Gangs Of New York [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (23rd July 2008).
The Film

When Martin Scorsese was finally awarded his Oscar for 'Best Director' for his work on "The Departed" (2006) cinema fans all collectively took a deep breath, after many years and countless classics one of the masters of American cinema finally got his due. Back in 2002 a lot of buzz surrounded Scorsese's latest effort with his new go-to boy Leonardo DiCaprio (their first film together). The trailers promised a violent and epic tale and the selective character actor Daniel Day-Lewis would deliver one of the most memorable performances of that year. But before the film was released there was plenty of talk about the film's runtime, it originally ran around 227 minutes and would be delayed for a year after rumored disputes with the studio. Supposedly there was pressure that the film would make audiences uncomfortable after 9/11. among other problems heaped onto the film. Needless to say the film was eagerly anticipated and upon release garnered some decent reviews and 10 Academy Award nominations.

The year it took fans to wait for the film is nothing like the wait Scorsese himself had to wait to actually make this film, originally conceived in 1978, he planned to film and have it released in 1980-1981, however after United Artists fell under the weight of "Heaven's Gate" (1980) many studios became cautious about producing historical epics and thusly the film was let go. When time came to make it, the filmmaker brought together his usual crew to pull it off, it's the largest scale film the director has undertaken considering the massive amounts of sets and costumes that had to be made for the film. Additionally he collected a most impressive cast to populate the film, the results are a lush, violent, beautifully filmed and constructed film that delivers on almost all accounts but does suffer from one instance of poor casting (Cameron Diaz) and some narrative problems.

"Gangs of New York" tells the story of Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) who at a young age witnesses the murder of his father (Liam Neeson) by Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a gang fight at the five points district (a part of New York where the five burroughs meet). Years later, Amsterdam returns to New York after a long absence for his safety. Amsterdam tries to establish himself in Bill's gang 'The Natives' in order to get close to the man who killed his father to exact revenge. Told amid a grand backdrop in a turbulent time in American history, "Gangs of New York" has the makings of a sweeping opus.

From the outset the film does in fact have the fingerprints of a master filmmaker all over it, on top of that there's also some incredible production design (by long time Scorsese collaborator Dante Ferretti which faithfully recreates 19th-century New York on the famous Cinecitta studios lot in Rome and photographed in a manner that captures the time and tone well by Michael Ballhaus (another long time collaborator). While there's a lot to look at production wise it's the film's performances that are it's real strengths most notably Day-Lewis who yet again transforms himself into a memorable character. The experienced character actor dives into the role and totally encapsulates himself in it. And although he's playing a downright rotten character you can tell he's having a great time portraying the role for which he deservedly earned a 'Best Actor' Oscar nomination and admittedly he's the most interesting character in the film. DiCaprio does an decent job of keeping up with the heavy weights and doesn't falter, The scenes he shares with Day Lewis are particularly exciting and so are the moments with Brendan Gleeson, another of the great actors that display incredible talent among the ensemble. Sadly not everyone is firing on all cylinders, Cameron Diaz is the weak link in this case, her role could have been written out entirely and would not be missed but then the testosterone level would be at 100% instead of 95% with her in the film. Her chemistry with DiCaprio was nonexistent and considering she was the love interest you'd expect more.

At the core "Gangs of New York" is a revenge film, but it's really much more than that, it's a character study in power and influence. It's a bloodied history lesson, and in that Scorsese tries to juggle too many balls, some of the fascinating moments of the film surround the turbulent events the city went through, from the gangs that fight for control to the corrupt officials to the Civil War whose devastation looms over the city and the riots in which it provoked. Thrown in amid all of this is the story of revenge, the story of power, the story of love, etc. It's a bit much to take and could have been refined to a more concise narrative. However in saying that I'd like to see the original 'longer' cut of the film, perhaps it's feels less cluttered.

"Gangs of New York" has very few flaws, overall it's an great film just for Day-Lewis' incredible performance alone but luckily there's a lot more to admire.

Video

Presented in the film original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been created using VC-1 compression. "Gangs of New York" is the perfect film to make to HD, the scale, the production design and photography all works to display a grand vision. This is one of the many reasons I was looking forward to seeing this film. Generally Buena Vista has a solid and proven track record for their HD presentation but I was disappointed with this film's transfer. While sharpness is evident and detail holds up, the film is plagued with edge-enhancement that frankly is distracting and horrible to look at. What irked me the most was the digital noise reduction, used to reduce grain, but the result is an unnatural looking image and waxy skin tones. This is a disturbing trend with some HD titles, Fox's "Patton" is a good example of this. The film's grain is naturally occurring and gives the film weight and texture which has been all but eliminated. Hope is not entirely lost, colors look good, black levels are deep and detail is solid. By all accounts Buena Vista missed a real opportunity to present this film with a new and pristine HD image but instead dropped the ball.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround presented at 6.9 Mbps as well as standard English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and French. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its PCM track and where the image let's you down the audio picks up the slack and presents the film with an aggressive and dynamic mix. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, the action scenes explode off the screen with a range that's quite staggering. Subtle ambient sound is used effectively to place the viewer in the city surroundings and the film's score adds another levels of depth to the overall soundtrack. It's an immersive track that does the film justice.
Optional subtitles are included in English for hearing impaired, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish and Icelandic.

Extras

Buena Vista has included an audio commentary, a series of four featurettes, a documentary, a music video, the film's teaser trailer and theatrical trailer as extras on this disc. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by director Martin Scorsese. I do love listening to Scorsese talk about movies, it goes back to the wonderful tracks he recorded for the Criterion editions of his films on laserdisc. He passionately takes us through the process from the early stages to the production and various creative decisions. This track is no different he excitedly walks the viewer through the film, the book it's based on, the production's history, shooting in Rome and also comments on working with the cast. It would have been nice to have heard from other departments including editing, photography and production design even though he covers these he doesn't go into the detail that I would have liked. Still, it's a worthy track to listen to.

Next up is the "History Of The Five Points" featurette which runs for 13 minutes 38 seconds. This is an interesting look at the five points that make up New York, briefly covering the history including the gangs situation, the Irish who immigrated to America during that time, the corrupt officials and the real people behind the characters seen in the film.

The "Set Design" featurette is next and runs for 9 minutes 6 seconds, Production designer Dante Ferretti takes us through the extensive research undertaken to recreate 19th century New York on the back lot in Rome. The clip takes us through the set design and construction. It's a short but informative piece looking into the scale of the production.

Following that is "Exploring The Sets Of Gangs Of New York" a multi-angle featurette that runs for 22 minutes 43 seconds. This is basically a walk-through of the set with the director and production designer. They talk about the real life references and influences for the design of the sets.

Like any epic film there's likely to be extravagant costumes and this film is no exception, the "Costume Design" featurette runs for 8 minutes 22 seconds and takes us through the characters and their looks, the costumes created to suit their style and personality. The clip goes into the research and references used to base the design off of. A staggering 7,000 costumes were made for the film, and the cast themselves comment on the costumes and what they add to their characters.

My favorite of the extras on this disc is the "Discovery Channel Special: Uncovering The Real Gangs Of New York" documentary which runs for 35 minutes 23 seconds, I love Discovery Channel produced shows (in fact it's a channel I watch regularly) and this one is an excellent supplement that takes viewers into the history behind the movie. It basically focuses on the real events, real people and takes us into what it was like to live in New York during that time.

There's also a music video for "The Hands That Built America" performed by Irish mega-band U2 which runs for 4 minutes 49 seconds.

The extras also include the film's original teaser trailerwhich runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds and the original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are a series of bonus trailers for:

- "Disney Blu-ray" spot which runs for 1 minute 43 seconds.
- "Miramax: Three Decades" spot which runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.
- "Smart People" which runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds.
- "Step Up 2 the Streets" which runs for 2 minutes 11 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: C- Audio: A Extras: A Overall: B-

 


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