For three men, the Civil War wasn’t hell, it was practice in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. A genre-defining entry for Spaghetti Westerns, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach star as the iconic titular trio out for a fortune of stolen gold conveniently cached in the middle of the Civil War.
After numerous home video releases with often mixed or muddled results, Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers an excellent if still slightly problematic release with this 4K UHD transfer of the Theatrical Cut. With an excellent pair of audio options and most of the better bonus features ported over, this disc may not end the debate for the quintessential release of this film, but it’s arguably the best to date. Highly Recommended
Correction - I previously mentioned the 2008 disc release being the one with the horrible yellow/brown color timing when I meant the 2014 L'Immagine Ritrovata restoration disc. Those mentions have now been corrected. Apologies for the confusion. My dislike of the 2008 disc is due to the extended cut and the terrible over-processed surround mix on top of the dated DVD era master.
“What more can be said about a truly classic piece of cinema? What more could be said film that has been watched, critiqued, analyzed, dissected, digested, and regurgitated by more critics, fans, and college film professors that can easily be counted? That's the conundrum one comes into when taking a critical stance on a film like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. For the last fifty years, Sergio Leone's magnum opus of the Spaghetti Western has dominated cinematic conversations. At this point, the film is virtually above reproach. Some people may not love it as fervently as others, but very few can say they don't like the film or honestly state that it is "overhyped" - at least not without stirring up a hornets' nest of backlash. All I can really do is speak about this film anecdotally and in the terms of what the film means for me and its importance in shaping my love for movies.
I'll state outright that I have an undying love for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. My father introduced me to this film when I was very young. In point of fact, it was one of the first VHS tapes my father ordered alongside my other favorite film Conan The Barbarian, and a couple of James Bond movies from Columbia House and started our home movie library. I was all of four years old at the time, so without overstating things, I've watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for over thirty years. At three to four viewings a year (minimum) on average, I've probably seen this film anywhere from 175 to 200 times ballpark guess - and that's lowballing that estimate.
I love the film's simple story of three men out for buried treasure. I love Clint Eastwood's smooth performance, I love Lee Van Cleef's steely menace, and I especially love Eli Wallach's manic energy. I love how that none of the lead characters are heroes in the traditional sense. Each of them is a career criminal and a murderer only with varying degrees of honor and respect. I love Ennio Morricone's hypnotic score - I used to listen to this soundtrack every night before falling asleep as a kid. I love how every time I see this film, it's still exciting to watch even though I know every twist and turn in the plot. I still to this day find some amusing detail or moment that I'd never noticed before and I feel the pressing need to backtrack the scene and watch it all over again. To put it simply, I'm a massive fan of this film.”
And as I said at the close of that review, were The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to arrive on 4K UHD, I would add it to my collection of releases. Including KLSC’s excellent Sergio Leone Collection set and the iTunes 4K UHD, this is now my tenth home video release of this film. I never tire of it and as home video technology keeps improving and evolving - whatever the next format ends up being, I’ll buy that too. If they create cinematic contact lenses, I would suffer through sticking those discs into my tiny Bavarian eye sockets just to watch this movie on the biggest screen imaginable!
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray for the first time thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics in a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray set. The 4K UHD is pressed on a standard region-free BD-100 disc with the 1080p copy occupying a Region A BD-50 disc. Both discs are housed in a standard black keepcase with o-card slipcover and reversible insert artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Fans of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly have been waiting a long time for this one. There are particulars of this release I can’t answer fully - namely why no HDR (I’ve heard a range of reasons from rights holder issues to cost and beyond), but I will say that after looking at virtually every release I have of this film from the first DVD to the 2008, 2014, and 2017 Blu-ray releases, this 2160p native 4K SDR transfer is the best of the bunch by a mile. It’s not without its own unique set of problems, but the numerous positives outway the few negatives.
After undergoing new color timing, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly now sports a desirable balance between the overly pee-yellow/mustard-brown timing of the 2014 Blu-ray and the hazy icy-blue tones of KLSC’s own 2017 disc. From the opening credits, the red title cards are a richer red dipping deeper into crimson as the rest of the credits showcase impressive primary pop with rich navy blues and bold yellows. When that gunslinger’s face takes up the full screen in the opening shot of the movie you can already feel and appreciate the color timing differences giving flesh tones a more natural healthy pallet than the previous Blu-ray releases. This timing carries on throughout the film with excellent results all the way through the final iconic standoff.
Likewise, black levels and white balance are much improved. From my understanding for the 2017 disc, KLSC had to rework the old 2014 master and dial back the yellow to a rough approximation. The problem with that was the 2014 master already had pretty rough black levels that would skew blueish/gray and the recoloring for the 2017 disc only highlighted that side effect. That’s been greatly mitigated with this new master allowing for blacks to approach that deep inky color while whites are nice and crisp without the hazy blooming tendencies of the previous releases.
Next on the hit list, details and fine film grain. While I would admit the 2014 disc had nice details and the 2017 disc made some improvements, this release again outpaces those two discs. I felt like I was seeing textures and patterns in clothes and scenery I’d never noticed before with much-improved clarity. Film grain is fine and organic, only thickening around the film’s optical transitions or when the characters get their namesake cards in the beginning. Now the included 1080p Blu-ray does showcase this new master and not a rehash of the 2017 disc. And while it does sport many of the same better attributes of the 4K disc, you can see the differences in clarity and grain thickness. This 1080p disc is a bit noisier in the grain department and black levels aren't quite as strong. So even though this 4K disc doesn’t enjoy an HDR push, it’s still a notable improvement between formats.
But, this wouldn’t be a The Good, The Bad, and Ugly release without some controversy. Again, I don’t know the full reasoning why there isn’t any HDR. I’ve heard many reasons and all of them plausible enough, but that shouldn’t give you pause in picking this disc up. The main problem areas I have for this disc are with some lowlight scenes that suffer some mild macroblocking. On my OLED display this was a minimal effect, not overly distracting, but present all the same. I actually didn't notice it my first time through the film. On the QLED display in my office, it was much more noticeable. So depending on your setup and calibrations, you may have a varying experience with that compression anomaly.
Now the black levels for these scenes - namely Angel Eyes’ earliest scenes or when Tuco is talking to his brother at the mission - they’ve always had iffy black levels either being too hazy or outright crushed, so this is just the latest issue with those scenes. The rest of the film looks magnificent and for me, this really is the best it’s ever looked on home video. I paid full price for the iTunes 4K UHD digital copy of this movie and I honestly wish I hadn’t - it offered little if any improvement to the 2008 Blu-ray. If someone releases this again on 4K with a new color timing or with HDR, I’ll pick that one up too and we can have this conversation all over again! Until that day, I’m very happy to have this on my shelf and occupying my player for the next few days.
The, Good, The Bad, and The Ugly comes packed with what sounds like the same two DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks that were issued with KLSC’s 2017 disc - which isn’t bad at all. I get worried with every release that the tortured overworked and suped-up monstrosity surround mix from FOX/MGM will creep up and ruin the show all over again. Both of these tracks offer clear dialog, robust sound effects and the iconic Ennio Morricone score sounds amazing. If I have a preference I usually opt for the 2.0 mono mix, it just sounds more natural to my ears, but the 5.1 mix is no slouch and fills up a home theater nicely. It comes down to dealer choice in the audio department.
If you’re a completionist, you’re not going to want to get rid of your KSLC 2017 disc. This set offers a fine assortment of great bonus features - but it’s not everything that was previously offered. In addition to both cuts, the 2017 disc had two additional audio commentaries on top of numerous other extras that just didn’t make it over. Bonus features are spread over both discs here, but the bulk of the best materials has been saved for the 1080p disc. It’s cool to see the extended sequences and deleted scenes in 4K, but again, I’ve never thought they added anything so I don’t miss them not being in the main feature. Also worth noting, the ported-over featurettes and documentaries now display the proper framerate without the compression issues of the 2017 release, so that’s another plus for this set.
The 4K UHD Blu-ray
The 1080p Blu-ray
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is a masterstroke of filmmaking from Sergio Leone. It’s Old West Action on an epic scale. Every frame of this film is beautifully captured with three colorful characters leading the story. Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach headline this show each bringing their own brand of leading man swagger. This is one of the few films I never tire of and after hundreds of viewings, I still see new things to appreciate.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics returns to the concluding chapter of The Man With No Name Trilogy for the second time to deliver fans what is arguably the best transfer to date with this 4K UHD Blu-ray. Each release of this film has had its own set of quibbles among fans, and this will be no different. But as imperfect as it may be, it’s still far and away better than anything we’ve had on disc - or digital - to date. This image strikes a better color balance between the 2014 and 2017 releases while offering its own set of improvements in clarity. Cap it off with terrific audio tracks and a solid assortment of ported-over bonus features and you have an all-around great disc well worth adding to the collection. Highly Recommended.