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    The Great Escape Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray MGM

    May 20 2013 12:05 AM | Cameron Yee in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    The 50-year old, WWII prison break procedural debuts on Blu-ray with an ultimately satisfactory – but somewhat controversial – high definition presentation. With a highly enticing, sub-$10 street price, however, it should give even the purists pause.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: MGM
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono), French 5.1 DTS, Other
    • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 2 Hr. 52 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type:
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 05/07/2013
    • MSRP: $19.99

    The Production Rating: 4.5/5

    In 1944, the Nazi Luftwaffe builds the Stalag Luft III POW camp in an effort to contain the prisoners-of-war most likely to attempt (or re-attempt) escape. Described by its commandant as “putting all the rotten eggs in one basket,” the camp seems like a good strategy, until one realizes the Nazis have effectively assembled some of the most determined and ingenious officers serving in the Allied Forces.

    Leading the multinational prisoner group is RAF Squadron Leader “Big X” Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), whose past organized escapes have made him a particularly high profile prisoner in the camp. Undeterred by the threat of execution should he try again, he concocts a plan as audacious as the facility that imprisons him – they will secretly dig three tunnels out of the camp, spanning over 300 feet in length in one instance, and lead 250 men to freedom.

    To be successful will require an incredible degree of organization, ingenuity and secrecy, personified by the likes of “The Scrounger” Robert Hendley (James Garner), “The Manufacturer” Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn), “Tunnel Kings” Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson) and Willie Dickes (John Leyton), “Forger” Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasance), and “Dispersal” Eric Ashley-Pitt (David McCallum).

    Apparently operating on his own, but who will prove an asset to the operation in his own way, is “Cooler King” Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen), whose repeated escape attempts with “The Mole” Archibald Ives (Angus Lennie) provide a necessary distraction from a much grander plan in the making.

    Though success is in no way a foregone conclusion, considering that true freedom extends well beyond the camp’s barbed wire enclosures, their gambit will at least feed their indomitable fighting spirit. And even if not all of them make it out, there’s a good chance some of them ultimately will.

    Adapted from the captivating true story documented in Paul Brickhill’s book by the same name, The Great Escape was practically tailor-made for turning into a thrilling Hollywood movie with its diverse cast of characters, war time setting, and prison-break storyline. Though some revisions to the original account inevitably came along with the Hollywood treatment – most notably the role of McQueen as the inexhaustible Capt. Hilts – it stayed true to the story’s winning spirit of survival and determination with a surprisingly workable mix of prison house procedural and sometimes light hearted drama (mostly involving McQueen). If the film were made today, no doubt it would carry a darker, even more cynical, tone. But the absence of those qualities, at least by current standards, makes it stand out in a rather refreshing way, showing that it’s possible to tell a compelling story without necessarily plunging into the darkest depths.

    Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA

    There’s already been a lot said – on this site and others – about The Great Escape’s transfer to Blu-ray. Anyone who wants the blow-by-blow can look to Robert Harris’ nine-page (and counting) thread on the topic, but for the moment let’s try to ignore all that (or at least most of it). The bottom line is, well, the bottom line:

    The release warrants a purchase.

    That’s due to the combination of an irresistible street price (under $10 in most cases) and technical quality that will prove more than satisfactory to the majority of home theater enthusiasts.

    For some, however, no matter the price, “more than satisfactory” won’t be good enough, especially for a film classic like The Great Escape. And that’s totally within their right, to “vote with their wallets” as the saying goes.

    That’s not to say those of us in the former group don’t see the image’s occasional deficiencies – instances of softness, variable contrast and a not-quite-organic look that suggests some degree of (rather sophisticated) digital tinkering. It’s just that in a film running almost three hours long, there’s plenty of instances where things look quite nice - impressive depth of color, great detail, and inky blacks – making the good ultimately outweigh the bad by a pretty good margin. Some have quantified the positives at 80%, which seems about right to my eyes, hence the rating I've given this flawed but ultimately more than acceptable presentation.

    Audio Rating: 3.5/5

    Less controversial, by good measure, is the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which sounds consistently crisp and detailed in the dialogue track, but doesn’t offer much in the way of surround activity, other than some light support for the orchestral score. LFE is non-existent, but there’s sufficient bass extension that gives the track a consistent sense of depth and fullness.

    Special Features: 4/5

    The extras port the items from the 2004 special edition DVD, providing plenty of detail about the actual history of the escape, though somewhat repetitively after the third or fourth documentary on the subject. A 50th anniversary retrospective might have been a nice addition, but as things stand, there’s no lack of information on both the escape and the making of the film.

    Audio Commentary with Director John Sturges, Cast and Crew

    Flight to Freedom (9:22, SD): Compares fact to fiction, highlighting the movie’s famous motorcycle scene and the actual fate of the escapees.

    Preparations for Freedom (19:50, SD): Provides an overview of the actual history behind the prisoner of war camp escape plan, referencing parts of the film that provided an accurate depiction of events as well as changes made for the film adaptation.

    Bringing Fact to Fiction (12:21, SD): Details the major differences between the actual history and the film, the reasons behind the changes and the steps in development.

    A Standing Ovation (5:58, SD): Describes the film’s marketing and premiere campaign and the public reaction.

    Great Escape: The Untold Story (50:58, SD): 2001 British-made documentary details the actual events, using re-enactments, personal home movie footage and written correspondence, and interviews with POW survivors and their families.

    Great Escape: The Untold Story – Additional Interviews (9:35, SD): With camp survivors Alex Cassie and Jimmy James.

    A Man Called Jones: The Real Virgil Hilts (25:01, SD): David M. Jones, on whom Steve McQueen’s character was based, talks about his experience in World War II and subsequent military career.

    Return to the Great Escape (24:09, SD): Yet another documentary, this one sourced from videotape, describes the making of the film and the event that inspired it.

    Trailer (2:42, HD)

    Overall Rating: 4/5

    Outside of some inconsistencies in the video presentation, most fans of The Great Escape should be happy with its debut on Blu-ray, especially at the going sub-$10 street price. Along with the special features, which port over all the extras from the 2004 special edition DVD, it ultimately makes for a worthwhile upgrade. Some may feel differently based on their priorities, but as always that’s their prerogative as both consumers and home theater enthusiasts.

    Reviewed by: Cameron Yee
    Support HTF when you buy this title:



    21 Comments

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    Robert Crawford
    May 20 2013 01:14 AM

    A fair review that I agree with.  Yes, it could've and should've been better, but it is still a worthwhile BD purchase for me.

    I certainly agree about the quality of the film and the quality of the sound encode. And I'd certainly recommend the disc to fans of the film; it's likely the best we'll ever get from MGM unless the current regime sells off its assets to someone who would lavish more care on the existing elements. My video score might be a tiny bit less but that's really nit picking. The video is good overall, and that's the main thing. Good enough? That could be an argument that would last through eternity.

    I think Matt's assessment of "it's likely the best we will ever get from MGM", rings very true.  They are sitting on other catalog titles, *cough* THE ALAMO *cough* that are likley to NEVER get any kind of bluray treatment, good OR crappy.  I'm in the camp of give me something, anything, even if it is subpar, if that is the only way you will do it.

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    Richard Gallagher
    May 20 2013 04:01 PM

    Like most of us, I have spent much more money on movies which are barely watchable.

     

    I don't remember what I paid for my Criterion laserdisc of The Great Escape, but it was a helluva lot more than $10!

    The Alamo is a good start on releasing on blu-ray movies that had a crapy dvd release and one of my favorite WW2 films John Frankenheimer's "The Train"  (1965) should get a re-release to replace the 1999 non-anamorphic dvd.

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    lukejosephchung
    May 22 2013 02:02 PM

    Considering the financial misfortunes of MGM/UA over the past 4 decades that have become legend among film buffs, I'd consider this blu-ray presentation of TGE to be as good as we'll get any time in the near or long-term future. It's not perfect, but definitely better than decent and one I can happily live with. If John Wayne's "The Alamo" could be made to look and sound anything within the ballpark of this disc, I'd be doing back-flips for joy!!!

      • ahollis likes this
    I don't think the "I paid soo much more for the laser" is very relevant anymore.

    Anyway I watched about 1.5 hrs last night and since I never watched this movie on DVD
    or any other way there is nothing to compare, so to my eyes this bluray looks awful.

    Blurry, out of focus, soft, muted colors, too dark.

    No more than a 2/5

    If I should be saying it looks like film than it looks as bad as any movie I saw at the dollar movies when I was a kid.

    The sound is great.

    The opening theme song with the drums was thumping my theater room and besides that the sound is great.
    Photo
    Robert Crawford
    May 23 2013 12:03 AM

    I don't think the "I paid soo much more for the laser" is very relevant anymore.

    Anyway I watched about 1.5 hrs last night and since I never watched this movie on DVD
    or any other way there is nothing to compare, so to my eyes this bluray looks awful.

    Blurry, out of focus, soft, muted colors, too dark.

    No more than a 2/5

    If I should be saying it looks like film than it looks as bad as any movie I saw at the dollar movies when I was a kid.

    The sound is great.

    The opening theme song with the drums was thumping my theater room and besides that the sound is great.

    How well do you know this film?  As your bolded comment appears to suggest to me that you're not aware of certain aspects of how this movie was filmed.  Also, it would help if you note which scenes you're talking about?

    Robert I don't know anything about how it was filmed other than what I've read on HTF.
    That info doesn't change my opinion that the movie looks terrible.

    I'm sure this is the best it has and will look on a home video format but
    that doesn't make me like it any more.

    I'm just happy to finally be able to see this film I've heard
    Is so great in the best possible way to watch it at home.
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    Robert Crawford
    May 23 2013 09:46 AM

    Robert I don't know anything about how it was filmed other than what I've read on HTF.
    That info doesn't change my opinion that the movie looks terrible.

    I'm sure this is the best it has and will look on a home video format but
    that doesn't make me like it any more.


    I'm just happy to finally be able to see this film I've heard
    Is so great in the best possible way to watch it at home.

    Fair enough as I respect everyones opinion even if I don't agree with it.

    Though I respect everyone's opinion, I can't understand the notion that The Great Escape looks terrible.  You should have seen it in general release back in 1963.   My local theatre ran a print with an ugly yellow line running through it for most of the film.  I also saw prints of The Ten Commandments and The Poseidon Adventure in similar condition early in their general wide release engagements.  I thought The Great Escape bluray looked fine.  It doesn't look as nice as some other Panavision films such as Funny Girl do, but it still looks very nice and far better than any theatrical print I've ever seen.  Perfect?  No.  Terrible?  Not by a long shot.

    Photo
    Robert Crawford
    May 23 2013 10:06 AM

    Though I respect everyone's opinion, I can't understand the notion that The Great Escape looks terrible.  You should have seen it in general release back in 1963.   My local theatre ran a print with an ugly yellow line running through it for most of the film.  I also saw prints of The Ten Commandments and The Poseidon Adventure in similar condition early in their general wide release engagements.  I thought The Great Escape bluray looked fine.  It doesn't look as nice as some other Panavision films such as Funny Girl do, but it still looks very nice and far better than any theatrical print I've ever seen.  Perfect?  No.  Terrible?  Not by a long shot.

    Because your expectations, film knowledge, HT Setup & environment as well as personal senses such as sight, hearing and sensitivity/tolerance to those senses are probably different than Tony's so I can understand why you would think it's fine while he thinks it terrible.

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    Richard Gallagher
    May 27 2013 02:12 PM

    I don't think the "I paid soo much more for the laser" is very relevant anymore.

    Anyway I watched about 1.5 hrs last night and since I never watched this movie on DVD
    or any other way there is nothing to compare, so to my eyes this bluray looks awful.

    Blurry, out of focus, soft, muted colors, too dark.

    No more than a 2/5

    If I should be saying it looks like film than it looks as bad as any movie I saw at the dollar movies when I was a kid.
     

     

    Let me put it this way - the extras alone are worth $10.

     

    As for the feature, the image is indeed soft in places, but it would be helpful to this discussion if you would point out specific scenes which you found to be blurry and out of focus. It is impossible to respond in a meaningful way without knowing which scenes you are talking about.

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    haineshisway
    May 29 2013 04:45 PM

    It's been stated over and over and over, but let's state it again - yes, there are soft sequences - this film has one optical after another.  People really need to learn about opticals because these discussions will be much easier on the eyes when they do :).  All opticals are softer than production photography because they are many generations down the food chain.  The Great Escape not only has a huge number of them but they are also VERY long, lasting two to five minutes occasionally.  Those shots will never be sharp, and I would guess that every single person who is complaining about occasional softness is talking about those scenes and/or the scenes shot with a heavy diffusion filter.  

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    Richard Gallagher
    May 29 2013 08:08 PM

    It's been stated over and over and over, but let's state it again - yes, there are soft sequences - this film has one optical after another.  People really need to learn about opticals because these discussions will be much easier on the eyes when they do :).  All opticals are softer than production photography because they are many generations down the food chain.  The Great Escape not only has a huge number of them but they are also VERY long, lasting two to five minutes occasionally.  Those shots will never be sharp, and I would guess that every single person who is complaining about occasional softness is talking about those scenes and/or the scenes shot with a heavy diffusion filter.  

     

    I agree, and it must be emphasized that there is a difference between softness and blurriness. There is a difference between softness and the image being out of focus.

     

    If someone is going to complain about blurred images and out of focus images, it behooves the complainer to to cite the specific scenes so we can take another look at them ourselves.

     

    I watched The Great Escape on Blu-ray the other night and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    ^ ^ Now I have to take a film class before I watch a bluray? Since I seem to be the one saying it looks awful let me say That opticals don't mean anything to me while I'm watching a bluray, why should it? I'm not going to watch a movie and say, oh that looks pretty awful, must be because of the opticals so therefore the awfulness is okay. Going by what's been posted in this topic the look of this movie has always Been bad so in that line of thinking the bluray looks bad too so every thing is okay. I don't want to go back through this 3.5 hour movie trying to figure out which scenes look poor. I think everyone knows what scenes look poor. I think it's just about the whole movie. As for the movie itself (uh oh) it was okay. Was somewhat anticlimactic after all was said and done.
    Spoiler
    Give the movie 3/5 stars and picture 2/5 stars. If this is what one thinks the bluray should look like than 4.5 of 5 Audio was great, I loved the soundtrack especially the beginning.

    I don't want to go back through this 3.5 hour movie trying to figure out which scenes
    look poor. I think everyone knows what scenes look poor. I think it's just about the whole movie.

    The movie is only 2.87 hours, not 3.5. That proves you don't know what you're talking about!  :D

    Ouch, now why was I thinking was nearly 3.5 hours.
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    David Weicker
    May 29 2013 08:50 PM




    As for the movie itself (uh oh) it was okay. Was somewhat anticlimactic after all was said and done.

    Spoiler




    Since I'm responding to a 'spoiler', for those who haven't watched it yet, I will clarify in like fashion.

    Spoiler


    David

    Watched the blu ray of The Great Escape on my 60inch Sharp 2012 640U monitor.  Overall it was the best I ever have ever seen the film on home video.  I did see the movie in the theater upon first release and it looked great.  I think the last time I saw it at home was on VHS pan and scan and Steve McQueen was in the cooler throwing the ball out of frame. 

     

    I understand about the softness of the optical shots in the film, the titles and the dissolves.  But one thing perplexes me.  During the 4th of July sequence all of the outdoor scenes are soft but the intercut interior (studio) scenes all look sharp.  So were there problems shooting the outdoor scenes during that whole sequence or perhaps exteriors during the whole film? Or did they shoot the exteriors diffused? 

    Photo
    Robert Crawford
    May 30 2013 06:50 PM

    Watched the blu ray of The Great Escape on my 60inch Sharp 2012 640U monitor.  Overall it was the best I ever have ever seen the film on home video.  I did see the movie in the theater upon first release and it looked great.  I think the last time I saw it at home was on VHS pan and scan and Steve McQueen was in the cooler throwing the ball out of frame. 

     

    I understand about the softness of the optical shots in the film, the titles and the dissolves.  But one thing perplexes me.  During the 4th of July sequence all of the outdoor scenes are soft but the intercut interior (studio) scenes all look sharp.  So were there problems shooting the outdoor scenes during that whole sequence or perhaps exteriors during the whole film? Or did they shoot the exteriors diffused? 

    I'm thinking that last option for some exteriors.