harrowing look at a country torn in half, told from a daringly unorthodox perspective. Set in 1862, during the Kansas-Missouri border war, the film stars Tobey Maguire as Jake and Skeet Ulrich as his friend Jack Bull; they join the Confederate-sympathizing Bushwhackers after Jack's father is killed by marauding members of the abolitionist Jayhawkers. But Ride with the Devil is also the story of their unusual ally Holt (an astonishing Jeffrey Wright), who's fighting for the South despite being a former slave. A rumination on identity and loyalty, both political and personal, Ride with the Devil is a provocative challenge to preconceptions about America's bloodiest conflict.

Forum members rate this film 6.7/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Ang Leeís newly constructed directorís cut of his 1999 film Ride with the Devil is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.

I think this may be the most disappointed Iíve been with a high-def transfer from Criterion if only because my expectations were so high. While certainly not a mess like the transfer for The Last Emperor is, for such a newer film with an epic look the transfer looks fairly average. Itís still far better than a DVD transfer (and looks far better than the original Universal DVD as I remember it,) presenting no noticeable artifacts or digital problems. But for a high-def image it looks surprisingly soft and detail leaves a little to be desired, especially in costumes. There are quite a few moments where scenes have a slightly mushy look to them, with details in the scenes, like leaves in the trees or beard fuzz on some of the characterís faces, almost blending into one another. Considering that the photography of the film is one of, if not its strongest aspect, this comes off especially disappointing.

On the other hand colours are exceptional; I donít know if Iíve ever seen greens as striking as what is presented here. Reds also look good, flesh tones look fairly natural, and blacks are strong, if slightly washed in darker sequences. The print is also spotless, the film receiving a nice vigorous restoration. But in the end it doesnít look very film-like and is again a little soft. Itís not horrible by any means, and I donít mean to give that impression, but in comparison to most of Criterionís other presentations on Blu-ray, most of which are exceptional, this one just looks shockingly average.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion presents a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that delivers fairly well for the film. More of a talky film than an action film the soundfield is heavier in the front with the epic score swelling through the environment all around the viewer. Dialogue is clear and distinct, and the music sounds fantastic with terrific range. The action scenes offer some impressive sound effects and splits, gun shots coming from all angles, and bullets sounding like theyíre actually whizzing by at times, with pounding horse hooves thrown in for good measure. Itís a strong track for what the film calls for and itís clean and sharp. Probably the most solid aspect of this release.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Though we do get two commentaries for this edition supplements leave a little to be desired because of the lack of some more historical information.

But first worth mentioning is the fact that Criterionís DVD and Blu-ray editions both include the directorís cut of the film. I hadnít seen the film in probably ten years so it was hard for me to recall the differences, but a few stood out, including the addition of a scene centered around a former Bushwhacker who lost his leg and then it looks as though the Lawrence Massacre sequence was expanded. Listening to the commentaries confirmed this, and other scenes were pointed out in these tracks. I was actually shocked at what had been previously cut out of the film and really question those decisions. Some of the sequences cut really help explain the conflict in the film, including an early addition during a dinner that basically lays out everything, and the additions also help the plot and characters. I wasnít fond of the film when I originally saw it and for years I considered it Leeís weakest, but seeing it again in this cut I found I did enjoy it quite a bit more and have a higher opinion of it. It still has some issues and its middle section still moves at a leaden pace, but it feels to make a bit more sense, its characters arenít as shut off, and the overall pacing appears to have improved. For those that originally dismissed it they may want to give it at least a rental to give it another viewing.

Having a newly found appreciation for the film I moved on to the supplements. Two audio commentaries are the primary features here. The first features director Ang Lee and producer-screenwriter James Schamus, who also did the commentary for the Criterion edition of The Ice Storm together. I rather liked that one because the two were fairly loose and passionate and the same can be said here. They talk about the book on which the film is based, how Lee came across it, and his desire to cover what he considered a very American story, most intrigued by the fact that former slaves actually did fight for the south. The two talk about the themes in the film, primarily the idea of characters ďenslaved in a relationshipĒ and they see it as more of a coming-of-age story than a Civil war picture. They continue by sharing their thoughts on the various cast members, praising them (though I found it funny that Jim Caviezel and Mark Ruffalo, who both appear in the film for a few minutes each, seem to get more love than Skeet Ulrich,) also explaining the casting of Jewel (he was fascinated by her crooked teeth which he thought fit the period) and also talk a bit about the actual history and their desire to remain authentic, even defending the language which did receive a lot of criticism during its initial release. Lee also expresses his disappointment about the handling of the film, which was released when its primary studio was going through financial difficulties, and he talks about why he made the edits he did, though he regretted it later. But his biggest upset was not that there were people that didnít like the film but that people never really got to see it. Itís a nice track and moves briskly, worth listening to for those that like the film.

The second commentary was a bit of a surprise. Featuring director of photography Frederick Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin, and production designer Mark Friedberg I thought it would be a heavily technical commentary but itís actually quite a bit more than that. While they do cover various technical aspects such as the photography, the sets, the influences from photographs from the period, and the quest for authenticity, the participants also get heavily in to the actual history portrayed in the film, giving details and back story for some of the non-fictional characters that appear in the film and the actual politics that led to the conflict. They also express their disappointment in how poorly the film did, and offer their defenses and their theories on why the film didnít do well, again blaming the studioís financial problems. I rather liked it, probably a little more than the previous track, as it really covers every aspect of the film, even a little better than the director track. One thing thatís obvious in both tracks, though, is that all the participants feel this film deserves a better audience and they all seem to feel this new Criterion edition will do just that.

The only other supplement on the disc is an interview with actor Jeffrey Wright. Itís unfortunately very brief, running only 14-minutes, but itís good. He talks about what intrigued him about the film, admiring its more complex handling of the subject of race, gives a decent analysis of his character, talks about his admiration of the film, ranking it high in his filmography, and he also expresses his disappointment about how the film did during its release. Itís a nice interview, Wright even talking about his own family history, though I wish it were longer.

And that unfortunately covers it for disc supplements. The booklet that accompanies the edition contains an essay on the film by Godfrey Cheshire, along with some historical essays on the Kansas-Missouri conflict and then a bit of a bio on William Quantrill, respectively by Cheshire and Edward E. Leslie. The booklet makes for a fascinating read, if only because it gives a decent history lesson.

While the booklet does fill that bit of a historical gap in the supplements, I would have liked it if Criterion had done something similar to what they did with The Last Emperor and The Leopard, where they offered supplements that put the films in their respective historical contexts. Lee also mentioned there was more footage from the Lawrence Massacre he didnít put back in so those could have been added as deleted scenes. But alas neither is here and I suspect this is because Criterion was trying to keep the release down to one-disc for Blu-ray (the film takes up most of the disc at over 40GB.) The commentaries are decent, as is the interview, but there feels there could have been a lot more.

6/10

CLOSING

I like the film a lot more this second time around (ten years later) and for those that werenít impressed initially they may want to at least rent it. But the Blu-ray is a little disappointing, presenting an average transfer for a film that deserves a lot more, and a missed opportunity on supplements.


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