The Great Escape on DVD
A grand and rousing adventure in which a ragtag band of freedom fighters fights
overwhelming odds to strike their blow against tyranny is always a hoot to watch.
Hence Star Wars The Adventures of Robin Hood and any
number of such flicks.
But when its also leavened with a healthy dose of reality, it becomes
even more interesting as is the case with The Great Escape, the retelling
of the attempt during World War II of some 250 Allied prisoners to stage a huge
exit from their prisoner of war camp.
It wasnt just any camp, either. The Nazis had just built it and had brought
in their elite guards to keep their eyes on this collection of prisoners
the elite of the escapers from other camps.
John Sturges movie does a great job of capturing the indomitable human
spirit, the never say die attitude of these people who dont
care a whit that their new camp is supposed to be escape proof but
who know its their sacred duty not only to escape, but to harass the German
military machine in whatever manner they can to ensure that the enemy has to
spend valuable resources baby sitting (or chasing down) them rather than sending
more soldiers into action against Allied troops elsewhere.
The all-star international cast is terrific. Richard Attenborough plays the
British office in charge of the plan, Steve McQueen is the motorcycle ridin
cooler king whose repeated escape attempts help keep the Germans
off guard as to the true escape plan. James Garner is the scrounger, a man who
seemingly can come up with any tool or other item needed including expensive
cameras to be used in the forging of documents; Donald Pleasence is the forger,
who goes blind during the process and has to be helped in his own escape. Charles
Bronson is a claustrophobic tunnel king.
The worst aspect of the movie is James Coburns Australian accent, which
is non existent except for some Aussie-like phrases he utters. He was from down
under undoubtedly for historical accuracy, but they should have let him be an
American to enhance his believability.
Still, this is a terrific movie, one of the great WWII flicks and its nearly
three hour running time whizzes by as if it were a much shorter film.
And Elmer Bernsteins score is wonderfully rousing.
This new DVD version is also terrific, though we wish their stunning
new high definition transfer would have been from a restored version of
the movie. The picture is featured in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible,
and overall its good, but it really shows the films age and shows
that even a good digital mastering cant make a silk ear out of a sows
purse. The colors tend to look a bit smeary, though the image is nice and sharp.
But overall, we were left wishing for better video quality.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and its quite good, though we didnt
notice much, if any, surround. Its mostly mono and there isnt necessarily
anything wrong with that.
This two disc set includes plenty of extras as well. First up is a running
audio commentary featuring director Sturges and various cast/crew members. Theres
also a trivia track on disc one.
Disc two includes The Great Escape: The Untold Story and The
Real Life Virgil Hilts (the Steve McQueen part) documentaries, five featurettes
on various aspects of the production, a photo gallery and the trailer.
Despite our angst over the picture quality, were pleased to add this
version of the Great Escape to our DVD library. It isnt that its
bad; its just disappointing in this day and age of great film restorations.
The Great Escape, from MGM Home Entertainment
172 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson,
James Coburn, Donald Pleasence
Written by James Clavell & W.R. Burnett
Produced and directed by John Sturges
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think