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Flags of our FathersFlags of our Fathers – the Special Collector's Edition DVD

Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers is a remarkable movie achievement.  On one hand, it’s a war action drama with enough action and drama-and the realistic interpretations of the horrors of war- to please war movie fans.  On the other hand, it’s a character study of three American heroes set against the background of the larger conflict and the heroes that were left behind.

It’s early 1945.  The war in Europe is slowly winding down, but things in the Pacific are still very hot as American serviceman invade the Pacific Islands to root out Japanese soldiers and establish footholds that will take them closer to the Japanese mainland and their goal of the eventual victory.

The “hook” of the film is that famous Associated Press photograph of the Americans raising their flag on the island of Iwo Jima.  On one level, the film is about that flag and those who raised it, but it’s so much more than that.

The story follows the three surviving flag raisers (Rene Gagnon, John Bradley, and Ira Hayes - played by Jesse Bradford , Ryan Phillippe and Adam Beach) as they are brought back to the United States, paraded around as conquering heroes and sent on a war bond sales drive to raise desperately needed cash for the war effort. None of these three, two Marines and a Navy medic, are comfortable with the label of hero and, to their credit, during the speeches they give across the USA, they point out that it isn’t they who were the heroes but rather the people they left back on that volcanic island hellhole.

Eastwood has crafted a remarkable film here, the first of his "Iwo Jima saga" that also includes "Letters from Iwo Jima".  Not only does it contain painstakingly staged battle scenes that include the realistic death and gore that brings home the horrors of the war, but which also uses state-of-the-art special effects to illustrate with unbelievable realism the unbelievable scale of the war in the Pacific.  In fact, the movie is worth watching by special effects fans for the Digital Domain effects alone.

But that would be a shame; there’s so much more to this film and it works on many levels. It’s a highly emotional, extremely ambitious and complex piece of filmmaking.

Our three heroes, reluctant as they are to be presented that way (and with good reason), are convinced of the necessity of their war bonds effort.  War is fought in many ways and on many fronts and though they did not see themselves as worthy, their efforts as servicemen on the war Bond Trail were as important to the overall conflict as their efforts were while they served on the island of Iwo Jima.

And they suffered their own type of casualties, which you see as the movie unfolds. These three were indeed heroes.

Eastwood’s direction is outstanding.  And though confusing at times, the juxtaposition of stateside and battlefield action is extremely well done.  For example, the changing from the rockets’ red glare of fireworks over a stadium stateside to the rockets’ red glare of real ordnance on the battlefield heading toward you and ready to take you or your buddies’ life packs emotional wallop.  The quality of the digital audio doesn’t hurt here, either.

The widescreen edition 2 disc special edition DVD (which should have been released when the first DVD came out) is outstanding. The movie itself is presented in anamorphic widescreen, aspect ratio 2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible, and its image is razor-sharp. If it weren’t for the “family unfriendly” on-screen violence this would be a reference quality disc they could use for demonstrating TV’s at your local Best Buy.

The audio, which unfortunately is only presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 for surround fans (no dts, alas), is also outstanding.  A war movie has plenty of opportunity to show off the low frequency effects channel and to have objects flying around the listening room.  Flags of our Fathers is no exception, and the audio quality is such that there is real concussion when the rounds are hitting.

The new version includes a second disc of extra material, and it's worth seeing. First is an introduction by Clint Eastwood, and it's always nice to try getting inside this quietly spoken man's head.

Also on tap are a series of featurettes on topics such as the three protagonists, the making of the epic film, the script, the outstanding visual effects, and more.

Highly recommended.

Flags of our fathers, from Dreamworks Home Entertainment
132 minutes.  Anamorphic widescreen (2.3 5:1, 16 x 9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Ryan Philippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz
Written by William Broyles Jr. and the Paul Haggis, directed by Clint Eastwood

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

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