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Release Date: May 14th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1968

Once Upon a Time in the West - Paramount Presents 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

4K UHD Review By: M. Enois Duarte 

At the height of his creativity, Sergio Leone's classic epic Once Upon a Time in the West is a beautifully rhythmic masterpiece signaling the end of the mythic West with memorable performances from Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda while featuring one of Ennio Morricone's best musical scores. Celebrating its 55th Anniversary, Paramount brings the quintessential Italian Western to UHD with an excellent but also disappointing 4K HDR presentation, porting over the same audio options with new and archival extras. Overall, this UHD edition will be a divisive Recommendation where most will be more than satisfied while purists will likely be disappointed.

Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Two-Disc UHD Combo Pack, UHD-66 Dual-Layer Disc / BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc, Region Free
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p HEVC/H.265, Dolby Vision HDR / HDR10
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
English SDH, French, Spanish
Special Features:
Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Trailer, Blu-ray Copy, Digital Copy
Release Date:
May 14th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


Once Upon a Time in the West is a beautifully constructed and majestic opera of violence. Of course, those words are nothing new when describing Sergio Leone's cinematic masterpiece of Old West mythology brought to an end by capitalist greed. But few words can clearly express the film's magnificence and grandeur, capturing its folkloric scope and ambition, than that very description. I'm sure to meet some disagreements on this, but Leone's previous films, with their plenteous style, gritty realism, and thematic import, were all in anticipation for this lavish epic saga of the rugged, self-enterprising individual versus the wealthy, corporate tycoon. After revolutionizing the genre with his revisionist view of the West, Leone created what is possibly the greatest western ever made.

From a technical and academic standpoint, this elegant tale about the end of the American West and the death of the legendary figure of the fearless gunslinger is quite simply perfect. From a script by Sergio Donati, which was based on an idea by Leone and soon-to-be celebrated filmmakers Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, there's not a minute in the entire film that feels wasted or superfluous. Every scene and conversation has its purpose and delivers a great deal of weight to the storyline, which sees a small group of strangers brought together by the brutal murder of the McBain family. The straightforward plot is an ingenious allegory of the railroad as a harbinger of modernization and civilization, indicating the closing stages of the mythic frontier as a land of depravity and lawlessness.

Claudia Cardinale is McBain's new bride, Jill, who arrives from New Orleans to discover she's been made a widow and inheritor of her husband's land, a dry arid region with nothing around for miles. She represents the common person trying their luck at staking a claim in the vast, unchartered West. On her first day in Sweetwater, she meets the two men who will significantly affect her life — the leader of an outlaw gang calling himself Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and a nameless stranger known only as Harmonica (Charles Bronson). Both Robards and Bronson embody the morally ambiguous, romanticized desperado made popular by Clint Eastwood who discovers a hidden goodness and righteousness when confronted by something undeniably wrong. Here, it's a helpless woman forced to give up her land by a wealthy and powerful industrialist.

The man responsible for the death of Jill's family is a cold-blooded killer named Frank (Henry Fonda). He also typifies that aspect of the old west with a six-shooter at his side and incredibly fast at the draw, much like his eventual adversaries, Cheyenne and Harmonica. But the difference is he's aware that the age of the gunslinging outlaw is slowly coming to a close, so he tries his hand at the future of criminal endeavors: a businessman. His would-be mentor is the railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) whose name interestingly rings similar to J.P. Morgan. Although Morton continues to be a visionary and idealist — his ultimate aim is to one day reach the Pacific Ocean — his insatiable greed has so deeply corrupted the man that it has physically deformed him. He introduces the idea of an unchecked capitalist enterprise.

Aided by the gorgeous photography of Tonino Delli Colli, Leone infuses the operatic narrative with a deliberate, dawdling pace that actually examines the mechanics of violence. The film's now-famous opening demonstrates this best as three men wait for the arrival of a train transporting a man they were sent to kill. The scene works as a suspenseful buildup, but moreover, the sudden, abrupt outburst of gunfire is a sharp contrast to the West's calm and serene tranquility that preceded it. The nearly fifteen-minute sequence is also an homage to another iconic great in the genre, High Noon. In fact, Sergio Leone informs much of Once Upon a Time in the West with many references to other much-loved Western classics. In this way, the influential director explores the end of the Old West while also celebrating the films that immortalized and mythologized it. (Movie Rating: 100/100)

Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Paramount Pictures brings Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital Copy, granting users access to the 4K version with Dolby Vision and Dolby Digital 5.1 Plus audio. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc, and both are housed inside a clear keepcase with a glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a generic static screen with the usual options along the bottom.

Video Review


Leone's epic classic rides into the dusty, arid town of Ultra HD looking somewhat enfeebled due to a noticeable miscalculation on someone's part but overall, highly satisfying and sure to make the deed holder more than happy with their investment. Although likely using the same 2007 restoration of the original 35mm camera negatives by Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation, Paramount's archive team worked with L'immagine Ritrovata in 2018 to create a fresh, more recent remaster. And the results are a mix of excellent and one arguably upsetting drawback, which is the unfortunate presence of noise reduction, which is, in itself, neither so egregious as to completely ruin the picture quality but is nonetheless, at times, distractingly noticeable. 

The film was originally shot on the inexpensive, 2-perf Techniscope format with a native 2.33:1 aspect ratio awash in an unmistakable grain structure that stands out. When enlarged to the more common 2.35:1 and 2.39:1 widescreen ratios, that film grain is greatly exposed and more pronounced, giving the cinematography a thick, harsh grittiness that is one of the characteristic signature styles of the Italian Western. Unfortunately, much of that expected gritty graininess is largely missing in this new HEVC H.265 encode, looking significantly cleaner and more polished than in previous editions. Don't get wrong me, there still remains evidence of grain throughout the 166-minute runtime, but it's very light, barely visible and much more refined, which will probably be to the liking of some while purists will undoubtedly find it disappointing. 

At its worst, some of the finer details in the background can look smoothed out or as though scrubbed, such as the clouds in the sky or some of the minute features in the woodwork of the furniture or buildings. Occasionally, while still very light, the DNR work is noticeable in some of the faces, and a few scenes look quite soft and blurry, which can be chalked up more to the Techniscope format than anything else. However, thankfully, it's nothing as appalling as other releases we've seen in the past nor is it enough to ruin the film's enjoyment for a majority of viewers, frankly. In fact, at its best, the native 4K transfer boasts remarkably striking, razor-sharp details, from the fine stitching and texture of the clothing to the individual hairs and whiskers of the male cast and the ornate furnishings of Morton's railcar. On the whole, Leone's signature close-ups are incredibly revealing with life-like textures, exposing the small pores, negligible blemishes of the actors and every little bead of sweat. For the most part, the video can be quite stunning and downright gorgeous, the sort that would otherwise count as reference quality.

The biggest issue for this transfer is likely due disc compression. This two-hour and forty-plus minute epic is squeezed down to a BD-66 disc and doesn't even use all of that space. Apparently, the Kaleidescape download runs over 80 gigs on its own! This film requires a BD-100 disc to breathe and help that bitrate scratch a few more Mbps. It's far better than the included Blu-ray - that same runtime is punched down to a BD-50 disc with a lot of disc space shaved off for the extra features. 

The Dolby Vision HDR presentation also features a marked improvement in contrast and brightness balance compared to its HD SDR counterpart, showing brilliantly crisp and clean whites throughout while providing outstanding visibility in the distance. Black levels are richer and more accurate with excellent gradational differences between the various shades and strong delineation within the darkest, deepest shadows. Also, specular highlights show a notable and welcomed boost, looking tighter and narrower in the sunshine glistening off faces while supplying the edge of guns with a realistic, glistening polish and revealing slightly more details within the hottest spots. The majestic grandeur of Tonino Delli Colli's earth-tone cinematography is better appreciated as well, showering the action and drama in an attractively warm assortment of deep animated reds, tan and sepia browns, soft honey-like yellows, and the marigold oranges of lanterns. Facial complexions appear more accurate and appropriate to the hot climate, looking more naturally weathered and sunburnt. 

Overall, this UHD edition of Once Upon a Time in the West has some issues worth mentioning, which may or may not ruin the film's enjoyment for purists, but all things considered, the 4K HDR transfer looks remarkable and is the best the film has ever looked on any home video format. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 82/100)

Audio Review


Without an official word on whether Paramount also remastered the audio, we can safely assume the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the Dolby Digital 2.0 monoaural options are the identical pair from the 2011 Blu-ray release, which was also restored by Scorsese's Film Foundation from the original magnetic audio tracks. 

Opting to give the modernized version another listen, the results remain a terrific and splendid joy to listen to at home, giving fans a highly entertaining lossless mix they'll continue to love. Working mostly from the film's original sound design, the track has been elegantly enhanced to the rear speakers with very subtle ambient effects, employed only when a scene or the narrative requires it.  For example, in the sequence at the McBain household just before the entire family is gunned down, various critters can be heard throughout, filling the room with the sounds of desert wildlife. And with the receivers' Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality, those same atmospherics effortlessly spread into the overheads and interestingly feel natural. Caught in this mesmerizing moment, the sudden hush of silence is riveting and suspenseful. This creates an immersive soundfield that's wholly engrossing, terrifically adding to the film's overall experience.

The design is generally a front-heavy mix with precise, intelligible dialogue reproduction and excellent balance between the channels. The mid-range is consistent and delightfully expansive, rendering an upper-frequency response that's sharp and well-detailed. Ennio Morricone's much-loved and celebrated musical score takes great advantage of this, bleeding across the entire soundstage with rich clarity and warmth into the surrounds and heights. Possibly most shocking is a robust and effective low end that provides each gunshot and locomotive engine with a great deal of weight and presence. (Audio Rating: 84/100)

Special Features


For this UHD edition, Paramount Pictures ports over the same assortment of bonus features as the 2011 Blu-ray release but also throws in a couple of new supplements for good measure. 

  • NEW Audio Commentary with the hosts, Jay Jennings and Tom Betts, of the Spaghetti Western Podcast discussing various aspects of the production, its history and endearing legacy.
  • NEW A Look Back (HD, 6 min) with popular film critic Leonard Maltin sharing his thoughts and knowledge of the film.
  • Audio Commentary is pieced together from different recordings of film historians Sir Christopher Frayling and Dr. Sheldon Hall, directors John Carpenter, John Milius & Alex Cox, Bernardo Bertolucci and finally Claudia Cardinale. 
  • An Opera of Violence (SD, 29 min)
  • The Wages of Sin (SD, 20 min)
  • Something to Do with Death (SD, 18 min)
  • Railroad: Revolutionising the West (SD, 6 min)
  • Production Gallery (SD, 5 min)
  • Locations Then & Now (SD, 4 min)
  • Trailer (SD)

Celebrated as the finest — if not the greatest — western ever filmed, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West is a beautifully rhythmic masterpiece about the introduction of industry and technology signaling the end of the mythic West and the gunslingers of romantic lore. The classic epic stars some of the most memorable performances from Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda and features one of Ennio Morricone's best musical scores. This is Leone at the height of his creativity, a film with perfect poetic movement and balance. Celebrating the film's 55th Anniversary, Paramount Pictures brings the epic western classic to 4K Ultra HD with an excellent but also somewhat disappointing Dolby Vision HDR presentation, one that sadly suffers slightly from the application of DNR and disc compression but also can look quite remarkable and downright gorgeous. The studio also ports over the same pair of audio options — DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono — and the same collection of bonus features alongside two new exclusive supplements. Although this is a must-own for Leone and genre devotees, this UHD edition of the quintessential Italian Western will be a divisive Recommendation where a majority of average viewers are sure to be more than satisfied with the results while purists will likely see this as a disappointment.

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about the gear used for this review 

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