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MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Sturges
Cast:
Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Donald, Donald Pleasence
Writing Credits:
Paul Brickhill (book), James Clavell, W.R. Burnett

Tagline:
From a barbed-wire camp to a barbed-wire country, they made ... The Great Escape.

Synopsis:
Steve McQueen leads an all-star cast in this "stunning" (The Film Daily), action-packed classic about a group of Allied POWs who attempt one of the largest and most daring breakouts in history. Filled with "rip-roaring excitement" (Leonard Maltin) on the grandest scale, The Great Escape is one of the most ingenious and suspenseful films of all time!

Box Office:
Budget
$4 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Spanish Monaural
German DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5,1
Castillian DTS 5.1
Polish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Castillian
Portuguese
German
Italian
Czech
Dutch
Greek
Polish
Thai
Korean
Chinese
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Dutch
German
Italian

Runtime: 172 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 5/7/2013

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director John Sturges, Assistant Director Robert Relyea, Actors James Garner, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, Jud Taylor and David McCallum, Production Designer Fernando Carrere, Steve McQueen’s Manager Hilly Elkins, Motorcycle Stuntman Bud Ekins and Author Steven Jay Rubin
• “The Great Escape: The Untold Story” Documentary
• “The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones” Documentary
• Five Featurettes
• Trailer


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Great Escape [Blu-Ray] (1963)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 14, 2013)

When we look at flicks that fit the concept of “Definitive Guy Movie”, 1963’s The Great Escape merits serious consideration for that title. After all, Steve McQueen stars in it, and he lands high on any list of movie-acting man’s men. And a flick about war prisoners who stage an escape? It doesn’t get more “Guy” than that.

Set during World War II, Escape opens with the arrival of truckloads of Allied prisoners at a German maximum-security camp called Stalag Luft III. We quickly meet Senior British Officer Ramsey (James Donald) who acts as liaison between the prisoners and the Germans who run the joint. He confers with Colonel Von Luger (Hannes Messemer), the German head of the camp, who explains the nature of the place. We find out that Luft III confines only the craftiest of prisoners who present the most extreme risk of escape.

From there we get to know some of these guys. The roster includes Virgil Hilts (McQueen), Bob Hendley (James Garner), Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough), Danny Velinski (Charles Bronson), Colin Blythe (Donald Pleasence), Louis Sedgwick (James Coburn), and “Piglet” Ives (Angus Lennie).

The group quickly takes up the challenge to escape. Along with Ramsey, Bartlett grabs the lead and gathers a party to dig three tunnels out of the camp and address other necessary elements. He assigns them various roles based on their distinctive talents.

That group includes most of the guys I already listed. In a different category we find Hilts and Ives, who attempt their own two-man escape through a small tunnel. Their initial effort fails and lands Hilts back in isolation, a place where he eventually spends so much time that he earns the appellation of the “Cooler King”. Those in charge of the big escape approve of his efforts mainly because they distract the Germans from their own task.

After another stint in the cooler, the group tries to recruit Hilts for their purposes. They realize that if he escapes but intentionally gets captured, he can give them information about what lies beyond the landscape. He agrees and becomes part of their plan. The rest of the film follows the progress of the escape and what happens to all the prisoners.

From the start, Escape quickly sets a tone that lets us know what kind of movie to expect, as Elmer Bernstein’s score helps establish the mood with the jaunty main theme. This tells us the film won’t exactly provide a dark and harsh examination of prison camp life; though it offers some emotional moments, Schindler’s List it ain’t.

Nor should it be, but the film’s cheeky tone comes as something of a surprise given the darkness of some of its material. I don’t want to give away the ending, but don’t expect things to end happily. The movie works on its own terms and provides a positive swing of sorts, but it doesn’t follow the path I thought it would.

Of course, Escape doesn’t have much leeway to give us a happy ending, since it comes based on a true story. The movie takes some liberties – mainly through the characters – but it remains surprisingly true to life in many ways, largely in that it doesn’t sugarcoat the conclusion. The flick could have altered things to give us a more upbeat finale but it doesn’t, and it definitely deserves credit for that.

Although Escape presents more than a few moments of melodrama, it fails to become mired in excessive sappiness. The movie easily could have turned into a lame “triumph of the human spirit” experience, especially via the Hilts character, who demonstrates firm toughness and refuses to let the system capsize him. Happily, the movie keeps things from becoming goopy and syrupy, as it stays with a more matter of fact and somewhat glib tone that works for it.

The cast help make it succeed. Coburn can’t pull of an Australian accent to save his life, but overall, the actors bring a lot to the table. McQueen seems particularly strong. He comes across as cocky and flippant but resolute as well, and he helps make Hilts a charismatic character despite limited screen time.

Escape offers a surprisingly human portrait of some Germans as well. Von Luger comes across as quite full-blooded and real. The movie doesn’t soften him or turn him into a Colonel Klink style buffoon, and it doesn’t attempt to act as an apology for Nazi excesses either. Instead, it shows some mild compassion from the leader without problematic sappiness. A concluding sequence between Von Luger and Ramsey simply and effectively conveys these elements.

Of course, no one goes to see Escape for those moments. We want tension and excitement, and the movie aptly displays those. Essentially the first two-thirds lead up and through the escape itself, while the final act shows what happens to the various escapees. Very little action ensues in the first two acts, but the film still moves pretty briskly and maintains our attention. The final third presents a nice level of action, especially via a motorcycle chase sequence. The pacing slightly lags at times, but not badly, and the movie presents a fairly lively piece. Overall, The Great Escape presents an involving and entertaining program.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

The Great Escape appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though the image wasn’t a disaster, it offered a distinct disappointment.

Most of the issues related to sharpness, as much of the movie lacked much definition. Occasional shots looked pretty good, but those remained in the minority, so one should expect a generally dull, soft look to the film. No issues with jaggies or shimmering resulted, and I witnessed no edge haloes. Print flaws were absent, but the film lacked much grain and came with a flat, processed feel.

Colors were similarly bland. Granted, I didn’t expect a dynamic palette from a POW flick, but I felt the tones tended to be too brown and muddy. Blacks were acceptably deep but without much intensity, while shadows showed reasonable visibility. This could’ve been a worse presentation, but it could have looked much better than this lifeless affair.

Since the Blu-ray hit the shelves, some controversy has greeted it. Some claim it accurately represents the original photography while others disagree. As for me, I plead Great Escape agnosticism. In this instance, I simply discussed and graded the image as I saw it. Was this as good as the picture could get? Maybe – I doubt it, but it’s possible. Whatever the case, I didn’t think it looked too hot.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Great Escape worked better, especially given its age. The soundfield didn’t go nuts, but it opened up matters to a decent degree – albeit erratically. Some scenes used the side and rear speakers to good advantage, while others seemed essentially monaural.

These variations occurred without obvious rhyme or reason. For instance, sometimes the score would spread across the front and back, while other times it remained constricted. Effects occasionally broadened to the side and rear channels but they also could seem limited at times. Erratic as it may’ve been, the track showed moderate ambition and used the various channels in a satisfying way at times.

Quality seemed a little more questionable but was usually good. Dialogue sounded iffiest, with a fair amount of variation. Although speech always appeared fairly intelligible, it displayed inconsistent quality. Some lines were natural and relatively warm, while others came across as somewhat stiff and thick. All lines remained within the realm of acceptability for such an old movie, however.

Effects also sounded a bit flat and thin but they appeared reasonably clear, and the music was similar. In general, the audio was somewhat dense and a little heavy on low-end. Bass response occasionally came across as moderately heavy and boomy, though the low-end remained pretty decent for its age. Overall, the audio of Escape appeared good for something from 1963.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the last DVD from 2004? The quality of the audio seemed pretty similar, but I thought the DTS-HD track opened up the material better; it used the various channels in a more involving manner.

Visuals were tougher to judge. While I thought the Blu-ray upgraded the DVD, I felt this was a less obvious improvement than expected. At its best, the Blu-ray was clearly more detailed, but it often seemed so soft that any improvements were negligible, and colors lacked extra pop.

The Blu-ray duplicates most of the 2004 DVD’s extras, and we start with an audio commentary from director John Sturges, assistant director Robert Relyea, actors Donald Pleasence, James Garner, James Coburn, Jud Taylor and David McCallum, production designer Fernando Carrere, Steve McQueen’s manager Hilly Elkins, and motorcycle stuntman Bud Ekins. Author Steven Jay Rubin narrates the piece, which consists of his remarks plus many separate interviews edited into this whole.

While some may dislike the non-screen-specific format, it doesn’t bother me, and this track presents a good breadth of material. We learn about the book’s path to the screen, Sturges’ interest in it and how he got onto the project, casting and the actors’ work together and relationships, locations, and various challenges. We get a lot of interesting anecdotes and encounter a nice feel for the production and the creation of the film.

Rubin does a great job as master of ceremonies; he connects the various snippets well and provides plenty of facts of his own. In fact, his material really dominates, as the other comments pop up somewhat sporadically. The track moves briskly and presents a fine examination of matters.

Next we find eight separate featurettes. The first four really act as one larger program, and all of them come narrated by Burt Reynolds. These include Bringing Fact to Fiction (12 minutes, 21 seconds), Preparations for Freedom (19:50), The Flight to Freedom (9:22), and A Standing Ovation (5:58).

The featurettes use the standard combination of movie snippets, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Stalag Luft III ex-POWs John Weir, Alex Cassie, Albert Wallace, and James J. Cullen, wife of ex-POW Betty Floody, authors Jonathan Vance and Arthur Durand, and assistant director Robert Relyea. We learn about the origins of the tale and its path to the screen, adapting the historical tale and characters, the sets and locations, the realities of the actual prison camp and the escape, the elements of the individual flights and liberties taken, the prosecution of those responsible for some of the story’s atrocities, and the film’s reception. While the featurettes give us a decent look at some parts of the filmmaking process, the elements connected to the real story offer the best elements. We get a good look at what actually happened and the change made for the movie. The featurettes could use a little more depth, but they provide a pretty concise and efficient look at the material.

Next we find a documentary entitled The Great Escape: The Untold Story. It runs 50 minutes and 47 seconds as it uses dramatic re-enactments along with interviews. We discover comments from former prisoners Jimmy James, Alex Cassie, Jack Lyon, and Les Brodrick, and former prisoner relatives Beryl Fitch and Colin Kirby-Green. The program focuses on the actual escape and skips the preparations that led to it. We get to know a little about some of the men and learn of many details related to the escape, the individual attempts to get out of Germany, and the aftermath. The re-enactments seem a little silly at times and don’t add much, but the material itself offers a lot of good information. The former prisoners provide nice notes and give us a fine examination of the specifics.

We follow this with additional interviews shot for “The Untold Story”. This compilation fills nine minutes, 35 seconds, and includes remarks from Cassie and James. We learn about some specifics of their personal tales, the story of one of the three escapees to succeed, and what happened to the survivors after the war. We also get a list of the 50 murdered escapees. This is a minor program but one with a few interesting details.

After this we discover a program called The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones. It uses 25 minutes, one second to combine historical materials, movie clips and interviews as it lets us know about David Jones, the inspiration for the Hilts character. After a short intro from James Coburn, we hear exclusively from Jones himself, as he tells us about his early life, actions in WWII, the escape and his role, his remaining time in the War and his post-War experiences. Jones offers a relentless barrage of interesting stories, as he proves to be a lively and entertaining speaker. This featurette gives us an informative look at the person behind one of the film’s key characters, and it’s a solid extra for this disc.

Finally, the featurettes end with the 24-minute, nine-second Return to The Great Escape. In this piece, we find movie snippets, a few archival pieces, and interviews. The latter include David McCallum, John Sturges, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence, James Garner, Jud Taylor, Robert Relyea, art director Fernando Carrere, Steve McQueen’s ex-wife Neile McQueen Toffel and son Chad, and motorcycle stuntman Bud Ekins.

”Return” offers a basic examination of the production. We learn a little about its path to the screen as well as casting, locations, sets, and the shoot. Much of this information appears elsewhere, and not a lot of unique notes pop up here. We do find a better than average look at McQueen’s work on the film, though. “Return” is a decent program, but it feels somewhat redundant after all the prior pieces.

The Blu-ray ends with the film’s trailer. From the CE DVD, we lose some additional ads, a photo gallery, a trivia track and a booklet.

A very entertaining movie, The Great Escape doesn’t come without flaws, but its problems seem greatly outweighed by its positives. The film tells an intriguing story in a lively and involving manner. The Blu-ray offers good audio and bonus materials but picture quality seems spotty at best. If you don’t own Escape, you might as well get the Blu-ray, but it’s a disappointment due to the erratic visuals.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of THE GREAT ESCAPE

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main