Gangs of New York (Remastered) Blu-ray Review

For fans of Martin Scorsese’s 2002 historical drama Gangs of New York, I among them, the quest for a decent home video presentation has been at best an infuriating one. The original July 2003 DVD was unwatchable. The image was blurry and edge enhanced, riddled with compression artifacts (despite spreading the 167-minute film across two discs) and layered with so much Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) that the actors all looked like wax dolls. Five years later, a Blu-ray edition was announced for release that July. Given Buena Vista Home Video’s solid track record up to that point with their Blu-ray presentations, hopes were understandably high that a new 1080p transfer would finally give the movie its small-screen due respect.

Unfortunately, the nightmare continued. For whatever reason, the Mouse House decided to reuse the same shoddy DVD transfer (albeit on one disc) for the film’s Blu-ray debut. While compression artifacts went away, others did not. Edge Enhancement was even more glaring than before thanks to the added resolution while DNR continued to obliterate film grain and make the cast look like refugees from Madame Tussauds’. The outcry from the online Blu-ray community was justifiably loud and vitriolic. With Disney never commenting on the issue, it appeared that the vocal protests were falling on deaf (mouse) ears, making a proper home video version of the film nothing more than a pipe dream.

Or so we thought. With little to no fanfare, Disney has gone back to the re-authoring board and given the film a brand new transfer. I am happy to report that the results are very satisfying (I refer readers to my July 2008 Gangs of New York Blu-ray review for thoughts on the film and the supplements, which are identical to the ones on this release). Beginning with using a different codec (AVC as opposed to VC-1), Disney’s “all new digital restoration” has rectified the previous disc’s punched-up colors, waxy flesh tones, lack of picture detail and increased contrast levels. This new transfer has a warmer color palette, skin tones that actually make the actors look human, a nice layer of film grain, often terrific picture detail and a reduced contrast level that might make the image a bit darker, but it also renders the image to be more film-like. As for the atrocious edge-enhancement, it is no more. Bill the Butcher is no longer in possession of a force field on his head during the film’s opening dustup.

In my original review, I had noted that both the 5.1 Dolby Digital and uncompressed PCM audio tracks came off better than the video, but still each had issues. The Dolby Digital track was a bit on the loud side and the voiceover narration on the PCM track sounded like it was recorded in an echo chamber. Both tracks have been replaced by a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track with noticeable improvements. All of the center-channel dialogue (include the narration) is as clear as a bell. The front stereo and surround channels are robust without appearing overcooked, while the LFE channel remains the same: not consistently used but quite effective when called for.

Fellow Gang fans, our quest is over. We finally have a copy of Gangs of New York that we can watch without recoiling in home video ownership horror. It might have taken seven years for it to happen, but at least it has happened. Hopefully the sales will be strong enough on this reissue that other studios will look at their less-than-stellar transfers (Cough! Gladiator! Cough!) will give them their proper respect as well.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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