DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Castle Keep

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Nestor_Ramos, Oct 31, 2004.

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  1. Nestor_Ramos

    Nestor_Ramos Stunt Coordinator

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    [​IMG]
    Castle Keep


    Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
    Year: 1969
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 107 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
    Audio: DD 4.0
    Color/B&W: color
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English, Japanese, Korean
    MSRP: $19.94
    Release date: November 2



    The Feature
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 (all star ratings out of five)

    One of the oddest World War II films of all time, Castle Keep makes its first OAR appearance on DVD. I wasn’t familiar with this film, though the names involved intrigued me: any film directed by Sydney Pollack, and starring a pre-Colombo Peter Falk and Burt Lancaster has something going for it.

    A film about World War II with a Vietnam mindset, the film follows a company of American soldiers as they occupy a French castle located in a key strategic position. It’s hard to ignore the Vietnam parallels, as soldiers debate their roles and the plot meanders and examines the meaning of the war and its essential goodness.

    Non-sequiters and oddly sensitive racial humor keep the film from being ponderous, but the structure is such that none of the scenes in the first two acts seem to have anything to do with one another. Strange things happen – a soldier becomes obsessed with a Volkswagen; another moves in a baker’s wife in a French town and starts…baking – and none seem to have any particular consequence.

    Though Lancaster, Falk and others turn in fine performances, the whole affair is too disjointed for any of them to become central. The pivotal character, through whose eyes we see the action unfold, is a young writer trying to make sense of the chaos. Meanwhile, Lancaster struts around giving orders and bedding the wife of the castle’s owner, as his top lieutenant, a noted art historian, takes inventory of the many masterpieces therein.

    Though it’s not completely clear what we’re to make of all this, it’s difficult to shake the suspicion that there’s more here than meets the eye. This is memorable film, and one that’s likely to improve with repeat viewings. Individual scenes stick in the memory, even if characters don’t. The story here isn’t a story, but the void that exists where a traditional, vapid war tale might’ve been spun is certainly worth noting.

    Video
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    For a release of a 1969 film that is not exactly high-profile, this is a phenomenal transfer. Previously only available in a pan and scan edition, the transfer’s strengths are in detail and color. The early scenes, when the men are driving through the snowy forest and see a man in red on horseback, are absolutely beautiful. Later, in the long climactic battle, the fiery explosions are a brilliant counterpoint to the gray city and olive drab uniforms. There is some grain at times, and there are some film artifacts – scratches and dust – but on balance this is a much better transfer than it probably needed to be.


    Audio
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2

    The odd 4-channel audio track is up to the challenges of the original source, but lacks in the bass department, particularly during the battle. The surrounds are not overbearing, but are used mostly for atmosphere and create a reasonably good field (the back channels are monaural, with the front three discrete and no LFE). As a result, cannon shots and explosions are a bit tinny and high pitched, but probably as good or better than they sounded at the film’s original release. Minus half a star for the irritating and inappropriate score and some effects being mixed too loud at times. I had to occasionally turn the volume down a few clicks, then turn it back up to hear dialogue.

    Special Features
    NA


    Conclusion
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    This is a worthy release and a great transfer – at least a rental for fans of war films who are unfamiliar with this title. Though it doesn’t quite qualify as obscure, it’s definitely been overlooked, particularly as a precursor to many of the great introspective Vietnam-era war films. Many thanks to Columbia for doing the right thing and releasing this in the format it deserves.
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I saw this film during it's initial theatrical run and I always thought it was one of the most beautifully shot films I have ever seen. So I'm very happy that Columbia did the right thing and released this film in its OAR. I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive, so I wait patiently to recapture some of that feeling I had during that previous film experience in 1969. Thanks for the review.

    Nestor,
    You might want to recheck that MSRP again, I think that price is really $19.94




    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Nestor...

    Well done.

    Bit a few points which may be helpful when reviewing any mid-'60s era film.

    All films are made of grain. That's why we have an image. Without it, there would be nothing. Which means that visible grain structure is normal, and a good thing.

    I'm not at all certain what "film artifacts" are. I'm oriented in my thinking more toward splicers and such.

    There are digital artifacts, which denote bits of image which are not supposed to be there, but have been left by or put in place via some digital process.

    All film emulsions, from day one, have tiny white spots, minus density, caused by dirt which adhered to the emulstion either in processessing, and is not embedded, or via printing. This is the norm.

    Small nicks and wear are also quite normal and unavoidable, unless one wishes to spend more dollars to digitally clean up an image for release, which can cost more than the release will support, and which has been known to create its own problems.

    Lastly, it is misleading to say that something "lacks in the bass department."

    This is the way that films sounded in that era. There were no baby booms, which came in later. All channels were full frequency audio, with no specific low frequency. What we now think of as surrounds, were not.

    If a film had a fourth (or sixth) channel, it was specifically for rear effects, and in most cases controlled by a trigger tone, which would turn the speakers off when no effects were being used, in order to avoid hiss.

    These comments should not be taken as negative to your review, but in a spirit of looking at a film as what it was meant to be for the period in which it was made.

    Would it be appropriate to speak negatively about Shrek because it lacked film grain, or any of the newer major films with robust bass for having "window-shattering" bass?

    We're referring to two different worlds of technologies.


    RAH
     
  4. Nestor_Ramos

    Nestor_Ramos Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the info Robert! I'll definitely be looking back at your comments for use in future reviews.

    As you can see, I was very happy with the presentation. I guess when I say "grain," I mean that there are variances in the amount of perceived graininess in the image from shot to shot, particularly within fields of solid color. I expect a certain amount of that, but it's the variances that I'm referring to.

    By "film artifacts" I meant what you are talking about -- dust and scratches that would only be fixed with an all-out restoration. White flickers in black fields, and vice versa. Again, I do expect some of this on a film from this era, though this transfer, for whatever reason, exhibited very little of this.

    As to the sound mix, I've been having an ongoing conversation with myself about this since I started reviewing. Clearly, digitally recording the film's soundtrack for a Dolby Digital track makes it into something
    different from the original. Why, then, wouldn't we want to adjust some of the levels, and maybe move some of the original track into the LFE channel? Does this do some sort of harm to the original artistic intent? Any more harm than the simple act of digitizing it and putting it on an optical disc? I don't know. Certainly to some degree, the technical differences were simply a matter of limitation. Why, then, should DVD mastering be limited in the same way. The question then becomes where to draw the line. I just don't think of mixing a 5.1 track out of a 4.0 as an artistic defiling, so long as the original track is the basis for the remix.

    Nestor
     
  5. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    There can, of course, be variances of grain from shot to shot - for example, if there are opticals there will be quite a bit more grain on the a and b side of those opticals.

    Thanks to Robert for his excellent post, which is filled with useful and helpful information. [​IMG]

    And thanks to Nestor for all his hard work.
     
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Nestor wrote:

    "As to the sound mix, I've been having an ongoing conversation with myself about this since I started reviewing. Clearly, digitally recording the film's soundtrack for a Dolby Digital track makes it into something
    different from the original. Why, then, wouldn't we want to adjust some of the levels, and maybe move some of the original track into the LFE channel? Does this do some sort of harm to the original artistic intent? Any more harm than the simple act of digitizing it and putting it on an optical disc? I don't know. Certainly to some degree, the technical differences were simply a matter of limitation. Why, then, should DVD mastering be limited in the same way. The question then becomes where to draw the line. I just don't think of mixing a 5.1 track out of a 4.0 as an artistic defiling, so long as the original track is the basis for the remix. "

    Changing the elements of film, be they audio or image, is something that the studios take very seriously, as it gets into Artists' Rights.

    Generally, we all make an assumption that the audio professionals that created the 4 track magnetic recording in the first place knew what they were doing. There should be no need to make changes.

    If however, within the privacy of one's own home, one wishes to hype the surrounds, this is easily accomplished on the playback side.

    When one begins with a discreet stereo track in either 3, 4, 5 or 6 track, there should be no need to adapt for home video.

    Only when one is creating something that never existed previously, ie. using original stereo music stems which had remained previously unheard as in "Vertigo," should there be a need for manipulation.

    Columbia's Grover Crisp takes this extremely seriously, as he should.

    Unusual circumstances aside, generally, the only people who should be re-mixing tracks are the film's creators.


    RAH
     
  7. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Thanks for the review Nestor. I wasn't going to buy this title at all even if they had released it WS to begin with but to show support to the cause I'll pick this up now.

    I wasn't aware the P&S version was ever released because I couldn't find it in stores. BB, CC, Borders, Barnes and Nobles and others around me never got it in.
     
  8. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Finally, I got a chance to watch my dvd and once again, I had that very strange feeling watching this film. This film was always weird and after watching it yesterday in it's entirety for the first time in many years, it's still weird. This film is not everyones cup of tea because the film is all over the place with little reasoning.

    The dvd presentation is excellent! Though, I haven't been buying many of Columbia's dvd releases due to some quality and high pricing issues, I am very pleased that I was able to secure this dvd.






    Crawdaddy
     
  9. Randy Korstick

    Randy Korstick Producer

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    Good to hear this DVD turned out well its on my to buy list.
    I'm a big WWII movie fan and this one escaped me for many years even though I wanted to see it. I finally saw it on VHS 3 years ago and it wasn't what I was expecting as others have pointed out, it is kind of strange in that weird 60's kinda way. After finishing it I didn't think I cared for it too much but something about it stuck with me and now I'm anxious to see it in widescreen.
     

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