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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Great Raid (Blu-ray)
The Great Raid (Blu-ray)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // September 19, 2006 // Region A
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 7, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

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.
 

The DVD:

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.

Video:

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 look.

Audio:

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.

Extras:

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???

Final Thoughts:

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.
 

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