Sunday, 19 November 2006

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 21st May 2006.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidPlans to catch up on some work were scuppered when I made the mistake of unwrapping the cellophane on the new Fox Cinema Reserve Edition of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is the seventh release in the Cinema Reserve series - Fox's 'best possible version' series - packaged as two disks in an attractive, albeit susceptible to scratching, tin DVD case.

This third incarnation of the movie on DVD officially hits the stores tomorrow (22nd May). I've really enjoyed the releases so far in this Cinema Reserve series although if I'm honest, I probably purchased this title more to avoid a missing number in my collection than because I have fond memories of the original movie, which I haven't seen for probably 20 years. One of the nice features of this Cinema Reserve series is that you're guaranteed a booklet. That should be the norm of course but over the last twelve months 'Special Edition' has come to mean 'a disk with a few extra's on, an empty Amery case and a piracy advert you're forced to sit through before you can watch your legitimately purchased product.

The movie itself turned out to be a pleasant surprise - much funnier than I remember it, and beautifully acted and directed. I still find Burt Baccharach's "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" musical interlude irritating (it's NOT raining so why interrupt the movie for a song with a bunch of lyrics that seem totally out of place with the visuals on screen?!) but other than that, there's little here to complain about.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford have real chemistry on screen and one wonders if Steve McQueen, originally intended for the role of the Sundance Kid until he quit over issues to do with who got the higher billing, regretted his decision given what it did for Robert Redford's career (Redford was a relative unknown until this movie)

The transfer is excellent and is yet again a reminder of why, if you have a decent home cinema system, it seems pointless these days making a trip to see a badly damaged print in a local fleapit where mobile phones and crunchy popcorn hold sway. The national press (I think it was 'The Guardian') earlier this week published an interesting article on why the small screen was killing cinema (the main thrust of the article was similar to my own blog posting about Nip/Tuck - that the quality of small-screen drama is so high there's no incentive to leave home to go to the cinema any more) and I hate to join the prophets of doom and gloom, but it's hard to see how things are going to get better at the box office when audiences are treated so cynically and shoddily by both the Hollywood film makers and the local cinema owners.

Anyway, back to the DVD release on Cinema Reserve, and there are some excellent extra's here. I listened to the second of two commentaries, featuring writer William Goldman. Goldman is always good value - I love his curmudgeonly, brutal but honest, comments about the Hollywood system as related in his books, and he doesn't disappoint here. That being said this is very much a cobbled-together commentary, with most of it actually having been 'cut and snipped' from the different documentaries that are included on the accompanying second DVD disk so with the benefit of hindsight I should have gone straight to the documentaries and given the commentary a miss.

Perhaps most fascinating is the original 'Making of' documentary - nowhere near as polished as today's marketing-oriented featurettes. The director, George Roy Hill, is surprisingly frank about his problems with his cast and the parts of the screenplay that he really detested. It's amusing to contrast this with the latest documentary (assembled last year) where the original cast and writer continually reminisce about how wonderful the whole shoot was, and how much fun everyone had, proving that Hollywood spin (or, possibly, our natural ability to rewrite history when something becomes successful) isn't necessarily a new phenomenon!

There's a wonderful 'History through the Lens' feature on the real life Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids where Butch Cassisy's sister gives some fascinating background on the real live anti-hero, and Goldman reveals that she and Newman remained friends after she visited the film set. It's trivia like this that make watching movies on DVD so much more of an experience than merely watching the film on TV or at the cinema, even if it does mean you write off the best part of a day that you'd intended to use to catch up on work!

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid screencap

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