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Category:    Home > Reviews > War > Drama > WWII > The Great Raid (Blu-ray)

The Great Raid (Blu-ray)


Picture: B*     Sound: B+     Extras: C     Film: C+



Though it was originally shot in 2002 at the height of the latest revival of the War genre, John Dahl’s The Great Raid did not find a theatrical release until 2005, three years later.  Was it a quality issue or just that Miramax founders The Weinsteins were leaving and Disney was issuing al the material out of the vaults to get it out of the way?


Well, the ambitious film (shot on location in the Philippines and surrounding areas) is about a U.S. rescue mission during World War II as the 6th Ranger Battalion is sent in to save 500 prisoners of war in the Japanese Imperialist hell known as Cabanatuan.  It sounds like an older 1950s tale that some would write off as propaganda and the title evokes the excitement and memory of the WWII film classic The Great Escape.  The film never has the irony of that film where the prisoners try to free themselves, but it is maybe Dahl’s most ambitious film to date.


However, the problem is that Dahl may be able to handle the production and is good at staying focused on mature material, but all his films eventually have that “been there, done that” feel whether they have been successful or not.  As good as the pace may be in films like The Last Seduction (which is simply Double Indemnity and Body Heat all over again) and Red Rock West (shades of Neo-Noir we have already seen), they are nothing too new despite the talent he has and attracts.  Films like Kill Me Again and Unforgettable were outright bad, while Rounders was at best, an amusing twist on gambling films, but John Malkovich stole the film so badly that it ruined the rest of it.


Here, he has more to juggle and the interesting thing about Dahl is that the better the challenge of his material, the more he rises up to the challenge of making a good film.  That is not to say he is only as good as his material, because that would say he was only a bad journeyman.  Instead, he loves film and filmmaking, but has not had the artistic breakthrough he needs to really be a contender of the top tier yet.  In this case, he has Dale Dye as advisor (who offers an authorship all his own, if not recognized yet), solid books by Hampton Sides & William B. Breuer and decent Carlo Bernard/Doug Miro screenplay adaptation.  Too bad the dialogue is sometimes really spoon-feeding the audience information which perpetuates the feeling we have seen so much of this before.


Even better, the location shooting works in the film’s favor, as does a decent cast that includes James Franco, Benjamin Bratt, Joseph Fiennes, Connie Nielsen, Sam Worthington, Robert Mammone, James Carpinello and Dale Dye.  Made of what is really an international cast, the idea and hope is that the lesser know actors would move on to more popularity and names would be come more successful.  It has not worked out that way since the film was delayed and they are good, if not always great.  Though the Patriotic sense has been abused by desperate politicians too much of late, I do believe The Great Raid could essentially become the Hamburger Hill of this cycle, meaning a film people thought was interesting and slowly start talking more and more about even if it has flaws and was not a big release initially.


*The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is stylized once again in a way that tries to conjure monochromatic images of the past, which was fine for Saving Private Ryan, but has become the new cliché in the genre all the way to the Spielberg co-produced/Clint Eastwood directed Flags Of Our Fathers.  This film had the potential to be as good as those narratively, but is closer visually thanks to the color draining and usually impressive cinematography of Peter Menzies, Jr., A.C.S. in the Super 35mm format.  The only problem is this is the first time in all the many Blu-rays I have seen that I do not know if the image is limited because of the transfer, weaker tendencies of Super 35, digital work or early player limits.  That makes it the first time we will have to revisit the image quality at a later date, but believe it is at least as good as we rate it.


Menzies made an amazing and unnoticed debut in Roger Donaldson’s ever-underrated White Sands in 1992, then worked again with Donaldson on the interesting remake of the Sam Peckinpah directed/Walter Hill scripted (from Jim Thompson’s novel) The Getaway in 1994.  Interesting (and usually 2.35 X 1 scope work) continued in more commercial fair like 13th Warrior and the first Tomb Raider.  This is the least commercial film he lensed in a long time and along with his work on the remake of When A Stranger Calls shows more of his talents that some of the digital fests that have reduced his work.


The PCM 16bit/48kHz 5.1 mix is the best of its kind we have heard to date.  Clean, clear and certainly aspiring to compete with the best War films around, Trevor Rabin supplies one of his few good scores lately and the sound is always smooth and engaging.  Only rivaled in PCM 5.1 mixes by Disney’s Dinosaur, which had a higher bitrate, this is better than any such PCM we have heard on any of the Sony, MGM or other Disney Blu-ray releases to date.  Even if you have problems with the film, audiophiles and home theater aficionados will enjoy the mix and its dynamics.  It may not be the greatest 5.1 ever, but it is one of the better mixes of the last five years.


Extras include the Blu-ray exclusive instant access function and a full length audio commentary featuring Dahl, Producer Marty Katz, Editor Scott Chestnut, Author Hampton Sides and co-star/Technical Advisor Capt. Dale Dye.  It is a good extra and a smart one, though whether all intended was accomplished is another story.  If you need to see for yourself, check it out in this Blu-ray version, one of the best releases in the format to date.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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