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DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
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Khartoum Blu-ray ReviewBlu-ray MGM Twilight Time
- Studio: MGM
- Distributed By: Twilight Time
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1
- Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
- Subtitles: English SDH
- Rating: Not Rated
- Run Time: 2 Hr. 17 Min.
- Package Includes: Blu-ray
- Case Type: keep case
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Region: All
- Release Date: 01/21/2014
- MSRP: $29.95
The Production Rating: 3/5After declaring a holy war to rid the Sudan of Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1884, the fanatical Sudanese leader Muhammad Ahmad (Laurence Olivier) massacres a British-led force of 8,000 and marches on the city of Khartoum. The British government of Prime Minister William Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) sends one of its greatest generals, Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston), to Khartoum to make peace and save the city but is adamantly opposed to sending a British army with him to a far away land for what seems to be a hopeless cause. Though Gordon and Ahmad speak with respect, the Mahdi is determined not only to take Khartoum but also to conquer Cairo, Mecca, Baghdad and Constantinople to bring his influence over the entire Islamic region. Gordon retreats to Khartoum and manages cleverly to protect the city by making it into an island and hoarding food which will last for months within its walls. But unless England sends a massive force to rescue them, Khartoum’s dire fate is a foregone conclusion.
The film’s lone Oscar nomination came from Robert Ardrey’s screenplay though the writer doesn’t really give a generous amount of historical backstory that would offer a viewer ignorant of the facts a comfortable way into this particular era of British politics and the turbulent times of the Middle East. He’s also invented a couple of meetings between the film’s two dynamic leading characters in order to allow its top-billed stars a chance to play opposite one another (similar to writers who invent confrontations between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots when none allegedly ever took place). These do aid the drama which can be otherwise fairly spotty since we’re talking here of men who are philosophically similar with raging egos but so adeptly confident of their own beliefs that there’s no braggadocio to be seen. Director Basil Dearden makes sure those vast desert expanses are captured by the Ultra Panavision cameras (the Sudan does indeed look formidable) and stages the three major battle scenes nicely (Yakima Canutt is credited as second unit director and likely played the prominent role in staging these scenes). An attack on a paddleboat attempting to navigate the Nile past the enemy is an especially suspenseful sequence that is very well handled. True to its roadshow nature, there are thousands of extras in these battles, and the eye is constantly impressed with the period costumes, settings, and props which fill out the über-wide frame. But there is a lot of talk in the film that doesn't maximize the dramatic potential of the situation.
Charlton Heston gives an earnest and more than respectable performance as General Gordon. He affects a slight British accent and allows the character’s strong sense of self to reside more inwardly than outwardly earning audience empathy for his plight and his decisions throughout. Laurence Olivier sports the same kind of heavy theatrical make-up that he used in Othello the previous year in order to play the Arab Muhammad Ahmad. All of his scenes were shot in Pinewood Studios in England rather than on location, and while being in Egypt wouldn’t have altered his performance in the slightest, his studio-shot scenes only add to the theatrical artifice of his portrayal. He, too, is earnest with his passion for power obvious but under control. A fine array of British character actors put on a jolly good show: Ralph Richardson is a rather dastardly William Gladstone, Richard Johnson is the stalwart second-in-command to Gordon Colonel J.D.H. Stewart, Michael Hordern is the conniving Lord Granville, and Nigel Green is a very stiff-upper-lip General Wolseley who is dispatched at the last possible moment to bring relief to the besieged at Khartoum.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The film’s Ultra Panavision aspect ratio of 2.76:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. True to its large format origins, the image is strikingly sharp and extremely colorful. There is lots of detail to see, and only a momentary speck here and there prevents this from being an impeccable transfer. Color is rich but always under control with the many reds and oranges never blooming. Flesh tones are perfectly natural (with the exception of Oliver's, of course). Contrast has been dialed in expertly making for such a high quality image. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Audio Rating: 4/5The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix doesn’t quite have the powerful force one might be expecting particularly in the desert fighting sequences, but Frank Cordell's lovely and expressive score is serviced nicely by the fidelity present in the mix. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and presented, and there are no audio artifacts like hiss or crackle to betray the age of the sound elements.
Special Features: 3/5Audio Commentary: producer Nick Redman, film historian Julie Kirgo, and screenwriter Lem Dobbs provide an interesting, affable audio commentary.
Theatrical Trailer (2:09, HD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Isolated Score Track: Frank Cordell’s impressive music score is offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Six-Page Booklet: black and white and color stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s astute history and analysis of the movie are provided in the enclosed booklet.