Just in time for Father's Day, Fox releases five classic war films on Blu-Ray for the first time: "Patton" (1970/George C. Scott), "Sand Pebbles" (1966/Steve McQueen), "Longest Day" (1962/Richard Burton/Sean Connery/Eddie Albert/John Wayne), "Battle of Britain" (1969/Michael Caine/Curt Jurgens/Harry Andrews/Ian McShane) and "Bridge Too Far" (1977/Sean Connery/Michael Caine/George Hackman/James Caan/Laurence Olivier).
VIDEO: "Patton" is presented in 2.20:1 (AVC/1080p), "Battle of Britain" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/MPEG-2), "The Longest Day" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC), "A Bridge Too Far" is 2.35:1 (1080p/MPEG-2) and "The Sand Pebbles" is 2.35:1 (1080p/MPEG-2).
The presentation of "Patton" is nothing short of astonishing, as the 38-year-old picture looks more fresh and clean than it ever has before on home video. The film looks pristine, with no more than a few tiny marks making up the extent of the wear seen on the film.
Sharpness and detail may not be entirely consistent (a few shots here-and-there look slightly softer), but considering the age of the film and previous presentations on home video, definition is certainly improved on this Blu-Ray presentation. While depth to the image isn't always striking, it is above-average throughout, especially for a catalog title. I have to wonder if the film has ever looked as crystal clear as it does here.
While colors are intentionally on the subdued side, they still seemed rather lively, considering the age of the film. Black level also seemed solid throughout, as well. Overall, this was an excellent effort from Fox - the film looks younger than it is.
"Battle of Britain" hasn't held up as well over the years, unfortunately. While the level of wear isn't entirely out of the realm of expectations for a picture of this age, some restortation work might have been in order for the film, as dirt, specks, marks and other debris are visible at times. I was also displeased to see some edge enhancement clearly visible in several scenes. Mild grain is also seen throughout the film, although its presence isn't objectionable.
Sharpness and detail are a bit above-average (although some shots that appear to be stock footage look softer) and better than the DVD presentation, but aren't remarkable in any way. Colors remained subdued, but appeared accurately presented. "Bridge Too Far" and "Sand Pebbles" also offer presentations that are an upgrade over the DVD edition in terms of definition and depth to the image, but some wear and tear proves to be a minor distraction on both titles - althoguh "Sand Pebbles" comes off looking crisper and clearer.
Things do improve greatly with the very impressive transfer for "The Longest Day", as the B & W picture has a clarity that is nothing short of astonishing, considering the age of the picture. Depth and detail are also very pleasing throughout the show. The film certainly appears to have been cared for over the years, as the presentation appeared clean and free of all but a few scattered little specks and marks. Black level was terrific, as blacks appeared quite rich throughout the show. Overall, this was just a marvelous effort from Fox.
SOUND: All five films are presented with DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Audio presentations. However, beyond that, the additional audio options vary from title-to-title. "A Bridge to Far" also offers Dolby 4.0 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French) and mono (Spanish) soundtracks. "Battle of Britain" offers English mono and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks (the 5.1 soundtrack offers the original Sir William Walton score) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (French).
Meanwhile, "Patton" sports Dolby Digital 5.0 (English) and mono (French/Spanish) options. "The Longest Day" offers Dolby 4.0 (English) and mono (French/Spanish) options. Finally, "The Sand Pebbles" offers Dolby 4.0 (English) and mono (French/Spanish) options.
The repurposed surround mixes for each film aren't half bad, as the battles in "Patton" are surprisingly enveloping. Audio quality and activity does vary throughout the films, as while the sound effects of "Patton" and "Battle of Britain" do have some fullness, the other films do sound somewhat thinner in comparison. Of course, none of the films have the kind of low-end punch that one would expect from the audio of a modern war picture.
EXTRAS: "A Bridge Too Far" and "Battle of Britain" get zippo in terms of extra features (a trivia track for each would have been a nice touch, but we get neither.) However, the other films do carry over previously released supplements, with "Patton" and "Longest Day" including a second standard DVD of previously released bonus features. While some may be dismayed that the bonus discs on the two-disc titles aren't Blu-Ray discs, having the extras on another DVD does allow some flexibility if you want to watch them on another player or a PC w/DVD-ROM drive, etc.
"Patton"'s first disc offers both an enjoyable introduction from writer Francis Ford Coppola, as well as a - no surprise - terrific commentary track for the film itself, full of marvelous behind-the-scenes stories from the production, including discussion of difficulties with the studio, research, the screenwriting process and his thoughts on how to best portray the character, among other topics. Ford Coppola wrote the script in his late '20's and his discussions of the lessons learned at an early age is fascinating. While there are some minor instances of silence, Ford Coppola does talk throughout the majority of the film.
"Patton"'s second disc is a standard DVD, but it's packed with bonus features (previously released), including the remarkably extensive "Through the Lens: Patton - A Rebel Revisited", which is a 90-minute look into the making of the picture, which offers an amazingly in-depth look at the production, through pre-production, Scott's casting and performance, production and reaction. "Patton's Ghost Corps" is an incredible look at the stories of many of the men who served with Patton who he left with limited support while he went on to fight the Battle of the Bulge. The soldiers discuss their experiences, as well as their thoughts on Patton. This is a very, very difficult and moving documentary that, while difficult to watch, is also an astonishing portrait of the horrors of war. We also get a 50-minute "making of" documentary, as well as two lengthy photo galleries (one of which is accompanied by Goldsmith's score, the other by a historical essay/commentary) and finally, we get the trailer.
"Sand Pebbles" offers up a good (if quiet for some stretches) commentary from director Robert Wise, star Candace Bergen, star Richard Crenna and star Mako, as well as an isolated score with commentary from: music producer Nick Redman, historian/screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film music historian Jon Burlingame. "Sand Pebbles" also offers scenes from the "Road Show" version of the film "The Making of 'The Sand Pebbles'" documentary, "Steve McQueen: Remembered" featurette, "Robert Wise: Remembered" featurette, "China: 1926 - Remembered" featurette, "A Ship Called San Pablo" featurette, "The Secret of San Pablo" featurette, radio documentaries narrated by Richard Attenborough, radio spots and the film's trailer.
"The Longest Day"'s first disc holds a pair of commentaries that offer a lot of insights into both the historical aspects of the feature, as well as the production. Handling a film commentary solo is director Ken Annakin, while the historical perspective is offered by Mary Corey. The second disc is a standard DVD that carries over previously released features: "A Day to Remember" featurette, "Longest Day: A Salute to Courage" featurette, "AMC Backstory: Longest Day" featurette, "D-Day Revisited" documentary, "Richard Zanuck on 'The Longest Day'" featurette, still gallery and trailer.
Final Thoughts: While "Battle of Britain" and "Bridge Too Far" don't match up with the rest of the titles in the video department, the presentation quality on these titles is an improvement over their DVD editions and some - "Patton" and "Longest Day" especially - are quite exceptional. "Patton", "Longest Day" and "Sand Pebbles" also offer fantastic supplemental features.