Media

Movie Renter's Guide - June, 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

Classic War Films: "The Sand Pebbles" (Blu-ray), "Battle of Britain" (Blu-ray), "Patton" (Blu-ray), "The Longest Day" (Blu-ray), "A Bridge Too Far" (Blu-ray)

movie-war-films.jpgSynopsis

These five movies represent several stages leading up to WW-II and the war itself. The Sand Pebbles (1966) takes place in China in 1926 when the Nationalists were trying to organize their country, while other nations including the US hung around to make sure no one else got too ingrained in the Chinese favor. Steve McQueen is Jake Holman, a Navy engine mechanic on the San Pablo, which is a US gunship anchored in Shanghai. The Chinese want everyone out while they organize, so the presence of the US ship causes a lot of problems. Jake ends up having to rescue some American missionaries during the process. The disc is mastered in MPEG-2 at 20 Mbps, and the image quality is very good. Directed by Robert Wise, this one has the most depth out of the five movies reviewed here. It is also a long movie, at 2 hours 59 minutes.

In 1940, Hitler offered the British a guarantee of non-invasion if they would leave Europe to the Nazis. Of course, the British said no, and Germany planned its invasion, which is the basis of the film Battle of Britain, (1969), 2 hours 12 minutes. The Germans waited too long though, and Britain had time to build planes and train pilots, so when Goering, who was head of the Luftwaffe, finally sent his sorties to knock out the British airfields, Britain gave them a big surprise. Hitler had to cancel the invasion plans. Stalingrad didn't work out too well for him either (Operation Barbarossa), but that is not part of this story. Stars include Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine, and Robert Shaw. MPEG-2 at 18 Mbps delivered a reasonable image quality. The sound was harsh though, due to the original I am sure, no fault of the digital soundtrack.

Patton (1970) had a brilliant screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and a wonderful actor - George C. Scott - playing the title role. The story, 2 hours 52 minutes, covers Patton's activities in WW-II, from action in North Africa in 1942, to the final European campaign in 1944/45. He considered his main adversary to be Erwin Rommel, a German general, but also, he and British General Bernard Montgomery hated each other, and they were constantly trying to best each other. Although he was probably the most accomplished military leader of the war, his mean spirited personality got him into terrible trouble and it almost got him fired. The image quality is the best I have ever seen from a movie disc, being encoded with AVC at 23 Mbps, but mostly due to the fact the movie was shot in 70mm, and probably mastered from the camera negative. It is spectacular. It is also at an aspect ratio of 2.20:1 instead of 2.35:1 because of the 70mm film space.

The Longest Day (1962), 2 hours, 58 minutes, is another long movie because it covers the planning and execution of the most complex military invasion in human history. How they kept it a secret from the Germans is simply amazing. There are plenty of big stars in this one, including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, Robert Mitchum, and many others. That was because there were some big heroes to be played, but also, in those days, the studios put everyone in their big budget films. It is in black & white. Most of it looks very good, but the whites are blown out here and there, perhaps just to emphasize a high-key presentation when the scene called for it. Although we tend to think of the invasion beginning on Normandy beaches at dawn, June 6, 1944, there was actually quite a bit of activity the night before, with paratroopers dropping in to soften things up.

In late 1944, after the Normandy invasion, the Allies were making their way towards Berlin. Operation Market Garden, which was the basis for the movie A Bridge Too Far (1977), 2 hours 56 minutes, was a plan to take bridges in Holland away from the Germans so that Allied soldiers could take themselves and a whole lot of armaments across those bridges and march to the heart of Germany. So, the story is about one particular bridge in Arnhem, where the Nazis made a very tough stand and prevented the Allied soldiers from taking the bridge. Stars include Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, and many others.

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox and United Artists
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC and MPEG-2
  • English DD 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

These five movies are among the best war films ever made (along with a few others like The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare, which I am still waiting for), and I am delighted they have finally made their way to Blu-ray. They are a bit ponderous, but only because they had to cover so much ground, and are must-haves for any war movie aficionado.

Technical

All five films look excellent, much better in fact, than early Blu-ray releases. They are really getting a hold on what it takes to produce top notch movie discs now. I hope they will eventually take the time to go back and redo the earlier Blu-ray movies that are not so good. The high definition sound does not make much difference in most of these movies, because they are very old, but it might as well be there anyway, to get the best of whatever the old sound recordings could deliver.

Extras

Plenty of extras because of the historical significance of the people and the events.