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    Hardware Reviews


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    Zulu Blu-ray review

    Blu-ray MGM Twilight Time

    Jan 26 2014 03:51 PM | Richard Gallagher in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    I am having a difficult time thinking of a film which I have watched more times that Zulu, director Cy Endfield's 1964 epic about the Battle of Rorke's Drift in Natal, South Africa in 1879. I saw it for the first time on a big screen when I was 16 years old, and it made an indelible impression upon me. I have owned at least five versions of Zulu - the Criterion laserdisc, DVDs by Roan and MGM, the region-free United Kingdom Blu-ray released by Paramount in 2008, and now the MGM Blu-ray from Twilight Time which is the subject of this review. The question which has been on every fan's mind is which is better, the UK Blu-ray or the Twilight Time Blu-ray? The answer is not as simple as you might expect. To my eyes and ears both are very good, but they are decidedly different. The UK Blu-ray is brighter and has stronger (and perhaps boosted) colors, and was transferred from a more pristine print, but many viewers feel that DNR robbed it of texture. The colors on the Twilight Time Blu-ray are solid and accurate but they are not as vivid, and an occasional speckle can be seen here and there. However, the 2.0 DTS-HD MA true stereo soundtrack on the new release blows the UK Blu-ray away.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: MGM
    • Distributed By: Twilight Time
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
    • Subtitles: English SDH
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 2 Hr. 18 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray
    • Case Type: Standard Blu-ray Keep Case
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 01/22/2014
    • MSRP: $29.95

    The Production Rating: 5/5

    Zulu opens with a panaromic view of the aftermath of the Battle of Isandlwana, where in 1879 an invading force of British soldiers has been overwhelmed by Zulu warriors. The action then moves to the main Zulu village, where a mass wedding is being conducted as two missionaries, Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins) and his daughter Margareta (Ulla Jacobsson) look on with mild disapproval. During the ceremony a Zulu runner arrives with the news about the victory at Isandlwana. When the missionaries learn the news and realize that the Zulus are now going to attack the small British outpost at Rorke's Drift, they immediately rush there to warn the soldiers. In the meantime, the soldiers at Rorke's Drift are busy building a bridge under the supervision of Lt. John Chard (Stanley Baker), an engineering officer who has just arrived. The commanding officer of the outpost is Lt. Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine), and his relationship with Chard gets off to an uneasy beginning when he discovers that the engineering officer has commandeered his men to work on the bridge. However, the work on the bridge comes to a halt when Adendorff (Gert van den Bergh), a member of the Natal Native Contingent, arrives in camp with word about the stunning defeat at Isandlwana and they realize that they are in a perilous situation. There are approximately 150 soldiers at Rorke's Drift, including support personnel, and they anticipate being attacked by thousands of Zulu warriors. Bromhead is chagrined to learn that he is slightly outranked by Chard. Bromhead is a combat officer and he does not like the idea of having tactics dictated by a member of the Royal Engineers. Nevertheless, they set about strengthening their position in anticipation of the inevitable onslaught.

    Zulu is replete with wonderful performances. Michael Caine was at that time a relative unknown, with mostly bit parts to his credit, but Zulu put him on the path to stardom. Stanley Baker is the nominal star of the film, and he had already established himself as rugged leading man. Nigel Greene turns in a memorable performance as the non-nonsense Colour-Sgt. Bourne, who maintains discipline among the troops during the most harrowing moments. Mention also must be made of the performance of James Booth as Pvt. Henry Hook, a chronic goldbricker who must decide whether to fight when the outlook for the British becomes bleak. The film is narrated by Richard Burton.

    The script, co-written by director Endfield and John Prebble, is wise, in my estimation, to avoid getting bogged down in questions about the rights and wrongs of British imperialism. Issues of colonialism and suppression of indigenous populations are addressed with subtlety. Those who would like to learn more about how the British got into this mess would do well to check out the 1979 prequel, Zulu Dawn. The 1964 film is essentially a straightforward war movie about heroism and resoluteness in that face of overwhelming odds. Director Endfield's pacing is flawless, the battle scenes are truly gripping, the cinematography by Stephen Dade is spectacular, and John Barry's music score is splendid.

    When I saw Zulu for the first time I was emotionally drained by the time the final credits rolled. No matter how many times I watch it, I never fail to be impressed by the bravery and fighting spirit which is demonstrated by the combatants on both sides of the battle.

    The Twilight Time Blu-ray of Zulu is being pressed in a limited edition of 3,000 copies. Readers who are interested in purchasing it should go to the Screen Archives website and verify that copies are still available.

    Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    As noted above, the picture quality of this Twilight Time Blu-ray is different than the U.K. Blu-ray. Whether it is overall better or worse will depend in large part upon individual preferences. The image is darker than the U.K. version (although not, on my display, as dark as some of the screenshots I have seen). The colors are accurate and solid, and they are devoid of bleeding, but the colors on the U.K. release jump out at the viewer a bit more. Some viewers have theorized that the colors and contrast on the U.K. release were artificially boosted and feel that it suffers from excessive DNR. There is no much in the way of film grain on the Twilight Time release, but Zulu is a large format film which was displayed in Super Technirama 70 so there is not much grain in the source material. Our resident expert, Robert A. Harris, has given his own opinion and readers are invited to read his comments and the responses.

    The Twilight Time Blu-ray exhibits some occasional specks and clearly comes from a different source than the U.K. Blu-ray. However, my personal opinion is that most viewers will be perfectly happy with it, as it is a vast improvement over the prior Region A DVD releases. The 2.35:1 image appears to be properly framed and is encoded with the AVC codec.

    Audio Rating: 4.5/5

    Regarding the audio, there is no question but that the Twilight Time release is superior to the U.K. Blu-ray. Here we have true stereo, with a big sound which perfectly matches the scope of the action which takes place on the screen. John Barry's exceptional score is given a wide and thoroughly pleasing soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and clean and entirely intelligible, although English SDH subtitles can be engaged for those who need them.

    Special Features: 3/5

    The Twilight Time Blu-ray of Zulu includes an informative and interesting audio commentary by Nick Redman of Twilight Time and film historian Lem Dobbs.

    The original theatrical trailer is included, and it is a very good shape. There also is a promo for MGM's 90th Anniversary, but it is accessed only through the extras menu and can be skipped if you do not care to see it.

    As with all Twilight Time releases, this Blu-ray offers the ability to listen to John Barry's isolated score track.

    An eight-page color booklet contains still photos from the film and contains an insightful essay by the always astute and knowledgeable Julie Kirgo.

    Overall Rating: 4/5

    Zulu is one of the finest and most exciting war films ever made. While this Blu-ray from Twilight Time is not perfect (we can presumably blame MGM for that), it is a vast improvement over previous DVD releases, and whether it is preferable to the U.K. Blu-ray is a matter of personal preference. What really makes this Blu-ray shine is the wonderful and spectacular audio which truly enhances the viewing experience.

    Reviewed by: Richard Gallagher
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    9 Comments

    I saw the same thing when i compared the two versions with my 2 blu-ray players and the sound was much more impresive on the Twlight Time release.  My copy of the UK Paramount blu-ray did play on my region A player so i think it is a All region disc. I will keep both versions for sure and my Criterion laserdisc too.

    The image is darker than the U.K. version (although not, on my display, as dark as some of the screenshots I have seen).

     

    Richard, I don't really get what this portion of the review means. A screencap is a single frame's worth of data captured directly from a Blu-ray disc. Aside from any compression issues (depending on the format used), if you view the screencap on your display, it should be identical to having the Blu-ray in your player, paused on the same frame. It can't be darker or brighter than the Blu-ray disc from whence it came, unless the screencap has been manipulated. And most people who do screencaps know enough not to do that.

     

    So it's not really possible for an actual movie on BD to be brighter than a screencap from the same disc, unless you viewed the screencap on a darker display (e.g. a computer monitor), while your primary home theater display perhaps has brighter settings.

    Richard, I don't really get what this portion of the review means. A screencap is a single frame's worth of data captured directly from a Blu-ray disc. Aside from any compression issues (depending on the format used), if you view the screencap on your display, it should be identical to having the Blu-ray in your player, paused on the same frame. It can't be darker or brighter than the Blu-ray disc from whence it came, unless the screencap has been manipulated. And most people who do screencaps know enough not to do that.

     

    So it's not really possible for an actual movie on BD to be brighter than a screencap from the same disc, unless you viewed the screencap on a darker display (e.g. a computer monitor), while your primary home theater display perhaps has brighter settings.

     

    What I'm saying is that I'm looking at the screencaps of the Twilight Time Blu-ray on my computer monitor and I'm looking at the actual Blu-ray on my Panasonic plasma TV, and the screencaps on my computer are darker than what I am seeing on my professionally calibrated Panasonic. Also, when I do an A/B comparison of the U.K. Blu-ray to the Twilight Time Blu-ray on the Panasonic I am not seeing the same degree of difference that I see on the screencaps.

     

    That's what I see, but I invite others who have both versions to chime in.

    I saw the same thing when i compared the two versions with my 2 blu-ray players and the sound was much more impresive on the Twlight Time release.  My copy of the UK Paramount blu-ray did play on my region A player so i think it is a All region disc. I will keep both versions for sure and my Criterion laserdisc too.

     

    I don't believe that I ever tried to play the UK Blu-ray on my region A player. I'll give it a try.

     

    It's worth mentioning that there are several interesting extras on the UK Paramount Blu-ray, so like you I am keeping both.

    The UK Zulu is region-free.

    Good review, Richard. I was on the fence on this one; but I just ordered it. I am satisified that the UK version which I have is not DNR'd to death. But the new one seems to be slightly better framed. And I decided that the sound issue justified the upgrade. When I first got into Laserdisc, it was because the sound was so much better than VHS. I really didn't want to plunk down $30 to buy Zulu yet again; but it's a favorite and should look (and sound) as good as possible. I'll also keep the UK version for its special features.

    When i did my a/b comparison of the two blu-ray discs with my Panasonic and Sony players i noticed that the Twlight version was a little darker and colors less vibrant then the UK release.

     

    Zulu is one of the finest and most exciting war films ever made. 

     

    I agree. I'm always puzzled that when people compile their list of best war films, Zulu is often omitted.

    When i did my a/b comparison of the two blu-ray discs with my Panasonic and Sony players i noticed that the Twlight version was a little darker and colors less vibrant then the UK release.

     

    That's what I see. I don't believe that anyone would object to the vibrancy of the colors on the TT Blu-ray if they didn't have the UK version to compare it with.