The Great Raid appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Don’t expect many problems from this consistently terrific transfer.
At no point did I discern any concerns with definition. Even during wide shots, the movie looked concise and sharp. No signs of softness marred the presentation. I also didn’t detect any jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement was visible. The movie came free from source flaws, as it offered no specks, marks or other concerns.
So monochromatic that it might as well have been shot in black and white, Raid offered a tremendously restricted palette. The movie threw out a bleached, slightly golden tone most of the time. On occasion, a little color filtered through – such as Mina’s dress – but the vast majority of the movie favored the pale hues. Within those restrictions, I felt the colors looked fine, as they seemed to accurately represent the source material.
In addition, blacks were tight and deep. They offered fine definition, and low-light shots worked similarly well. Shadows looked clear and smooth. This was an excellent transfer across the board.
While not up to Saving Private Ryan standards, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Great Raid was more than satisfying. The movie didn’t feature as much action as Ryan, but it made great use of the channels anyway. During quieter scenes, we found a fine sense of atmosphere. This worked best during early shots at base camp; planes and other implements of war casually surrounded us to create a strong sense of place.
Not surprisingly, the battle sequences were the most impressive. Planes zoomed overhead with nice clarity, while gunfire and explosions engulfed us with realistic localization. All the elements connected well to make this a vivid portrait of the fights.
Very good audio quality bolstered the presentation. Bass was the star of this show. Low-end response was consistently tight and deep, as the bass added a serious punch to the package. Effects were clear and accurate across the board, and they suffered from no distortion. Music sounded bright and rich, while speech was natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. I really liked this terrific soundtrack.
As part of this 2-DVD set, we find a bunch of supplements. On Disc One, we open with an audio commentary from director John Dahl, producer Marty Katz, technical advisor Captain Dale Dye, editor Scott Chestnut and author Hampton Sides. Except for Sides, all the participants sit together – I guess. It’s unclear if some of the information comes from separate sessions; some interaction occurs, but it’s tough to tell if they’re all in the same room or separate.
Whatever the case, we get a good look at the production in this informative chat. The commentary goes over many historical aspects of the raid and the war. We also learn about shooting in Australia and China, casting and training the actors, editing and integrating the three stories, the flick’s visual design and cinematography, and filming the big battle scenes.
Quite a lot of good material appears here. A veteran of many military movies, Dye provides some of the best information. He tells how reality connects with the movie, and he offers nice insight, especially when he discusses the effects of various illnesses, most of which he had in Vietnam. The whole package combines to give us a fine take on the production and learn a lot about the flick.
Next we get a featurette called The Price of Freedom: Making The Great Raid. In this 19-minute and 56-second piece, we get movie snippets, behind the scenes bits, and comments. We hear from Dahl, Sides, Dye, Katz, actors Benjamin Bratt, Connie Nielsen, Joseph Fiennes, Mark Consuelos and James Franco, WWII veterans John Real, Benjamin Steele, Robert Lapham, Martin Christie, Robert Prince and Glenn McDole, 2nd unit director Vic Armstrong, and weapons handler John Bowring. The show gets into the history of the raid and aspects of the story, sets and production logistics, research and realism, characters and their depiction, and personal connections to the material.
Don’t expect to learn a whole lot here. “Freedom” exists as a promotional piece, so it lacks a great deal of insight. It provides a superficial look at the production with some nice bits but not many. I’d like to hear more from the veterans – especially since we briefly meet the real Bob Prince - and Fiennes’ discussion of losing weight is good. Otherwise, this is a forgettable feature.
DVD One finishes with 16 Deleted Scenes. Taken together via the “Play All” option, these last 22 minutes and 54 seconds. Most of these offer minor character moments that don’t add up to much. They fail to flesh out the movie much more than what we get in the final cut, so don’t expect anything strong here. We can watch these with or without commentary from Dahl. He offers basics about the scenes and usually lets us know why her cut them.
Heading to DVD Two, we begin with a documentary entitled The Ghosts of Bataan. It goes for 56 minutes and 11 seconds as it presents a look at the Death March via archival footage and modern interviews. We hear from Sides, Death March survivors Ted Williams, Bert Bank, Richard Gordon, Abel Ortega, George Idlett, Steve Raymond, Arthur “Lu” Campbell, Melvin H. Rosen, Dick Daly, John Mosely, Joseph Lajzer, Artemio Alejo, Roy Diaz, John Real, Tillman Rutledge, Menandro Parazo, Frank Muther, JS Gray, Rafael Estrada, Albert “Duke” Fullerton, Ralph Levenberg, Ted Pflueger, William Onufry, Bob Brown, and Norman Rose, US veterans Andy Miller, Edwin P. Ramsey, John Cook, and Joseph Dupont, Death March survivors wives’ Alyne Grey and Frances Campbell, survivor’s Chuck Langlois, Bataan: Our Last Ditch author John W. Whitman, Japanese veterans Jintaro Ishida, Nobuyoshi Osato, Shigekazu Horii, Soichiro Inukai, and Kiyojazu Tsuchida, Japanese historian Osamu Motojima, and Great Raid author Bill Breuer.
“Ghosts” tells us about the Philippines before the Japanese invasion, the US military presence there and their interaction with Filipino forces, impressions of the Japanese military, the Japanese attack and the war in the Philippines, and the US withdrawal. From there we learn about what happened to the soldiers who remained, the Japanese point of view and how they treated the POWs, and how the US prisoners dealt with this. The show follows those experiences, including the infamous Death March itself.
“Ghosts” works because of its emphasis on the comments from the soldiers. While it adds some perspective from historians like Sides and Breuer, the vast majority of the show comes from the memories of the veterans themselves. This is an excellent choice, and it makes “Ghosts” much more immediate and powerful than it otherwise might have been. Not only does it provide a concise and uncensored history of this side of the war, but its telling comes across as emotional and involving.
“Ghosts” offers a fine program that is far more valuable and impressive than Great Raid itself. We get a clear picture of the horror without tacky tugging at the heartstrings. The show’s producers understand that the material doesn’t require embellishment, as the information packs a serious wallop on its own. It’s easily one of the best DVD documentaries I’ve ever seen.
During The Veterans Remember, we hear from Sides and veterans Robert Lapham, Benjamin Steele, Martin Christie, Houston Turner, Joseph Dupont, and Robert Prince. The seven-minute and 43-second program offers more information about military experiences in the Philippines. Some of this is a little redundant after the thorough “Ghosts”, but it does add more material about the raid itself. Inevitably, it’s a bit of a letdown after the stunning “Ghosts”, but it works fine on its own.
More facts appear in the 14-minute and 27-second History Lesson with Author Hampton Sides. He goes over many of the relevant topics related to the issues covered in the film. Some of this repeats elements heard elsewhere, but since Sides digs into the raid, he adds some new beats. It provides a concise little program.
Some behind the scenes shots show up during Captain Dale Dye’s Boot Camp. This eight-minute and 17-second piece includes notes from Dye, Katz, Dahl, and actors Craig McLachlan, James Carpinello, Benjamin Bratt, Sam Worthington, Mark Consuelos, Max Martini, and Clayne Crawford. We get some information about Dye’s background and then see the training of the actors. This show offers nice shots from their boot camp and gives us a good impression of what they went through to prepare for the film.
We also get three minutes and 50 seconds of Boot Camp Outtakes. This takes a more lighthearted look at the training, as we get bloopers and silliness from the camp. It’s mildly interesting at best.
For information on the audio, we get two components. Mixing The Great Raid runs nine minutes, 58 seconds, and includes notes from Dahl, supervising sound editor Joe Johnson, and editor Pietro Scalia. Johnson dominates the show as he discusses the various elements that went into the soundtrack. He gives us a decent look at this side of the production, though it never becomes terribly fascinating.
The Mix Board lets you break down a scene into seven different options. There’s “Dialogue”, “Foreign Dialogue”, “Backgrounds”, “Foley”, “Sound Effects”, “Music” and “Full Mix”. These all accompany a two-minute and 58-second clip from the climactic raid. This offers a nice way to check out all the different bits of sound used for the scene.
Called ”War in the Pacific” Interactive Timeline, the next component offers more history. It mixes text by William B. Breuer and notes from Hampton Sides. The program begins with the October 14, 1927 Japanese war plan called “The Tanaka Memorial” and progresses until March 10, 1974 when a Japanese lieutenant who didn’t realize the war had ended emerged from hiding. We don’t hear from Sides until the December 10, 1941 attack on Luzon. Each text entry is brief but informative, and Sides offers comments that expand on the material. This is a fine overview of the information.
Finally, we get a Dedication to the Soldiers of Bataan. The four-minute and five-second piece shows the names of the men involved in that side of the war. It’s a classy touch.
Stiff and uninspired, The Great Raid has the right motives but lacks the heart to succeed. It suffers from dreary storytelling and a general absence of passion. This makes it shockingly inert for a movie with so much potential for power. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio along with a fine set of extras highlighted by “Ghosts of Bataan”, a stunning documentary. I may not think much of Raid itself, but I can’t criticize this solid DVD.
Note: in a move I hope doesn’t become popular with studios, fans who want the widescreen version of The Great Raid will have to pay a premium. The standard theatrical DVD retails for $30 – and only comes in a fullscreen version. To get the widescreen unrated edition, you need to shell out an extra $10. Sure, this set comes with many more extras – “Ghosts of Bataan” is well worth the $10 alone - but it stinks that fans must pay extra to simply get the original aspect ratio.