Quigley Down Under (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Mar 27, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Quigley Down Under (4K UHD Review)


Simon Wincer

Release Date(s)

1990 (March 12, 2024)


Pathé Entertainment/MGM (Shout Select/Shout! Studios)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: C+

Quigley Down Under (4K UHD)

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Having or showing pleasant, good-natured personal qualities; affable.

Friendly; sociable.

Simon Wincer’s 1990 western Quigley Down Under.

Quigley Down Under may well be one of the most amiable westerns ever made, which is ironic considering that the story delves into dark subject matter like genocide, infanticide, post-traumatic stress disorder, and ethnic cleansing. Yet it manages to do so while maintaining a consistent tone that could best be described as an amiable one. Part of that is due in no small part to Australian director Simon Wincer, who had proved conclusively with the miniseries Lonesome Dove that he had a knack for moving deftly from broad comedy to high tragedy at a moment’s notice, and without losing his audience in the process. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he had the perpetually affable Tom Selleck in the lead role. Aside from the runaway 1987 hit Three Men and a Baby, Selleck hadn’t had much success in transitioning from television to leading roles on the big screen, and unfortunately Quigley Down Under wouldn’t end up breaking that streak. Yet it still became one of his most iconic roles outside of Magnum, P.I. It’s difficult to imagine Quigley Down Under working as well as it does without him.

From an artistic standpoint (though still not a commercial one), it was a question of being in the right place at the right time. American screenwriter John Hill had written the script for Quigley Down Under back in 1974 after he read a Los Angeles Times story about the ethnic cleansing of the Aboriginal peoples in Australia during the late 19th century. European settlers had considered Australia to be unoccupied territory, so they felt no compunction about eliminating any natives who were in the way of them claiming the land as their own. (That situation didn’t improve much during part of the 20th century, either; as the harrowing closing title card of the underrated 1987 thriller Ground Zero points out, there’s no record of how many Aboriginal peoples were killed or injured by the British nuclear testing at Maralinga in 1956-1957 because they were only included as part of the wildlife census.) While the western genre was fading at that point during the Seventies, this kind of subject matter would have fit in perfectly with other revisionist westerns of the era like Little Big Man and Soldier Blue. Still, it’s probably for the best that the script remained unproduced at that time.

That’s for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the Australian film industry hadn’t quite come of age yet. It took an influx of government funding to launch the Australian New Wave during the Seventies and early Eighties, and some of those films were successful enough on the international stage that the movement finally caught Hollywood’s eye. Wincer himself was a product of the Australian New Wave thanks to films like Phar Lap and The Lighthorsemen, and they led to his work on international telefilms like The Last Frontier and Bluegrass. In turn, those films opened the door for him to make Lonesome Dove in 1989, and in the great circle of life, that miniseries resulted in him getting the gig to return to his home country to shoot Quigley Down Under the following year.

Hill’s script had passed through a variety of hands over the years, but as the Eighties drew to a close, it became the subject of an unexpected bidding war that resulted in Pathé Entertainment acquiring the rights for $250,000. They put together a package that included Simon Wincer and Tom Selleck, with the production to take place in Australia using a mixed Australian and international crew. Wincer brought in his Lighthorsemen scribe Ian Jones to do an uncredited rewrite in order to improve the historical accuracy and give everything a more authentically Australian flavor. Due to the lengthy development process, the Quigley Down Under that was released in 1990 isn’t the Quigley Down Under that might have been produced in 1974, but the results speak for themselves.

As the title indicates, the story of Quigley Down Under revolves around an American marksman named Matthew Quigley (Selleck) who travels to Australia in response to an ad looking for an expert sharpshooter. Quigley is just that, with his specialty being a custom modified Sharps rifle that can shoot “a mite further” than 1,200 yards. The ad was placed by wealthy British landowner Elliott Marston (the late great Alan Rickman), who wants Quigley’s help in clearing his vast Australian estate of its native wildlife. After Quigley provides a decisive demonstration of his skills, Marston ends up hiring him on the spot. Yet when Quigley finds out that the job involves shooting prey of a different sort, that puts the two of them at odds with each other. The hunter becomes the hunted, with Quigley going on the run accompanied by an American woman nicknamed Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo), and Marsten’s gang in hot pursuit. Eventually, Quigley and Marsten will have to face the fact that this continent just isn’t big enough for the both of them. The supporting cast of Quigley Down Under includes plenty of familiar Australian faces like Chris Haywood, Tony Bonner, Roger Ward, and Ben Mendelsohn.

As that description should make clear, amiable or not, the stakes do escalate all throughout Quigley Down Under. Matthew Quigley is forced to use all of his skills in order to survive, not just his skill with a Sharps rifle, and Cora has to face the demons that led to her becoming a mad expatriate. Along the way, they’re both forced to face the tragic reality of European colonialism in Australia. Yet there are still plenty of wonderfully tranquil moments in Quigley Down Under, like when Quigley learns about Cora’s backstory, or when they both get to learn the ways of the local Aborigines who have rescued them from the wilderness. It’s an occasionally tragic tale that’s told with wit and grace, exposing the harsh realities of colonialism while never losing sight of its own entertainment value. That’s a tough balance to achieve, and it’s a balance that probably wouldn’t have happened back in 1974 regardless of who was at the helm.

All movies are a product of their time and their place, and Quigley Down Under definitely needed to wait for the right time and the right place. That time was 1990, the place was Australia, and the prime movers were Simon Wincer and Tom Selleck. The wry score by Basil Poledouris also deserves credit for the way that it helps support the overall tone of the film. Unfortunately, none of that translated into box office success in 1990, but Quigley Down Under still managed to become a minor cult classic in the years that followed. That was due in no small part to the growth of the home video market, but it’s also thanks to the legendary reputation of the Sharps rifles used in the film (they’re now sometimes referred to as Quigley rifles). All of that may only qualify as a consolation prize, but it’s still a well-deserved one.

Cinematographer David Eggby shot Quigley Down Under on 35mm film using Panavision cameras with anamorphic lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. While the previous Blu-rays appear to have been sourced from an interpositive, this version uses a new 4K scan of the original camera negative instead, graded in High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. (There’s no other information available about the work that was done.) The differences are immediately obvious, with fine details like the rough texture of Quigley’s blue shirt and all of the minutiae in the landscapes being much better resolved. The grain is handled much better as well; it had a harshly digitized appearance on the old Blu-rays, but it always looks smooth and natural here.

The HDR grade raises the stakes on the saturation levels. Quigley Down Under has always been a colorful film, with Eggby resisting the temptation to create a desaturated look like far too many other period films have used. There are brilliant reds and golds on the British uniforms; the admittedly sparse greenery in the landscapes still looks particularly verdant; and all of that is offset by the deeply cerulean skies. The flesh tones do veer toward being bronzed and reddish under the harsh Australian sun, but they’re more restrained when in shadow, and that’s a consistent effect throughout the film. In the shot of Quigley at 89:30 where he walks out of the hot sun to meet Cora under an awning, his skin tone shifts appropriately as soon as he hits the shaded area. The overall contrast range is also markedly improved, with deep blacks that are offset by the rich glows of the campfires at night. There’s also some strikingly vivid halation around the candle flames in the nighttime interiors. This new 4K master is a major upgrade over the previous Blu-ray versions, and Quigley Down Under has never looked better on home video.

Audio is offered in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Quigley Down Under was released theatrically in Dolby SR/Dolby Stereo, and this 2.0 track sounds like the original theatrical mix with encoded surrounds. The surrounds are mostly limited to ambient effects like crowd noises, birds, insects, and other wildlife, although there are also strong reverberations from the gunfire (especially from Quigley’s Sharps rifle). Otherwise, there’s not much in the way of directionalized effects in the surrounds, although the stereo spread up front remains wide at all times. Still, the single most important element in the mix (aside from the dialogue, of course) is the wonderful Basil Poledouris score, and it’s always allowed to ring true.

The Shout Select 4K Ultra HD Release of Quigley Down Under is a two-disc set that includes a remastered Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film. All of the extras are ported over from the previous 2018 Shout! Factory Blu-ray, and they’re still only available on the Blu-ray in this version:

  • This One Shoots a Mite Further (HD – 23:09)
  • Finding Crazy Cora (HD – 17:51)
  • Rebirth of the Western (Upscaled SD – 7:14)
  • TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 1:04, 2 in all)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:52)

The first two extras were produced for the 2018 Shout! Factory release. This One Shoots a Mite Further is an examination of Quigley’s Sharps rifle featuring master armorer Mike Tristano. He compares the history of the actual guns, ammunition, and sights to the way that they’re presented in the film. Despite the custom nature of the gun that Quigley uses, Tristano says that there’s some documentation that the distances that he shoots were actually possible. (There are also a few videos available on YouTube where modern shooters were able to duplicate his exact shot from the beginning of the film.) Tristano feels that Quigley’s rifle has become so iconic that it serves as another character in the film, much like Clint Eastwood’s Model 29 revolver in Dirty Harry. Tristano also briefly covers some of the other weapons in the film.

Finding Crazy Cora is an interview with Laura San Giacomo, who talks about her experiences making the film, including learning how to ride horses and handle guns. As the title of the interview indicates, she spends most of the time explaining how she built the character of Cora—she says that she had a strong empathy for the trauma that Cora had experienced. She also talks about working with Tom Selleck, the late Alan Rickman, and the aboriginal performers, and she offers praise for crew members like costume designer Wayne A. Finkelman.

The rest of the extras were originally included on MGM’s 2001 DVD release of Quigley Down Under. Rebirth of the Western is actually a promotional featurette from 1990, featuring on-set interviews with Tom Selleck, Simon Wincer, and Laura San Giacomo, as well as plenty of clips from the film, but pretty much zero depth. The TV Spots and the Trailer are also ported over from the original DVD. While there aren’t any new extras here, all of the previously available ones have been included, and the real star of the show is this new 4K restoration. I saw Quigley Down Under theatrically back in 1990, and I’ve owned it on LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and now UHD. So, I’ve seen the film a mite further than most people, and in more formats, too. Yet this 4K presentation still manages to breathe new life into an old friend. It’s highly recommended for that reason alone.

- Stephen Bjork

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