Once Upon A Time In America

WSR Score5
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Warner Home Video
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Strong violence, sexual content, language, and some drug use
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Single Side, Dual Layer (BD-50)
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Sergio Leone
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Once Upon A Time In America is Sergio Leone's acclaimed gangster epic based on the novel "The Hoods" by Harry Grey. The story portrays 50 years of riveting underworld history and provides rich roles for a remarkable cast headed by Robert De Niro and James Woods as Noodles and Max, friends since their turn-of-the-century ghetto childhood and partners in a criminal empire during Prohibition. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, which depict their transition from young neighborhood friends who vow to stick together in their life of crime in turn-of-the-century New York City. Once Upon A Time In America was the final film of Sergio Leone's illustrious career. (Gary Reber)

Special features include the behind-the-story documentary Once Upon A Time: Sergio Leone (SD 19:34), with optional commentary by Richard Schickel, and the theatrical trailer.

The film was originally reviewed as a LaserDisc release in Issue 12 with a 1.90:1 matted frame, followed in Issue 74 as an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 DVD. The Blu-ray Disc™ is matted also at 1.78:1. This powerful stylized film puts the viewer in the middle of the Prohibition era, with its inspired cinematography that defines that period filmatically. Colors have a warm wash, with lots of browns and golds. Blacks are quite deep, but drop off in the darker scenes, with little definition, due in large measure to poor contrast and an overly dark presentation. While images can be quite sharp and detailed, there is some smearing and occasional loss of finer details, as well as some scenes that are fuzzy. At times, the picture has a soft, hazy appearance that seems to be intentional. Still, compared to the previous releases, detail is improved, though, not outstandingly so. The source element is revealing of dirt and minor scratches. Still, this is the best that this classic has ever looked and is sure to mesmerize. (Gary Reber)

The LaserDisc soundtrack was undistinguished mono, though, it was mixed in stereo. The DVD's Dolby® Digital 5.1-channel remastered soundtrack was noticeably restrained in spatial activity. The DTS-HD Master Audio™ 5.1-channel soundtrack retains the often-biased soundstaging toward center-channel mono. The dialogue also still sounds somewhat disjointed from the visuals, and isn't necessarily confined to the center channel, but bleeds into the stereo channels, not because of production spatial integration but just encoding error. Fidelity sounds dated, and on occasion some inherent distortion can be noticed, including dialogue and effects. Ennio Morricone's beautiful music score seems to be the most active element of the soundtrack repurposing, with some bass enhancement, including the LFE channel. Overall, the sound is dated but a decent presentation that supports the storytelling. (Gary Reber)