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HTF HD-DVD Review: Flags of our Fathers


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#1 of 23 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted May 15 2007 - 01:42 PM


Flags of our Fathers (HD-DVD)

Studio: DreamWorks Home Video
Rated: R (Sequences of graphic war violence, carnage and language)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio: English, French, Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH
Time: 132 minutes
Disc Format: 2 SS/DL HD-DVD’s
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date:2006
HD-DVD Release Date: May 22, 2007


Told from the perspective of the men who landed on Iwo Jima, and funneled through the narrative lens of one of their children, Flags of our Fathers shows how one image can change the world. The image in question is the famous photo taken by Joe Rosenthal of several U.S. Marines hoisting the American flag on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima soon after we landed as part of a World War II offensive. The picture reaches the press and the powers-that-be in the States and the government sees it as a way to reclaim waning American support of the war and generate a needed $14 billion dollars to finish World War II. The brass jumps to it trying to hunt down the men who were in the picture only to find some of them dead, and the living ones hesitant and deceptive.

John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillipe), Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) are the three Iwo Jima veterans tasked with drumming up support for war bond sales. They are escorted across America by Keyes Beech (John Benjamin Hickey) and Bud Gerber (John Slattery) reading the government rhetoric extolling their virtues and the need for war bond sales. While traveling, the men are still fighting the demons of the battle at Iwo Jima as well as those that reside in themselves: Hayes drinks, Bradley relives the gruesomeness of the battle, and Gagnon enjoys the personal glory. The narrative takes us through the bloody battle and the trek across the States. We are shown that the war didn’t end for these soldiers when they came home, and the American propaganda machine must be fed…even at the cost of the truth.

Clint Eastwood takes a picture that is a thematic and cinematic brother to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg also produced this picture) and focuses into a wholly American film. Saving Private Ryan concerned itself with the cost of saving one life; Eastwood focuses on how the war affected the men and women of America and America itself. He casts a cloud over a seemingly patriotic, singular image and shows how quick we are to turn the patriotic picture into a means to make money. Eastwood uses the story to validate the men who fought in Iwo Jima and just as quickly turns to condemn their masters and their means. While we can sit here all day and argue the right and wrong of what our government did, Eastwood infuses the picture with the deep veins of red blooded American patriotism, showing three men on a journey to support their country in any way they can.


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units.

The picture is framed at 2.35:1, and it is encoded in VC-1 at 1080p. Eastwood borrows the look of Saving Private Ryan with its de-saturated color scheme, taking most of the colors to near mono-chromatic levels. The Iwo Jima scenes in particular maintain this washed out look while the scenes in the US tend to revert to more natural colors. Contrast levels remain very good in this video presentation and black levels are exceptional. Detail in the shadows (and there’s plenty of them) is precise and defined. Sharpness, however, seemed to be slightly diminished overall, but this helped to give the picture a less polished look that I believe Eastwood and his cinematographer Tom Stern were going for. This HD-DVD still provides some very nice detail in the image, such as in the crowd scenes and the long shots of the battleships landing on the island. Edge enhancement was not noticed and there was no film dirt. This is a very nice, refined presentation.


Audio:
The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack was attained by a 5.1 analog connection.

I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track engaged. This is an exceptional soundtrack featuring great panning effects across all the channels and a very spacious soundstage. The Iwo Jima scenes scream with the sounds of rocket, bullets and planes whizzing all around the five channels. Bass effects are low and thunderous enough to rattle you in your seat. Mixes such as this can easily lose the dialogue in the effects, but that is not the case here: each actor is clearly heard in harmony with his surroundings. Voices are natural and guttural, emphasizing the desperation in the soldier’s plight. The scenes in America are more subdued as they should be and they stay planted in the front channels. There is no distortion or hiss in the soundtrack either. As is the case with the video, this audio presentation is excellent and a great show piece to a home theater.


Bonus Material:
With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in VC-1 encoding unless otherwise noted.

Introduction by Clint Eastwood (5:07): Eastwood gives a brief overview of the story and the history while showing Iwo Jima today.

Words on the Page (17:03): James Bradley talks about his father, John, and the real life events behind the story. Bradley delves into the psychology behind what the photo did to his father, the other soldiers and their families. James also explains why John never spoke about Iwo Jima and he relates some really heart wrenching stories that didn’t make it into the picture. Screenwriters William Broyles, Jr. and Paul Haggis also contribute talking about the soldiers, the inception of the picture and its production.

Six Brave Men (19:51): the six actors who portray the flag raising soldiers talk about their characters and their motivations. Eastwood also comments on them and the piece is interspersed with behind the scenes shots.

The Making of an Epic (30:11): Eastwood’s crew, most of which have been with him many years, discuss how the production came about and what went into making the picture. Again, lots of great behind the scenes shots.

Raising the Flag (3:25): Eastwood and cast members talks about the difficulties in maintaining historical accuracy while filming specifically in the film’s key moment.

Visual Effects (14:54): The visual effects guys from Digital Domain talk about the effects showing some of the CG shots and the various layers that make up the complicated composite shots.

Looking Into the Past (9:26): Archival, newsreel footage of the actual attack on Iwo Jima and a couple quick pieces of the War Bond drive.

Theatrical Trailer


Conclusions:
Proof that one picture is worth a thousand words, Flags of our Fathers is not only a tribute to the men who fought at Iwo Jima, but a firm comment on America in general. DreamWorks two disc HD-DVD is a pleasure to behold in the home theater environment boasting a great picture and a dynamic soundtrack. There is also a great set of extras to enhance the experience.
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#2 of 23 OFFLINE   Ed St. Clair

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Posted May 15 2007 - 02:47 PM

Thanks!
Great to have DreamWorks on HD Disc.
Movies are: "The Greatest Artform".
HD should be for EVERYONE!

#3 of 23 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted May 15 2007 - 07:31 PM

Good review. Already have my pre-order in for a member of my Top 10 for 2006. Can't wait. Posted Image

#4 of 23 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted May 15 2007 - 10:33 PM

Pat, thanks.

Although I hesitated to buy "Flags" as a film (for various reasons), I finally pre-ordered this HD DVD together with that of "Letters". I think the pair is simply great to have (and to see) and strongly belong together.


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#5 of 23 OFFLINE   Yumbo

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Posted May 15 2007 - 11:38 PM

Comparison to DVD?

#6 of 23 OFFLINE   Mike.B

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Posted May 16 2007 - 02:51 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cees Alons
Pat, thanks.

Although I hesitated to buy "Flags" as a film (for various reasons), I finally pre-ordered this HD DVD together with that of "Letters". I think the pair is simply great to have (and to see) and strongly belong together.


Cees


I wish they had packaged Flags and Letters together in one case (at a consumer-friendly price, of course Posted Image).

#7 of 23 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted May 16 2007 - 04:03 AM

I did not get the SD DVD for comparison.

I have "Letters from Iwo Jima" on the way. I really had little interest in seeing "Flags" initially as I'm burned out on war pics, but I'm glad I got to see it. I even more interested to see "Letter" and how it fits in as a companion piece.
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#8 of 23 OFFLINE   Rob Foss

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Posted May 16 2007 - 10:19 AM

I appreciate the review Pat but I find myself disagreeing with some of your comments. For instance you say 'Gagnon was present at the flag raising, but he was not one of the men in the picture.' But actually Gagnon was in the picture. He's one of the six men raising the flag in Rosenthal's famous shot!

Then there's this:

'Clint Eastwood takes a picture that is a thematic and cinematic brother to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan'

I would say Flags really has little in common with SPR which was full of war movie conventions & patriotic rhetoric. There are only a few superficial similarities between the two, i.e., Spielberg's name on the credits & a beach landing scene.

Flags is a meditation on the difference between combat myth (something SPR cosily embraces) and combat reality as well as the way war fractures not just the flesh & bone of the combatants but time itself. Even the combat scenes in Flags are utilised in a completely different way (as traumatic, disorientating flashbacks) to the ones in Ryan. It's not the mission of finding one man or the strategy of holding a bridge until the cavalry arrives that's important here, but the personalized, random memories of friends & comrades getting killed.

Saving Private Ryan certainly acknowledges that war is a nightmare but for the elder Ryan, surrounded by his loving family in those bookend scenes, it reassuringly concludes that such horrors are firmly in the past. Eastwood's movie offers no such comfort fort its protagonists. Doc Bradley & Ira are haunted by nightmares until the end of their lives. I do like Saving Private Ryan but for me Flags is the smarter, finer, more thoughtful movie by far.

Okay, one more point & then I'll shut up (promise)!

'He casts a cloud over a seemingly patriotic, singular image and shows how quick we are to turn the patriotic picture into a means to make money. Eastwood uses the story to validate the men who fought in Iwo Jima and just as quickly turns to condemn their masters and their means.'

I didn't think he was doing that. The film struck me as very even handed. It seems to acknowledge that the bond tour was a necessity. Whatever misinformation that occurred was regrettable but exploiting the picture & the men was in the service of bringing the war to a close as quickly as possible & thus justifiable. I agree with you that he honours all the Marines (how they should be remembered is summed up in that elegaic closing scene). If Flags condemns anything it's a public that demands heroes & then abandons them when it no longer needs them.

Just a few thoughts - & I enjoyed reading your review. :-)

#9 of 23 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted May 17 2007 - 03:54 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
I appreciate the review Pat but I find myself disagreeing with some of your comments. For instance you say 'Gagnon was present at the flag raising, but he was not one of the men in the picture.' But actually Gagnon was in the picture. He's one of the six men raising the flag in Rosenthal's famous shot!

My mistake and my apologies. The review has been corrected.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
Then there's this:

'Clint Eastwood takes a picture that is a thematic and cinematic brother to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan'

I would say Flags really has little in common with SPR which was full of war movie conventions & patriotic rhetoric. There are only a few superficial similarities between the two, i.e., Spielberg's name on the credits & a beach landing scene.

I would say, Rob, that is exactly why the two are similar. For all of "Flags" war scenes, I was constantly reminded of the first 30 minutes of "SPR". They both show the realities and gruesomeness of intense battle and they both drive home the "war is hell" point that, to me, is an overridding theme in every war picture. And wasn't the war bond tour a form of "patriotic rhetoric": by using a patriotic picture to generate public support of the war effort?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
Flags is a meditation on the difference between combat myth (something SPR cosily embraces) and combat reality as well as the way war fractures not just the flesh & bone of the combatants but time itself. Even the combat scenes in Flags are utilised in a completely different way (as traumatic, disorientating flashbacks) to the ones in Ryan. It's not the mission of finding one man or the strategy of holding a bridge until the cavalry arrives that's important here, but the personalized, random memories of friends & comrades getting killed.

I agree with you to a certain extent here, in your interpretation of both pictures. What my review is saying is that both pictures present their respective beach landings as bloody, vicious battles where men are blown to pieces. While you can interpret how the "Flags" presents the flashbacks, I don't think you can deny the similarities between the action on the screen. That's what I'm getting at.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
Saving Private Ryan certainly acknowledges that war is a nightmare but for the elder Ryan, surrounded by his loving family in those bookend scenes, it reassuringly concludes that such horrors are firmly in the past. Eastwood's movie offers no such comfort fort its protagonists. Doc Bradley & Ira are haunted by nightmares until the end of their lives. I do like Saving Private Ryan but for me Flags is the smarter, finer, more thoughtful movie by far.

No arguement from me here. I would watch "Flags" again sooner than I'd watch "SPR" again for that very reason. Eastwood also has this ability to evoke such an "American" feel to his pictures. I was really struck and reminded of this in the last few minutes of the picture as we're finding out about Hayes life after the war. Eastwood's shot compositions, staging and use of music all make up these feelings.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
Okay, one more point & then I'll shut up (promise)!

'He casts a cloud over a seemingly patriotic, singular image and shows how quick we are to turn the patriotic picture into a means to make money. Eastwood uses the story to validate the men who fought in Iwo Jima and just as quickly turns to condemn their masters and their means.'

I didn't think he was doing that. The film struck me as very even handed. It seems to acknowledge that the bond tour was a necessity. Whatever misinformation that occurred was regrettable but exploiting the picture & the men was in the service of bringing the war to a close as quickly as possible & thus justifiable. I agree with you that he honours all the Marines (how they should be remembered is summed up in that elegaic closing scene). If Flags condemns anything it's a public that demands heroes & then abandons them when it no longer needs them.

I'm looking at it as much more black and white. Is media exploitation of what was a tragic event right? Do the ends always justify the means? Besides, didn't it take two bombs to truly bring the war to a close, not the money raised on that tour? No arguement here, Rob, just a few statements.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
Just a few thoughts - & I enjoyed reading your review. :-)

No problem, I'm always glad to see readers put some effort into reading my reviews.

Cheers,
Pat
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#10 of 23 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 22 2007 - 12:50 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by PatWahlquist
I did not get the SD DVD for comparison....
I just received "The Battle for Iwo Jima: 5-Disc Collector's Edition" from Warner yesterday. I cannot do an A/B with the HD-DVD either, but I will take a look at the SD "Flags..." tonight and post my impressions of the A/V quality.

Regards,
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#11 of 23 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 22 2007 - 10:43 PM

The A/V quality for the SD DVD release of the "Flags of Our Fathers" 2-Disc SE is outstanding. I noticed a couple of instances of slight shimmering in parts of the frame, but that was literally it. It looks better in SD than "Letters from Iwo Jima", which was marred by some low intensity ringing along horizontal edges. "Flags...SE" would probably be a good disc to use for a fair SD vs. HD comparison, as nothing was evidently done to "dumb down" the SD presentation.

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#12 of 23 OFFLINE   ppltd

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Posted May 22 2007 - 11:31 PM

I have yet to view this film as Pirates and Matrix won out on my time, but I am much looking forward to seeing it over the memorial day weekend. Pat, thanks for the fine review.
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#13 of 23 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted May 23 2007 - 02:29 AM

They must have done a major overhaul on the standard two-disc SE's transfer, then, because February's single disc release of FOOF was pretty marginal looking---tons of aliasing and artifacting. The HD DVD is a huge step up from that (but I haven't seen the 2-disc SE to compare).

#14 of 23 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted May 23 2007 - 05:51 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Zimmer
They must have done a major overhaul on the standard two-disc SE's transfer, then, because February's single disc release of FOOF was pretty marginal looking---tons of aliasing and artifacting. The HD DVD is a huge step up from that (but I haven't seen the 2-disc SE to compare).
I did not check the file dates, but I'm pretty sure the first disc is the same as the previous release. I would put the occasional shimmering down as an artifact, not unlike I have seen in theatrical presentations of other films that were sourced from digital intermediate sources. I saw nothing in the neighborhood of "tons" of artifacts or aliasing. It is clearly not HD, but it is very good SD.

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#15 of 23 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted May 26 2007 - 02:38 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by PatWahlquist

I'm looking at it as much more black and white. Is media exploitation of what was a tragic event right? Do the ends always justify the means? Besides, didn't it take two bombs to truly bring the war to a close, not the money raised on that tour? No arguement here, Rob, just a few statements.



Pat
Let's remember that the battle on Iwo Jima was fought in February/March while the end of the war and the dropping of the A bombs occurred in August. There were still some major battles being fought in between those timeframes like Okinawa, fighting Japanese forces in China and the retaking of the Philippines. Furthermore, the war in Europe wasn't over until May. Plus, we still had to prepare our armed forces to invade Japan just in case the A bomb failed. In short, a lot of money was still being spent towards the war effort.

Anyhow, I finally watched the BRD of this fine film which was my third viewing of it. I wished Paramount did more with the audio, but overall, I was pleased with this release. Also, a commentary about the battle itself would have been nice. Next up, is Letters from Iwo Jima which I also viewed in the theater.




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#16 of 23 OFFLINE   Chuck Mayer

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Posted May 27 2007 - 01:08 AM

I think Rob vastly underrates SPR to make a point. Patriotic rhetoric, what patriotic rhetoric? SPR is far more about the soldiers than the country, and the "right thing" at the end of the film is about a man's life. It was hardly rah-rah for the country. That's a gross mischaracterization of the film, Rob. So is saying it glorifies the combat myth. Most characters die, there are no medals, and the battles are realistic. The entirety of the opening D-Day landing is what DISPELLED the combat myth in Hollywood.

I found Flags a bit limp. There is a brilliant story there, and Clint kind of shows it, but he simplifies it quite a bit for the film audience.

Another point Rob glosses over...the war bond tour wasn't to "make money". It was to "buy war material to try and win the war". That point may be seen as evil by some viewers of the film, especially through modern eyes, but the film *IS* smart enough to allow a scene expressing why the war bond organizers are RIGHT. They were RIGHT.

Pat, the bombs didn't exist at the time of the tour, and there was no solid expectation they would exist. Once they did, they were used. The US wasn't sitting on them.

The film failed to take that to the next level. Why does the safe and protected public need to see heroes (real or made-up) to financially support the war? They are happy to send the boys, but not the money? Not without a dog and pony show. Interesting psychological foundation there, but the film isn't quite brave enough to lay that one on the viewers. I guess Rob found that in the film, but I didn't. I found something a bit simpler, a bit more Movie-of-the-week. SPR was far more groundbreaking and honest, for my taste.
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#17 of 23 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted May 27 2007 - 02:34 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck Mayer
I think Rob vastly underrates SPR to make a point. Patriotic rhetoric, what patriotic rhetoric? SPR is far more about the soldiers than the country, and the "right thing" at the end of the film is about a man's life. It was hardly rah-rah for the country. That's a gross mischaracterization of the film, Rob. So is saying it glorifies the combat myth. Most characters die, there are no medals, and the battles are realistic. The entirety of the opening D-Day landing is what DISPELLED the combat myth in Hollywood.

I found Flags a bit limp. There is a brilliant story there, and Clint kind of shows it, but he simplifies it quite a bit for the film audience.

Another point Rob glosses over...the war bond tour wasn't to "make money". It was to "buy war material to try and win the war". That point may be seen as evil by some viewers of the film, especially through modern eyes, but the film *IS* smart enough to allow a scene expressing why the war bond organizers are RIGHT. They were RIGHT.

Pat, the bombs didn't exist at the time of the tour, and there was no solid expectation they would exist. Once they did, they were used. The US wasn't sitting on them.

The film failed to take that to the next level. Why does the safe and protected public need to see heroes (real or made-up) to financially support the war? They are happy to send the boys, but not the money? Not without a dog and pony show. Interesting psychological foundation there, but the film isn't quite brave enough to lay that one on the viewers. I guess Rob found that in the film, but I didn't. I found something a bit simpler, a bit more Movie-of-the-week. SPR was far more groundbreaking and honest, for my taste.
I always find it funny when some of us try to validate one film by devaluing the fine filmmaking of another film. Films are subjective like any other piece of artform, thus, what works for me when watching a film might not necessary have the same impact for another person viewing the same film. IMO, both films are fine pieces of work that should be admired for the excellent filmmaking that went into both of them.

Also, I watched "Letters from Iwo Jima" this morning and found the BRD an excellent example of what this optical format can deliver to HT buffs. Watching it this morning brought me back to my theater viewing of the film and in some ways even surpassed that experience. As I stated beforehand in other threads, I like this film better than "Flags of our Fathers", probably because it's a little more focus in its approach to characters. Of course, my appreciation for "Flags" might be affected by my reading the book it's based on.





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#18 of 23 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted May 27 2007 - 02:52 AM

I think comparing SPR to FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is a waste of time. The only thing these two films have in common is WWII and the "war is hell" theme : a theme which is shared by almost all war movies. How can one be determined as superior to the other when their focuses are entirely different. SPR is about an illogical decision to risk eight mens lives for the sake of one man in the midst of a sea of slaughter. It is about how the men involved come to terms with the ridiculousness of that decision. How SPR can be construed as "patriotic" or "embracing the combat myth" is beyond me.

FOOF is about how something as simple as a single image can somehow strike a deep resonance with the public at large. It is about the manufacturing of heroes to meet the public's need to believe that all the sacrifices are leading up to the successful end of the war. It then goes on to show how those "heroes" are discarded when the public no longer needs them.

How can someone compare these two movies and state that one is superior to the other when the subjects being explored are so monumentally different?
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#19 of 23 OFFLINE   Chuck Mayer

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Posted May 27 2007 - 03:03 AM

I wasn't comparing them. I was refuting Rob blanket generalizations of SPR, and illustrating my own opinions on Flags. I even used language to specifically indicate that my thoughts were subjective in nature, not objective. Hence the "I found...", and "for my taste", in my language. It's a clear difference to me. I'm not trying to use SPR to make FooF look worse. That's the difference. I am supporting one and criticizing another in the same post. That's all.

I don't think the films CAN be compared either, except in the way all films are compared. Their scopes are different, and I think one film achieved it's goal better than another. Like Crawdaddy, perhaps my opinion is tainted by the superior book, Flags of Our Fathers.
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#20 of 23 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted May 27 2007 - 03:30 AM

My comments weren't aimed specifically at you. I agree with you the most out of the two views. I think FOOF is a good film, but I didn't connect with the characters as well as I did in SPR. Personally, I think FOOF was marred a bit by some strange editing choices; however, I find I like the film better after my second viewing of it.
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