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Category:    Home > Reviews > War > Drama > History > WWII > Chinese Revolution > Fox/MGM War Film Blu-ray Wave One: Patton/Battle Of Britain/A Bridge Too Far/The Longest Day/The Sand Pebbles

Fox/MGM War Film Blu-ray Wave One: Patton/Battle Of Britain/A Bridge Too Far/The Longest Day/The Sand Pebbles


Picture: A-/B/B/B/B     Sound: B/C+/C+/C+/C+     Extras: B/C+/C-/C+/B-     Films: B/B/B/B-/B-



The return of the War genre as a viable form of filmmaking recently has many reasons and whys fore the comeback, from bad, mindless “war porn” films and said footage and/or scenes surfacing in places they never would before to really good films with something to say, show and tell.  Vietnam is an obvious reason the films fells out of favor, though peacetime and the different tactics necessary to battle The Cold War are factors.  20th Century Fox has been revisiting some of their best such films lately and even included two United Artists gems from the current MGM by releasing the following films, now on Blu-ray:



Patton (1970) is the best of the five releases, with George C. Scott in the title role in this epic narrative look at the man and his life in his peak.  Francis Coppola co-wrote the rich screenplay with Edmund H. North laying out the battles with the Nazis that led the man into the pantheon of history, military and otherwise, but becomes a deep character study of the best kind as the film aspires to be Lawrence Of Arabia and sometimes succeeds.  Franklin J. Schaffner had just come off of the huge hit success of the first Planet Of The Apes (1968, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and created one of the more formidable big screen epics.  Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong, Karl Michael Vogler, Michael Bates, Paul Stevens and Alan MacNaughton lead the amazing cast.


This was one of only two feature films shot in D-150, aka Dimension 150, another 65mm large frame format system that did not make it, but did make two good-looking films.  The other, John Huston’s underrated The Bible (1966, reviewed elsewhere on this site) was also made by Fox.  Director of Photography Fred J. Koenekamp, A.S.C., had done some fine work in feature film and on TV before, but this was a new high for a man who would see many throughout his career.  The 1080p 2.20 X 1 AVC @ 23 MBPS digital High Definition image is often amazing and of demonstration quality, being the third such 65mm film to hit an HD format after John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966 on HD-DVD, due soon on Blu-ray) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, in both formats) but falls short of joining them when demonstrating more than a few moments of motion blur and softness that is from the transfer unnecessarily.  Color is exceptional and when the detail kicks in, it is film-like and even jaw-dropping.  Fox recently reissued the film in 70mm prints with DTS sound, so it must be those materials they used.


The DTS HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix outdoes the Dolby Digital 5.0 mix here and featured on the previous DVD, but has a slight harshness at points it should not.  That hurts the sound overall and note we have covered the limited edition CD soundtrack of Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which you can read more about at this link:





This double Blu-ray set is loaded with extras, including an introduction and terrific audio commentary by Francis Ford Coppola on BD One, while BD Two adds the featurette History Through The Lens: Patton – A Rebel Revisited, Patton’s Ghost Corps documentary, The Making Of Patton documentary, production stills set to Goldsmith’s score, behind-the-scenes stills set to an audio essay on the real Patton and the original theatrical trailer.



Battle Of Britain (1969) is Director Guy Hamilton’s best film outside of the Bond series and one of the great, triumphant British films, going beyond the War genre.  It is nothing less than the story of how the British Royal Air Force early on in WWII managed to hold off the Nazis despite being outnumbered and stopped the country from being invaded and taken over.  The Bond series co-producer Harry Saltzman was on a roll at this point with several hits on his hands and a few like this one, he produced himself.


It also features an amazing cast including Robert Shaw, Michael Caine, Harry Andrews, Trevor Howard, Curt Jurgens, Ian McShane, Laurence Olivier, Kenneth More, Christopher Plummer, Nigel Patrick, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Patrick Wymark, Susannah York, Barry Foster and Edward Fox among the who’s who of British cinema. 


The writing here too is top rate, while Hamilton is in exceptional form and along with great acting, flying, editing, model work and energy, this is a film with so much to offer and one of the greatest war films in U.K. history.  It is thoroughly enjoyable, still realistic by today’s standards and never seems false.  Many real planes of the time were featured and there are no digital effects.  That makes a difference for the better.


Shot in real anamorphic Panavision by the great Freddie Young, B.S.C., the film was originally issued in three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor prints and though this is not a bad print, the 1080p 2.35 X 1 MPEG-2 @ 18 MBPS digital High Definition transfer is not of the best film materials and the color is not consistent, though richer than any DVD could deliver.  This was even offered as a 70mm blow-up at the time, but the material to do that looked a little better than this.  Of course, the compositions are amazing.


The DTS HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix is not very strong, upgraded a bit from the 6-track magnetic stereo the 70mm prints offered at the time, but still on the weak side for dialogue.  The music is by two composers.  Ron Goodwin (Trials Of Oscar Wilde, Day Of The Triffids, Where Eagle Dare, Frenzy) can count this among his best works and adds greatly to the film’s success, driving the narrative in sometimes ironic ways.  It sounds better than anything else, as if the rest of the film were monophonic, so the sound will hopefully be upgraded in a larger, highly deserved special edition.  The only extra here is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track with Sir William Walton’s score isolated.



A Bridge Too Far (1977) is the newest of the five films, as shot by Director Richard Attenborough.  Showing us the deadly risks in Operation Market Garden aiming for German bridges to stop their progress in Europe and in general, the film wants to be another Battle Of Britain, but it becomes more of a drama at times and they even got Connery, Fox, Caine and Oliver.  It is a good film, but it falls short at times of its aspirations.  However, it also tries to take the War genre into a new direction, which is at least ambitious.


The problem is the constant attempt to have a film that looks soft, and it is not the 1080p 2.35 X 1 MPEG-2 @ 18 MBPS digital High Definition transfer.  Instead, the approach is supposed to be “nostalgic” come to life and though it was shot in real anamorphic Panavision by the amazing Geoffrey Unsworth, B.S.C., and the film was originally offered as a 70mm blow-up at the time, this transfer just does not totally cut it.  Color systems were plain by now, but Unsworth (2001, Cabaret, Zardoz) was so talented that he knew how to shoot in any format and get the most out of it.  When they do a special edition, they need to get a fixed print.


The DTS HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix is not very strong, upgraded a bit from the 6-track magnetic stereo the 70mm prints offered at the time, but still on the weak side for dialogue and music, though better than the Dolby Digital 4.0 Mix also included.  John Addison (Tom Jones, Torn Curtain, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution) turns out one of his better scores too and it could sound better here, but is not bad.  It is more naturally integrated into the dialogue than on Battle Of Britain, though.  The only extra is the original theatrical trailer.



The Longest Day (1962) is the oldest film here and the only one in black and white, as well as being the film Darryl F. Zanuck made to revive the studio he built and once ran.  The story is nearly legendary on how Mr. Zanuck took over the studio again and waged his own personal war to make this the best possible war film he could make.  He juggled several directors at the same time, resulting in a critical and commercial smash that proved his genius.


With a great cast including Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ray Danton, Eddie Albert, Mel Ferrer, Gert Frobe, Curt Jurgens, Rod Steiger, Robert Ryan, Peter Lawford, George Segal, Kenneth More, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Tommy Sands, Stuart Whitman, Red Buttons, Paul Anka, Fabian and a young Sean Connery.  Yes, the king of the studio had returned!


The acting and writing is good, but the D-Day attack shown here is has dated a good bit thanks to Saving Private Ryan and is just not as convincing as it once was.  However, the rest of the film is a remarkable production and holds up very well.


Shot in black and white and real anamorphic CinemaScope, it is only the second such film to make it to an HD format after the Elvis Presley hit Jailhouse Rock (reviewed on HD-DVD elsewhere on this site) and second monochrome scope film overall to do so.  Despite the Elvis film being seven years older, it looks better than this 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 23 MBPS digital High Definition transfer is not of the best film materials despite good video black you would never get on DVD.  Detail and depth are problems outside of the two lenses it used to take with this format to get a scope image.  The film needs some more restoration work, especially considering the fine cinematography by Jean Bourgoin and Walter Wottitz so much so that it was even offered as a 70mm blow-up at the time, but the materials here to do that looked a little better than this.


The DTS HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix is again not very strong, upgraded a bit from the 6-track magnetic stereo the 70mm prints offered at the time, but still on the weak side for dialogue and music from Maurice Jarre.  Jailhouse Rock had a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that sounded better, but this sounds about as good as it is going to in this case, though maybe a little more work would yield better sound at a later date if original audio stems survived.


This double Blu-ray set is also loaded with extras, including two fine audio commentary tracks on BD One.  One is by Mary Corey, the other by co-director (and underrated filmmaker in his own right; see Battle Of The Bulge reviewed elsewhere on this site in Hi Def for more information) Ken Annakin.  BD Two adds the featurette A Day To Remember, Longest Day: A Salute To Courage featurette, stills, theatrical trailer, AMC Backstory look at the film and Richard Zanuck on The Longest Day featurette.



The Sand Pebbles (1966) is one of the better films from the often overrated Robert Wise, which was his follow-up to his shockingly successful The Sound Of Music.  Originally a 243 minutes-long epic, the tale of what happens in 1926 when America is in China for political reasons disguised when The Chinese Revolution that put the Communists in power exploded was meant to have parallel with Vietnam and suddenly does again with Iraq.


Steven McQueen is Navy Machinist Jake Holman, who arrived in the middle of increasing tensions, battles and upheavals as China starts to tear itself up internally before the big event, which few can see coming.  Though shorter at 179 minutes, the film still runs on longer than it should, which is typical of Wise’s leisurely style, but it is one of his better films by default.  It has also become more relevant as the real China grows in power and relevance itself.  Some aspects of the film have dated beyond anyone’s control, but the acting is very good and the production (Boris Levin delivered the Production Design) is impressive for its time.


McQueen is joined by Candice Bergen, Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Mako, Ford Rainey, Joe Turkel, Gavin MacLeod, Barney Phillips, Shepherd Sanders, James Hong and the late, great Simon Oakland in one of the better casts in a Wise film.  However, there is still a sense of limited range in the film, of ideas unexplored because he and screenplay writer Robert Anderson are bogged down a bit by the dramatic side, but the plusses outweigh the minuses, making this one of Wise’s better films.  Fox backing it helped.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 MPEG-2 @ 20 MBPS digital High Definition transfer was shot in real anamorphic Panavision by the underrated Joseph MacDonald, who had a lifetime of work at Fox, shooting some of their key films over the years.  This was towards the end of his career and life, though he would be at other studios, but the film was offered as a 70mm blow-up at the time and it has so many great visuals that those prints were more than justified.  The transfer here is decent and the DeLuxe color pretty good, but the fine compositions are sometimes sabotaged here by softness and depth limits, though the color is impressive, while other features like jet blacks and ivory whites could never be recreated on DVD.  The print needs some work, but this looks good.


The DTS HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix is not very strong, upgraded a bit from the 6-track magnetic stereo the 70mm prints offered at the time, but still on the weak side for dialogue.  It is still better than the Dolby Digital 4.0 mix also included.  The music by Jerry Goldsmith is another plus that helps the film work when it drags or gets into other trouble.  The combination is good, but the aged film has its fidelity issues, but the money was put into the production all around.


Extras include trivia track, Road Show Version scenes, a making of documentary, Steve McQueen Remembered featurette, Robert Wise Remembered featurette, China 1926 Remembered featurette, A Ship Called San Pablo featurette, The Secret Of San Pablo featurette, radio documentaries narrated by Attenborough, radio spots, original theatrical trailer and two feature-length audio commentary tracks.  One is by Wise, Bergen, Crenna and Mako, the other an isolated music score track with Music Producer Nick Redman, Film Music Historian Jon Burlingame and Film Historian/Writer Lem Dobbs.  It will be hard to top all that.



For even more on the Fox films, our good friend Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall have written a huge book called The Great Fox War Movies, with tons of information, text and illustrations throughout.  It is a fine coffee table book for serious film fans and a great companion to these Blu-rays.  Serious film fans will want to look into it.  In the meantime, it is great to see more solid back catalog on Blu-ray and more cannot come out fast enough.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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