True Grit 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. While the transfer started well, it developed significant problems as it progressed.
The majority of those concerns affected sharpness. Despite some noticeable edge haloes, most of the flick’s first third looked sharp. After that, however, the edge enhancement became even more prominent, and it rendered many shots awfully indistinct. Despite a smattering of attractive scenes, the flick took on a rather tentative quality that persisted through the rest of its running time. Jagged edges and shimmering caused no problems, and source flaws remained very minor. I saw a couple of specks but that was about it, as the movie appeared clean.
With its western setting, Grit didn’t boast a dynamic palette. Nonetheless, the hues appeared lively and full within those parameters. Actually, the colors seemed pretty good, as they were more impressive than I expected – at least for the first 40 minutes. After that, the tones became muddier and less satisfying. This wasn’t as significant a drop-off as the one that involved sharpness; after all, the hues weren’t very broad in the first place. Nonetheless, they looked drabber during the movie’s second and third acts.
Black levels were acceptably good, and shadow detail appeared satisfying without becoming impenetrable. The only notable exception occurred near the end of the film when "day for night" photography was used. Overall, though, low-light sequences remained good. Too bad this wasn’t true for the transfer as a whole. During the movie’s first third, I thought it looked strong and expected to give it a “B+”. However, the remainder of the flick seemed so soft and muddy that my overall grade fell to a “C-“; it would’ve dropped to “D” territory if it all looked like the final 80 minutes.
For this DVD, we got a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It remixed the original monaural audio; that audio also appears on the DVD. The 5.1 track seemed perfectly passable but not anything memorable. The soundfield remained subdued. The side speakers demonstrated minor ambiance during street scenes and action shots. These offered decent spread and a little movement but weren’t especially active.
Music came to us with fairly vague imaging. The songs and score blended across the front in a way that created mild localization. As for the surrounds, they played a minor role. They may have reinforced the material, but I thought the front channels strongly dominated the piece.
Audio quality was acceptable. Though dialogue tended to be thin and without much fullness, the lines remained concise and easily intelligible. Music also suffered from lackluster definition. Treble dominated and little low-end material could be heard. Similar tendencies affected the effects, which were clear but not particularly lively. The emphasis on high-end information left this as a clean track that needed more dimensionality to prosper.
How did the picture and audio of this 2007 Special Collector’s Edition compare to those for the original DVD from 2000? I gave a small nod to this disc’s sound since it offered an expanded sense of atmosphere over the old set’s mono track. However, both sounded very similar, so they’re very comparable.
On the other hand, the original DVD’s visuals seemed substantially stronger. This version looked cleaner but suffered from consistent softness during much of the flick; that factor made colors and blacks appear less dynamic and really harmed the presentation. Although the prior disc demonstrated a lot of specks absent here, it boasted much better definition in all ways. I can ignore source flaws better than I can negate muddy delineation, so the 2000 DVD stands as easily the better of the two in terms of picture quality.
While the old DVD included nothing more than a trailer - which also appears here – the SCE tosses in a mix of additional supplements. We start with an audio commentary from Western genre film historian Jeb Rosebrook, historian/True West Magazine editor Bob Boze Bell and American west writer/historian Dr. J. Stuart Rosebrook. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. Their chat covers the adaptation of the original novel, locations, historical accuracy and period details, the way the movie reflects the era in which it was shot, cast and crew notes, themes, and other production topics. They also attempt to place Grit in perspective with comparisons to other Westerns.
The three men create a pretty informative commentary. They examine a nice variety of subjects connected to the film and explore them in a reasonably rich manner. Unfortunately, the track starts to sag a bit after the movie’s first act. It still works pretty well through the movie’s conclusion, but it doesn’t steam ahead quite as briskly as during the first 40 minutes or so. I also would’ve liked to know more about the production itself rather than historical details; those get a little ponderous at times and aren’t always particularly interesting. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like in this reasonably informative commentary.
Four featurettes follow. True Writing goes for four minutes, 29 seconds as it presents a mix of movie shots, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Stuart Rosebrook, Jeb Rosebrook, Wildest Westerns magazine editor Ed Lousararian, and actors Jeremy Slate and Kim Darby. “Writing” tells us a little about the novel, its adaptation, and screenwriter Marguerite Roberts. It lets us know some interesting facts – such as how Roberts had been blackballed as a communist – but mostly acts as a fluffy appreciation for the text. It doesn’t prove especially enlightening.
Next we get the 10-minute and 15-second Working with the Duke. It includes notes from Lousararian, Slate, Darby, Jeb Rosebrook, Stuart Rosebrook, United American Costume Company’s Luster Bayless, and actor Glen Campbell. As implied by the title, “Duke” looks at John Wayne’s acting and what he was like as a co-star. We get some nice notes about his see-through eye patch, his style on the set, and his real life personality. However, these remain pretty puffy much of the time. There’s enough decent content to make it work, but it doesn’t dig into its topic with much depth.
Aspen Gold: Locations of True Grit runs 10 minutes, 19 seconds and features Ouray County (Colorado) Plaindealer newspaper staff reporter Robb Magley, Ridgway (Colorado) Chamber of Commerce president Barbara Morss, True Grit Café co-owners Tammee and Dale Tuttle, Ridgway area cattle rancher Duane Beamer, Ouray County administrator Connie L. Hunt, and mineral farm conservator Steve Caldwell. “Gold” takes us on a nice tour of the Colorado spots used in the film. We get a good overview of how they look today and learn about their history in this informative little program.
Finally, The Law and the Lawless fills five minutes, 46 seconds and presents remarks from Bell and Autry National Center’s Carolyn Brucken. We find some notes about law enforcement and crime in the old west. It’s a light and interesting piece, though it seems woefully short for such a broad subject. I’d have preferred a longer, more detailed examination of the topics, though this works as a decent teaser.
In addition to the film’s trailer, the DVD includes a Previews area. It touts “The John Wayne Collection” series of DVDs.
True Grit provides a fairly ordinary Western experience from John Wayne's final years as an actor. It offered only a mildly entertaining adventure. The DVD gave us decent audio and extras but suffered from poor visuals during much of its running time.
Because of that, I can’t recommend this version of True Grit. Granted, since I don’t think a lot of the movie, I wouldn’t give it much of an endorsement anyway, but the ugly visuals mean that I wouldn’t recommend this disc even to big fans. The new extras are nice but not worth putting up with the weak picture quality. If you love Grit, stay with the flawed but superior transfer of the old DVD.