Here's what I knew about The Great Raid before I screened this
disc: I had never heard of it before the disc was announced, the
movie was release last year after sitting in Miramax's vaults for two or
three years, and it involved some WWII rescue operation (again, that I had
never heard of.) To put it lightly, I wasn't expecting much.
In fact, I was convinced that it would be really bad before the disc even
finished loading. Turns out that you can't judge a movie by how long
it's held before release. This war film, though it has its faults,
is an interesting and at times gripping drama that seems to have passed
under everyone's radar.
Based on a true story, the events depicted in this film are awe inspiring.
At the end of WWII the US forces were making their way across the Pacific,
retaking islands that the Japanese had invaded years before. The
Japanese high command had issued orders that prisoners of war were not
to be released. If the soldiers could no longer be guarded, they
were to be killed, and they were. When the US came to the Philippines,
they knew that there were 500 prisoners being held near the city of Cabanatuan.
These were the men who had fought the Japanese invasion of the island and
were ordered to surrender when the US command, busy fighting in Europe,
couldn't supply or evacuate them. They had survived the Bataan Death
March and years of starvation and abuse by the Japanese.
Not wanting to see these valiant men butchered before they could be
liberated, the job of rescuing them fell to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci
(Benjamin Bratt) and his group of untried Rangers. Mucci assigns
the planning of the raid to Captain Prince (James Franco), and along with
a group of hand picked men set out across miles and miles of enemy territory
to assault a compound that is guarded by an unknown number of Japanese.
It could easily end is a horrible slaughter of the American troops.
This movie shows how they did it.
It's hard to watch this movie and not think of Saving Private Ryan,
a movie in a similar vein. While this isn't as good as that award
winning film, it has a lot of the same feel to it. The Great Raid
comes across as realistic and authentic. There isn't one hero who
takes on the might of the Japanese army with a broken pool cue and the
Rangers aren't facing impossible odds. They are running against the
clock though, and that makes for great drama. The story is very moving
too. Seeing what the prisoners have had to endure and knowing the
difficulty that the raiders faced really gave the story a lot of impact
and heroism. The subplot involving the Phillipino resistance
smuggling in medicine to the sick and dying prisoners was also very engrossing.
The battle scenes are shot very well, and the director thankfully eschewed
all of the jerky hand-held camera work that's been so popular in recent
years and instead used skillful editing to put the viewer in the middle
of the action.
That's not to say that the movie is perfect. There are some problems
with it. It drags a little in the middle, the characters aren't really
developed to any extent and aren't very complex, and some of the dialog
was awkward. (How come none of the soldiers swear??) There
was also a romantic subplot between a prisoner and a nurse that was dull
and uninteresting and just didn't work.
Though the movie does have its flaws, it's a quality film that deserved
much better exposure than it has received to date.
This disc presents the director's cut of the film, which is actually
a minute shorter than the theatrical release. As the director mentions
in the commentary, he excised some of the scenes that weren't historically
accurate. The theatrical release was only available on DVD as a full
frame pan and scan hack job, and while I've never seen that version, I'm
confident that this cut is the one that people should see.
Note: The only Blu Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this
review is the Samsung BD P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design,
and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which
creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this.
This disc looked excellent. I was very happy with the look of
the whole film. The detail was excellent, the drab colors of the Pilipino
jungle were reproduced faithfully, and the blacks were solid and even in
tone. This movie has a fair amount of dimly lit scenes, and these
were particularly impressive. The inside the barracks at the POW
camp viewers can make out the dirt and grime that the American soldiers
had to live in. The scenes of the raid at the end of the film, preformed
at night, also had very good definition and a wide variety of dark shades
without any posterization. This is the way a Blu-ray disc should
The 5.1 PCM (48 Hz/16-bit) soundtrack reproduced the film's audio very
well. The sound design was a bit more sedate than most war movies,
the ambient noises were a bit low in level and while the raid does have
a good deal of sonic impact and the full soundstage is used, there isn't
as much panning as I was expecting. (Though the sounds of the plane
flying over, a signal to start the raid, did transfer the engine noises
from front to rear in a very satisfactory manner.) This is a minor
matter, and the fact that the audio isn't overly busy may please a lot
of viewers. The quality of the sound was very good though, with noises
like gunfire being very precise and clear instead of loud but indistinct
and explosions having a lot of force. The disc has very good range
with a clean and crisp high end and well utilized low tones. Like
the video, this is the way a Blu-ray disc should sound.
This movie sounds and looks great on Blu-ray, but you'll have to keep
your SD version if you want access to the extras. The only bonus
item that is carried over is the commentary track with director John Dahl,
producer Marty Katz, technical advisor Captain Dale Dye, editor Scott Chestnut,
author Hampton Sides. This track is really good. They cover
the technical aspects of the filming and also fill in viewers on the history
of the events that take place in the movie. If you enjoyed the film
even a bit, make sure you listen to the commentary.
It seems that for every step forward, the format takes a step back.
In this case we get some new content, but we lose the menus. When
the disc is popped in the movie automatically starts. To select a
different audio track or view a bonus item, the pop-up menu has to be accessed
while the movie is playing. You have to set the subtitles and audio
track on the fly which is a very inconvenient way of doing things.
What were the people at Buena Vista thinking???
This film wasn't prefect, but at the end I was very glad I watched it.
This raid was very impressive and the film got more things right than it
got wrong. The Blu-ray disc is exceptional with a fantastic picture
and wonderful sound. Finally we get a good movie and good reproduction
on the same BR disc. Highly Recommended.