Zulu Dawn is a prequel to Cy Endfield's classic 1964 film, Zulu. The prequel is a cautionary tale about the dangers of arrogantly underestimating the capabilities of an apparently inferior foe. Endfield wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay for Zulu Dawn, but otherwise seems to have had little to do with its production. While not nearly as cohesive and exciting as Zulu, the prequel boasts an outstanding cast and is a visual feast. Severin, a company with which I have had little prior experience, has put together a nice Blu-ray/DVD combo pack which, while not flawless, will satisfy fans of the film who have been waiting many years for an acceptable home video release of Zulu Dawn.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono), English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
Run Time: 1 Hr. 53 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 03/12/2013
My only fear is that the Zulu will avoid engagement. - Lord Chelmsford, Commander-in-Chief of British ForcesThose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. - George Santayana, Spanish philosopherZulu Dawn is a prequel to Cy Endfield's classic 1964 film, Zulu. The prequel is a cautionary tale about the dangers of arrogantly underestimating the capabilities of an apparently inferior foe. Endfield wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay for Zulu Dawn, but otherwise seems to have had little to do with its production. While not nearly as cohesive and exciting as Zulu, the prequel boasts an outstanding cast and is a visual feast. Severin, a company with which I have had little prior experience, has put together a nice Blu-ray/DVD combo pack which, while not flawless, will satisfy fans of the film who have been waiting many years for an acceptable home video release of Zulu Dawn.The year is 1879 and the British Empire includes the colony of Natal, located on the Indian Ocean in South Africa. Great Britain has had an uneasy but generally peaceful relationship with the Zulus of neighboring Zululand. However, some in the British government are uneasy about what they see as the primitive and sometimes brutal way in which the Zulus are led by King Cetshwayo (Simon Sabela). The recently appointed High Commissioner of Southern Africa, Sir Henry Bartle Frere (John Mills), has been attempting to create a confederation in Southern Africa and he believes that Zululand has to be annexed by the British for a confederation to succeed. Even though he has been instructed by his superiors in London to avoid an armed conflict with the Zulus, Bartle Frere sends an ultimatum to King Cetshwayo which he know cannot be accepted. When Cetshwayo rejects the ultimatum, the British Army led by Lord Chelmsford (Peter O'Toole) invades Zululand.The first half of the film focuses on the preparations for war, and it drags in places. We are introduced to some key characters. Colonel Durnford (Burt Lancaster) is an Irish engineer who has been in South Africa for many years and has greater understanding and respect for Zulu warriors than his fellow officers. Lieutenant Vereker (Simon Ward) is a settler in Natal who volunteers to join the Army when he learns that war is inevitable. Lord Chelmsford, who relishes the opportunity to fight the Zulus, is assisted by his aide, Colonel Pulleine (Denholm Elliott). Other recognizable names in the case include Nigel Davenport, Michael Jayston, and Bob Hoskins as a gruff and tough Sergeant. The only person who seems to have any qualms about the invasion is a newspaper reporter, who is a bit of thorn in the side of Lord Chelmsford.The pace of film picks up considerably once the British forces cross the Buffalo River into Zululand. Lord Chelmsford assumes that his well-armed forces will have little difficulty in defeating the Zulus, who for the most part are armed with just spears and shields. However, Chelmsford makes a critical tactical error after his army arrives at Isandlwana and sets up camp. He decides to split his army without first confirming where the main Zulu forces are, a decision which has dire consequences when the undermanned camp comes under attack during his absence.The cast is uniformly excellent. Peter O'Toole gives a fine performance as the haughty and dismissive Lord Chelmsford, and Burt Lancaster is typically sturdy as Colonel Durnford. Denholm Elliott is sympathetic as the unlucky Colonel Pulleine, who has the thankless task of defending the camp against thousands of fierce Zulus. Simon Ward is dashing as the new cavalry officer, Lieutenant Vereker, who leads the scouting column which stumbles across the main Zulu army.Zulu Dawn effectively hammers home the point that war is always brutal and rarely is easy. The war with the Zulus certainly was not the first or the last time that a major power underestimated the fighting ability of its enemies. The prequel is unable to sustain the breathless tension and excitement which characterizes Zulu, and as a result it may have been unfairly treated by some critics. It certainly would have been a more compelling film if it had been put in the hands of a more competent director than the mediocre Douglas Hickox. In spite of its shortcomings, there is much about Zulu Dawn to recommend. Anyone who has not experienced the pleasure of viewing Zulu should give serious consideration to watching this prequel first.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Although this Blu-ray transfer of Zulu Dawn is not perfect, for the most part it is very, very good. There are a few moments where the focus is a bit soft, but mostly it is sharp and well-detailed. The bright red British uniforms are rock-solid, with not a hint of color bleeding. The film appears to be properly framed, and the cinematography by Ousama Rawi is breathtaking at times. Zulu Dawn was filmed on location in South Africa, and the battle scenes were shot in and around the actual battlefields at Isandlwana (interestingly, the scenes of the British army crossing the Buffalo River were filmed with the actors crossing from Zululand into Natal because it made for more striking visuals).I have read that this disc may be marking the first time that Severin has used the AVC codec, which certainly contributes to how good it looks. There undoubtedly has been some digital cleanup in the transfer, but it has been done with a light touch because fine grain remains and the Blu-ray has a pleasing film-like appearance.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
Zulu Dawn has two audio options, a DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix. Somewhat surprisingly, the Dolby Digital mix is clearly preferable. While listening to the DTS-HD mix I found that the dialogue is sometimes muddled and difficult to decipher. In addition, the dialogue occasionally is slightly obscured by ambient sounds. Happily this is not an issue with the Dolby Digital mix, which offers much stronger dialogue with considerably more clarity.The film boasts a fine score by famed composer Elmer Bernstein, and the music sounds very good considering the limitation of having been recorded in mono.There are no subtitles, an obvious drawback for some viewers.
Audio Rating: 3/5
There are a few worthwhile extras on this Blu-ray disc, two of which feature British historian and Zulu Wars expert Ian Knight."The History of the Zulu Wars" is a 25-minute featurette in which Knight provides worthwhile historical context for the film. Based upon his comments, Zulu Dawn is for the most part historically accurate. I should note that on my Blu-ray player the featurette began to break up at the 23-minute point, and I could not get it to play through to the end. However, the same extras are included on the DVD and I was able to watch it on the DVD with no problems."Recreating the War" is a 20-minute featurette in which Midge Carter, the historical and military consultant for the film, speaks at length about the production. Carter was a stickler for accuracy and this created some conflict between him and some of the filmmakers, but he won out in the end. He is rather critical of director Douglas Hickox and he confides that he was told on the set that Zulu Dawn would likely be Peter O'Toole's last film because of his debauched lifestyle. Carter then notes that O'Toole is one of the few members of the cast who is still working in films.Ian Knight returns for "A Visit to the Battlefield," a very interesting tour of the actual battlefield at Isandlwana. This featurette suffers because it has a home movies feel to it. It was shot with a single, mostly static camera and during the first segment the audio is partially obscured by the sound of whistling wind. Nevertheless, it is quite affecting to see where the actual events took place and how those places look today. This featurette has a running time of 17 minutes.The film's theatrical trailer is included. It is intact but is soft and the colors have deteriorated with age.Finally, there are a number of outtakes which are in shabby condition but are interesting to view.As noted, this release also includes a DVD of the film which contains the same extras as the Blu-ray.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Zulu Dawn is not the equal of Zulu, but taken on its own terms it is a fascinating, well-made film which concludes with a remarkable and lengthy battle scene. It boasts an all-star cast and has never looked better on home video. Its modest street price helps me to give it a solid "buy" recommendation.Equipment used for this review:Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray playerPanasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg LoewenYamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround ReceiverBIC Acoustech speakersInterconnects: Monster Cable
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
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