M*A*S*H on DVD
Robert Altman's M*A*S*H was a groundbreaking hit when it came out in
1970, and 20th Century Fox has given it the "Five Star Collection" treatment
with this deluxe 2 disc set.
It has aged fairly well, too, and the restoration looks great in almost
If you've only seen the TV series, you owe it to yourself to see the
original, which is far better.
Viewed after the September 11, 2001 massacre and the US military response,
however, its liberal anti-military stance seems more than a tad off base,
let alone tasteless. In this film, all the regular Army people are incompetent
and unintelligent buffoons, while the short timers are the salt of the
earth regardless of how they act - and they consistently mistreat others
in a manner that should have the politically correct crowd howling in
disgust, except that they don't do that if the people you're harrassing
are white, male, Christian, etc.
But M*A*S*H is a product of the Vietnam era and this reviewer can remember
agreeing wholeheartedly with its bent back then. Just goes to show that
people can mature as Hollywood stands still.
Anyway, the film is a comedic look at army sugeons and their support
staff at a Korean War mobile army sugical hospital, and how these people
manage to cope with life as they try to save horribly shot up soldiers
near the front lines of that conflict.
The ensemble cast is led by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Tom
Skerritt as a trio of ace surgeons who work hard performing lifesaving
miracles when necessary, then unwind from the carnage with booze, broads,
Robert Duvall is their nemesis during the first half of the movie. His
Frank Burns isn't the immature Burns of the TV series, but a deeply religious,
though questionably skilled man who's also trying to cope with the horrors
he sees every day. But the three surgeons gang up on him and make his
life a living hell until, goaded unmercifully by Hawkeye (Sutherland)
he snaps and attacks him, then leaves the movie in a straightjacket. The
foil for the second third is Hot Lips O'Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) as
the tough as nails but highly skilled head Nurse, who is also humiliated
unmercifully - though she ends up becoming one of the gang. The final
third of the movie sees the guys taking on the military establishment
by any means possible.
Director Altman uses overlapping dialogue (that's sometimes almost unintelligible,
though very realistic) and great camera work to lend a sense of reality
to the unreality on the screen. This was the film that made him, and his
cast, famous, and it isn't hard to see why.
Despite this reviewer's 21st century angst over it, M*A*S*H was a groundbreaking
film and it's nice to see it given its due on DVD.
And it has been. Fox's Five Star treatment starts off with a THX-certified
remastering job of the restored film, and the anamorphic widescreen picture
is top notch. The colors (there's a lot of green, as in olive drab, and
plenty of red, as in blood) are bright and clean and the picture is sharp
and easy on the eyes.
The audio is Dolby Digital "stereo", and while the quality isn't up to
that of the video, it's understandable considering the state of the audio
art those days - coupled with the fact that M*A*S*H was basically a low
budget film and that type of movie didn't usually give a lot of attention
to the audio.
It works to the DVD's benefit, however, helping to impart a sense of
realism and a feeling of really being there - especially the recorded
music and announcements blaring over the decidedly low fidelity camp PA
Disc One also includes a running commentary by director Altman, and a
wonderful half hour AMC Backstory documentary that reunites the director
and many of the cast members. There's also a still photo gallery and the
original theatrical trailer.
Disc Two includes "Enlisted: the Story of M*A*S*H", an all new documentary
on the film's creation, as well as a "History through the Lens" background
documentary that also deals with the actual people who inspired the novel
and the movie. A special treat is the 30th anniversary cast reunion section.
There's also a feature on the restoration of the film.
In all, it's a terrific package.
M*A*S*H, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
116 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
Stereo and mono
Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerrit, Sally Kellerman,
Produced by Ingo Preminger
Written by Ring Lardner, Jr. Directed by Robert Altman
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