The 50-year old, WWII prison break procedural debuts on Blu-ray with an ultimately satisfactory – but somewhat controversial – high definition presentation. With a highly enticing, sub-$10 street price, however, it should give even the purists pause.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono), French 5.1 DTS, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 52 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 05/07/2013
In 1944, the Nazi Luftwaffe builds the Stalag Luft III POW camp in an effort to contain the prisoners-of-war most likely to attempt (or re-attempt) escape. Described by its commandant as “putting all the rotten eggs in one basket,” the camp seems like a good strategy, until one realizes the Nazis have effectively assembled some of the most determined and ingenious officers serving in the Allied Forces.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Leading the multinational prisoner group is RAF Squadron Leader “Big X” Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), whose past organized escapes have made him a particularly high profile prisoner in the camp. Undeterred by the threat of execution should he try again, he concocts a plan as audacious as the facility that imprisons him – they will secretly dig three tunnels out of the camp, spanning over 300 feet in length in one instance, and lead 250 men to freedom.
To be successful will require an incredible degree of organization, ingenuity and secrecy, personified by the likes of “The Scrounger” Robert Hendley (James Garner), “The Manufacturer” Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn), “Tunnel Kings” Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson) and Willie Dickes (John Leyton), “Forger” Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasance), and “Dispersal” Eric Ashley-Pitt (David McCallum).
Apparently operating on his own, but who will prove an asset to the operation in his own way, is “Cooler King” Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen), whose repeated escape attempts with “The Mole” Archibald Ives (Angus Lennie) provide a necessary distraction from a much grander plan in the making.
Though success is in no way a foregone conclusion, considering that true freedom extends well beyond the camp’s barbed wire enclosures, their gambit will at least feed their indomitable fighting spirit. And even if not all of them make it out, there’s a good chance some of them ultimately will.
Adapted from the captivating true story documented in Paul Brickhill’s book by the same name, The Great Escape was practically tailor-made for turning into a thrilling Hollywood movie with its diverse cast of characters, war time setting, and prison-break storyline. Though some revisions to the original account inevitably came along with the Hollywood treatment – most notably the role of McQueen as the inexhaustible Capt. Hilts – it stayed true to the story’s winning spirit of survival and determination with a surprisingly workable mix of prison house procedural and sometimes light hearted drama (mostly involving McQueen). If the film were made today, no doubt it would carry a darker, even more cynical, tone. But the absence of those qualities, at least by current standards, makes it stand out in a rather refreshing way, showing that it’s possible to tell a compelling story without necessarily plunging into the darkest depths.
There’s already been a lot said – on this site and others – about The Great Escape’s transfer to Blu-ray. Anyone who wants the blow-by-blow can look to Robert Harris’ nine-page (and counting) thread on the topic, but for the moment let’s try to ignore all that (or at least most of it). The bottom line is, well, the bottom line:
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The release warrants a purchase.
That’s due to the combination of an irresistible street price (under $10 in most cases) and technical quality that will prove more than satisfactory to the majority of home theater enthusiasts.
For some, however, no matter the price, “more than satisfactory” won’t be good enough, especially for a film classic like The Great Escape. And that’s totally within their right, to “vote with their wallets” as the saying goes.
That’s not to say those of us in the former group don’t see the image’s occasional deficiencies – instances of softness, variable contrast and a not-quite-organic look that suggests some degree of (rather sophisticated) digital tinkering. It’s just that in a film running almost three hours long, there’s plenty of instances where things look quite nice - impressive depth of color, great detail, and inky blacks – making the good ultimately outweigh the bad by a pretty good margin. Some have quantified the positives at 80%, which seems about right to my eyes, hence the rating I've given this flawed but ultimately more than acceptable presentation.
Less controversial, by good measure, is the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which sounds consistently crisp and detailed in the dialogue track, but doesn’t offer much in the way of surround activity, other than some light support for the orchestral score. LFE is non-existent, but there’s sufficient bass extension that gives the track a consistent sense of depth and fullness.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
The extras port the items from the 2004 special edition DVD, providing plenty of detail about the actual history of the escape, though somewhat repetitively after the third or fourth documentary on the subject. A 50th anniversary retrospective might have been a nice addition, but as things stand, there’s no lack of information on both the escape and the making of the film.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary with Director John Sturges, Cast and Crew
Flight to Freedom (9:22, SD): Compares fact to fiction, highlighting the movie’s famous motorcycle scene and the actual fate of the escapees.
Preparations for Freedom (19:50, SD): Provides an overview of the actual history behind the prisoner of war camp escape plan, referencing parts of the film that provided an accurate depiction of events as well as changes made for the film adaptation.
Bringing Fact to Fiction (12:21, SD): Details the major differences between the actual history and the film, the reasons behind the changes and the steps in development.
A Standing Ovation (5:58, SD): Describes the film’s marketing and premiere campaign and the public reaction.
Great Escape: The Untold Story (50:58, SD): 2001 British-made documentary details the actual events, using re-enactments, personal home movie footage and written correspondence, and interviews with POW survivors and their families.
Great Escape: The Untold Story – Additional Interviews (9:35, SD): With camp survivors Alex Cassie and Jimmy James.
A Man Called Jones: The Real Virgil Hilts (25:01, SD): David M. Jones, on whom Steve McQueen’s character was based, talks about his experience in World War II and subsequent military career.
Return to the Great Escape (24:09, SD): Yet another documentary, this one sourced from videotape, describes the making of the film and the event that inspired it.
Trailer (2:42, HD)
Outside of some inconsistencies in the video presentation, most fans of The Great Escape should be happy with its debut on Blu-ray, especially at the going sub-$10 street price. Along with the special features, which port over all the extras from the 2004 special edition DVD, it ultimately makes for a worthwhile upgrade. Some may feel differently based on their priorities, but as always that’s their prerogative as both consumers and home theater enthusiasts.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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