No Country for Old Men: Collector's Edition

Movie •••• Picture •••½ Sound •••• Extras •••½
I recently rewatched the Joel and Ethan Coen film Miller's Crossing - an uncredited nearly-scene-for-scene remake of The Glass Key, the 1942 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel - and I was pleasantly surprised that it stood up so well 19 years later. Its twist-and-turn-filled plot still had me guessing, the shots were all interestingly composed and lit, and I generally enjoyed the movie more than when I'd first seen it.

In comparison, I have now seen No Country for Old Men three times - including a second time on Blu-ray Disc, since this brand-new Collector's Edition follows the original Blu-ray release by a year - but this latest viewing offered few additional pleasures beyond the package's restocked extras. Not that this Western film noir hasn't as many cinematic delights to offer as Miller's Crossing does; not for nothing did No Country win Oscars for directing (both Coens), adapted screenplay (ditto), supporting actor (Javier Bardem), and Best Picture. It's just that the story didn't reveal fresh layers or depths. Bardem's happily-fatalistic-psychopathic-killer act, though entertaining, wasn't any richer, and the direction wasn't quite as engaging as it initially seemed. The exception to this minor general disappointment was Tommy Lee Jones's performance, which on further exploration offers fresh subtleties, just as the actor's talent seems to only improve with each new role.

As for the Blu-ray Disc itself, although detail is occasionally lacking (especially in dark clothes and in night scenes) and the odd shot can seem a little soft, for the most part this transfer is very good. The bark of a tree reveals every knot and texture, the expansive plains show every waving blade of grass, and Jones's face has that deliciously delicate network of lines. Contrast is equally good, with the stunningly stark 2.35:1 Southwestern landscapes and overcast skies exhibiting a wide range of tones; elsewhere, the garish décor of a cheap hotel pops out enthusiastically. Blacks are suitably deep, and skin tones look natural, as does the flowing blood.

In keeping with the film's general restraint, the sound mix is understated. Nonetheless, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is clear and open, so you can pick up the slightest whisper of a breeze and the barest hint of a rumble of thunder. The surround channels are very well involved in all of these subtle atmospherics. They're also used to more startling effect during the shotgun shootout, when blast after blast whacks by your head, spraying you with shards of audio glass while the bassy echo reverberates behind you. It was enough to send my normally unflappable cat flying off the couch.

Although this Collector's Edition uses a sound format that's different from that of the previous Blu-ray release, there's no resulting change beyond the new sonics seeming to be slightly louder. Ditching the uncompressed PCM 5.1 track for the more efficient DTS-HD one, however, allows for a whole new slew of extras - more than 5 hours' worth - to fit onto its single Blu-ray Disc. (The second disc in this set is a DVD that holds only a digital copy of the film.)

Up first, though, are three extras carried over from the previous edition: a 26-minute making-of featurette, a 10-minute piece on the Coen Brothers, and a 6-minute look at Jones's character. I remember that in a featurette on the Miller's Crossing DVD, everyone congratulated the Coens' originality in inventing the characters and the story, even though they created neither, and similar blind praise is equally forthcoming on cue in these three extras, none of which gives you anything new if you've actually seen the movie.

It's odd, therefore, that they're joined here by Josh Brolin's Unauthorized Behind-the-Scenes, a 10-minute pastiche of documentary material in which everyone criticizes and insults their directors while hinting at all kinds of unmentionable shenanigans going on between members of the cast. Although it reminded me of the wonderful faux scholarly/pretentious commentary that came with the Coens' Blood Simple DVD, it never comes close to equaling that classic extra's cleverness.

More engaging is the collection of interviews and Q&A panels that the stars and directors participated in to promote the film, amounting to more than 2 hours of videotaped and 50 minutes of radio-broadcasted talk and goofing around. Obviously, a lot of it is repetitive dross that makes you feel pity for the P.R.-circuit-dwelling filmmakers. Still, the Charlie Rose episode is quite fascinating (once again showing the brilliance of the interviewer). One of the radio shows interestingly covers the prolific and celebrated career of co-producer Scott Rudin (who was also co-executive producer of There Will Be Blood, the main Oscar rival that No Country for Old Men went up against). And an hour-long series of panels hosted by filmmaker Spike Jonze actually focuses on Roger Deakins's cinematography, Jess Gonchor's production designs, and the work of the sound team, all of which provides invigoratingly fresh, in-depth perspectives on the less-celebrated aspects of making a film.