The French Connection appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a solid representation of the original photography.
Sharpness appeared consistently good. I wouldn’t call it razor-sharp, but that was a reflection of the source material; given the movie’s stock and shooting style, it’s inevitable that some softness materialized. Those instances weren’t an issue, though, as overall definition was positive. I noticed no concerns with jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes weren’t a factor. I saw no signs of digital noise reduction, as we got an image with natural grain. Print flaws also failed to materialize.
Though much of Connection appeared fairly low-key, the colors appeared fine. Red lighting during the nightclub sequence looked tight and accurate, and other hues were clear and strong.. Black levels also came across as deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately well defined and not too opaque. The low-light sequences appeared quite lively and smooth. The rough nature of the source material means you won’t use the movie to demo your big TV, but the image provided an accurate depiction of the film.
I felt less positive about the inconsistent DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Connection. While the remix opened up the original audio, it did so in an overactive manner. During the opening credits, the score blasts out of all five speakers, and that sense of excessive usage continued through much of the film. The surrounds played too strong a role and created distractions; they dominated in an appropriate and unnatural manner that didn’t seem logical.
This didn’t mean the soundfield was a total flop. When the mix backed down and focused on the front speakers, the track showed decent movement and involvement. Unfortunately, those “too active” sequences popped up often enough to make this an aggressive and fatiguing soundscape.
Audio quality showed signs of its era but still came across acceptably well. Speech tended to sound somewhat flat and bland at times, but the lines remained easily intelligible and didn’t display any issues related to edginess. Music displayed the best reproduction of the bunch, as the score and songs showed nice dynamics and depth; the song in the nightclub worked especially well.
Effects appeared less consistent but they generally were acceptable. Gunshots displayed some distortion, and other elements could appear a bit rough at times. Still, they seemed fairly positive for their age. With a more subdued soundfield, this would’ve been a satisfying remix, but given its excessive aggressiveness, I’ll stick with the original monaural in the future.
How did this Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2001? Multichannel audio seemed to be a step down, honestly, due to the overactive soundscape of the Blu-ray’s mix. Visuals offered obvious improvements, though, as the Blu-ray demonstrated greater clarity and definition.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras that start with two audio commentaries. The first comes from director William Friedkin, who offers a running, screen-specific track. Overall Friedkin offers a good chat, though he tends to do little more than just relate story points at times.
Otherwise, he gets into the casting of film, problems related to the script, differences between the real-life characters and situations and the movie, and many other elements. Friedkin seems especially energized when he goes over the creation of the movie’s famous car chase sequence. Despite some lulls, Friedkin’s track seems generally compelling and useful.
In addition to Friedkin’s commentary, we get a second track from actors Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Unfortunately, neither was recorded together, and neither provides a running, screen-specific piece. Instead, they appear very briefly and give us notes from separate interviews. Happily, the disc’s menu lets us easily access the appropriate parts of the disc, so we don’t have to sit through vast expanses of empty space.
For the short periods during which either man speaks, they offer some nice information. Hackman covers his casting, his approach to the role, reactions to the film, and some anecdotes from the shoot. Scheider also gives us a fun story about how he got the part as well as comments about working with the real-life cops and some tales from the set. Though they speak for only a little while, the material conveyed seems illuminating and entertaining.
On another audio channel, we find an Isolated Score Track. This isn’t a traditional “isolated score”, though. Instead, it gives us a lot more music than what appeared in the final film; we eavesdrop on the recording sessions and get more complete performances. This means many scenes
We also find a Trivia Track. This places a banner over the lower portion of the screen and gives us information about the movie’s cast and crew, filmmaking locations and specifics, and issues related to police work and the facts behind the case/personalities that inspired the film. The presentation can be intrusive – I’m not sure why the disc’s producers made the “Trivia Track” area cover so much of the screen – but the material’s worth it. Subtitle commentaries can be hit or miss, but this one throws out tons of good information.
Seven Deleted Scenes fill a total of 12 minutes, 12 seconds. (That running time also includes a short intro from Friedkin.) These tend to be insubstantial character bits, though at least one with a prostitute gives us some decent nudity. We can examine these with or without commentary from Friedkin. He throws in some good information about the scenes and why he cut them.
With that we head to Making the Connection: The Untold Stories. Hosted by former detective Sonny Grosso – the inspiration for the film’s “Cloudy” Russo - this 56-minute and 35-second program mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. Modern segments occur with William Friedkin, Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, NY Supreme Court Judge Torres, actors Tony Lo Bianco and Lora Mitchell, producers Phil D’Antoni, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, author Robin Moore, cinematographer Owen Roizman, and editor Jerry Greenberg. We also find some older snippets with Eddie Egan, the inspiration for the film’s Popeye Doyle.
Though “Stories” tells the tale in a somewhat disjointed way, it nonetheless covers a lot of territory. We get information about Grosso and Egan and their careers and then learn the genesis of the book and film projects. From there we go over casting – including others considered for the Doyle role – and general production elements, with an emphasis on the famous car chase. The program feels a little choppy at times, but it still contains a lot of good material and helps detail the production.
A slew of featurettes follow. Anatomy of a Chase lasts 20 minutes, 23 seconds and follows Friedkin as he tours original Brooklyn locations. He also meets up with D’Antoni and NYPD Officer Randy Jurgensen as they look at the sites and discuss aspects of the production. I like the format’s visit to the locations and find a lot of solid info here.
With the 10-minute, 52-second Hackman on Doyle, we hear from the movie’s lead actor. Hackman chats about his character and various aspects of the shoot. After the documentary, the commentary and the other pieces, this can be a bit redundant at times, but it still tosses out a few new details.
Next comes Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection. It goes for 19 minutes, 16 seconds and features Friedkin and Grosso – duh! – as they discuss the facts that inspired the film’s events. Again, we’ve already gotten so much prior information that we already know some of this material, but it’s cool to see modern-day Grosso and Friedkin reminisce.
Under Scene of the Crime, we find a five-minute, 17-second piece with Friedkin on location again. Essentially a sequel to “Anatomy”, the director hangs out in Brooklyn with Jurgensen and discuss more aspects of the film and the original case. It’s another good reel.
We cover the score in Cop Jazz: The Music of Don Ellis. It takes up 10 minutes, seven seconds with remarks from film music historian Jon Burlingame. He tells us about Ellis’s life and career, with an emphasis on Connection. Burlingame provides a lucid, informative look at the composer.
Finally, Rogue Cop: The Noir Connection lasts 13 minutes, 50 seconds and offers notes from film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. They look at the film noir genre and discuss how Connection reflects – and doesn’t reflect – it. This becomes an insightful, enjoyable piece.
A splendidly gritty and compelling police drama, The French Connection holds up well more than 40 years after its creation. The movie works in many different ways and seems like a smart and involving piece of work that becomes even more interesting with repeated viewings. The Blu-ray offers solid picture and many useful extras along with acceptable audio. Though the remixed sound disappointed, the rest of the release worked well and made this the best version of the film on the market.
To rate this film, visit the Boxed Set review of THE FRENCH CONNECTION