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For those who have never seen it, the best way to describe FAIL-SAFE ($25) is as DR. STRANGELOVE without the satiric edge. FAIL-SAFE is a suspenseful and scary film about perils of nuclear war and our dependency on technology to control the war machine. Based upon the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, director Sidney Lumet's 1964 film FAIL-SAFE tells the story of how a breakdown in the fail-safe system sends a squadron of American planes into Soviet air space on a mission to drop its nuclear payload on Moscow. With the Strategic Air Command unable to recall the planes, The President is forced to make some very hard choices, which include shooting down the planes before they can reach their target.

Conferring with the Soviet Premiere, The President tries to prevent retaliation by giving the Russians every bit of information required to knock the planes out of the sky. However, when faced with the possibility that the planes will devastate Moscow- The President comes up with a grim solution that will prevent a nuclear war that would destroy both sides. FAIL-SAFE is a top-notch political thriller that provides its cast the opportunity to truly flex their acting muscles. As The President, Henry Fonda has seldom been better, delivering a performance that shows a compassionate man agonizing over the life and death decisions he is forced to make. In the early stages of his career, Walter Matthau had not found his comedic niche, so his chilling performance as Groeteschele, the calculating political science professor, is indeed a treat for fans who may not have seen FAIL-SAFE before now. Additionally, anyone who considers Larry Hagman to be a lightweight actor because of his roles on I Dream Of Jeannie and Dallas, will be very much surprised by his strong dramatic turn as The President's Russian translator Buck. The first rate cast of FAIL-SAFE also includes Dan O'Herlihy, Frank Overton, Ed Binns, Fritz Weaver, William Hansen, Russell Hardie, Russell Collins, Sorrell Booke, Nancy Berg, John Connell, Frank Simpson, Hildy Parks, Janet Ward and Dom DeLuise.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has made FAIL-SAFE available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Although slightly grainy, the black and white film elements used for the transfer shows relatively few age-related markings (other than in the stock footage shots, which must have been scratched on original theatrical prints). The transfer itself is crisp and provides a relatively good level of detail. However, the film has edgy, high contrast cinematography, which enhances the stark, unnerving atmosphere of FAIL-SAFE. For this reason, there is almost no shadow detail in the image, with all of the dark areas falling almost immediately into black. Blacks themselves are deep and inky, while the grays and whites are properly rendered, without any sign of the whites becoming blown out. Digital compression artifacts did not make their presence known on this cleanly authored dual layered DVD.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is in good shape, offering crisp dialogue, without bothersome distortion or excessive hiss. There is no musical score, so the limited fidelity of the original sound recordings is very much a non-issue. French and Spanish language tracks have also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles.

There is a bit of animation and sound to enhance the interface of the interactive menus. Through the menus, on has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few nice supplements. Director Sidney Lumet provides a highly detailed and informative running audio commentary in which he speaks about the production difficulties he face while making FAIL-SAFE as well as working with a number of legendary actors. Also included on the DVD is a new produced featurette, Fail-Safe Revisited, in which surviving members of the production team talk about making this classic film. Additionally, George Clooney, who produced and starred in the live television remake, adds his own insights. A theatrical trailer and talent files fill out the disc's supplements.

FAIL-SAFE is a taught, suspenseful film that hasn't lost any of its power in thirty plus years since it was made. If you are a fan, or someone who has never seen FAIL-SAFE, you will definitely want to check this DVD.


Fail Safe - Special Edition



DVD reviews are Copyright 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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