Fox War Classics on DVD
Three classic 20 Century Fox war movies have been re-released in new special edition DVD's that do each of these films justice. All are now featuring anamorphic widescreen video and variations of Dolby Digital audio that bring the best viewing and listening experience yet to these outstanding feature presentations.
While it lacks "Saving Private Ryan's" gut-wrenching realism or emotional punch, this 1962 epic is an excellent companion piece to "Ryan," putting Spielberg's story into context in the overall D-Day picture.
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and shot by three different directors (one American, one British, and one German), the three hour film tells the "whole story" of the Normandy invasion, from before the go ahead was given until after the famed landings on the beaches. In fact, the beach landings that begin "Saving Private Ryan" don't happen until "The Longest Day" is two thirds over.
The movie gives us all sides of the invasion, featuring a lot of German perspective filmed in German (with English subtitles), views from the French populace and underground (subtitled), and a wide variety of Allied views - from paratroopers and glider troops to fighter pilots, "the brass" at the top and, of course, the grunts who assaulted the beaches and cliffs of Normandy.
The screenplay, which Cornelius Ryan based on his book of the same name, covers some of the preparations for battle, and follows many of the events. It's a much "cleaner" view than that of "Saving Private Ryan," and in that way is a more traditional war movie than Spielberg's epic.
But "The Longest Day" is an epic on its own, featuring incredible views of the air and sea armada that went to France on that fateful day. The views of the massing ships and waves of aircraft are spectacular (the film won Oscars for its special effects and cinematography), and the shots of thousands of soldiers landing on the beaches couldn't be shot on a conventional budget today without the use of digital special effects.
The cast is a veritable "Who's Who" of the period, and there's no mention of them in the opening credits (or "credit;" only the title is displayed on screen near the movie's beginning), perhaps so people don't spend the next three hours keeping tally of the stars who keep appearing. But there's a bunch of them (some 50 international stars of various magnitude are on hand, from John Wayne to Gert Frobe). Their egos appear to have been held in check and they give their all to the production.
This DVD features anamorphic widescreen video, fortunately, and the black and white image looks very good. Audio is Dolby Digital 4.0 surround, and it's fine considering the film's age.
Extras include an audio commentary by historian Mary Corey and another one by director Ken Annakin on disc one. Disc two kicks off with an all new featurette "A Day to Remember," as well as "Longest Day: A Salute to Courage." You also get the AMC Backstory: The Longest Day, "D-Day revisited," "Richard Zanuck on The Longest Day," the trailer and a photo gallery.
Fans of "Saving Private Ryan" who haven't seen "The Longest Day" really should view the older film to get a broader perspective of the events that helped form the world in which we live today. Because we should never forget what those ordinary heroes did for us.
The Longest Day, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
George C. Scott won (and refused) the Best Actor Oscar for his outstanding portrayal of U.S. General George S. Patton, the famed World War II army general who was a military genius and also a bit of a loose cannon so far as his superiors are concerned. But despite his rough edges and politically incorrect mien, he was usually right militarily and as the movie shows if the Allied forces had used him to his potential rather than making him a sacrificial lamb on the altar of political correctness the war may have been won even earlier.
But at this point in time it's pointless to second guess such things, though it never hurts to learn from history.
And who'd have thought political correctness was around in the 1940's?
Scott is riveting as Patton, who we first see in North Africa where he goes after Nazi Field Marshall Rommel (the so-called Desert Fox). The movie follows him across Africa and through Sicily and the invasion of France and Germany and the eventual fall of the Third Reich. It's an apparently fairly honest look at the man, warts and all, including his famous temper and his insubordination. And also his vision.
Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay (and got fired from the gig, according to his introduction to the DVD) with Edmund H. North sharing the credit, and later won an Oscar for it. Other Oscars included Best Picture and Best Director, and it's easy to see why the film was so honored: this is one of the great biopics, one of the great war epics and and even one of the great "just plain stories" of human nature, bravery, duty and honor.
Karl Malden also gives a solid performance as General Omar Bradley, who starts out as Patton's junior then ends up commanding him, and Michael Bates is also very good as the flamboyant Field Marshall Montgomery – with whom Patton is in competition throughout the movie.
The anamorphic widescreen picture is very good, sharp and clean and colorful, with only occasional graininess. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.0 surround and though the lack of that "point one" channel may make you think there'll be no bass this isn't the case – so you'll still get to feel the explosions, just not as much as if they had used a low frequency effects channel that didn't exist in 1970 anyway.
Extras abound, from the abovementioned introduction by Francis Coppola to an all new running commentary, again by Coppola. Disc two features the documentaries "The Making of Patton," "History Through the Lens: Patton – A Rebel Revisited" and "Patton's Ghost Corps". There's also a production still gallery accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's outstanding musical score, a behind the scenes still gallery with audio essay, and the original theatrical trailer.
Patton, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Before there was Pearl Harbor there was Tora! Tora! Tora!, a far better film that features special effects that for their day were just as spectacular as the digital ones in the Bruckheimer/Bay update.
The film is told from both sides of the attack, with the "human interest" story of Peal Harbor submerged in the military aspects. Separate directors handles the American and Japanese sides, and it works very well. The late Richard Fleischer, who directed such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Doctor Doolittle, directed the U.S. side of the complex production (Japanese sequences were helmed by Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku), and rather than the result being an incoherent mish mash, we instead are treated to a large and sprawling tale that manages to blend diverse sides and ideologies and dozens of major characters into a film that's tight, entertaining and spectacular.
Whileit's well known that the attack caught the Americans with their collective pants down, we learn that it didn't necessarily have to be that way. But bad luck, bad timing, and some dumb decisions combined to create that day of infamy. The movie details the failure of diplomacy between the two countries and the military snafus (some of which appear to have been based at least as much on ego than on logic) that left the U.S. forces open for the attack.
The attack itself is recreated in amazing detail by the filmmakers and is spectacular in its effects as well as in the way it manages to convey the chaos on the American side, the joy of the Japanese pilots at their job well done, and the tragic destruction and loss of life the attack wrought. The special effects won an Oscar that was well deserved, and it could probably have won more such honors if not for that year's Oscar steamroller, Patton.
The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is first rate. There's a little grain in places, but for the most part the image is sharp and clean. Audio is Dolby Digital 4.1 surround and though there isn't a lot of surround the audio quality is very good overall.
Extras include a commentary by director Richard Fleischer and Japanese film historian Stuart Galbraith IV on disc one. The two disc set also includes two historical documentaries, an AMC Backstory on the film, still picture galleries, the original trailer and ten Fox Movietone News features.
Tora! Tora! Tora! From 20th Century Fox Home
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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