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Ultra HD : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: January 16th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1996

Lone Star - The Criterion Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

‘90s independent cinema saw some incredible peaks, one of them being John Sayle’s 1996 film Lone Star, a drama that breathlessly usurps western genre tropes to showcase cinematic poetry unlike few films have ever offered. The Criterion Collection is now responsible for bringing this much-requested title to 4K Ultra HD with a two-disc release that showcases a stellar new 2160p presentation of the film, plus a small selection of supplements to offer a bit of context. While the supplements package leaves a bit to be desired, fans will find much to enjoy in the great presentation of this sun-baked Western drama. This release comes Highly Recommended!

A keen observer of America’s social fabric, writer-director John Sayles uncovers the haunted past buried beneath a small Texas border town in this sprawling neowestern mystery. When a skeleton is discovered in the desert, lawman Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), son of a legendary local sheriff, begins an investigation that will have profound implications both for him personally and for all of Rio County, a place still reckoning with its history of racial violence. Sayles’s masterful film—novelistic in its intricacy and featuring a brilliant ensemble cast, including Joe Morton, Elizabeth Peña, and Kris Kristofferson—quietly subverts national mythmaking and lays bare the fault lines of life at the border.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED 4K UHD + BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director John Sayles and director of photography Stuart Dryburgh, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
  • One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
  • New conversation between Sayles and filmmaker Gregory Nava
  • New interview with Dryburgh
  • Trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by scholar Domino Renee Perez

    New cover by Jacob Phillips

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director John Sayles and director of photography Stuart Dryburgh
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p/HEVC
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.39:1
Audio Formats:
English 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Release Date:
January 16th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Up until Lone Star was released, American audiences were treated to decades upon decades of destructive legends about white heroes ruthlessly murdering natives then building society on their dead bodies. Lone Star both literalizes and humiliates such classic Western filmmaking by using narrative and aesthetic norms that pervade the genre against itself. Images like a towering white sheriff cascading their shadow throughout a swinging wooden-doored cantina filled with Black, Latinx and Native American people take on a different, more terrifying and destructive power. Part of this can be attributed to Sayles’ own mastery of telling the evolution stories over multiple time periods by blending the past and present, a truly remarkable thing that has always stuck with me. The more things change, the more they stay the same, unless we stop that cycle.

Lone Star picks up in Frontera, a Mexican border community with a rich, diverse population of Tejano, Black, Native American and white people. Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) is the sheriff of the town, stepping in the shoes of his recently diseased father who was the former sheriff, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey). Sam lives under the outsized reputation of his father and chafes against the local mayor, but the discovery of remains in a nearby desert threatens to smash the past and change the present. 

As you can probably tell by my fawning praise above, I love this film dearly. There’s plenty of film out there that pretend to upend the western genre in a way that’s kinder to the racist narratives that have held up the genre, so it should come as no surprise that someone as socially conscious and empathetic like filmmaker John Sayles was the one to show everyone up. He has the talent of using the frame itself as a way to inform and entertain. I think of sequences in which Kris Kristofferson’s racist deputy towers over people with his big revolver and threatening silent rage. Juxtaposed to McConaughey’s similarly stolid sheriff, although he’s very clearly hiding a deeper, more empathetic core that he can’t show.

And my god, the performances! Sayles cares deeply about each and every character involved in his canvas, and he trusts his performers by letting them own the frame. When they’re in the frame, it’s their story to tell. Elizabeth Pena, in particular, is so good as a woman constantly being asked to kowtow to those who have oppressed her people, trying to be an empathetic person while protecting herself from pain. She’s the perfect foil to Cooper’s sadsack sheriff, showing the life that has been sucked from him in a very interesting twist. 

Lone Star is truly one of the best films to come out of the 1990s, and it has ages incredibly well given the exact issues it pokes at still being so relevant today. The past is something we carry with us. It can either be destructive or used to grow out of the binds that tie us to it. 

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Lone Star comes home with a two-disc – UHD100 for the 4K and BD50 for the Blu-ray – set that comes housed in Criterion’s standard scanavo packaging. A fold-out booklet essay is included in the case as well. Both discs boot up to standard menu screens. The 4K disc has options to play the film and set up audio and video, while the Blu-ray offers all setup options and supplements from a single menu list. 

Video Review

Ranking:

"Forget the Alamo." Lone Star comes home in 2160p and aided by Dolby Vision HDR from Criterion. Sourced from a new 4K restoration of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by both Sayles and Dryburgh, this is a real stunner through and through. All those brown and earthy textures sing under a nicely layered grain field, plus black levels look so much inkier than in previous transfers. There’s a ton of great detail in close-ups to appreciate and the source is in incredible condition. The sun-baked visuals, those fuchsia Texas skies at night, those gorgeous shots of Cooper reflected through the windshield of his cruiser; it’s all really impressive to see in 4K here. Bitrate is consistently high for those exterior shots, bringing the most out of the highlights without clipping them. I found the Dolby Vision HDR layer to be very tasteful, avoiding rosy faces and other anomalies. This is a terrific presentation, through and through. 

Audio Review

Ranking:

Lone Star comes with the original 2.0 surround track presented with the DTS-HD MA codec. This film may not have the kind of sweeping soundscape you’d want from action films or westerns, it subtly uses the surround channels for effects of people engaging with one another. The music and dialogue are balanced very well, and I didn’t notice any damage to the source. Some terrific ambient effects fill the soundscape as well. Another great presentation.

Special Features

Ranking:

Now for somewhat disappointing news, the supplement package is pretty paltry, even by Criterion’s standards. That’s not to say that the included features aren’t worthwhile, as they very much are, but there’s under an hour of content to dig through here. Sayles is a wonderfully chatty director and gives remarkable context to his films, so I’m curious if there was no way to nab him for a commentary. Either way, the conversation featurette is great, plus the interview with Dryburgh is fun because he goes heavy on the tech details for how they shot everything. It’s a pleasure to hear how a master cinematographer makes the most of a limited budget. 

Blu-ray Disc

  • Conversation between filmmaker Gregory Nava and John Sayles (HD 38:05)
  • Interview with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (HD 18:19)
  • Trailer (SD 1:46)

Final Thoughts

John Sayles’ classic 1996 film Lone Star has finally found its way home with a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray package from Criterion. The new 4K presentation of the film is nothing short of stellar, plus the surround soundtrack makes great use of the soundscape. The supplement package is rather paltry, but fans will find more than enough to enjoy with the gorgeous new transfer. This release comes Highly Recommended

Order Your Copy Of Lone Star on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray