SRP $29.99 2.35:1(16:9) DOLBY DIGITAL/ DTS 5.1 BUENA VISTA

BUENA VISTA is releasing Martin Scorsese’s “THE GANGS OF NEW YORK” as a special edition dvd.   As with many fans of the director, this reviewer waited with great excitement for the film to finally be released in theaters, and when the film’s theatrical trailer was finally revealed, became even more excited.  The trailer displayed the kinds editing and imagery which belonged to the director’s finest films.   While ultimately disappointed, one can’t help but still recommend the film due to its sheer boldness. Even with narrative problems, miscasting(Cameron Diaz is horrible!), the film has many unforgettable moments, and is still better than the majority of films having been released this past year.

This epic(167 minutes)film opens with a spectacular sequence, as the viewer is instantly drawn into the makings of a battle about to take place.  As we dolly with the main characters, led by Priest Vallon(Liam Neeson)as he meets up with, and is followed by his fellow Irishmen, the intensity builds and builds.  We move with him as he travels overly crowded, dark corridors, eventually breaking out into the light of day, wherein one could hear a pin drop. Seconds later, the first signs of the other combatants emerge onto the streets, waiting for what is certain to be a bloody battle. It’s brilliantly put together, and it’s so well executed, that one also knows it will be hard for the rest of the film to live up to  these first minutes.  While there are many scenes that actually come close to it, none reach the same level of success, and many seem pointless.

Vallon is brutally killed, as are many others, and his young son, having borne witness to his murder, escapes, bent on revenge.  This revenge is put into play years later as the son grows up to become Leonardo DiCaprio, who is actually quite good here.  Of course, with the exception of the dismal Diaz, everyone is terrific.  Daniel Day Lewis manages a daring role wherein likeable and sadistic qualities merge into one.  Ultimately, he “is” evil, but the script and Scorsese want the viewer to be more empathic with him than he deserves.

The story attempts to capture events centering around New York’s “Five Points” within the backdrop of the civil war, at a time when Irish Immigrants are landing in New York’s harbors by the thousands on a daily basis, facing scorn, but often enlisting “or” being drafted to fight in a war the don’t want care about.  A bigger conflict, involving Lewis’s character, DeCaprio, and others, involves the fight for control of the city, and America.

This is a huge canvas, with huge issues, and ultimately, Scorsese bites off more than he can chew, but it’s still impossible not to want to sit down at the table these characters sit at.  One may not like many of the characters or the complete menu, but it’s a meal not to be missed!

BUENA VISTA has preserved the film’s correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with 16:9 enhancement.  For some reason, even with dual layers, BUENA VISTA has chosen to spread the film out over two discs, an annoyance that should have been avoided. Sure, there are plenty of extras, but these could have all been allocated to the 2nd disc.

With that said, the image is wonderful. Colors are flawlessly presented here, and often vibrant.  Contrast is excellent, with deep blacks and grays, allowing for exquisite detail in even the darkest scenes, of which there are many.  Fleshtones appear natural throughout.

BUENA VISTA has included both a Dolby Digital “and” DTS 5.1 mix for this release!  While both present an aggressive array of effects, the DTS has an edge due to its superior bass.  Scorsese makes the most of this mix, utilizing even minor effects for dramatic impact, and both mixes are great in presenting them with perfect clarity.  Subwoofers are put to great use during numerous fight sequences, and the music is well complimented throughout.  Dialogue is always intelligible and free from distortion.

Scorsese provides a sensational commentary track, in which the film’s “long” development is discussed, as well as the historical relevance to many scenes.  It’s a great commentary.
Fans of the film will also enjoy the various featurettes that have been included.  They all cover various aspects of the film, including costume design, production design, and more!
Perhaps the best supplement is “Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York,” originally aired on the Discovery Channel, it explores the myth and reality of the story.

There’s even more supplements than already mentioned, making a great disc even more desirable, and worthy of any collection!