"Overlord" is a simple, yet powerful film from director Stuart Cooper that follows one young soldier's experiences in the days leading up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy (Overlord was the code name for the Normandy beach invasion that took place on June 6, 1944). Tom (Brian Stirner) is called up to fight and soon finds himself in the midst of basic training, where he befriends some of the soldiers that will join him on the front line. Tom is calm, collected and a nice, average person.
Tom and his fellow soldiers endure a great deal of waiting and wondering as they make their way towards the front lines. Tom meets a pleasant girl and they hit it off, all the while knowing that their relationship will be a sweet, swift moment in each of their lives. Footage of the war is taken from the Imperial War Museum, and director Stuart Cooper sifted through thousands of hours of footage in order to select footage that he could weave into the story of Tom. This footage is exceptionally well integrated into the narrative and occasionally presents some startling images, such as a giant, rocket powered machine that resembles a wheel that storms onto a beach with incredible fury.
As Tom gets closer to the war, there's an increasing sense of dread as he begins to feel like a smaller and smaller part of the war and comes to the realization that he will not make it home. He quietly accepts his fate, locked in a march towards what he believes will be an almost certain end. Stirner's performance is subdued and somewhat a blank slate, but the performance is engaging and the very subtle nature does a fine job of portraying how one innocent young man can lose his identity and become part of the larger war machine and lose his life before he even truly has lived it.
Overall, this is an exceptionally moving, moody and powerful war film that's very different (and largely much more quiet) than the average film in the genre.
VIDEO: "Overlord" is presented by Criterion in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Supervised by director Stuart Cooper, this new high-def presentation was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. The MTI Digital Restoration System was used to remove thousands of instances of dirt and debris, while the Apple Shake software was used to reduce film jitter.
The presentation quality is, while not quite flawless, still really quite remarkable. Sharpness and detail are often impressive, as the B & W presentation often appeared crisp, well-defined and clean. Grain is often seen, but it is a fine, light and "film-like" grain that is more pleasing than distracting. No artifacting was spotted, but a couple of instances of slight edge enhancement were seen. The majority of the film looked fresh and clean, but a couple of very minor instances of wear were still seen. Overall, this was a striking presentation of this film that, even with a couple of minor flaws, still looked terrific throughout.
SOUND: The film's mono soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic stems, and audio restoration tools were used to reduce hiss, crackle, pops and other issues. The result is a crisp, clean mono soundtrack that sounds impressive, considering the film's age.
EXTRAS: Criterion's DVD offers a wide array of newly done features, starting with a commentary from director Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Sterner. We also get "Mining the Archives" (where Imperial War Museum archivists discuss the footage used in the film), "Capa Influences Cooper" (a photo essay featuring Cooper on photographer Robert Capa) "A Test of Violence" (Cooper's short film about Spanish artist Juan Genoves), "Cameramen at War" (A 1943 tribute by the British Ministry of Information to the newsreel and serve film unit cameramen), "Germany Calling" (1941 British Ministry of Information propaganda film, some of which is used in "Overlord"), Journals from 2 D-day soldiers (read by Brian Stirner) and the trailer. We also get a booklet containing a new essay by critic Kent Jones, a short history of the Imperial War Museum and excerpts from the novelization. The features are absolutely fascinating, although the extensive documentary looking into the history of the footage, the commentary and the D-Day journals are particularly of interest.
Final Thoughts: Overall, this is an exceptionally moving, moody and powerful war film that's very different (and largely much more quiet) than the average film in the genre. Criterion's DVD edition provides a incredibly clean and crisp audio/video presentation of "Overlord", as well as a lot of insightful, informative bonus features. Highly recommended.
The Film A