THE GREAT ESCAPE
THE GREAT ESCAPE ($30) is one of the most memorable and most enjoyable wartime movies ever made. Although the subject matter is deadly serious, many aspects of the story are presented with a lighthearted tone that makes the overall experience of seeing THE GREAT ESCAPE an uplifting one. Set in a German prisoner of war camp during the Second World War, THE GREAT ESCAPE is a fictionalized account of actual events. Because of numerous escape attempts at various POW camps and the resources required to hunt down repeated escapees, the Germans decide to put all of their "rotten eggs" into one basket- in what they believe to be an escape-proof camp. Of course, immediately after the Allied POWs arrive at this supposedly "escape-proof camp" do they begin planning the biggest, most elaborate escape in the history of the war.
One of the things that makes THE GREAT ESCAPE such a great motion picture is its truly wonderful ensemble cast of actors, who vividly portray the Allied prisoners of various nationalities and skills. Steve McQueen is Captain Hilts, who earns the nickname "The Cooler King" for all the time he spends in solitary confinement, due to his various failed escape attempts. James Garner is Flight Lieutenant Hendley AKA "The Scrounger," who is able to acquire all the un-acquirable items required for the escape. Richard Attenborough is Squadron Leader Bartlett AKA "Big X"- the brains behind the escape plan. Charles Bronson is Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski, called "The Tunnel King" for his ability to dig out the escape route under the camp. Donald Pleasence is Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe, who serves as "The Forger," producing the necessary documents to get the escapees out of Germany. James Coburn is Flying Officer Louis Sedgwick AKA "The Manufacturer" for his ability to assemble necessary items out of scavenged parts. The cast of THE GREAT ESCAPE also features James Donald, Hannes Messemer, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, John Leyton, Angus Lennie and Nigel Stock.
MGM Home Entertainment has made THE GREAT ESCAPE available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This Special Edition release is a marked improvement over MGM’s previous DVD offering, as it is indeed enhanced for wide screen monitors, plus it offers better, more accurate framing of the film’s Panavision dimensions. The image is also sharper and provides better definition than the previous release. Of course, there are still some mildly soft spots in the image, which primarily occur during optical fades or other effects. Colors generally appear quite strong and are rendered with good-looking flesh tones. Again, hues are slightly skewed during the opticals, but it isn’t particularly bothersome. Blacks are accurate, whites are clean and shadow detail is good for a film that is over forty years old. Contrast is generally good, but there are a few brief instances where it appears a bit harsh, again related to limitations in the original production or film elements, and not a flaw in this fine transfer. The film elements themselves are in generally free of blemishes, although there is a noticeable grain structure at various points in the presentation. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed.
For this release, the sound elements for THE GREAT ESCAPE have been upgraded to provide a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel track. The new mix adds a nice spaciousness to the soundtrack, without becoming excessive or artificial. Sound effects are implemented subtly and effectively around the soundstage, with the forward channels handling the majority of the work and the rears kicking in where appropriate. Dialogue is always completely understandable and the voices are well preserved. Elmer Bernstein’s memorable score is well represented in the 5.1 mix, and one is sure to be humming the infectious main theme by the end of the film. Spanish and French language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Featured on disc one is a running audio commentary with author Steven J. Ruben, as well as various members of the cast and crew including the late director John Sturges (whose comments are taken from a 1974 interview). While not screen specific, the track is a terrific source of information on THE GREAT ESCAPE. Also on disc one, is an informative Trivia Track that is available through one of the subtitle channels.
Going over to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. In the featurette section, one will find The Great Escape: The Untold Story, a terrific nearly hour-long program that looks at the real life events that inspired the film’s story; this program is followed by another section of additional interviews. The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones clocks in at twenty minutes and looks at the man the inspired Steve McQueen’s character. Return to The Great Escape runs twenty-four minutes and provides another look at the real locations and events. Also in the featurette section one will find the following four programs Bringing Fact To Fiction (twelve minutes), Preparations For Freedom (nineteen minutes), The Flight To Freedom (nine minutes) and A Standing Ovation (six minutes). A still gallery, theatrical trailer and bonus trailers close out the supplemental materials.
THE GREAT ESCAPE is indeed a true motion picture classic. Not only is THE GREAT ESCAPE a superb war movie- it is also outstanding entertainment. MGM has done a fine job with the film’s presentation on DVD, as offering a solid body of supplemental materials. If you are a fan, this DVD is a worthwhile upgrade. If you have never seen THE GREAT ESCAPE, then this DVD is the best form of introduction to this classic. Very highly recommended.
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