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Blu-ray Reviews

A Soldier's Story Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 31 2012 - 09:38 AM

A murder mystery set in the Deep South directed by Norman Jewison? It sounds exactly like his Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night, but it’s actually his other southern fried whodunit A Soldier’s Story. Based on Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Soldier’s Story is fast paced, gripping entertainment. The mystery is a fine one with a decent number of suspects and is directed compactly by Jewison with never a wasted moment. While nominated for a handful of Oscars (including Best Picture of 1984), it’s never been shown much love even though the filmmaking and the story hold up very well decades after its production.


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A Soldier’s Story (Blu-ray)
Directed by Norman Jewison

Studio: Image
Year: 1984
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 97 minutes
Rating: PG
Audio: PCM 2.0 stereo English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish


Region: A
MSRP: $ 17.97



Release Date: January 31, 2012

Review Date: January 31, 2012




The Film

4.5/5


Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) is sent from Washington to Fort Neal, Louisiana, to investigate the murder of the demanding Sergeant Waters (Adolph Caesar). Though the first inclination is to place the blame on the Ku Klux Klan, it becomes obvious very soon than the Klan had nothing to do with the man’s shooting. The segregated black platoon under investigation (it is 1944) is a baseball playing outfit headed by Colonel Nivens (Trey Wilson) and the platoon’s immediate commander Captain Taylor (Dennis Lipscomb), both white men who are eager for the investigation to be concluded before any kind of race wars with the locals get stirred up. As Davenport begins interviewing suspects, he gets a clearer picture of the type of man Sgt. Waters was, one who had great pride in his black heritage and one who made enemies of many of the black men under his charge who he felt weren’t measuring up to his expectations for African-Americans in a changing world.


Norman Jewison’s direction is fastidiously tidy with brisk pacing and concise storytelling. Even sojourns to the black enlisted men’s club which features three snazzy blues numbers from chanteuse Big Mary (Patti LaBelle) and the squad’s star player C. J. Memphis (Larry Riley) (“Pourin’ Whiskey Blues,” “Low Down Dirty Shame,” “Red Zoot Suit”) serve the story very well indeed and help establish an unmistakable time frame for the events of the picture. Jewison also captures the look and feel of the sweltering South to perfection and even finds time to mount a marvelous baseball game sequence which shows the major characters (and suspects) in their element. As the mystery unfolds, through flashbacks we get to know just how nasty the sergeant could be and how many people in his platoon he had alienated with his sharp tongue, unforgiving nature, and even dirty tactics. The mystery elements in Charles Fuller’s script adaptation of his stage play thus flower nicely, and the author plays fair with his whodunit: a careful attention to various pieces of information which are revealed through his series of interviews will lead one to the correct culprit. And it’s all done while revealing some eye-opening reminders of the status quo in terms of race relations in the service during World War II where not only was there tension between white and black soldiers but among the black soldiers themselves who had different dreams about the world for them after this war.


Howard E. Rollins, Jr. who does very nicely has the leading role but the least colorful part as the determined Army lawyer dedicated to finding the truth no matter whose toes he must step on to get the answers. The suspects are a very vivid lot indeed: Art Evans as the bitter Wilkie stripped of his sergeant stripes for a single indiscretion, Denzel Washington as the proud Peterson who won’t let Waters trample on their rights even if it means fighting him, David Alan Grier as the sensitive Cobb whose best friend committed suicide after mistreatment by Waters, and Wings Hauser and Scott Paulin, two white officers who resented Waters’ superior attitude despite his lower rank. In other roles, Larry Riley makes a memorable smiling and simple C. J. Memphis who’s victimized by Waters for being the kind of black man he abhorred while Dennis Lipscomb has some fiery give-and-take with Davenport about proper protocol on the base with both the whites and the blacks there mistrusting the first black officer they’ve ever seen. Patti LaBelle sings up a storm as entertainer Big Mary. And in the key role of the ornery, blustering Sergeant Waters, Adolph Caesar walks away with the movie. Nominated for a slew of awards for his charismatic performance (and winner of Best Supporting Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle), Caesar draws and holds focus every moment he’s on screen.



Video Quality

4.5/5


The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The picture features excellent color saturation without the slightest bit of blooming, and flesh tones are natural and appealing. Sharpness is usually excellent apart from a few establishing long shots which seem a bit soft and a trifle dated looking near the beginning. Black levels aren’t the deepest either with the transfer, but they’re fine and shadow detail passes muster, too. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.



Audio Quality

4.5/5


The PCM (1.5 Mbps) 2.0 stereo sound mix offers a very clear and resonant audio experience. Dialogue (very important in this film version of an important stage play) is handsomely recorded and is always completely audible. The music sounds simply wonderful from the singing by actors in the film through the standards on the soundtrack (The Andrews Sisters among others) to Herbie Hancock’s background score. Sound effects are also handled with aplomb and never overpower the dialogue at crucial moments in the action.



Special Features

0/5


There are no bonus features on the disc at all.



In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)


A Soldier’s Story is an excellent whodunit with a social conscience, a beautifully made film version of Charles Fuller’s prize-winning play with superb performances and masterful direction from a film master. Despite no bonus features at all, the film itself on Blu-ray is certainly recommended!




Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC



#2 of 6 OFFLINE   AnthonyP

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Posted January 31 2012 - 07:57 PM

I'm disappointed studios often don't seem willing to include previously available extras for the Blu-ray release. I'm not sure why they aren't but a number of the Sony / Image releases are omitting them. Same with the Fox / Anchor Bay releases. This particular release omits a rather informative commentary by Norman Jewison and a nearly 15 minute featurette entitled "A March To Freedom" that provides some additional context. I don't want to have to retain the DVD, or attempt to seek out and buy just to get the extras. Being able to toss, donate or sell the DVDs rather than keeping both copies goes a long way to increase my likelihood in buying a title again on Blu-ray.

#3 of 6 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 01 2012 - 12:23 AM



Originally Posted by AnthonyP 

I'm disappointed studios often don't seem willing to include previously available extras for the Blu-ray release. I'm not sure why they aren't but a number of the Sony / Image releases are omitting them. Same with the Fox / Anchor Bay releases.
This particular release omits a rather informative commentary by Norman Jewison and a nearly 15 minute featurette entitled "A March To Freedom" that provides some additional context.
I don't want to have to retain the DVD, or attempt to seek out and buy just to get the extras. Being able to toss, donate or sell the DVDs rather than keeping both copies goes a long way to increase my likelihood in buying a title again on Blu-ray.


I agree; it's very disappointing. Fortunately, I had the DVD, so I just have to find a Blu case that will fit two discs. I have plenty of them around here.




#4 of 6 OFFLINE   Dave B Ferris

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Posted February 01 2012 - 07:56 AM

Just as information (not to hijack Matt's fine review) - I have found the double-Blu Ray-case routine necessary for two recent Criterion releases: 12 Angry Men (the original Fox/MGM standard DVD included a different commentary, and different featurettes) Belle De Jour (the original Miramax standard DVD included a different commentary)

#5 of 6 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted February 01 2012 - 11:44 AM



Originally Posted by AnthonyP 

 I'm not sure why they aren't but a number of the Sony / Image releases are omitting them. Same with the Fox / Anchor Bay releases.



Licensing issues is the reason they are omitted when the films are outsourced to companies like Image and Anchor Bay. I'm not sure if its the big studios being unwilling/unable to license them, or the small distributors being unwilling/unable to license them. I imagine that from the small distributor's perspective they'd rather have them to help sell the product, so I imagine it's more likely to be something enacted by the big studios.


"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#6 of 6 OFFLINE   AnthonyP

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Posted February 01 2012 - 03:22 PM

Licensing issues is the reason they are omitted when the films are outsourced to companies like Image and Anchor Bay. I'm not sure if its the big studios being unwilling/unable to license them, or the small distributors being unwilling/unable to license them. I imagine that from the small distributor's perspective they'd rather have them to help sell the product, so I imagine it's more likely to be something enacted by the big studios.

Thanks Brandon. So I gather the cost to license the previously available DVD extras are that cost prohibitive? Or is it partly that but also a mentality coming from the studios (which I would find unfortunate)? Apologies for the sidetrack. Most importantly, thank you for the, as always, excellent review Matt.