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Young Guns Blu ray review from Lionsgate
on 16 November 2017
Christopher Cain's rootin tootin all guns blazing Brat Pack western for the late 80's MTV crowd arrives on a rather lacklustre Blu ray from Lionsgate. Saddled with a poor 1080p transfer and little in the way of the extras the only real advancement over the DVD release is the inclusion of a 6.1 channel DTS HD High Resolution audio track.
As a footnote it is worth pointing out that the UK and US releases both from Lionsgate appear to be identical and that the US disc is region free and not locked to A as listed here on Amazon.
This 1988 re-telling of the myth of Billy The Kid begins in Lincoln County circa 1878 with English rancher John Tunstall (Terence Stamp) picking up street urchin Billy (Emilio Estevez) who is on the run for murder. The kind hearted Englishman takes Billy back to his homestead where he employs a group of rebellous ragamuffin 20 something's as Regulators with whom he entrusts his precious cattle heard. In return for patroling his ranch and protecting his investment from the ruthless Santa Fe Ring Tunstall offers the boys a roof, three meals a day and the chance to learn to read and write. Amongst this group of promising young men is the learned Josiah 'Doc' Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland), level headed leader of the pack Dick Brewer (Charlie Sheen), tobacco chomping 'Dirty' Steve Stephens (Dermot Mulroney), plucky pugilist Charlie Bowdre (Casey Siemaszko) and the cool as ice Mexican Indian Chávez y Chávez (Lou Diamond Phillips). Returning to the ranch after a joyous New Years Eve shindig Tunstall and his team of Regulators are ambushed by the men of rival cattle rancher Murphy (Jack Palance) which leaves John dead. In an attempt to apprehend Murphy and bring in his murderous gang the Regulators are deputised at the request of sympathetic local lawyer Alex (Terry O'Quinn) a long time friend of John Tunstall. Led astray by the wild tempered Billy the boys soon begin ignore their orders and go on a bloody vendetta fueled rampage to avenge the death of their beloved friend and mentor. Branded as outlaws they become part of a huge manhunt which sees Billy and his pals being pursued by bloodthirsty bounty hunters, corrupt lawmen and even the US Cavalry.
Loud, brash and filled with an over emphasis on macho posturing and violent gun battles all set to an over exaggerated 80's rock score Young Guns could be looked upon as a complete exercise in style over substance or if you will the western equivalent of Top Gun. Indeed all of the elements outlined above have made it so that some 30 years after it's original release Christopher Cain's picture hasn't aged particularly well but despite all of it's glaring faults is a movie I find hard to be too critical of. As a child of the 80's I absolutely loved Young Guns so much so I pretty much wore out my VHS tape from Vestron and even now I can still recite dialogue exchanges verbatim. Of course this was never intended to be a thinking man's horse opera but despite it's glossy facade and hip young cast adheres well to the traditional story of Billy The Kid whilst still pandering to the needs of it's intended audience. Director Christopher Cain injects his movie with plenty of energy meaning the narrative never lags despite the structure of the film being somewhat episodic and the plentiful action scenes whilst hardly the best in terms of choreography are at least tense and exciting if a little lightweight. The ensemble cast is pretty special too mixing faces of old with up and coming stars of the future and despite being rather misplaced and bombastic in it's approach how can you not love that incredibly 1980's soundtrack.
Slight on plot but big on nostalgia, Young Guns is a pure 80's guilty pleasure which will always be best remembered for pitting the old West against the Brat Pack of the era and coming out as an entertaining and well balanced action movie in it's own right.
Hailing from the infancy of the Blu ray format, this Lionsgate disc of Young Guns is now over 10 years old and it shows. Presented in an AVC encoded MPEG-4 1080p transfer and framed at 1.78:1 (and not 1.85 as it states on the sleeve) this misses out on all the vital attributes that you would normally associate with a high definition image often displaying characteristics more in line with an upconverted DVD.
I must admit that Young Guns has never looked too hot on home video whether it was VHS or DVD which I often attributed to the rather bland almost TV movie like cinematography and lack of artistic polish. This Blu ray continues the trend with a remarkably flat image that is lacking in both depth and filmic detail so much so this could almost pass for video and not the 35mm it was shot on. The bright daytime scenes do appear stronger than standard definition and early moments around the dusty town and John Tunstall's farm are quite possibly the best. Close ups of character faces and apparel fair ok too with some noticeable texturing although occasional edge enhancement is visible disrupting background details such as trees or buildings and noise can be an issue with even the opening credits displaying jagged edges around text. Contrast is an area which is also lacking and one of the main reasons this can look so unashamedly dull and lifeless. It's not so much of an issue during the sunlit moments as it is during interiors shots but coupled with weak black levels and less than proficient compression produces poor shadow delineation in these areas too. Again this has always been an issue with this movie but I'm sure this could and should look far better than it does here.
Colours are handled well enough considering the rather muted palette capturing the sandy locales and blue skies accurately although skin tones can appear over saturated and flushed and hues sadly have a tendency to be rather grey, subdued and milky.
Despite the many problems with this release the image is on the whole mostly clean with only miniscule amounts of age related wear and grain especially around sky lines does come across as reasonably organic. That said this is still a weak and extremely dated transfer and one that is crying out for a new scan.
Young Guns blasts onto Blu ray with a choice of three audio options which include a 24bit DTS HD High Resolution 6.1 ES mix at 3039kbps, a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX variant at 640kbps and a two channel Dolby Stereo version at 192kbps.
I opted for the 7 channel DTS version and despite this not being encoded in the full bells and whistles lossless HD Master codec produced a surprisingly open if rather limited soundstage which sadly from time to time showed it's age. Dialogue was almost always clean and well prioritised in the centre channel whilst foley effects shared the space well. Stereo imaging could sound slightly flat, clunky and unimaginative but is most probably accurate to the original Dolby stems and the surround channels did chip in with whizzing bullets, chirping birds and occasional musical cues. Overall detail could come across as lacking and certain elements did exhibit a rather harsh edge but the toe tapping score carried some range and verve and the many gunshots and galloping horse hooves thundered through the LFE channel with some surprising weight and depth. As to be expected this doesn't sound like a modern movie soundtrack but is just fine for what it is and far exceeds the visuals although a tad more volume would have been beneficial as I found I had to crank my receiver past my usual reference level.
The included Dolby EX variant sounded essentially the same sharing similar characteristics to it's higher bitrate counterpart whilst the two channel mix was less involving without the directionality of the mult-channel tracks.
Unfortunately Lionsgate didn't see fit to include any worthwhile extras for the Blu ray premiere of Young Guns offering only a pop up trivia track that plays out whilst the movie is running and a rather basic 30 minute Billy The Kid documentary.
It is worth noting that the German release from Concorde adds the audio commentary with stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko that was found on the special edition DVD and also provides a 5.1 DTS HD Master soundtrack although having never seen this I can't say if the picture is a notable improvement over the Lionsgate disc even though it has been reported to have a higher bitrate.
Young Guns may not fall into the top tier western category but then it would be unfair to judge it against the likes of The Searchers or even Dances With Wolves as it really isn't that type of movie. Thankfully everything I loved about Christopher Cain's film in the 80's still pleases me now and as a nostalgic hark back to my favourite decade for guilty pleasures remains a firm favourite despite it's faults.
Unfortunately the transition to Blu ray for Young Guns hasn't been a smooth one and Lionsgates's disc is definitely a notch or two below standard with a poor high definition transfer which is barely a step up from DVD and throw away extras. A really missed opportunity and the perfect example of a solid four star movie languishing in a one star disc. Here's to hoping this gets the special edition treatment in the future along with it's entertaining sequel "Blaze Of Glory" which is still to receive a Blu ray release.