Blu-ray Disc Review
Release Date: June 03, 2008.
Film Rating: /
Starring: Michael Caine (Squadron Leader Canfield), Laurence Olivier (Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding), Christopher Plummer (Squadron Leader Colin Harvey), Susannah York (Section Officer Maggie Harvey)
Written by: Wilfred Greatorex & James Kennaway
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
A World War II period film, Battle of Britain tells the courageous story of the R.A.F.: the British pilots who faced the continuous bombing of the Germans in their quest to conquer Europe. The Germans believed that to take on Britain they must clear the skies first. The British were outnumbered with 2500 German planes to 650 of their own, but despite these damaging odds they were determined to protect their homeland and take out the Heinkel 111 bombers with their Spitfires. The all-star cast lead the pilots against the experienced German fighters who, despite having tactic, never quite manage to create the destruction they were hoping for. With Freddie Young as director of photography, he delivers edge-of-your seat fight sequences that would never be shot in a film today. It’s a film that is absolutely worth the watch.
VIDEO QUALITY: 4/5
I think it’s a bit of a treasure to watch older films in HD. Since the market is flooded with newer films with actors and actresses we see quite regularly, I liken watching older films as looking through a time tunnel. It’s a chance to look back at past filmmaking and legendary actors and actresses with little obstruction to the view. That obstruction, of course, is the delivery technology. Since HD now provides a much clearer window into the past, I can feel transported back to that time. I also consider it to be a true addition to my library of film archives, on Blu-ray disc of course. Battle of Britain is one such example. The level of clarity is remarkable and I think Fox has done a great job in delivering this product. The three dimensional image will blow you away whether you are in a Spitfire shooting away at the Germans or pushing buttons in the control room. Image contrast is very good; the picture is bright without appearing clipped and the black levels are deep and appear accurate. Deep in the night when the fire trucks speed around in London’s streets putting out fires from the German bombers, the shimmer of the streetlights and their reflections on the ground contrast nicely with the blackness of the night, all the while not loosing a sense of depth, colour, and detail. Skin tones are amazingly wonderful and don’t have a pasty look I was sort of expecting to see. Susannah York’s wide-eye gazes have never looked so beautiful to me and her skin is fairer than that of the gentlest angels (ok, I stretched that one, but you get the idea.) This is a wonderful image that you will be drawn into. Grain structure is revealing and perfect, most noticeably against the blue skies. Whatever nitpicks one may have against this image is in the film source itself. While extremely clean and void of major artefacts, there is a slight glowing around objects when contrasted with the sky. It’s not the dreaded video-related edge enhancement. It varies in size as it depends on the size of the object it surrounds, but it can be mostly seen in scenes at the airfield and in the sky. Of course, the picture quality of the opening and closing credits does not match that of the rest of the film because they are third generation dupes and normal for the era. You’ll notice a dimmer and murkier image with its colour a bit out of whack. Subtitles are not burned in on the screen; they are created electronically by the player.
It’s great to see a film with real men in parachutes falling, and with real airplanes flying and crashing rather than the fake and unrealistic CGI we see too often. This must have been a tough shoot. The aspect ratio of this magic is 2.35:1.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4/5
There are three soundtrack options to choose from: the original mono, the 5.1 repurposing, and the same 5.1 presentation, sound effects and all with the original Sir William Walton score (not isolated). The Ron Goodman score with the theatrical soundtrack is a lossless DTS-HDMA encode while the Walton score is lossy Dolby Digital. It would have been nice if Fox had presented the Walton score with lossless audio as well. Let me tell you why: I prefer the Walton Score. Even though it’s not as long as the Goodman score and there are many scenes with silence, the silence makes the scenes much more effective. The Goodman score is very busy, loud, and almost in your face with horns and the like. It appears in the background of dialogue scenes when it would have been best left silent. I also don’t think the cheery, patriotic themed score fit during those scenes.
I feel it’s safe to say that the soundtrack of this film has been repurposed very nicely for a 5.1 presentation. The lossless encode presents a stellar music mix with wide dynamics and very good phantom imaging of the orchestral arrangement. Bass is respectable, the midrange flourishes, and the high frequencies don’t sound dated. I could close my eyes and think that this music mix was recorded for a modern film, with the only exceptions being the instruments chosen and how they are used…even film scores “date themselves” like pop music.
Contrasted with the music, the sound effects are a bit dated sounding, but not objectionably so. While a bit thin, I’d still say they are fairly balanced in frequency; dynamics are their limitation. Sound effects are spread across the front three channels and are used effectively to create ambience and a wide soundstage. Some of those sounds are used in the surround channel as well – and I’ll mention the effects in the rear are discrete from each other rather than monaural. They aren’t mixed as loud as the front, but they do provide that subtle ambience during action scenes and even during the long, quiet, waiting moments of pilots waiting at their posts. The wind and the insects can be heard swirling around.
TACTILE FUN!! /
TACTILE TRANSDUCER ON/ON?: OFF
Just a little bit.
SPECIAL FEATURES: ZERO/5
Nothing here. Not even a theatrical trailer.
IN THE END...
You will not be disappointed with Battle for Britain. In fact I can’t wait to check out the other four war titles Fox is releasing the same day: A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day, Patton, and The Sand Pebbles. I’m sure Fox has put in the same effort for those titles as well. Great picture, great sound, I must recommend Battle of Britain.
May 19, 2008.