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Waterloo


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#1 of 45 ONLINE   Reggie W

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Posted February 19 2009 - 01:43 AM

I'm looking for any information people have about the existence of this film on DVD, what the current options are and how they look and sound, and if anybody knows if there is a studio planning to release this picture in a special edition with a solid transfer and interesting extras. I don't know who currently owns the film rights and I don't know if the fact that it was an Italian-Russian production would complicate that. Perhaps this is a good Criterion project?

Waterloo from 1970 starred Rod Steiger, Chris Plummer, and Orson Welles among others and was a 25 million dollar war epic directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. This of course was quite a budget for its day. It failed at the box office but over the years many people have seen it and raved about the film. I guess you could consider it a rather big budget cult film.

It also is rumored to have once existed in a 3 to 4 hour version that people claim was quite amazing but it is believed this version no longer exists and was only the director's rough cut of the film. Rumors are always fun though, right? As it stands right now it is about a 130 minute film give or take a few minutes here or there depending upon where you are in the world.

Waterloo also has a rather interesting place in film history as it is the main reason Stanley Kubrick never got to make his Napoleon epic. Kubrick was all set to begin filming Napoleon when Waterloo was released and bombed. This frightened the financial backers of Kubrick's film and they pulled out at the last minute scrapping the shoot. With no money behind the film Kubrick had to shift gears and instead went on to make A Clockwork Orange. In all honesty at that period in time studios were discovering that big budget period epics were no longer drawing large crowds and with Waterloo coming late in that cycle this contributed to the films failure and the fate of Kubrick's film. Stanley was ready to shoot though and Waterloo was the straw that broke that camel's back. Even Stanley was a bit surprised at the failure of Waterloo, as the rumor goes, he felt Bondarchuk had made a good film.

I think if seen today Waterloo would be much more appreciated, well, at least by the audience that loves these old school epics with a cast (literally in this case) of thousands, shot on such a grand scale.

So is there anybody here with an interest in this film or that owns it on DVD and can comment on the quality of the DVD they have?


Oh and hey if you are into Westerns please stop by my thread here:

http://www.hometheat....6-western.html

and post some comments...thanks!

#2 of 45 OFFLINE   David_B_K

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Posted February 19 2009 - 03:03 AM

This is one of my favorite films. I am a history buff, and the Napoleonic era is my favorite historical period. I have 2 DVDs of Waterloo. One is a region 2 PAL British disc CLICK HERE. In fact, I bought my first all-region player years ago just to watch this film. The film is in full 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital. I believe it is listed as 5.0 or 4.0, but the sound is pretty impressive. The Region 2 version also comes with the original trailer.

It has been released in a sort of public domain version that is a poor transfer and not even widescreen. Avoid that POS at all costs.

If you want a version that will play on Region 1 players, then get the RUSSIAN DVD. This looks to me to be the same print as the region 2 version. You may have to order it from an Amazon seller or an ebay seller.

For a general run-down of the film, I am pasting my Amazon review below:

This Russian DVD is the best Region 1 presentation of the 1970 epic WATERLOO. It previously was only available as a Region 2 import, which would not play on Region 1 players. This anamorphically enhanced version with Dolby Digital sound is the best I have seen the film look. And, yes, in spite of what some reviewers here say, it is a Russian DVD. There are Russian subtitles that can be turned off. The DVD was made in Russia, as was the film. The director, Sergei Bondarchuk had previously directed the acclaimed and equally spectacular Russian version of WAR AND PEACE a few years previous to this.

As far as historical epics go, I would say it is more accurate than most. I'm a Napoleonic nut, and can spot the innaccuracies in the film, but they are not that severe, and usually serve to move the story along. All the great moments of the story are here: Napoleon's farewell to the Old Guard; the 5th Regiment joining Napoleon upon his return from Elba; Wellington @ the Duchess of Richmond's ball; the assaults on Hougoumont & La Haye Sainte; the desperate French cavalry charges on the British squares; the final doomed assault of the Old Guard as the Prussians take the field.

The battle scenes are spectacular, with thousands of men and horses thundering across the screen. Many scenes replicate famous paintings, such as Lady Butler's "Scotland forever!" which depicts the cavalry charge of the Scots Greys. The main cast members are outstanding. Steiger is monumental as Napoleon; Plummer aloof and brilliant as Wellington, Dan O'Herlihy brusque and forceful as Marshall Ney, Virginia MacKenna elegant as the Duchess of Richmond. There are other fine cameos sprinkled throughout (including Orson Welles as Louix XVIII). Some of the minor characters are obviously speaking Russian and are dubbed, but this is no great distraction.

The only caveat: the opening scene is quite poor. They tried to cram in a lot of exposition to explain how Napoleon had reached a point in which he must abdicate the throne. This scene has some terrible and archly written dialog that makes one think the movie to follow is a joke. But, hang in there. Once you are past that scene, the entire movie improves and is actually well-written.

The original Russian version of WATERLOO ran over three hours, and apparently included the battles Ligny and Quatre Bras, which are only alluded to by a couple of shots in this DVD version. One hopes the missing hour or more will turn up, but in the meantime, the 2 or so hrs we have of the film are spectacular and literate enough to stand on their own. I rated it 4 out of 5, because they could have mastered the film at a higher bitrate than they did, so some artifacting is present. Still quite worthwhile, though.

#3 of 45 ONLINE   Reggie W

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Posted February 19 2009 - 04:21 AM

Thanks, David! Great info and an excellent review. Odd that the one version you do not recommend sells for almost $50.00 new in most cases. Looks like I'll go Russian on this one! I'll break out the vodka and watch some Tarkovsky as I await its arrival...

#4 of 45 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted February 19 2009 - 06:19 AM

Thanks for the reminder about this fine epic. I remember watching this with my father, a history teacher, in a big empty theater when it was new. "This is beautiful," he said. He went back to see it a second time, which was unusual for him. I will track down that Russian DVD.

#5 of 45 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted February 19 2009 - 06:59 AM

'The only thing sadder than a battle lost, is a battle won...' I saw this as a battle of Waterloo obsessed 14-year-old the year of release; quite magnificent, in fact, even more so now with its 1000s of costumed extras, 100s of horses, line upon line of roaring cannon, breathtaking helicopter battlefield shots...and, of course, no CGI. The R2 is decent enough, the soundtrack is particularly impressive, but imagine this in high definition?
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#6 of 45 ONLINE   Reggie W

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Posted February 19 2009 - 09:25 AM

Amazing what they could do before CGI!

#7 of 45 OFFLINE   David_B_K

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Posted February 19 2009 - 01:43 PM

I took a few screenshots to show how spectacular the action is in Waterloo.

First, here is Lady Butler's painting Scotland Forever!

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And the filmic recreation of the charge of the Scots Greys:

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The beginning of the massed French cavalry charges, either from a crane or helicopter:

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From a higher helicopter shot:

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Higher still as the cavalry begin to attack the British Infantry in squares:

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All through the battle, there is constantly action going on over a large distance, from the action in the foreground to troop movements, explosion in the background, etc. Incredible stuff.

#8 of 45 OFFLINE   Jim*Tod

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Posted February 19 2009 - 02:06 PM

While I prefer Bondarchuk's WAR AND PEACE, which also could use a better quality transfer, this one is well worth seeking out. I rented a version from Netflix a few years ago which was widescreen and had ok, if not great, stereo sound. I did think Steiger was miscast though, even if it is a somewhat interesting bad performance. I just want to see more of Bondarchuk's films and get more info on him. The mere stunt of helming WAR AND PEACE and playing one of the major roles.... there has to be quite a story there. I was lucky enough to see a 70mm print of WAR AND PEACE (the Russian version with subtitles, not the awfully dubbed and cut American version) at AFI in DC and I think it is one of the greatest of all films. Simply in terms of sheer spectacle, it is impossible to beat... and nothing in the current crop of CGI epics compares at all.

#9 of 45 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted February 19 2009 - 02:08 PM

Are these screen grabs from the Russian DVD ?

#10 of 45 OFFLINE   David_B_K

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Posted February 19 2009 - 03:54 PM

Richard, no, those were from the British Region 2 DVD. The British DVD includes the trailer, and the trailer begins with Lady Butler's painting, which then dissolves to the onscreen slow motion shot of the galloping Scots Greys. I wanted to do a screen grab of the painting, so I stuck with that DVD (the Russian DVD does not include the trailer). Here are a few from the Russian DVD.

Wellington (Christopher Plummer) and the Duchess of Richmond (Virginia MacKenna):

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Napoleon (Rod Steiger) directs the attack on Hougoumont:

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The first French Line Infantry attack:

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Again, the Scots Greys:

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I think the region 2 disc may be a tad sharper and brighter, but really, both are quite decent.

Posted by Jim *Tod:

I guess Steiger is a "to each his own" type of thing in this movie. He does tend toward hamminess, but Napoleon himself could be hammy. Again, one has to sort of block out the first scene in which Steiger is extraordinarily hammy. I think Steiger's farewell to the Guard, where he wipes his tears on the flag is excellent, and exactly the way the scene was described historically.

As films, Waterloo and War and Peace are not comparable. Even though both are epics directed by Bondarchuk, and both are set during the Napoleonic Wars, they are apples and oranges. War and Peace is based on a complex multi-character novel that explores the human condition. Waterloo is simply a film about a battle. I would compare Waterloo with films like The Longest Day, Battle of Britain and A Bridge Too Far. Those are also films about battles, with little time for a "back story" or in depth character development.

Jim, do you have the RUSSICO DVD of War and Peace (the 4-disc version with a bonus disc) released by Image in 2003? I thought it quite a decent DVD release, certainly better than the execrable dubbed cut and cropped version. Apparently, the film elements were not as well preserved as they might be, but it still impressive, and has great 5.1 sound in the Russian audio. I agree it is a great film. Its like will not be seen again.

#11 of 45 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted February 19 2009 - 08:56 PM

Okay, I just bought the Russian DVD. The American and U.K. version of Waterloo is about 123 minutes, but I recall reading that the theatrical release for Russia was much longer in the neighborhood of 3+ hours. I wonder if there is a DVD of that version.

#12 of 45 OFFLINE   Jim*Tod

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Posted February 19 2009 - 11:43 PM

David--- I have the Russico version and it looks pretty much like the 70mm print I saw. Since getting an HDTV though, this version looks a bit smeary in places, from what I have read this is the result of this version being mastered in PAL and then converted to NTSC. It does have very spectacular use of stereo/surround sound, which was true of the 70mm print I saw. About a year or so ago a new 35mm print was circulating in the U.S. but I didn't get to see it. Apparently no one can find the original negatives for this, but also the film stock originally used was not very good. Truly a great film though... and yeah... we won't be seeing anything like it again.

#13 of 45 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted February 19 2009 - 11:54 PM

Steiger is a love him or loathe him actor. I love him to bits and I wouldn't block out any part the performance; personally, I think his Napoleon is quite magnificent. They do not, it must be said, make 'em like this any more.
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#14 of 45 ONLINE   Reggie W

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Posted February 20 2009 - 12:44 AM

On the Steiger thing... Richard Burton was originally cast to play Napoleon and Peter O'Toole was going to play Wellington. These were the "big names" they felt were required to carry an epic like this and they were the first choices. Due to scheduling problems they could not manage to get them both at the same time and ended up with the Steiger-Plummer combo. The makers of the film did blame the casting as part of the reason the film failed due to its lack of "big stars" and Steiger and Bondarchuk are said to have fought quite a bit during the making of the picture.

#15 of 45 OFFLINE   David_B_K

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Posted February 20 2009 - 01:43 AM

Posted by Richard__W:

Nope. So far, no one even knows if the film elements even exist. BTW, on the Russian DVD, if you listen to the Russian soundtrack, it is not a straight dub. You will hear Steiger as Napoleon, while a voice in Russian translates for him. Very strange.

Reggie, I am pleased at the way the casting turned out. I suppose I could see Burton as Napoleon a bit more than O'Toole as Wellington. O'Toole specializes in more intense, if not neurotic portrayals, and he would have made a strange Wellington. Plummer not only is great as wellington, but even resembles him:

Posted Image

Another thing I like about Steiger is that there is a sort of roughness to his portrayal. As Napoleon was born in Corsica, he always spoke French with a slight accent, and consistently made a few grammatical errors in his speech. Steiger, being American, brings a sense of a lack of refinement to the part. As Wellington remarks in the film "Oh, Boney's no gentleman. On the battlefield, his hat is worth 40,000 men. But he's not a gentleman".

#16 of 45 ONLINE   Reggie W

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Posted February 20 2009 - 03:21 AM

I agree with you, David, I think Steiger and Plummer are excellent and well cast. I don't think their presence hurt the film at the time. It may be a bit more remembered and sought after at this point in time had the larger names been cast but I don't think Burton-O'Toole would have improved the film. I agree with you and John that Steiger may be a love him or hate him kind of actor, I like him, and due to this fact the film becomes more of a cult film at this point. I still think more people should see it and if Criterion got involved with it that would happen. It is a gorgeous film, no question, and the way the battle was filmed is pretty unique and exciting. As far as I'm concerned I just think it was released at a bad time for big historical epics. Thanks for posting those screen grabs! Outstanding!

#17 of 45 OFFLINE   R-T-C Tim

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Posted February 20 2009 - 03:26 AM

I saw this a few years back on TV and even in a fullscreen print it still looked amazing - probably the only chance we will ever have to see how a battle like this might have looked without CG. Seeing the soldiers form the defensive squares is just a wondrous sight. On the DVD front, it seems from the above posts like both UK and Russian discs are pretty much identical?
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#18 of 45 ONLINE   Reggie W

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Posted February 20 2009 - 03:52 AM

On the 3 to 4 hour version, I read somewhere that it only existed in this form as Bondarchuk's rough cut. I believe it was the DP on the picture that claimed this version was never widely shown, not even in Russia, and that Bondarchuk's cut is the 130 minute version. He said it is common on films of this size that the first cut is quite long and then it is trimmed down from there. I believe he also said that it was only after they reached that final cut and had destroyed the other footage that they realized that they should have saved a copy of the three plus hour cut. He claims that the only version stored in Russia is the 130 minute cut and no other version exists.

#19 of 45 OFFLINE   Greg_M

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Posted February 20 2009 - 04:53 AM

Thanks for the information. Ordered the Russian DVD based on your comments

#20 of 45 OFFLINE   Dave B Ferris

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Posted February 22 2009 - 01:48 PM

Is the Kultur, 3-disc (405 minutes) version the 'execrable' version mentioned above? I found my Kultur version at a Barnes and Noble. Please be honest; if I bought the wrong version, I'd rather know so I can replace it with the best version. Thank you.




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