Geronimo: An American Legend
Geronimo: An American Legend recounts the proud history of the famous Apache warrior who refused to accept the destruction of his people and, through his resistance and bravery, earned the respect of those he fought against.
Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans) gives a dignified central performance as the eponymous Native American hero and is ably supported by Gene Hackman (Cisco Pike), Jason Patric (The Lost Boys), Robert Duvall (Badge 373) and, in an early role, Matt Damon, who all play his adversaries in the US cavalry.
Unjustly neglected upon its original release, Geronimo benefits from John Milius and Larry Gross’s respectful, considered screenplay which is elevated by the epic sweep of Walter Hill’s direction. A visually stunning film that beautifully captures the vastness of the frontier landscape, Hill’s film is given extra poignancy by Ry Cooder’s moving score.
Walter Hill’s Geronimo: An American Legend receives a new Blu-ray special edition from Indicator, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. Indicator was supplied the master from Sony and its delivered here with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The disc has unfortunately been locked to region B.
This may be an older master but I think it holds up very well. Film grain is a bit of a mixed bag, looking fine and clean in some shots, harsher and clumpy in others (or slightly scrubbed in others). But the image is generally sharp and clear, and at its best the textures of the costumes or the landscape stick out. Colours are very good, saturation of the browns and reds in the landscapes being especially striking, and the same can be said of the blues in the skies. Skin tones also look accurate. Black levels can be pretty deep but shadow detail is limited in some darker shots.
It looks like a lot of clean-up has gone on as nothing severe sticks out; just a handful of small marks. The film could use an all-new restoration (definitely 4K) but this holds up decent enough and is a clear improvement over the old DVD (I have not seen the Twilight Time edition).
The disc includes stereo and 5.1 surround options, both presented in DTS-HD MA. The 5.1 soundtrack (which is the only one I listened to) does an impressive job. Most of the content and action is focused to the fronts, moving things naturally between the three speakers, but music and action/battle scenes split out to the rear speakers in a very effective way, surrounding the viewer nicely. The audio is also clear, free of any damage or distortion.
Surprisingly, Geronimo has never received any sort of special edition, and Indicator corrects that, and then some, here. They start things off with a brand-new audio commentary western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke. It’s an easy going, laid back, yet informative track, the two talking about the film’s story, it’s look, music, and overall style. They cover Hill’s other westerns (and non-western work to an extent), get a little into the production history, and praise the performances when specific moments pop up. Where I probably appreciated the track most, though, is when the talk about the actual history and story around Geronimo, clearing up some myths and inaccuracies that have been passed down or presented in the film (though they don’t hold it against it). It’s full of great little observations and historical details, and it has a loose, “hanging out” vibe that I liked.
Indicator then gets a few new interviews, maybe all done remotely (at least two of them are). Walter Hill talks for 23-minutes about the film’s production, going over this original ideas and bringing John Milius on to write the script (most of which was scrapped as Milius wrote up more of a bio-pic). Hill also talks about sequences cut and shares some more personal feelings about the film. Ry Cooder also pops up to talk about the film’s score, explaining how his knowledge of folk music aided him and the difficulty he had in creating a score around native sequences. This can also be paired with a 72-minute Guardian interview with the composer from 1995, where he does talk about the film for a fair amount of time, but also gets into his other work with Hill, along with his work for director Wim Wenders, saying “that poor man” was uptight and stressed out during the making of Paris, Texas. It’s a great discussion about his work, though the audio is a bit rough.
The highlight to this release, though, is the new interview with actor Wes Studi. I was disappointed with how short it was (it's only 12-minutes), but Studi packs it with details about his early life, which includes his service in Vietnam, before joining a theater group upon returning. When he was cast for the role of Geronimo he did his own research around the man, talking to relatives, admirers, and those that didn’t think much of him, all so he could get a full idea of the man and present him as accurately as possible. He also recounts his thrill at working with so many great actors, admitting he was intimidated (which I ended up finding surprising). I’ve never come across an interview with Studi before, so I was especially thrilled with this inclusion.
Indicator’s release also delivers a couple of academic features. Firstly, they appear to be porting over an interview with director Bertrand Tavernier that he recorded for a French release of the film. Tavernier is an enormous fan of the film, his favourite of Hill’s, and for around 36-minutes he explains why, getting into his favourite scenes, the construction of the action, and the general look. He also cross-references older western films for good measure. Kim Newman also pops up for 18-minutes, talking about Geronimo and his representation in film through the decades, bringing up a number of notable titles. One of those titles is the 1912 silent film Geronimo’s Last Raid, which Indcator includes here, or at least the last reel of. The first reel is lost so notes explain the basic plot (sounds like some love triangle) before we get to the action of soldiers tracking down Geronimo. Though it hasn’t been restored the available print was scanned in 2K and despite the damage that remains I thought it looked pretty damn good. You also have the option to watch the film silent or with a new score. It runs 16-minutes.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and a small image gallery featuring some production photos and a few posters. The release also comes with a booklet, but I am working from a check disc and have not received a copy of the booklet yet. In all, Indicator has been in an impressive level of effort in gather material around the film and all of it is worth going through.
It’s nice to see the film finally get a lovingly put together special edition stacked with features and a solid enough presentation, even if that latter aspect could be better. Highly recommended for admirers of the film.