Once Upon a Time in the West (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

There aren’t any conversations on western films where Sergio Leone doesn’t come up. His signature style and seamless way of making Italy look like the American West brought iconic images that are burned in film fans’ memories.  Once Upon a Time in the West is one of Leone’s crowning achievements. This is a unanimous point. Even without seeing this or any of his films at length, I know you’re reading this envisioning sun-scorched faces of tough cowboys and busty strong women looking at you with emotional eyes. Come on, admit it.  Now, Paramount as part of the Paramount Presents line has released a 4K Limited Edition of the film. Read on about my thoughts on the film and the presentation and click the cover art at the end for a paid link to order yourself a copy!




The sun is high, and the day is hot. A group of silent baddies waits at a train station for a nameless person. Flies land, water drips…It’s a nearly nail-biting scene. The credits begin to roll and there is nothing but the sound of nature. Once the stranger arrives, he brandishes a harmonica and begins to play a menacing melody.  Then a barrage of violence happens.  Over the course of nearly 20 minutes, we have zero dialogue, and lots of atmosphere. What we have on display here is Sergio Leone going to work.  The setup is something we are on the edge of our seats waiting for the payoff of.  We are nervous, anxious, and nearing fear as we watch the bad guys wait. What’s going to happen?! We wait and we hold our breaths.

The whole of Once Upon a Time in the West plays this way.  The tension is built in the limited dialogue, the stretches of silence and the long takes, such beautifully lensed photography, carrying us through.  The length for modern audiences would be tedious, and admittedly for me it was, however, the style is undeniable, and the payoff of the film is incredible.  As we face Sweetwater with Jill, Cheyenne, and Harmonica, we too feel like we’re part of this world.  It’s dirty, dark, scary, and unlike any other Wild West we’ve seen before. The pleasure of that is that when we are done, we are exhausted.  Cue the emotional response. You may feel relieved. You may be crying.  You may be happy the film is over.  You may be exhausted.  Any emotional response could be the right one.

I went into Once Upon a Time in the West thinking there would be more talking and more action. The slow burn nature of the film tested my patience, and it took a few stops and starts to get through it. I am admittedly not the target audience of this western, but I was rewarded by a beautiful vision of how western films are made. This was revolutionary in 1969 and carries that iconic badge to this day.  There is no wonder that the film is so revered, and I am so glad to have had the chance to see the film.  It’s clear to see why America’s greatest filmmakers love this film and love Sergio Leone. His work is artistic, yet commercial. The whole fast, loose and cheap angle works because you go into the films to be taken on a ride. This film is most definitely a ride. Even if it slows down at times, there’s no denying Once Upon a Time in the West’s reach.  There’s a reason it’s so significant and nobody can counter that ideal.


Stills are for promotional use only and not from the 4K UHD Blu-ray

Encoding: HEVC/H.265

Resolution: 4K

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

HDR: Dolby Vision

Layers: BD-66

Details: One of the most iconic and influential movies ever made, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST has been restored from the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative by Paramount’s archive team, L’Immagine Ritrovata and The Film Foundation. This restoration honors the 2007 Film Foundation photochemical restoration overseen by legendary director Martin Scorsese by matching its build and color palette.  The result is the definitive home release of the film, which features the 165-minute extended cut restored to its glory.

Depth:  The focus of the film is sharp. Almost too sharp.  There is not a natural look to the shots and many of them do still look quite good, but the foregrounds and backgrounds look almost too clean to be from 1969.

Color Reproduction: Dolby Vision gives us a very nice, bright color palette and even with the film looking overly sharp and smooth, the color palette appears warm and accurate.

Black Levels: Black levels vary from time to time. This could be due to the new transfer, or It could be inherent to the source.

Flesh Tones: Faces look overly smooth and processed.

Noise/Artifacts: None, however this is problematic in this presentation as the grain has been digitally scrubbed.

Audio Dexter-0

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD MA 5.1, English Dolby Digital Mono,

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: The 5.1 lossless mix included here also accompanied the Blu-ray version of the film.  Dynamically this is like most upmixes of older films, where the mono mix is spread to the other channels, with little or no surround activity, and something more like stereo panning. This makes the sound fuller, without being a night and day change over the original sound mix.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension: There isn’t much for the subwoofer to do overall, but the train in the beginning does add some heft to the scene.

Surround Sound Presentation: Mono sound effects pan as needed depending on the scene.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue comes straight from the center channel.

Extras Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dexter-_5Dexter-0

Features for Once Upon a Time in the West are included on the bundled Blu-ray. The slipcover is like other Paramount Presents 4K UHD Blu-rays, with the original poster under the cover flap. A digital code is included as well.

Bonus content presented on the Blu-ray Disc is detailed below:

  • Commentary by the Hosts of the Spaghetti Western Podcast –NEW!
  • A Look Back with Leonard Maltin—NEW!
  • Commentary with contributions from directors John Carpenter, John Milius & Alex Cox, film historians Sir Christopher Frayling & Dr. Sheldon Hall, and cast and crew 
  • An Opera of Violence                                                                                         
  • The Wages of Sin        
  • Something To Do With Death
  • Railroad:Revolutionising the West
  • Locations Then & Now (Gallery) 
  • Production Gallery 
  • Theatrical Trailer    

Summary Dexter-0

Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece of style, patience and payoff. Admittedly it won’t be for everyone, especially young viewers looking for more going on in their films.  I enjoyed the film overall but can’t see it being one I will go back to too often.  I think it’s beautifully done, but for me, the length and the slowness tried my patience.  This version is also problematically remastered and the tampering with the integrity of the original intent makes it a hard sell.

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