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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > WWII > Great Escape - Special Edition (1963/MGM DVD Set)

The Great Escape (1963/MGM Special Edition DVD Set)


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: A     Film: A



Please Note: This film is now on Blu-ray from MGM and you can read more about it at this link:





What exactly is it that draws viewer in to movies that deal with prison and/or prison escape movies?  Whether it is a movie about a prison escape, or whether it is about escaping a war prison camp, these movies have intrigued us for decades.  In addition to escape movies there are also several, which deal more with the idea of being imprisoned or the act of not being able to escape. 


It could be something along the lines of near-wrongful imprisonment as with Midnight Express (1978) or why escape is not for everyone as with The Shawshank Redemption (1994), but then there are the films that actual deal with the process of escape as seen in Le Trou AKA The Hole (1962) or Escape From Alcatraz (1978) and even Stalag 17 (1953).  The Great Escape (1963) has stood the test of time and goes down as one of the most referenced movies ever, not to mention a critical and commercial success even after 40+ years. 


From Reservoir Dogs (1992) to Chicken Run (2000), the film becomes the topic of discussion all through cinema and even to the point of spoof as seen in the Naked Gun series, Top Secret (1984), and Charlie’s Angels (2000).  A film this monumental and popular becomes the subject of many discussions, so going back to the film for this Special Edition DVD from MGM was quite fun.


Since the films original release in 1963 many things have come and gone and even the cast each went on to different roles, making big names out of many involved including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Garner, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn and Richard Attenborough (who became more famous as a director than an actor).


If you can’t get something right the first time then you must try and try again.  MGM has been going back to some of their catalog and releasing new Special Editions, in which a new transfer, new sound mix, and supplements are added.  With this new issue I think that most will be satisfied.


The previous disc had major problems with the image quality and the framing was off.  This new DVD disc is a better 2.35 X 1 anamorphic transfer, which still shows some age, but not nearly as bad as the previous disc.  One would hope to see more detail in this version and that is the case, but there are still some scenes that have too much softness than desired.  Colors are well balanced with greens being the real tester.  Usually in film stock as time goes on the greens become too dark to a point that they look black, but the greens still look appropriately dark, but still have the greenish tinge that they need.  Brighter greens are still vibrant as well.  


As for the new 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix, this is also an improvement over all previous versions and gives a much more spatial depth to the film that it never had before.  I am always weary when it comes to tampering with older films and remixing them because it is not an easy task.  Not only that, but it is interesting to see how the film can be reshaped in a surround setting when the film normally only had mono or stereo origins at best.  Here we have a much more encompassing feel, which puts the viewer right into the film. 


Also on Disc One with the feature is a commentary track with director John Sturges, some of the cast and crew, which is very informative and fun.  Most will love to hear what is said, but for those that like more trivial material, there is a trivia track that pops up almost like VH1’s “Pop Up Video” TV series and goes over details in almost every scene that will keep you well interested throughout. 


Disc Two contains a lot of goodies designed specifically for this release including 5 featurettes: Return to The Great Escape, Preparations for Freedom, A Standing Ovation, Bringing Facts to Fiction, and The Flight to Freedom.  Each of these are designed to cover a specific element of the film, mostly how the film was created and adapted from the ‘true’ story.  As if these were not enough there are also two lengthy documentaries including the “Untold Story” and “The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones”.  With a film as influential as this, it is a real treat to get documentaries made exclusively to cover the film from various angles. 


The Great Escape is a film that will endure for a long time.  MGM has secured its existence for quite some time with this very cool Special Edition, which upgrades the films picture and sound qualities and adds a big spoonful of extras for much more enjoyment.  I doubt that there will be any complaints and even those that own just the basic edition will certainly not mind getting this newer version because it’s worth the expense.



-   Nate Goss


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