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HOW THE WEST WAS WON ($35) is a sprawling all-star western entertainment that is set during the nineteenth century and depicts several generations in a single family that made the move west, as the North American continent was opened to settlement. Directed by Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall, HOW THE WEST WAS WON is broken into a series of five vignettes that covers approximately a fifty-year time period in said family. Additionally, HOW THE WEST WAS WON is also notable for being one of the few films, of such epic scope, that by its design was perfectly married to the three-panel Cinerama process.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON opens in the 1830ís with The Rivers, which introduces westward bound settlers Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden), wife Rebecca (Agnes Moorehead) and daughters Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lily (Debbie Reynolds) as they travel down the Ohio River. Along the way, the family encounter Linus Rawlings (James Stewart), with whom Eve is immediately smitten. During the course of their travels, the group faces, not only the peril murderous river pirates, but also deadly rapids. HOW THE WEST WAS WON then leapfrogs forward to The Plains, where we encounter an older Lily working in a St. Louis dance hall, as well as professional gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck). Upon learning that she has inherited a California gold mine, Lily joins the wagon train with Cleve in pursuit. Wagonmaster Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) also takes an interest in Lily, who has joined up with Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter), the only other single female on the wagon train. However, even after surviving an Indian attack, all of our travelers find some disappointments as they reach their destination.

The Civil War introduces Eve and Linusí son Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard), who enlists in the militia against his motherís wishes. After the bloody Battle of Shiloh, Zeb questions his decision to enlist, but an encounter with Generals Ulysses S. Grant (Harry Morgan) and William Tecumseh Sherman (John Wayne), ultimately causes Zeb to rethink his military career. The Railroad finds Zeb a Lieutenant in the Calvary trying to keep the peace with the Indians. However, after railroad man Mike King (Richard Widmark) violates a treaty by cutting across Indian Territory, the Arapaho Indians respond by forcing a Buffalo stampede through the settlerís camp. After realizing it will be impossible to keep the peace, Zeb takes the advise of his fatherís old friend Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda) and heads for greener pastures.

The Outlaws is the final vignette and moves the story into the 1880ís, where we encounter a widowed and indebted Lily, who is pulling up stakes and moving to her only remaining asset, a cattle ranch in Arizona. Lily invites her nephew Zeb, now a married lawman, to run the ranch for her. When Zeb, his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and there children come to meet Lily at the train, Zeb encounters outlaw Charlie Gant (Eli Wallach), with whom the old lawman has had a bit of history. Suspecting that Gant and his gang intend to rob a gold shipment, Zeb calls upon fellow marshal, Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb), to assist him in guarding the gold and eliminating the threat that Gant ultimately poses. The cast of HOW THE WEST WAS WON also features Brigid Bazlen, Walter Brennan, David Brian, Andy Devine, Raymond Massey, Mickey Shaughnessy, Russ Tamblyn and Spencer Tracy as the narrator. Look for Harry Dean Stanton and Lee Van Cleef in uncredited bits.

Warner Home Video has made HOW THE WEST WAS WON available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.89:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The Blu-ray Disc release of HOW THE WEST WAS WON is also provided in a SmileBox presentation on disc-two, which has also been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Both of these 1080p presentations are so outstanding that HOW THE WEST WAS WON qualifies as the must have, high definition classic film release of 2008. The SmileBox presentation is my preferred way of viewing HOW THE WEST WAS WON as it comes as close to replicating the deeply curved three-panel Cinerama process, as one will ever experience at home. At times, I was giddy watching the dizzying Cinerama imagery as presented on Blu-ray in the SmileBox format. The flat Letterbox presentation is also extremely beautiful, but lacked that This Is Cinerama flavor.

Image sharpness and detail on both presentations are exemplary, as the three combined 35mm frames provide a wealth of resolution for high definition format to milk. Speaking of the three combined 35mm frames, the cleanup work done to minimize the join lines and match the color and density is astonishingly good. HOW THE WEST WAS WON now looks more like a cohesive single image than it ever has in the past. Color reproduction is truly wonderful- much of HOW THE WEST WAS WON has that eye popping IB Technicolor quality. Shots that contain process work are the only area where color fidelity, or even resolution, comes up a tiny bit short. However, this is not a flaw in the high definition presentation- just an accurate reflection of optical special effects work produced in 1962. Blacks are velvety and whites are crisp. Contrast and shadow detail are very strong. The film elements display few flaws. Grain is present in the image and HOW THE WEST WAS WON maintains an organic quality never appearing digitally over-processed.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. This is a classic film soundtrack rendered with at the current state of the art. Those familiar with motion picture soundtracks from this era are certain to be impressed. HOW THE WEST WAS WON has big, expansive and slightly exaggerated sound intended for the cavernous movie palaces of the day- where three-panel Cinerama was presented on enormous screens. The forward soundstage has dominance over the rear, but there is still enough ambience, fill and effects finding its way to the surround channels. Fidelity is very strong, but not up to modern standards. Still, the music sounds great. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. English, French Spanish, German and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as, as well as the supplemental materials. Filmmaker David Strohmaier, director of Cinerama, Inc., John Sittig, film historian Rudy Behlmer, music historian Jon Burlingame, and stuntman Loren James are on hand to provide a running Audio Commentary. Cinerama Adventure is a ninety-seven minute documentary that looks at the history of Cinerama process. A Theatrical Trailer closes out the disc based supplement. HOW THE WEST WAS WON features book styled packaging that contains forty-four pages of photos and production notes.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON is a unique motion picture experience that has been given two astonishingly beautiful high definition presentations on Blu-ray disc. The SmileBox presentation of HOW THE WEST WAS WON immerses the viewer into the film and restores much of the impact of the original three panel theatrical experience. As I stated above, HOW THE WEST WAS WON qualifies as the must have, high definition classic film release of the year. Absolutely, positively recommended.



How the West Was Won (Special Edition) [Blu-ray] (1963)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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