Pale Rider was the last Western in which Clint Eastwood would both star and direct before his epic turn in Unforgiven. Considering the closure that film gave to Eastwood’s “Old West” mythology, it’s not likely we’ll another entry from him in the genre that originally made Eastwood famous. The film is reminiscent of the lone warrior themes from Eastwood’s spaghetti western days under the direction of Italian filmmaker Serge Leone. A small gold mining village in California is being strong-armed by a wealthy mining company to give up its land claim. The miners are on the verge of selling out when a mysterious stranger by the name of “Preacher” arrives fortifying their sprit. The stranger takes up their cause, leadig to a direct confrontation with the boss of the mining company and his hired guns.
Eastwood’s portrayal of Preacher can trace a direct lineage to his iconic “Man With No Name” characters. He carries all the mythic imagery and mystery and soft-spokenness but can be dangerous if necessary. His initial arrival is foretold with religious overtones specifying him in a biblical context as the “Pale Rider.” In the violent confrontations involving Preacher, he is filmed in a ghost-like manner, disappearing and appearing as needed. He also seems to always be one step ahead of his adversaries, lending to his elusive nature.
While Pale Rider is not Eastwood’s best film, or even his best Western, it is a solid entry in his acting/directing career. The Preacher is one of the director’s more symbolic Western protagonists. It could be argued that this build-up lays the groundwork for the deconstruction of the genre in Unforgiven, but if nothing else, Pale Rider is an enjoyable film with all the drama, action and trappings of the traditional Eastwood Western.
Warner Brothers presents Pale Rider on Blu-ray framed at 2.40:1 with a 1080p VC-1 encode. The video doesn’t appear to include any digital noise reduction or edge enhancement, and the natural amount of grain that is present only becomes problematic in a few scenes. The film overall has a slightly soft look about it, which can be attributed to Eastwood’s artistic style.
The cinematography in Pale Rider has a very natural feel that this transfer brings out well. The film appears to have been shot using only natural light that lends to the overall ambiance of the presentation. Sunlit outdoor shots boast strong detail in close-up scenes and have consistent, well-saturated colors showcasing the rustic hues and often-beautiful natural vistas.
The choice of lighting turns into a deficit for many indoor and nighttime shots, where detail can be minimal. In some dimly lit scenes where the moon, a lamp or sunshine through a window does not allow for consistent illumination, shadowy areas on screen fade into total darkness. There were a few nighttime scenes where I could barely tell what transpired due to the overly murky, dark images presented.
A comparison to the standard-definition DVD shows that any complaints about the image exist there as well, so they really can be attributed to the way the movie was shot, not to the 1080p Blu-ray transfer. In fact, this release improves upon the overall look of the film, bringing some consistency to the grain that’s more problematic in the DVD and really making colors and details pop. While Pale Rider will never compete with more-recent high-definition transfers, this Blu-ray presentation appears to be accurate to the source material, and it’s easily the best the film has ever looked on home video.
It is refreshing to see that Warner Brothers is gracing its catalog Blu-ray titles with lossless audio. Apparently the company is taking consumer demands seriously, as earlier (higher profile) titles such as the Road Warrior, Superman: The Movie and Unforgiven only got a standard Dolby Digital track, causing something of a backlash. Included in Pale Rider is an English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track.
Pale Rider has a fairly dynamic soundtrack that supports crisp dialogue, the whizzing of bullets and the footfall of spur-laden boots in addition to the Western themed score from composer Lennie Niehaus. The rear channels are used when necessary, and the subwoofer comes into play with galloping horses, dynamite explosions and the force of the high-pressure water used for mining. In comparison to the 5.1 Dolby Digital included (which does its job well enough), the Dolby TrueHD is fuller and more natural sounding.
Standard definition Trailers for Pale Rider and Unforgiven are the only “extras” included, and it is hardly worth considering them as such. Eastwood does not do commentaries, so an absence of one is not surprising. The previous DVD release had no behind-the-scenes or making of features, so it is quite possible that none even exist for this film. And, since Pale Rider is not exactly Warner Bros.’ highest-profile Blu-ray release, I would not have expected them to go to any extra effort to create one. I do hope, however, that Warner’s eventual release of the more classic Outlaw Josey Wales on Blu-ray will warrant a fuller supplement package.
Still, while no real extras are included, Warner Bros. has presented the best video transfer and audio we are likely to see for Pale Rider. This Blu-ray Disc is worth a rental for those who have missed it over the years, and Eastwood enthusiasts will be happy to add this to their Blu-ray collection.
- Score: 7.1
- Eastwood is always entertaining, and this Blu-ray version has by far the best audio and video we’ve seen for this film. Too bad the extras are lacking.
— Robert Searle