El Dorado appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some spotty elements, the transfer satisfied.
For the most part, the film featured positive sharpness. Mild to moderate edge enhancement marred the presentation, and that side of tings force wide shots to appear a bit muddy. Still, the majority of the movie looked reasonably accurate. Jagged edges and shimmering weren’t concerns, but some source flaws materialized. I saw occasional specks, marks and blotches, though they remained reasonably minor.
Colors appeared good. The film went with a slightly dusty palette that usually seemed fairly natural. The hues were vivid and warm. Black levels looked deep and tight, while shadows were clear and concise. The source flaws and edge enhancement dropped my grade to a “B”, but it was still a nice presentation.
On the other hand, the film's monaural audio was quite good for its age. The sound seemed surprisingly robust and crisp. Dialogue occasionally suffered from some obvious dubbing that didn't integrate particularly well with the picture. Frankly, that aspect alone knocked my grade down from a "B" just because some of the re-recorded speech comes across fairly poorly. Other than that, however, dialogue seemed pretty warm and natural, and intelligibility was never an issue.
Effects appeared relatively powerful. They sounded clean and relatively realistic, and distortion was minimal. Nelson Riddle's score appeared fairly clear and bright. It could have used more low-end, but it fit the rest of the audio well. At times I heard a light layer of tape hiss, but this was not consistently apparent. The audio for El Dorado worked well.
How did the picture and sound quality of this 2009 “Centennial Collection” DVD compare with those of the original 2000 release? I thought both demonstrated similar audio, but the visuals demonstrated obvious improvements. The new transfer was a little cleaner and also seemed tighter and livelier. Colors, blacks and shadows came across as superior here. This was a major upgrade in terms of picture.
While the old disc included virtually no extras, the “Centennial Collection” package adds a mix of components. On DVD One, we find two audio commentaries. The first comes from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. He provides a running, screen-specific look at the story and comparisons with Rio Bravo, cast and performances, thoughts about director Howard Hawks, sets and locations, and some personal memories.
Maybe someday Bogdanovich will create a consistently interesting commentary – but not today. As is the case with virtually all of the filmmaker’s chats, this one has more than a few good moments, but those get weighed down by a lot of dead air and dull remarks. For instance, Bogdanovich actually utters this pearl of wisdom: “’A few months back’ sets up that it was a few months ago.” Thanks, Pete – without your insight, I’d never have understood what the phrase “a few months back” meant.
Sarcasm aside, Bogdanovich does offer some good thoughts here, especially when he digs into Hawks’ career and life. You’ll undoubtedly learn something from this track, but you’ll also find yourself bored on quite a few occasions.
For the second commentary, we hear from critic/film historian Richard Schickel featuring actor Ed Asner and author Todd McCarthy. The “featuring” part means that Schickel offers a running, screen-specific chat into which the remarks from Asner and McCarthy have been inserted. The participants cover Howard Hawks and his career, cast and performances, the source story and its adaptations, themes and connections to Rio Bravo, some interpretation of the tale, and a few other production elements.
Don’t expect this track to outshine the Bogdanovich discussion by a lot. Oh, I prefer it, as it seems more consistently satisfying and it lacks the tedious aspects of Bogdanovich’s discussion. However, it still comes with a fair amount of dead air, and Schickel doesn’t add a lot of memorable insight. I like Asner’s notes, and both Schickel and McCarthy manage to present decent facts about the production. Nonetheless, the commentary never becomes anything better than average.
Over on DVD Two, we find a seven-part featurette entitled Ride, Boldly Ride: The Journey to El Dorado. Viewed as a whole, this show runs 41 minutes, 50 seconds as it presents notes from McCarthy, Schickel, Bogdanovich, Asner, Paramount producer AC Lyles, director Howard Hawks (via archival interviews), film historian Michael F. Blake, film historian/author Scott Eyman, film critic/author Molly Haskell and actor James Caan.
“Ride” looks at the studio system in the 1960s and how older filmmakers like Hawks dealt with it. The program also examines Hawks’ films prior to Dorado and aspects of its development, the story/script and the influence of Rio Bravo, and elements of the production. “Ride” goes on to discuss photography and editing, Hawks’ themes, cast and characters, the relationship between Hawks and John Wayne, and a few related notes.
Of all the elements found in this set, “Ride” proves the most effective. Yes, it repeats some tidbits from the commentaries, and it also doesn’t quite dig into the details of the production as well as I’d like; it often goes for a philosophical bent that means fewer filmmaking nuggets. Still, we get a fair amount of those facts, and the piece moves at a good pace. It provides an informative take on the movie.
A few more featurettes appear. A vintage clip from 1967, The Artist and the American West fills five minutes, 28 seconds and looks at the work of painter Olaf Wieghorst, the creator of the art that appears during the film’s opening credits. In addition to info about Wieghorst, we find some staged – but fun – interaction with Wieghorst, Howard Hawks and John Wayne. This is a cool little historical artifact.
Behind the Gates: AC Lyles Remembers John Wayne goes for five minutes, 32 seconds. Lyles discusses Wayne’s work at Paramount and his interactions with the actor. It’s not the deepest piece, but Lyles provides a mix of reasonably interesting tales about the legendary actor.
In addition to the film’s trailer - the only extra found on the earlier DVD – we get some Galleries. These break down into “Lobby Cards” (8 stills), “Production Part 1” (19), “Production Part 2” (21) and “Production Part 3” (23). All prove to be interesting.
Finally, the set includes a booklet. The eight-page piece provides some short production notes and a few photos. It’s not memorable but it’s a nice way to finish the set.
I don’t know if El Dorado qualifies as a cinematic classic, but it remains a memorable Western after four decades. It does enough to satisfy and entertain to make it a good flick. Both picture and sound quality prove satisfactory, and we find a mixed but often informative set of supplements.
Western fans will find a lot to like in El Dorado, so they should snag this satisfying set. That goes for folks who already own the original 2000 DVD. The “Centennial Collection” set offers definite improvements in terms of visuals and supplements. Those make it a fine upgrade.
To rate this film visit the John Wayne Collection review of EL DORADO