- May 9, 2003
Studio: Universal/Focus Features
Length: 1 hr 54 mins (both versions)
Genre: Roman Adventure
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 34 mbps)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.7 mbps – up to 5.2 in the battle scenes)
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
English DVS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG-13 & Unrated (Battle Sequences and Some Disturbing Images)
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong
Based on the Novel “The Eagle of the Ninth” by Rosemary Sutcliff
Screenplay by: Jeremy Brock
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
Film Rating: 2 ½/5
At its heart, The Eagle is really quite a simple story. Based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 book, the movie follows the quest of young Roman officer Marcus (Channing Tatum) and his slave Esca (Jamie Bell) to find and recover the standard of the lost ninth legion in the northern part of Roman-occupied Britain. Considering the low budget, this is still a handsome film, with beautiful location footage from Hungary and Scotland. For the most part, this is a small drama about the two men on the adventure. But there are a few larger moments, including a nighttime garrison battle early on and a wider daylight jungle battle at the film’s climax. The performances here are earnest enough, including a thoughtful turn by Tatum in the lead and an amusing cameo by Donald Sutherland for a few scenes. But the film never really catches fire – either in terms of the scale of a Roman epic or in terms of the deeper territory of a personal one. Director Kevin MacDonald makes some interesting choices but again, doesn’t really scratch below the surface. One nice touch is a neat reversal of the usual voices of the Romans and their slaves. Where earlier films (like Spartacus) have Romans with standard received British accents and slaves with flatter American accents, this film features Romans with the American voices and British/Scottish slaves with the appropriate regional dialects. It’s initially strange to hear this, but once you get used to it, the idea works fairly well.
The Eagle was released on Blu-ray and DVD last week. The Blu-ray edition has a high definition picture and sound transfer, along with a commentary, some deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a quick BTS featurette, as well as the usual BD-Live and pocket BLU functionality. As a special BD-Live bonus, a longer “Making of” featurette running nearly an hour is available via this Blu-ray.
I should note that there are two cuts of the movie on this disc. One is the theatrical version and the other is an unrated version that gets its debut here. Both versions come in around 1 hour and 54 minutes in length. For purposes of this review, I watched the unrated version.
VIDEO QUALITY 4/5
The Eagle is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that comes across quite well, including a fair amount of intentional grain. The Hungarian and Scottish locations are quite lush and colorful and the transfer goes a long way toward taking the viewer on the trip with the filmmakers. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 4 /5
The Eagle is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that maintains a satisfying level of atmospherics throughout. When the battle sequences come up, the mix really comes to life and fills the room. In addition to this mix, standard DTS mixes are included in Spanish and French, along with an English DVS mix to boot.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of The Eagle comes with a commentary, some deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a brief featurette on the making of the film. Within the BD-Live menu is an additional, longer featurette that goes into far greater depth.
Commentary with Director Kevin MacDonald – This scene-specific commentary is a fairly quiet affair, in which the MacDonald goes into some depth about many aspects of the production. He discusses his casting choices, including a primary supporting actor he had wanted for State of Play and wound up getting for this film. He also discusses the alternate ending seen elsewhere on the disc, going some way toward trying to explain why that version was shot. The low budget working conditions are clarified here – during a key battle sequence, MacDonald ruefully notes that he only had a single night to get it. MacDonald also clarifies when the film moves from Hungary to Scotland, and what few moments use CGI enhancement.
Alternate Ending – (4:37 Total, 1080p) – OBVIOUS SPOILER HERE – DON’T WATCH OR READ THIS UNTIL YOU’VE ALREADY SEEN THE MOVIE – Here we have the originally filmed version of the film’s ending, and it’s such a departure from the film we’ve been watching that it’s nearly inexplicable why it was done. MacDonald’s explanation for the abandonment of the title concept is that Marcus has moved beyond the quest and has learned that the standard really belongs with the legion and not with Rome. Some spirit of this carries over into the revised ending, in that Marcus has clearly evolved past what drove him to this quest, but at least the actual movie doesn’t suddenly end on a hairpin turn. (For the record, if you’re going to make a movie about a quest, it should be clear that you have to have some result at the end. There are obvious exceptions to this, like Zodiac, but this really isn’t that kind of movie.)
Deleted Scenes – (6:22 Total, 1080p) A few deleted scenes are included here, mostly involving an informal chariot race in which Marcus takes part as he takes command of his new garrison near the beginning of the film.
The Eagle: The Making of a Roman Epic – (12:12, 1080p) This is a fairly brief “making of” featurette that covers the usual bases, with film and set footage being intercut with interviews with the cast and director of the movie. It is strange that the featurette is so short, given that there was enough leftover material to make the longer piece held on BD-Live.
BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present, and includes an online extension of the shorter featurette:
Making The Eagle (48:02, 720p) – This is clearly the rest of the interview and film footage left off the shorter piece included on the disc. It’s very informative and goes into a fair amount of depth about the logistics of making the movie. It’s just odd that this was held for online use and not simply made a part of the disc. (Of course, the presence of the two cuts of the movie may have had something to do with this…)
Pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present.
Digital Copy – Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie from an online website are included in the packaging.
The movie and the special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.
IN THE END...
The Eagle is a decent movie, although not the expansive epic promised by the ads. The reality is that it’s a simple tale, presented and told very simply, which happens to take place within the Roman Empire’s time of existence. The Blu-ray presentation brings us the movie in the best possible picture and sound with some interesting extras, including the director’s commentary and the online version of the documentary about the production. Fans of Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell will want to rent this to see how they handle themselves. I can recommend this for rental for more casual viewers as well.
July 2, 2011.