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    Khartoum Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray MGM Twilight Time

    Jan 20 2014 03:01 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    It’s very clear that the huge success and multiple international honors bestowed on David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia generated interest at the time in producing another desert roadshow extravaganza, and Basil Dearden’s Khartoum, featuring another famous name from Britain’s history books General Charles George Gordon, was the result. The film was not a success, partly due to its downbeat story and partly due to a growing general audience antipathy toward these lengthy historical features at higher-than-average ticket prices. Seen today, the film can be appreciated for its stunning photography and the genuinely heartfelt performance of its top-billed star, but the film still is a lot of talk punctuated by three battle scenes placed strategically at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.

    Title Info:

    • 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: 3/5

    After 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: 4/5

    The 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: 3/5

    Audio 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.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5

    For Khartoum, the transfer’s the thing: this is another beautiful rendering of a large format movie now available on Blu-ray. There are only 3,000 copies of this disc available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
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    15 Comments

    Saw this for the first time on TCM last year and thought it was ok and there is a lot of talk in the film. A few days latter TCM broadcast "55 Days at Peking" and i thought it was a much better film with great action scenes so i hope that movie will get a blu-ray release.  By the way Charlton Heston is in both films and shows how good a actor he was.

    As a rather minor (or silly) notation stock shots of the spectacular battle sequences and sensational scenes of literally teeming thousands of wrathfully charging Arab desert warriors by-the-score taken from KHARTOUM (1966) were later liberally utilized in the second last THE TIME TUNNEL (ABC 1966-67) episode to be produced "Raiders from Outer Space" (31/03/1967) substantially enhancing the excitement and production scope of the latter tv production to be sure.

     

    This "fact" is sometimes denied but the aforementioned scenes did indeed unmistakably come from KHARTOUM (1966)!

     

    Jeff T.

     

    :D

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    Malcolm Bmoor
    Jan 21 2014 07:30 AM

    Thank you for the review and I've ordered it for sentimental recapture of an impressive night at the long gone Park Hall Cinerama in Cardiff.

     

    I'm curious as to why the sound is listed as stereo when it was a 6 track film. I'm looking forward to seeing it very much at the end of the probable four week wait listed on the Screen Archives website.

    Thank you for the review and I've ordered it for sentimental recapture of an impressive night at the long gone Park Hall Cinerama in Cardiff.

     

    I'm curious as to why the sound is listed as stereo when it was a 6 track film. I'm looking forward to seeing it very much at the end of the probable four week wait listed on the Screen Archives website.

     

    The answer lies in the Khartoum thread in the Blu-ray forum. You'll also find the answer you're looking for during the audio commentary on the disc.

    The answer lies in the Khartoum thread in the Blu-ray forum. You'll also find the answer you're looking for during the audio commentary on the disc.

     

    Yet despite that answer a forum member clearly states a cinema showing from not that long ago was 5.1 so it seems MGM is not being entirely truthful with their reply to Twilight Time and also the link below from a reliable source states Khartoum was shown with DTS sound in 2008 and 2011, what is more likely is that MGM are using an old master with an old 2.0 sound mix.

     

    I read this film played at a German festival a few years ago with a 6 track magnetic soundtrack, that one might have been dubbed as Germany does like dubbing films, still the point is a 5.1 track exists even if it isn't a mix taken from the original 6 track mag.

     

    I would add that It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has also just been released on blu ray with it's new 5.1 dts track as linked to below, it is obvious to me that MGM is the problem as this release should have a 5.1 track, this is cheapness at work.

     

    http://www.in70mm.co...s/dts/index.htm

     

    More info below.

     

    http://www.in70mm.co.../2008/khartoum/

     

    Here is the post which backs up the above information.

     

    http://www.hometheat...toum/?p=4043219

     

    From that post.

     

    The 70mm Ultra Panavision print screened at Bradford a few years ago used a DTS/Datasat 5.1 track.

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    Lromero1396
    Jan 21 2014 01:46 PM

    The audio definitely should have come from a DTS 70mm source or the 6-track mag. MGM undoubtedly has a 6-track source element, but probably just didn't want to transfer it as a cost-cutting measure. The real issue that no one has discussed yet is a lack of will to preserve film history on MGM's part, though that is hardly new to anyone's ears (eyes?) on this forum.

    Shame on MGM/UA.

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    Malcolm Bmoor
    Jan 22 2014 05:54 AM

    Sorry Matt  -  The answer lies in the Khartoum thread in the Blu-ray forum. You'll also find the answer you're looking for during the audio commentary on the disc.

     

    It's been a while since I read all that and I forgot what had been said. Oh well, it will be of limited sentimental value. 

     

    I'm certain that the reason Sir Laurence Olivier didn't go on location was because of stage committments and not out of deliberate awkwardness.

    Why would they only release 3k copies of the film? - and at $39.99, that's pretty pricey. Disappointed.

    Why would they only release 3k copies of the film? - and at $39.99, that's pretty pricey. Disappointed.

     

    It's distributed by Twilight Time, a Limited Edition Series, otherwise it may not have seen the light of day. It's listed on their site at $29.95.

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    theonemacduff
    Jan 22 2014 11:42 PM

    Why would they only release 3k copies of the film? - and at $39.99, that's pretty pricey. Disappointed.

    Because that's what Twilight Time does, and it's a pain in the rear. Khartoum was released on regular DVD as a catalogue title and has continued to sell, afaik, so it beggars belief to think that a similar BR catalogue release would not sell. While it's nice to have TT releasing stuff, it doesn't do much for those of us who lack the deep pockets of a few collectors (3,000 of them, in the TT business model), but who would still like to be able to view the film. The marketing is that TT is making films available when otherwise they would not be, but I really doubt that is the case, or rather, it's the case in only a few instances. Olive seems to be doing okay with their business model too, releasing older catalogue titles, in editions that don't have some arbitrary press-run limitation, and which -- for all their sometime faults as transfers -- are available to a much broader range of consumers. I think it's false to say that only a niche marketer can do the job, and I abhor the 3K limit; all that does is keep prices high, and shut out anyone not making a certain income. End of rant.

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    Richard Gallagher
    Jan 23 2014 07:51 AM

    Why would they only release 3k copies of the film? - and at $39.99, that's pretty pricey. Disappointed.

     

    The DVD of Khartoum is being sold for $40.48 at Amazon. As noted above, the price of the Blu-ray is $29.95 when you buy it at the Screen Archives website. There is a link in Matt's review.

     

    Lets not blame MGM too much.

    One of the constant complaint I have made about regular dvd, in general,  is that we finally have a system that can reproduce all individual tracks,  but we constantly get 2.0 mix downs from Fox, turner and allother studios, particularly of the Ciniemascope films from the fifties.

     

    The studios constantly claim they no longer have the originals, which we all know is not true.

    Olive seems to be doing okay with their business model too, releasing older catalogue titles, in editions that don't have some arbitrary press-run limitation, and which -- for all their sometime faults as transfers -- are available to a much broader range of consumers. I think it's false to say that only a niche marketer can do the job, and I abhor the 3K limit; all that does is keep prices high, and shut out anyone not making a certain income. End of rant.


    Do we actually know if there is not a limited run on the titles from Olive. It's not advertised but I bet there is a set number of copies pressed.
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    Richard Gallagher
    Jan 28 2014 08:20 AM

    Do we actually know if there is not a limited run on the titles from Olive. It's not advertised but I bet there is a set number of copies pressed.

     

    And Olive's Blu-rays are getting more expensive. They used to be $14 or so at Import CDs, but the April releases are going to cost $23.06 plus shipping from Import CDS and $27.98 at Amazon.

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    Keith Cobby
    Jan 28 2014 11:06 AM

    Many DVDs are no longer available.