The Mercenary - DVD Comparison
From The Spaghetti Western Database
The Mercenary is the first (and arguably best) part of Corbucci’s Zapata trilogy, which further includes Compañeros and What am I doing in the Middle of the Revolution (some will argue that Compañeros is the best of the three). The Mercenary is, in other words, a political movie, but there’s no need to worry: it’s not and a dour and dogmatic treaty, but a lively and eventful action movie. The script, written by (among others) Luciano Vincenzoni and Corbucci himself, was based on an story written by (among others) Franco Solinas, which was based on an original play by Bertold Brecht (who most probably wrote this all by himself). The project was only offered to Corbucci after the original director Gillo Pontecorvo (who had won the Oscar for best foreign language movie for The Battle of Algiers) had turned it down.
Like the other parts of the trilogy, it has a European professional (in this case a Polish mercenary) who gets involved in the third world turmoil of the Mexican revolution. He is first hired by a mine owner to transport a load of gold across the border to the US, but subsequently befriends a Mexican peon who more or less accidentally has become a revolutionary, and is willing to pay him (and treat him like a king) in exchange for a series of lessons in modern warfare. Other characters involved are a lovely peasant girl and a second, more ruthless mercenary, who was humiliated by the peon/revolutionary, and therefore wants revenge. The Mercenary is one of the most accomplished movies of the other Sergio, visually stunning, ferociously violent and totally wonderful. You can read a full review of the movie here: Film Review
For quite some time it was a bit problematic to watch this movie in its full glory. The Japanese SPO disc was English friendly and in widescreen, but the transfer was not anamorphic and the disc way overpriced. The Italian Mondo Home release was anamorphic, but offered only Italian audio. Other releases were either cut or full-screen. Recently two excellent releases have become available, first a French release by Wild Side, then the long awaited German release by Koch Media. In this article both new discs are compared to the Italian disc, which is still available.
# The screenshots - Mondo Home (first) v. Wild Site (second) v. Koch Media (third)
(The Screenshots are thumbnails, please click to enlarge)
Video: I have watched the Italian disc several times and seriously thought it wasn’t bad, but when compared to the new discs, its shortcomings immediately come to light. The image is blurred and colours are all but vibrant, they’re actually rather dull and most of the time you have the idea there’s a blue or grayish veil hanging in front of the picture. The image also seems to be cropped a little left and right, in some parts more than in others. Instead of 2,35:1, the image is more like 2,25:1. Both the French and German disc have good video quality, especially for a film of this age, but the image of the respective discs is quite different. The image of the French Wild Side disc is sharper and colours are warmer, but at the same time it’s grainier and there’s more print damage in the form of hairs and (occasionally quite persistent) white specks. The German Koch Media disc looks cleaner (although there still is some print damage visible), but the image is rather soft and colours are less vibrant than on the French disc. The bitrate on both discs is similar (approximately 6,5 Mb/sec), so it seems both companies have made different choices. In the end it may all come down to personal preferences, but I think the French disc has the edge here.
Audio: Again the Italian disc falls behind with only two Italian soundtracks, one 5.1 surround, the other 2.0 mono. The surround track is of course a fake, but it’s not a bad track; it is loud and immersive, but occasionally seems a bit ill-balanced. I therefore prefer the mono track. Both the French and the German disc offer three language tracks, French (Wild Side), German (Koch) plus Italian and English (both). The audio quality of both discs is very good, and it’s not easy to appoint a winner here. I played the discs on two different sound systems, a surround system, and a stereo system. Played in Dolby Pro-Logic II both discs offer you a minor surround experience, the Koch media disc a tiny bit more than the Wild Side disc. Although the bitrate of the French disc is higher (256 kb/sec versus 192 kb/sec), the Koch Media disc seems to have the upperhand, but it’s very close.
Subtitles and interactivity: The French disc starts with a (rather long) promotional spot but luckily it can be skipped by using the menu button. The major problem of the disc is that the French subtitles are forced and that it’s impossible to change between language versions on-line; you have to return to the menu to pick another language track and there’s no option to play the Italian and English language tracks without subtitles (I managed to suppress them on my PC though). The subtitles are well-positioned and not too big. The subtitles of the German disc can be suppressed and it’s also possible to change between tracks on-line. If your player does not offer the possibility to change the position of the subtitles, you’ll have the problem that both text lines are in the picture (one should be in the black bar). The Italian disc offers optional Italian subtitles for the Hard of Hearing. For people studying Italian, this may still be a reason the purchase the disc …
Extras: Koch Media wins hands down. Apart from some written biographical info and two publicity spots, the Italian disc has no extras. The French disc has a (good) introduction by Jean-François Giré and a few other things such as a photo gallery, biographical notes and internet links, but not too much effort is put into it; just compare their photo gallery to the one offered by Koch media: the French gallery is over before you know it, the German gallery is seemingly interminable. Koch also offers trailers, a booklet, a lovely location comparison ('then & now'), and an interesting feature entitled ‘How to make a Revolution’, with interviews with (among others) Luciano Vincenzoni, Nora Corbucci and Franco Nero.