Lone Survivor seals the deal on Blu-ray with a release that presents this technically brilliant but extremely violent action movie in solid high definition glory. Picture and sound are exemplary here, mirroring the skill with which writer/director Peter Berg has brought Marcus Luttrell’s book to visceral life. Lone Survivor drops the viewer into the hellish experience of a Navy SEAL mission gone wrong in Afghanistan in 2005, and for those who can handle the ride, this Blu-ray is a fine way to see it. It’s unfortunate that the movie never really dips below the surface of the events it’s portraying, but that’s an issue of content over presentation. The Blu-ray also offers over an hour of special features that provide as much information as one could wish for about the production and the real events it covers. Fans of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg will enjoy this, as likely will fans of Marcus Luttrell.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 2 Hr. 2 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 06/03/2014
The Production Rating: 3/5
"I summon fire from the sky. Do you know what it is to be a white man who can summon fire from the sky? What it means? You can live and die for these things. Not silly ideals that are always betrayed... What do you fight for, Captain?"
"Because it feels good."
From the John Milius script for Apocalypse Now
Lone Survivor is a viscerally challenging movie to watch. To be clear, this is an extremely, extremely violent movie and the viewer should be warned about that right off the bat. Adapted from the most critical section of Marcus Luttrell’s non-fiction book, the movie shows what happened when Luttrell’s SEAL team was assigned to Operation Red Wings in 2005. In that mission, the team set out to capture or kill a vicious Taliban member but wound up on the wrong end of a bloody firefight that killed all the SEALs except Luttrell. (By the way, for those who would think of that as a spoiler even after years of the publicity around this book and Luttrell, I can only say that the movie is called LONE Survivor and not LOTS OF Survivors…) On a surface level, the movie certainly presents the nightmare scenario here in all its bloody glory. As is normal with Peter Berg’s work, the movie is quite simple to follow. Scenes are clearly laid out, even during the wilder combat sequences. The cast is all convincing, at least on a surface level, in that they look and sound to a layman like a military unit on maneuvers. Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster stand out in the cast for their commitment to these roles. In terms of the technical areas – sound, stunts, effects, camera placement – Lone Survivor really shines. The massacre of the SEAL team is a bloody ballet along the lines of something we haven’t seen since Sam Peckinpah died. And yet, for all the technical proficiency, Berg never dips below the surface to examine WHY any of this is happening. Without that, the movie exists simply as a buildup to a major action set piece and its aftermath.
The reader may be wondering why I chose to open this review with the Apocalypse Now quote from John Milius. I did so because it sums up exactly the problem on display here. The quote indicates a visceral appreciation for combat and fighting as an end to themselves. It’s the notion of tough men going out and conquering the world, the notion of combat being the true test of a man’s character. It presents the world in terms of good guys who are strong men and heroes, versus bad guys who are simply evil men. It’s the picture of the world seen in Red Dawn and in the earlier draft of Apocalypse Now before Francis Ford Coppola dug below its surface. And it’s also the picture of the world we get in Lone Survivor.
MOVIE SPOILERS HERE: Ostensibly, the movie presents the SEAL team as heroes cut down by bad men, and Luttrell as a heroic survivor who makes it out alive due to the unexplained kindness of Pashtun villagers who stand up to the Taliban for him. Aside from the problem of making the Pashtun code of honor something that only gets discussed in a written postscript, this presentation of the situation neglects to present any perspective about what is happening. We are simply shown several scenes of the SEAL team in their compound as they prepare, showing them to be good, decent men with families at home. Then we’re shown the team in action on the trail in Afghanistan. Then there’s the huge firefight, in which we see all the men other than Luttrell graphically, viciously ended, along with a bunch more of their guys being exploded in a helicopter. Then there’s the aftermath where Luttrell is inexplicably protected by a local Pashtun villager until the Americans can move in to retrieve him. Again, all of this is handled with tremendous technical skill. But where is the heart of this movie? Where is the mind? Where is the perspective that can discuss why these men were there? Where is the discussion of Pashtun hospitality that runs through the book? Where is the examination of why some Afghanis were with the Taliban and some were not?
MORE SPOILERS: To be sure, I’m not saying that the movie needed to have another hour of material talking about how all the fighters had something in common, or to give equal time to the Taliban. But I am saying that for a movie to have some significance, it needs to understand the story it is telling at a level greater than that of simple reportage. 2009’s The Hurt Locker is an example of a simple story with a serious depth charge sitting below its surface. We can think of Lone Survivor as a story without that depth charge. Instead, what we have is a depiction of affection for all the members of Luttrell’s lost unit, including all the guys who were incinerated in that helicopter, and a technically brilliant, viscerally bloody presentation of all their deaths. It’s unfortunate that Peter Berg didn’t manage to dig deeper, as all we are left with is a spectacular display of stunts and effects without anything further. Fans of Peter Berg’s movies will still enjoy this as a virtuoso display, as will fans of Mark Wahlberg. Fans of Marcus Luttrell’s book will want to see this just to see his account played out onscreen.
Lone Survivor was released on June 3rd on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes the movie in high definition picture and sound and over an hour of featurettes discussing the movie and the events depicted in it. The Blu-ray also includes the DVD edition in the packaging, along with instructions for downloading a digital copy.
Lone Survivor is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 32 mbps) that presents a variety of environments, flesh tones, textures and even source materials in thrilling high definition. The CGI used here is seamless.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Lone Survivor has an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (@ an average 3.7 mbps, going up to 5.4 mbps in the bigger moments), and it’s one of the stronger, throatier mixes I’ve ever heard. The movie is also presented in a DTS 5.1 mix in Spanish. An English DVS track is also included.
Audio Rating: 5/5
Lone Survivor comes with multiple featurettes on the making of the movie and on the events that inspired it. There is no commentary here, but one gets the feeling that all the necessary information is already available in these featurettes. There is some overlap between the featurettes.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Will of the Warrior – (28:05, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This longer featurette covers both the reality of Marcus Luttrell’s life and the making of this production. Luttrell and his family members are featured at first, before the piece gets into the mechanics of how Peter Berg put the movie on its feet.
Bringing the Story to Life (4:44, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is essentially a shorter version of the first featurette, cutting to the chase and keeping the attention on how Berg got the movie made.
Re-creating the Firefight – (10:27, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette covers the bloody firefight that gives the movie its title. In addition to the work done with Luttrell to work out the staging, the featurette also covers the extensive stunts and effects work.
Learning the Basics (6:02, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette covers the training of the major cast members in basic military business and in some rudimentary SEAL material. Some of this training is shown as firing range practice. The more interesting maneuvers have the cast out in the wilderness trying to deal with Luttrell’s SEAL buddies running Taliban-style attacks on them.
The Fallen Heroes of Operation Red Wings (16:18 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is actually a collection of four separate short pieces about the SEALs who died on this mission. The first three cover the other members of Luttrell’s four-man team – Michael Murphy, Matthew Axelson and Danny Dietz – while the final piece is a pictorial tribute to all the men who died on that day. This final piece is very similar to the photo montage that ends the movie, only this one is scored with music from the film rather than Peter Gabriel’s mournful reading of David Bowie’s “Heroes”. The four pieces can be viewed on their own or via a “Play All” function.
The Pashtun Code of Life – (4:07, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This short featurette actually covers ground that should have found some way into the movie. It features the Pashtun villager who protected Luttrell and allows him to explain the Pashtunwali tradition that compelled him to do so.
DVD – The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD edition of the movie, presenting it in standard definition with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English and Spanish (@448 kbps) and the English DVS track. The DVD includes Bringing the Story to Life and The Fallen Heroes of Operation Red Wings as special features.
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
Subtitles are available in English and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
Lone Survivor looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, showing off the virtuoso technical skills that have brought this story to the big screen. Peter Berg’s direction keeps the action clear, and several of the performances are notable for their commitment. But in addition to being relentlessly bloody and violent, the movie suffers from a significant lack of depth that keeps it from being more than a buildup to one heck of a firefight without any real examination of why it happened in the first place. Fans of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg will still want to pick this up, as will fans of Marcus Luttrell’s book.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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