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Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Christopher Lee
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale

Hysterical Californians prepare for a Japanese invasion in the days after Pearl Harbor.
PG/Not Rated

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 146 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 5/5/2015

• Both Theatrical and Director’s Cuts
• "The Making of 1941" Documentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Production Photos
• Trailers



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-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


1941 [Blu-Ray] (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 25, 2018)

Hero Takes a Fall, Part One! Steven Spielberg's career progressed on a nice track during most of the 1970s, as he started out the decade with a well-respected TV movie called Duel and released his first theatrical film, The Sugarland Express in 1974.

While few took notice of that picture, the same cannot be said for his next movie, 1975's Jaws, which went on to break box office records and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Spielberg enjoyed continued enormous success with his next feature, 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which also made scads of money and snagged Spielberg his first Academy Award nomination as Best Director.

After such a great run, expectations seemed sky-high for Spielberg's final film of the decade, 1979's 1941, and unquestionably some critics were gunning for him. We love success in the US - just as long as someone doesn't stay on top too long. When that happens, fairly or unfairly, many folks will search for some sort of Achilles heel to bring that person back to Earth.

That dose of reality slapped Spielberg squarely in the face with 1941. Critics reviled it as puerile and overblown and audiences largely avoided it. After a terrific run of both artistic and financial success, Spielberg finally had a flop on his hands.

You know what? He deserved it, as 1941 remains a big, stinking pile of a movie.

Days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, residents of California remain on high alert, as they hear the combatants will assault them next. A rogue Japanese sub does attempt to pursue this goal, but mostly the residents of Los Angeles create havoc due to their own anxieties, so wild, wacky shenanigans result.

Spielberg took his own skills, a script from the talented duo of Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis (who together made I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Back to the Future), a huge cast of fine actors, and an immense budget. With all that, he wasted it on one of the most nonsensical pieces of loud, annoying tripe to come down the pipe in quite some time.

Whenever a movie bombs on this many levels, inevitably a counterculture of supporters appears who urge you to believe that the film was simply misunderstood and that it's actually very good. This tendency becomes even more likely when a) some time has passed since the film's release, and b) someone with an excellent track record made the film.

These apologists have definitely exist in regard to 1941 as these revisionists try to convince the public that it's something of a "lost gem" from Spielberg's canon. Heck, the director himself pops up at the start of the disc's documentary and tells us how the Europeans loved it and that we Americans just didn't get it.

Don't believe the hype. Later on in the documentary, Spielberg pretty much acknowledges the faults of 1941 and comes close to saying that he shouldn't have made it – while he doesn't quite get there, but he seems to at least tacitly admit that the movie's something of a dog.

And a dog it is - a smelly, flea-bitten one at that. While 1941 never becomes unwatchable, it fails in two significant ways: it's boring and it's unfunny. For an action-comedy, those are sins about as unforgivable as they come.

Watching 1941 lets me understand how that reporter who viewed the Hindenberg's crash felt: oh, the humanity of it all! The project wastes so much talent for so little reward. Spielberg clearly attempted to emulate the wackiness and huge all-star cast of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but all he got was a crappy, crappy, crappy, crappy movie.

It's not easy for me to write this, as I've been a Spielberg fan for most of my life, and although I think he' got a little preachy over the years, I still think he's one of the most talented filmmakers alive.

How did this fiasco happen? All I can figure is that the success got to Spielberg a bit. When you do as well as he did from 1975-1977, you start to think you can do anything. Spielberg seemed to suffer from the "bigger is better" syndrome; he tried so hard to make 1941 a huge, overwhelming experience that he lost all sight of any direction he may once have had.

For the most part, 1941 tries to gets its laughs through violence. Man, that's about all we see in this movie; smashed up this, beat up that, blown up everything. If there’s any subtlety on display here, I can't find it.

“Over the top” isn't necessarily a bad thing, as sometimes crude and rude works well. Unfortunately, that ain't the case here.

I think I chuckled a few times during the movie, as I liked the bit with the kid who ate soup through his gas mask, and I also enjoyed the reveal of Herbie’s (Eddie Deezen) puppet. All the rest remains something of a blur.

Actually, most of the entertainment value of 1941 stems from your memories of its performers work in much better films, as we get whole chunks of casts from other ventures. You have two from Animal House (John Belushi and Tim Matheson, plus a cameo from director John Landis that I won't count), two from Saturday Night Live (Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), two from SCTV (John Candy and Joe Flaherty), three from Jaws (Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary, and Susan Backlinie), three from Laverne and Shirley (Penny Marshall, David L. Lander and Michael McKean), and no fewer than four actors from I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Deezen, Nancy Allen, Bobby DiCicco, and Wendie Jo Sperber).

Add to that fine list this roster of talent: Robert Stack, Toshiro Mifune, Treat Williams, Slim Pickens, Ned Beatty, Christopher Lee, Warren Oates, and even budding psycho Mickey Rourke. With that many quality performers, shouldn't something entertaining have happened more frequently than it did?

Cripes, one look at that roster makes me wonder if Spielberg didn't intentionally tank 1941! It just doesn't seem possible that so many talented people can collaborate on something and have it turn out so badly.

I certainly don't blame the actors for the movie's failings, as all perform competently, though I'd be hard pressed to choose any real standouts. The actors ride along with this disaster and seem afraid to try anything terribly different.

I suppose that they were afraid to make themselves more noticeable because they didn't want to become targets for the inevitable attacks that 1941 would provoke. I probably enjoyed the work of Deezen and Sperber the best, but that's probably just my own personal preference at play. Heck, even they barely register here, as my memories of their interactions in I Wanna Hold Your Hand amuse me much more than did anything in this film.

On the positive side, the film's effects are very well produced, and the film enjoys a massive scope, so you can definitely see where the money went. At times, I actually felt startled by the scale of the picture, just because I couldn't stop thinking about how expensive the damned thing would be nowadays.

I'd guess this sucker'd cost at least $200 million, maybe more. I'm not one of these people who attacks large budgets just on principle, so if James Cameron needed $200 million to make Titanic, that was fine- at least the ends justified the means. The same clearly cannot be said for this fiasco.

The Disc Grades: Picture B- / Audio B+ / Bonus B

1941 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray disc. Though not without some iffy moments, 1941 usually looked reasonably good.

Overall sharpness seemed positive. Photographic choices left us with a semi-gauzy appearance at times, but that was clearly intentional and not an issue. Most of the movie delivered fairly good accuracy and detail.

Moiré effects and jagged edges failed to appear, but the image occasionally betrayed some artificial sharpening and edge haloes, factors that detracted from the overall presentation. Print flaws failed to manifest themselves.

With the aforementioned gauzy photography, colors could show an impact, but that was also intended. At times, the hues could appear bold and vivid, and the Blu-ray always reproduced them as shot, even when they took on a subdued appearance due to cinematographic choices.

Blacks seemed deep and dense, while shadows worked fairly well. That gauziness occasionally left some low-light shots a bit tough to discern, but this came from the source. Ultimately, this became a mostly solid reproduction of the film, though one that could benefit from the loss of the digital sharpening.

The film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundfield provided a satisfying presentation for an older work. Music showed consistently solid stereo imaging, while effects created a clear and engaging presence. Those elements blended together cleanly, and they also offered good panning from channel to channel.

The surrounds added a fine layer of reinforcement to the affair, and they also provided a surprising amount of unique audio. Occasional stereo sound came from the rear - mainly during scenes with gunfire or planes - and the package presented a much more involving and active presence than I’d expect from an older mix.

In regard to sound quality, that was where we encountered some problems, but much of the track offered quite positive audio, and John William’s score sounded simply terrific. The music showed bright highs and rich lows as it seemed warm and dynamic throughout the film.

Effects suffered from bouts of distortion at times, but these remained reasonably minor. A few louder elements seemed somewhat rough, and a few other parts of the track came across as thin and tinny, but effects generally provided acceptable fidelity.

These elements also boasted fine bass response much of the time. Tanks rumbled across the screen, while explosions and other low-end segments showed tight and rich bass which never seemed boomy or thick.

Speech was usually fine. While the lines could be a bit stiff or reedy at times – and occasional instances of edginess occurred – dialogue mostly came across as acceptable given the film’s vintage. Overall, the mix held up well over the years and merited an age-related “B+’.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 1999? Audio showed a little more kick, but the visuals boasted the most obvious improvements.

The DVD offered a non-anamorphic transfer recycled from a mid-1990s laserdisc, and it didn’t hold up well – not well at all, as it offered a fairly ugly presentation. The Blu-ray blew it out of the water with huge improvements in every possible visual way.

The Blu-ray replicates the DVD’s extras, though it offers a change in the main feature itself. Whereas the DVD provided only the Director’s Cut (2:26:06), the Blu-ray offers that version as well as the Theatrical Edition (1:59:05).

The longer version offers a slew of alterations, but I’d be hard-pressed to view the added bits as anything that improves the film. Indeed, the theatrical cut may work better just because it ends more quickly!

My distaste for the movie aside, I appreciate the presence of both cuts. It’s nice that fans get the choice to see whichever version they prefer.

The Blu-ray includes some – but not all – of the DVD’s extras, and we begin with The Making of 1941, a one-hour, 41-minute, 11-second history of the film. It shows modern (circa 1995) interviews with Spielberg, executive producer John Milius, writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, editor Michael Kahn, composer John Williams, director of photography William A. Fraker, special effects creator AD Flowers, and miniature supervisor Greg Jein.

To put it mildly, this is a fascinating and informative piece of work. It starts with the project’s origins and takes us through it development, alterations made along the way, casting, production anecdotes, effects concerns, possible endings, and both critical and popular reactions to the film.

Very few stones remain unturned, and the participants offer fairly frank opinions of the work; they mainly think it’s a good flick, but they recognize some of its shortcomings. The only flaw I found with this program related from the absence of any actors; with such a huge cast, at least some of them should have appeared. Nonetheless, this was a consistently fascinating documentary that entertained me much more than did the film itself.

The 1941 disc also includes eight minutes, 39 seconds of deleted scenes not shown in the documentary. To be honest, I have no idea how they decided what to keep and what to drop from the final product. None of these deleted scenes seem any worse than what they put in the finished feature, and it's not like pacing was a major concern.

Under Production Photographs area, we find 366 stills. In addition, some text offers captions for many of these. These offer good images.

Lastly, three theatrical trailers finish off the disc. Two of these are pretty standard, but the first offers a “teaser” that focuses on Belushi. Here called Wild Wayne Kelso, the footage was shot specifically for the ad, which makes it more interesting than usual.

What does the Blu-ray drop from the DVD? We lose an isolated score, a collection of circa 1979 reviews of the film, more photos and additional text.

After two straight smash hits, Steven Spielberg hit an iceberg with 1941. While I’d like to claim it provides a misunderstood gem, instead I think it gives us a tedious, pointless mess. The Blu-ray offers very good audio along with some strong supplements and erratic visuals. I doubt I’ll ever like 1941, but at least this Blu-ray finally presents it fairly well on home video.

To rate this film, visit the prior review of 1941

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