Appaloosa appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Given that Warner Bros. has released a lot of ugly, over-compressed DVDs lately and they distributed Appaloosa for New Line, I worried that the movie would look terrible. To my pleasant surprise, the disc provided a very nice transfer with only a few minor concerns.
Sharpness rarely became one of those issues. Some light edge enhancement meant that a few wide shots showed light softness, but that was an infrequent occurrence. Instead, the majority of the flick offered very good delineation, with impressive clarity in most shots. I noticed a little ropiness and some mild jagged edges along with mild shimmering on a few occasions. Source flaws remained absent; other than a smidgen of grain, this was a clean presentation.
No one expects dynamic colors from a Western, and Appaloosa displayed the sandy hues I anticipated. The palette favored a dusty look, with only minor examples of broader tones. The transfer displayed these in a satisfying manner. Blacks were dark and dense, but shadows tended to seem a bit more erratic. Some of that stemmed from the photographic style, as some thick “day for night” shots appeared. Nonetheless, I thought low-light sequences looked slightly darker than I’d like. Overall, the transfer was very good, with only a smattering of minor concerns that knocked it down to a “B”.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Appaloosa, it provided decent pleasures. For the most part, the soundfield didn’t boast much to impress. Even with potentially dynamic scenes involving gunfire and the like, we didn’t find a ton of action. General ambience ruled the day, and other elements like trains, thunder and horses broadened the horizon the most. These opened up the surrounds well enough, but nothing here proved especially impressive.
Audio quality always satisfied. Speech seemed concise and distinctive, as I noticed no edginess or other concerns. Music displayed nice delineation; the score was always full and rich. Effects also proved quite positive, as those elements sounded clean and accurate. Bass response offered nice depth to the package. Though the mix lacked the ambition for a high grade, it seemed good enough for a “B”.
A few extras flesh out the set. We open with an audio commentary from writer/director/actor Ed Harris and writer/producer Robert Knott. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat, though Knott doesn’t join the piece until about its halfway point. They look at cast and performances, the source novel and its adaptation, character and story issues, cinematography and editing, sets and locations, and a few other production issues.
With such a broad array of subjects, you’d expect the commentary to work really well. However, Harris talks in such a low-key, matter of fact manner that that track tends to plod. This tendency actually gets worse when Knott joins the proceedings; bizarrely, the commentary drags even more with the writer in tow even though I expected he might add some life to things. While Harris goes over quite a few subjects, much of the time his insights remain superficial in this sporadically interesting but often flat chat.
Four featurettes follow. Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life runs seven minutes, 33 seconds, and it features notes from Harris, Knott, director of photography Dean Semler, and actors Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, and Lance Henriksen. The show looks at cast, performances, and the challenges Harris faced as an acting director. Very little concrete information appears here, as this fluffy piece largely just praises everything and everybody involved.
For the 10-minute and 21-second
Historic Accuracy of Appaloosa, we hear from Harris, Mortensen, Irons, Zellweger, costume designer David Robinson, property master Keith Walters, horse wrangler Rex Peterson, stunt coordinator Mike Watson, and locomotive engineer Charlie Greathouse. This program examines period details like costumes and props as well as elements of action staging. To some degree, the show exists to tout the film’s commitment to accuracy, and that makes it somewhat lightweight. Nonetheless, we do get a few good notes about the details, so it’s worth a look.
The Town of Appaloosa fills five minutes, seven seconds with info from Harris, Semler and production designer Waldemar Kalinowski. Here we get a good look at the Appaloose sets. Despite its brevity, this becomes the most substantial of the featurettes we’ve seen so far.
Cinematography comes to the fore via the five-minute, 17-second Dean Semler’s Return to the Western. It features Harris and Semler. The featurette presents a few minor notes about the photography and other aspects of the shoot. Semler throws out some interesting tales but don’t expect much depth.
Six Deleted Scenes last a total of 12 minutes, three seconds. These include “Original Prologue” (4:20), “Walk Up the Stairs” (1:05), “Buggy Ride” (1:31), “Praying Mantis” (1:19), “The Blue Room” (0:54), and “Town Hall Meeting” (2:54). The “Prologue” shows us exactly what led to the visit the town’s original marshal made to Bragg’s ranch, while the others fill in a few dots. They don’t add measurably to the film’s depth, but they may have made it a bit richer.
We can watch the “Deleted Scenes” with or without commentary from Harris and Knott. Once again, Knott adds virtually nothing to the proceedings; he speaks infrequently and tells us nothing noteworthy. Harris doesn’t talk that much either, but at least he gives us a few minor thoughts about the scenes and why he cut them. He also reveals a desire to make a much longer director’s cut. Don’t expect a lot from this part of the disc, though, as Harris remains silent most of the time.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Pride and Glory, Rockarolla, Body of Lies and Blu-Ray Disc. No trailer for Appaloosa appears.
Ed Harris delivers a scattered, disjointed Western via Appaloosa. At times the movie feels like a “greatest hits” reel, as it combines hints of other flicks into one unsatisfying whole. The DVD provides positive picture and audio as well as a mediocre roster of extras. Appaloosa fails to become a memorable movie, as it brings nothing new or particularly interesting to its genre.