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Blu-ray Review: The French Connection

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Written by Puño Estupendo

Director William Friedkin's 1971 cop thriller The French Connection has never looked this good.

Ever.

By his own admission, in his taped intro to the film, this Blu-ray release of Friedkin's film is the best there's ever been and is the closest to his original vision when he shot it back in 1970. The gritty, dirty New York City of 1970 serves as the canvas for the story in which Detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy Russo try to bust a shipment of heroin that's being smuggled into the city by freighter from Marseilles. A cat and mouse game evolves and what you end up with is one of the great masterpieces of the genre. More or less launching the careers of Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, this is as good a crime thriller as they come. Shot incredibly well by Friedkin and with a disturbing score by Don Ellis, this is a gem of a film for fans of the genre and should not be missed, especially with the release of this on Blu-ray.

With a complex system of color timing, the entire film has been digitally enhanced and looks incredible. In the low lit scenes, the grain of the film is almost palpable and my jaw was on the floor at the detail of this new transfer. One of the supplemental features created just for this release gives the viewer a rudimentary breakdown on how this was accomplished. This is not a recreation of how the film originally looked when it was shown in theaters in 1971, this is Friedkin kind of getting to play George Lucas with his film. The difference is that while many films that are revisited are inherently changed, The French Connection is just given a boost that makes it legitimately better. I know this movie well; I've seen it in every form including a 35mm print at a theater, broadcast television, VHS videotape, DVD (and now) Blu Ray. This is, without a doubt, the greatest version of it that I've ever seen.

For film aficionados, this is why you should invest in Blu-ray. I see this two-disc set as not only an awesome film with a load of interesting supplementals, but this is hitting a level that invests in the preservation of classic films. Included on the second disc are great featurettes covering everything from Gene Hackman's recollection of filming to William Friedkin meeting up with people that were the inspiration for the film in the first place. There's locations revisited, commentary tracks and just all sorts of good stuff as bonuses.

The 5.1 DTS audio track absolutely roars when it needs to but yet the dialogue is always right where you want it to be. There's no fidgeting back and forth with your volume like when a disc is too loud during the action but then the dialogue scenes are way too quiet. For those of you without the bigger audio set-up at home, you'll be pleased to know that it'll sound just fine to you as well, although you might want to turn it up a little louder so the famous chase scene really knocks your socks off. Don't know what chase scene I'm referring to? Well then there's another reason for you to get this disc!

William Friedkin's enthusiasm for this product is really apparent here. He's not the most charismatic guy or even an interesting storyteller verbally, but his appearances in so much of the featurettes (that were made specifically for the Blu-ray) kind of speaks for itself. This newest version of his film obviously impressed him quite a lot and I have to say it made quite the impression on me as well.

 

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