Rescue DawnRescue Dawn on Blu-ray disc

Doesn't it say something about the state of mind in Hollywood that, at a time when American film makers are inflicting a series of anti-U.S., anti-war and anti-military movies onto the public, it takes a foreign-born director to make a movie that shows some of the best of what being an American is all about?

Werner Herzog's dramatic retelling of his own documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," is an inspiring and uplifting movie. It's the story of German-born Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), whose dream was to fly and who, to achieve it, enlisted in the U.S. Navy to become an aviator.

He's an upbeat kind of guy, the kind who sees life's glass as half full, always - a trait that will come in very handy shortly after the movie begins.

He and his buds are sent on a secret mission into Laos, to bombs enemy facilities there. But he's shot down in the jungle and, fortunately, survives and is in pretty good shape when he's thrown from the wreckage of his plane. Unfortunately, the tough part then comes: getting out of the jungle without getting caught and, undoubtedly, killed.

He does his best, keeping to the natural camouflage whenever possible and staying as quiet as he can. But it's all for naught. He's captured and, after refusing to sign a paper condemning American "imperialism," begins receiving the kind of awful treatment of which we've all heard stories. We need not go into this; it's graphic but tastefully enough handled to achieve a PG-13 rating.

Once his initial captors have finished having their way with him, he's sent to a prisoner of war facility behind a tall bamboo fence. There he's kept in close quarters (heck, they're so tight you might was well call them eighths instead of quarters) with a few other prisoners, shackled to a big wooden beam and handcuffed at night (making sleep difficult). But Dieter's spirit is indomitable, and despite the protests of at least one prisoner who'd rather just take the abuse and hope for release than take his destiny into his own hands, plans to escape - with all his fellow prisoners if they choose to go.

He becomes closest to two Americans who've been there long enough to show the effects. Duane (Steve Zahn) is practically walking dead, at least mentally, while Eugene (Jeremy Davies), is so emaciated it's a shock to the viewer when you first see him without his shirt.

Dieter thinks he can engineer an escape (after all, he's already used his ingenuity and experience to free his friends from their uncomfortable shackling at night), but getting beyond the walls is only the first step. As it's explained to him, it's the jungle that's the real prison - miles and miles of jungle so thick it takes hard work with a machete just to inch forward. 

Naturally, he does escape, and the rest of the men with him. But in the end only he and Duane start the difficult trek to freedom, an arduous and heartbreaking journey that tests their limits severely. We know Dieter must get out somehow, since this is based on true events and they'd be pretty hard to recount if he died in the jungle, but despite that we're hoping for the guy - not only that he gets out soon, but that he doesn't have to undergo too much more of this awful stuff before he makes his escape good.

Herzog's direction is first rate. The movie is claustrophobic during the appropriate scenes, such as the men huddled together in the prison camp and the heartbreaking battle to make a path through the jungle. It's also epic in places, as he shows us a gorgeous country that looks so beautiful it's hard to believe there are people there trying to do each other ill - until they burst onto screen and shatter the illusion. 

The cast is excellent. Bale is always good, and this movie is no exception. Zahn's lost soul is heartbreaking, and Davies performance of the whacked out shell of a man makes you want to reach into the screen and give him a good shake.

The Blu-ray disc is also excellent. The movie is shot beautifully, and the 1080p high definition transfer is glorious. The greens of the jungle show depth and detail that are beautiful and lifelike enough to make you want to visit there (it's actually Thailand, apparently). The aspect ratio is 1.85:1, so it'll fill your 16x9 TV screen to all four corners and, despite the fact that this isn't as "epic" a ratio as the 2.35:1 and wider of the epic films we grew up on, the extra screen area actually makes you feel more a part of the film.

Audio is dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless audio, and it's also very nice. There's good use of the low frequency effects channel via various pieces of ordnance and technology, and all five of the other channels receive a decent workout. Dialogue is never muddled (well, sometimes a character may mumble.) and the musical score is quite dynamic.

You also get quite a few extras with the Blu-ray of Rescue Dawn. First up is a commentary by director Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill. You also get some deleted scenes with optional commentary. "The Making of a True Story" is a multi-part documentary and there's also an interactive memorial "Honoring the Brave." Finally, there's a couple more featurettes, a trivia track, photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer.

Rescue Dawn, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
125 min. 1.85:1, 1080p, dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies,
written and directed by Werner Herzog

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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