Empire of the Sun on DVD
Kid's Eye View of WWII
Empire of the Sun packs an emotional wallop to anyone with a heart. It's
the tale of a bright young British boy (Christian Bale) who, in little more
than a heartbeat, goes from a life of privilege to refugee without a home or
The film is set in China, and begins just before the country falls to
the Japanese. During the panicked scramble to escape the oncoming Japanese
army, Jim (Bale) is separated from his mother and father in a scene of
pandemonium and despair that would tear at the heartstrings of any parent - or
any child who has ever gotten lost.
Of course this is a Steven Spielberg film, and he knows how to play his
audience like a violin, so the emotional impact of the film is undoubtedly
calculated and pulled off in the grand Spielberg tradition.
Jim eventually surrenders to the Japanese and is sent to an internment
camp where he spends most of the remaining years of the war. Here is where he
comes of age, going from pampered school boy to worldly survivor as people
around him do their best to cope under horrible conditions. People are dying
from the squalid living conditions, being beaten by their Japanese captors or,
in the case of Jim's American "mentor" (John Malkovich), doing their best to
keep living as closely to their usual manner as possible while wheeling and
dealing and planning your escape.
There's despair to spare in "Empire of the Sun," almost right up to the
closing scene where lost children and parents look each other over to see if,
by chance, their loved ones have survived and been located again after the long
Yet it's also uplifting. Jim never loses his cool, never loses his love
for airplanes (even if they're being flown by people who want to kill him), and
never loses his sense of wonder and his feelings of solidarity with those to
whom he's close.
This is Spielberg at his epic best, and it's a shame the film didn't do
better at the box office. It deserves to be viewed as an integral part of his
looks at World War II (1941 excepted, perhaps) that also include Saving Private
Ryan and Schindler's List - movies that also deal with the horrors of war
against the backdrop of humanity transcending the death and destruction around
The movie making is grand, with plenty of wide, sweeping shots and
voluptuous production values, the John Williams score is typically superb, and
the performances are uniformly excellent - especially Bale as the young
Suffice it to say that it's obvious that one of Steven Spielberg's major
inspirations was David Lean and his glorious epics like
Lawrence of Arabia, and that inspiration
is stamped all over "Empire of the Sun." Many of the shots are absolutely
gorgeous and the whole experience adds up to a really terrific movie.
Perhaps Empire of the Sun was a financial disappointment because it came
during a period of Spielberg's career when he was trying to be taken seriously
as a director, over the objections of a Hollywood and media who prefer the
easier route of pigeonholing.
The DVD is no slouch, either. It's presented in an all new digitally
transferred anamorphic widescreen video (16x9 TV compatible) and the video
quality is excellent. The audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 and it
is also superb; there isn't a lot of surround, but when there is (airplanes and
explosions, for example) it's used very well.
The main extra, which is on the second side of the disc, is a behind the
scenes documentary "The China Odyssey: Empire of the Sun, a film by Steven
Spielberg." It's well worth watching.
You also get the theatrical trailer.
Empire of the Sun, from Warner Home Video
152 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
Starring Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers
Produced by Steven Spielberg Kathleen Kennedy Frank Marshall
Written by Tom
Stoppard, Directed by Steven Spielberg.
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